The Rubber Meets The Red Clay

By Jane Voigt

May 25, 2014 — Qualification tournaments are not followed by big media. But a week before the main draw begins at any Grand Slam players ranked outside, let’s say, the top 105 must go through it. In Paris, it started Tuesday. 

Once qualification finished in Paris and the main-draw berths were filled, the rubber meets the red clay. The lucky few have graduated and their real work has just begun. 

Unfortunately many of these hard-working men and women wind up matched against a superior player in the first round, which means their tournament time could just about be up. This is the second slam of the year, not an ATP Masters 1000 or WTA Premier or an ATP level 500 for that matter. The seeded/superior players have synced their schedules to peek four times a year. Their engines are finely tuned. Their heads shut out the hubbub around them, as much as possible. 

Tennis Elbow Grease. It works!

Peter Polansky, ranked 135 in the world, met Tomas Berdych (No. 6) early today. It was one of those unfortunate circumstances where big guy meets struggling hopeful. The two had never met. Berdych was probably thankful for an easy first round go, too. Nice way to shake the jitters. But for the Canadian Polansky after three rounds of pre-real competition, the curtain came down fast and hard. 

Polansky is 25, the age when he should be making huge moves in the rankings. But looking at his year, the momentum has yet to materialize. At the U. S. Clay Court Championships in Houston, he lost to Lleyton Hewitt in round one after three rounds of qualification. In Miami at Sony Open Tennis, he lost in the second round of qualification. In Indian Wells, the story repeats itself. Won 2 rounds of qualification only to lose to Juan Monaco in round one. And, at the Australian Open Polansky never made it out of qualification; he lost in its second round. 

Draws can be cruel. They are lifeless entities that can suck enthusiasm and energy out of players hopeful of advancing in their chosen career, which treats them only as good as they perform. Such is sport. 

The loss also means Polansky will earn €24,000 for his four rounds of effort. That’s about $33,000 US. Could seem like a bunch of cash. But a 2010 USTA survey declared the average cost/player/year hovers around $143,000. Therefore, Polansky’s income from Roland Garros 2014 barely covers 25% of his annual expenses. And, that’s with a 14.29% increase in prize money compared to 2013

Wildcard entrants are treated the same a qualifiers. Their names are scattered around the draws, the way red clay is scattered on the courts of Roland Garros. 

The elder stateswoman of tennis, Venus Williams, faced Belinda Bencic today. Bencic won the Junior French Open and Junior Wimbledon Championships last year. She is pegged for greatness and rightfully so. But, the talented Swiss 17-year-old could not top Venus at almost twice the age. Scoreline: 64 61. As Venus told ESPN2, “I’ve had more experience, clearly.”

Bencic exits the women’s singles category with the same money, as does Polansky — €24,000. 

The same fate figured into the outcome for another wildcard today on the women’s side. Serena Williams defeated Alize Lim of France, 62 61. Although friends on the outside, Williams was all business on Court Philippe Chatrier after shaking off her nerves. 

Milos Raonic (No. 8) defeated Wildcard Nick Kyrgios of Australia, 63 76(1) 63. Although new to fans — Kyrgios is 19 — he spoke responsibly in his press conference. He had chances, moved well, but faced one of the biggest servers on tour, and “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

Kyrgios isn’t done with Paris, though. He signed up for mixed doubles today. Down The Tee tweeted directly to Nick, asking who his partner will be. No response, yet. However, there is speculation he’ll pair with Belinda Bencic. The draw for Mixed Doubles will be posted tomorrow. 

John Isner serves a big one to Paul Henri Mathieu at Roland Garros, 2012. Photo credit Leslie Billman

Wildcard Pierre-Hughes Herbert of France also was lessoned by a big-server: John Isner (No. 10), pictured right. The six-nine American broke the heart of France in his dismissal of Herbert, 76(5) 76(4) 75.

The opposite can also be true. Wildcard Claire Feuerstein defeated Olga Govortsova of Belarus today, 61 75. The two are ranked outside the top 100, Feuerstein having appeared here five times and Govortsova six. This was more of an even matchup. We’ll see if the French woman can prevail Wednesday when she meets Daniela Hantuchova (No. 31).

Tomorrow’s order of play is out. Rafael Nadal will meet Wildcard Robbie Ginepri. The 31-year-old American last played Nadal in Madrid, 2005. Ginepri lost. However, this is the guy who proved himself at the 2005 U. S. Open when he lost a 5-set down-and-out to Andre Agassi. Too bad Robby’s draw was a bit uncaring.


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