For me and many others who flock to Paris at the end of each May, Paris means one thing only – the French Open tennis tournament although hardly ever referred to as such. For most people the most distinctive of the world’s four major tennis tournaments is known only by the name of its iconic venue – Roland Garos.
And I am currently 10 days into a two week stay – last week’s heat wave having given way to cooler and cloudy weather but with thankfully the only rain interruption to date bringing the play to close at 8pm this evening which gave spectators the chance to eat at a civilised hour!
I have played and followed tennis all my life but it is only since 2005 that I have been coming to Roland Garos but now it is as regular and immovable a feature in my year as Christmas and my birthday – same time, same place and each year you will find me here from the end of May.
The world’s four Grand Slam Tournaments are played in Paris, New York, London and Melbourne and I am familiar with all four cities and a fairly regular visitor to three of them. The first three can fairly claim to be major international cities attracting visitors year round but for me Paris is in a league apart – none of the others can offer such a wide range of outstanding architecture and combine it with such a depth of cultural attractions. When you factor in affordable hotels and restaurants with easy access to the Metro for quick and efficient transportation around the city there is little doubt that a claim to be the world’s ‘best’ located tennis tournament is hard to beat . There is no point in central Paris within the famous Peripherique (Ring road) that is more than 700 metres from a Metro station so if you have the discipline to tear yourself away from the tennis it is easy to explore this magical city.
For me Paris is Europe’s pre-eminent city and as we raised our family in the west of England I found reasons to bring our children on visits and holidays to Paris more frequently than we ever journeyed to London just a couple of hours away. The merits of Paris verses Prague, Budapest and perhaps other contenders for the title of Europe’s most beautiful major city can go on forever but there are no doubts that Paris is a spectacular destination with a host of top class attractions that can keep you fully occupied for weeks.
And as far as tennis is concerned despite Wimbledon being commonly accepted as the world’s leading tournament I believe the claims for Roland Garos to be considered the world’s ‘best’ tennis tournament are perhaps more difficult to dispute.
For those of you not familiar with tennis let me explain that Roland Garos is played on a clay surface and is the culmination of the part of the Tennis year when the leading tournaments, primarily in Spain and Italy are played on Clay. It is a surface that can be difficult to master – Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe are but a few of the major names who have failed to win at Roland Garos. Clay is a slower surface than grass and most hard surfaces so the length of the rallies is longer and when I was growing up I used to hear comments that Clay court tennis was like watching paint dry but I beg to dispute. In the last 20 years the face and playing style of top quality tennis has changed – base line play predominates, serve and volley is much less common than it was, grass courts have got slower and players tend to play the same powerful hard hitting game on all surfaces. And like most sports standards have risen with less frequent unforced errors.
The rallies may be longer at Roland Garos and on other clay court tournaments but is that a bad thing? I think not. Without a doubt payers are hitting the ball harder than 40 years ago and the payers are fitter so it often a joy to watch two evenly matched athletes power the ball back and forwards across a court maintaining an accuracy of just centimetres for rallies of 10, 15, 20 or more shots. (Indeed in the final Nadal and Djokovic were to play one 44 shot rally!).
So if Paris itself as a location is the first argument for Roland Garos’ claim to be the world’s premier tennis tournament then the quality of the tennis is undoubtedly an equally valid second reason.
My third argument is the sheer accessibility of the tournament to ordinary people like you and me.
We Brits love nothing more than to slag off our French neighbours conveniently overlooking the fact that France is still our first choice for an overseas vacation and 200,000 of us have homes in France! My experience as a frequent visitor to France over the last 30 years is actually that most of the necessities for life appear to be of a higher quality in France than in the UK. The road and rail systems, the provision of affordable hotels, the quality of restaurants, the health care, the preservation of historic towns that can still function and work in the heart of thriving cities and………….the accessibility of tickets for Roland Garos in comparison with Wimbledon ,our flagship tournament and indeed universally accepted as the world’s pre-eminent tournament.
Every year when I mention to friends that I plan to spend time at Roland Garos there are some who comment ‘But how do you get tickets’. This is a question that usually comes from someone who has attempted unsuccessfully to procure tickets for Wimbledon and the difference in approach tells you all you need to know about how we Brits so often fail to adapt to a changing world and consequently wonder why we are a declining power and frequently considered to be an irreverence on the world stage.
