By Jane Voigt
Less than 24 hours after Rafael Nadal hoisted the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the 9th time on Centre Court, Roland Garros, the color of the courts changed. They went from red to green. Poof. The red clay season had closed. Welcome grass-court tennis.
But let’s take a moment and look back on the two weeks of this 2014 French Open. The memorable moments, the breakthroughs, and the results. Wimbledon doesn’t start until June 23. We have time to contemplate what just whizzed by us in Paris.
Astonishments — Serena and Venus Williams lost in the second round. Not such a shock that Venus succumbed to the 19-year-old Anna Schmiedlova. However, for Serena to lose to 19-year-old Garbine Muguruza, 64 64, stunned the world. Serena said she would hit the practice courts and work five times as hard. No doubt she meant it.
Garbine Muguruza did not fade away in her next round, which would follow the natural course of big breakthroughs. She defeated the Venus slayer, Schmiedlova. Then young Muguruza went all the way to her first Major quarterfinal and gave Maria Sharapova a 3-set headache, with the Russian triumphing 16 75 61. Not an easy day for the eventual women’s champion.
Ajla Tomljanovic astonished Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open Champion, then upended the No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the next round.
Since Li Na had lost to another amazing teen Kristina Mladenovic in round one, that meant the top 3 women’s seeds were gone … a first at any slam in the Open Era.
That left Simona Halep to keep the draw afloat for elite players — the top 10. And she did it. The five-four 4-seed buzzed through the draw to her first-ever Major final and came face-to-face with the toughest competitor on tour: Maria Sharapova. As she said after winning her second French Open, ’that was the toughest Grand Slam final of my life.’ Down The Tee believes this match was the best of the tournament.
On the men’s side Ernests Gulbis gets top honors for his run to the semifinal. He sent Roger Federer (No. 4) home in the 4th round and Tomas Berdych (No. 6) home in the quarterfinals. The Lativian was overwhelmed by the occasion in the semifinals against Novak Djokovic. However, he stood tall and obliterated worn-out expectations of prior failures over the two weeks.
Gulbis, Halep, Andrea Petkovic, and Eugenie Bouchard were the three new faces in the semifinals at Roland Garros. Gulbis, Halep and Petkovic slid in to new ground. Bouchard had played her inaugural semifinal at The Australian Open, but failed miserably. Against Sharapova, Bouchard was brilliant until she came up short. The second set, which Sharapova struggled to win, was the tipping point. Errors accumulated for the Canadian, first serves collapsed, and exhaustion overcame high aspirations. She will be back because she has a champion’s mind.
The Wonderment — Rafael Nadal — Not only did the Spaniard win his ninth title in ten years, he did it under duress. He struggled through an ugly first set. He struggled to find his rhythm in the second, went up a break and quickly let it go, and finally filled the crack missing from his calm to even out the match. He relaxed enough to play Rafa’s clay-court tennis.
Novak Djokovic comes away the biggest loser of the tournament. Not so much because he failed to win, but because so much time and effort had gone in to the attempt to win. New coach, superb match record, beating Nadal four consecutive times, lining up all the pundits in his corner. Then he fell to an everyday human occurrence, he got sick. Luck was not on the Serbian’s side. His heartbreak was felt by all on hand. Fans stood to applaud the runner-up until he conceded their support and sympathy with hand kisses.
Djokovic is an on-task person, something akin to Bouchard. He doesn’t readily open up to people, or fans, his persona seems more important. He will be back to try again, as he said. Whether he wins depends on a slew of unimaginably complex circumstances that we should leave for something outside our control to determine.
Au revoir Paris. A bientôt.