To apply for a ticket at Wimbledon you must apply for an application form by mailing in a SAE (Stamped Addressed Envelope – remember them?). After receiving your envelope together you complete and return the application form which entitles you to enter a ballot and then months later you will discover whether or not you have a ticket – and when! For Roland Garos you wait until the date when tickets go on sale and apply on line. Simple, Easy and it works. You buy your tickets online with sensible precautions to prevent multiple applications and effective means of preventing the majority from reselling their tickets at a profit.
The method of applying for tickets at Wimbledon is a reflection of our status as a global power – out of date and declining and reminds me why India has taken India 50 years to start to shed the burdens of British bureaucracy that it inherited upon independence!
By contrast at Roland Garos you can apply on line for show court and ground tickets on line, one is notified what you have been allocated and all remaining tickets can be bought on line. If people buy tickets and are subsequently unable to attend they are resold at cost through Viagogo and Roland Garos so that it is often possible to secure good tickets close to the tournament dates.
And fourthly once you have entered Roland Garos it is very user friendly. I think anyone who has attended both Wimbledon and Roland Garos will testify there is far more seating available around the outside courts at Roland Garos. Courts 7 and 17 have plentiful seating and courts 2 and 3 are magical places like mini Roman amphitheatres with spectators around and looking down.
Go to Roland Garos in the first week and the outside courts are where you should be. Whilst the matches on the Show Courts with the leading seeds can often be one sided there are so many top players still involved that there are lots of competitive games and plenty of seating on the outside courts. Unless you leave it late to arrive you can usually get seats at the court of your choice with less than a 10 minute wait at most times. Spend the first week on the outside courts and the second week on the Show courts and you won’t go wrong.
Fifthly is the sheer elegance and class of the place. The attendants at each court entrance are young, polite, attractive and well presented whether male or female (Do they choose these kids from Model School I wonder each year as the girls are always attractive and the guys good looking). The female attendants look as if they have come straight from the pages of Vogue in their elegant cream and clay outfits with a design ‘nod’ to earlier eras. The Males wear smart sweaters and all are unfailingly polite with a warm greeting to enjoy the day when you arrive and an Au Revoir \Bonne Journee each time you leave the court for something to eat, a toilet break or change of scenery.
I was watching Heather Watson play last week and some of the British Juniors had come to support her and I heard one of the young Male British players comment to another :
‘Doesn’t that Girl look elegant’ as an attendant walked by.
‘Oh I don’t know’ his mate replied ’She looks a bit old fashioned to me’.
‘She’s beautiful man, and looks so classy. All we get at Wimbledon are soldiers and sailors showing us to our seats!’
My point is not to debase our serving men and ladies but just to comment that everything at Roland Garos is done with style and panache. Even the merchandising is well designed and classy. Like Paris as a city, Roland Garos has style and class – difficult to define but you recognise it when it is in front of you.
And finally is the exuberance of the good natured French crowds who love their own, the underdogs and the big names but who don’t tolerate much in the way of gamesmanship or time wasting from anyone. If a game is slow there will often be someone in the crowd who will mimic a trumpet shouting out ‘be be be be be’ to which two or three thousand will respond by shouting out ‘Allez’, ‘Ole’ or ‘Hurray’ depending on their nationality.
And whenever there is a crucial point the crowd will inevitably break out in a spontaneous demonstration of rhythmic clapping to demonstrate their support for either the underdog or their favourite. And often half the crowd are clapping for one player to hold his serve and half for the other player to force a break. My son considers the French Crowds to be fickle often changing support from one player to the other but they certainly get involved and contribute to a great atmosphere.
All in all it adds up to a great experience with tennis afficiados from around the world flocking to Roland Garos bedecked in their Wimbledon and US Open gear to demonstrate that they are dedicated fans who visit other tournaments as well. There are always plenty of British, Spanish, Swiss (what will they do when Roger retires?) and American spectators at Roland Garos and you are as likely to be sitting next to someone from Montreux, Cincinnati or Birmingham as from Paris. The camaraderie whenever different nationalities come together at Sports events is always a joy to experience whether you are discussing the merits of an Argentinean Tennis Players backhand, the chances of a Spanish player in the next round, the German Football team’s prospects in the European Championships or how London will cope with the forthcoming Olympics. Forget the stars and participants – major Sports events do have the capacity to build bridges between ordinary people. Roland Garos is no exception and the spectators are invariably cultured, intelligent and articulate. It is a great cosmopolitan atmosphere and as an avowed internationalist I love it.
Many of the above factors apply to Wimbledon and I go to Wimbledon from time to time but the combination of accessibility, good viewing in a user friendly environment and tennis of the highest class makes Roland Garos and unequalled experience and late May/early June in Paris is a fixture in my yearly calendar. The only downsides are that just as Wimbledon can be prone to ‘iffy’ weather in late June/early July so too can Paris in late May when temperatures drop and a cold wind blows and a few days at Roland Garos (or indeed any major tennis tournament) is not for the unfit. Often the tennis goes on to 9pm and by the time you get back to your hotel or apartment it might be 1030 or 1100 and much later if you eat. A couple of hours checking emails or catching up on whatever, a few hours sleep and you are back on the metro after a few hours sleep if you want to be back at Roland Garos at 11am for the start of the next day’s play. Jumbled meals, snacking and late Dinners make the Roland Garos experience one where iron discipline is required to escape putting on a few extra pounds.
This year I decided to rent an apartment on the very distinctive Butte aux Cailles near the Place d’Italie. The area is distinctly located on a hill in the south east of central Paris. The area has a distinct village atmosphere and even some small houses which is very rare in Paris, a city of apartment dwellers. In some ways the Butte aux Cailles is not unlike Montmartre but without the tourists and with many restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs popular with young Parisians. The area really hops at night and it took me a couple of days to get orientated as the streets around the Place d’Italie run every which way but once I got my bearings all was well. 950 Euros a week has secured a two bedroom apartment with a balcony that sleeps four and it is a five minute walk to the Metro, a 25 – 30 minute journey to Porte d’Auteuil and a 10 minute walk and a five minute line up to get into the grounds
I decided to rent the apartment so I would have a base to share with friends and family and my original plan was to go the tennis every other day and relax on alternate days. The rest days got gradually reduced as I procured more tickets than originally anticipated and in addition bought some returned tickets and in the end I am going to Roland Garos for 14 consecutive days. I have rented a studio and stayed at hotels in previous years but with the apartment I could host friends and family whilst the tournament was on.
And indeed I feel like the Concierge of a hotel as I have prepared for people coming and going.
My wife Sharron and her cousin Marion drove up from Switzerland and arrived the same day as myself and we were joined by big Dave from Virginia who used to work for my company in the USA and who I regularly play tennis with when I am in the States. Dave stayed for 4 days and enjoyed every minute of it as he is knowledgeable about the players and their form and rankings. He was particularly impressed with the serving prowess of the young Canadian Milos Raonic and Sharron and Marion enjoyed watching Serena Williams come unstuck on the Philippe Chatrier Court against the unseeded French player Virginie Razzano. .
When Dave returned to the States and Sharron and Marion continued to London for the Jubilee celebrations our son David joined me as he did last year but this time for six days. He is a big Federer fan and we got to see the great one three times but in truth his form does not look that impressive as he dropped sets to Nicholas Mathur (who lost that incredible set at Wimbledon to John Isner 72 – 70 just two years ago) and the Belgian ‘lucky loser’ qualifier David Goffin. In the Quarter Final we watched Federer lose the first two sets to Juan Martin del Potro who appeared to be carrying a leg injury and Federer consequently had a lucky escape and eventually prevailed over 5 sets.
I came to Roland Garos thinking Roger Federer had another major in him but for sure it will not be at Roland Garos and certainly not this year. In truth Federer has been in good form for the last 6 months and although Clay has never been his favourite surface there is no doubt his game is lacking the consistency he showed in earlier years – he has played a succession of loose and badly timed shots in all the games we have watched and I am no longer so confident that he can prise another Grand Slam tournament way from Nadal and Djokovic
David went back to the UK this evening after we watched the Murray/Ferrer quarter final. Like many people I do not find Murray an easy person to warm to but I do feel sorry for him as he has been unlucky to find himself playing in an era of unrivalled brilliance in the Men’s game with Federer and Nadal (who I suspect will eventually overhaul Federer’s final tally of major tournament wins) both destined for places in the all time top 5 of Men’s players. And after last year’s superlative year the ‘new’ Djokovic is not far behind and likely to be considered one of the top 10 players of all time if he continues to play at his current level. He is never beaten until the final nail is hammered in his coffin and just like Federer in last year’s US Open Men’s semi final, earlier today Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could not secure one of his 4 match points against Djokovic in their Quarter Final and Djokovic came back to secure the win. So Murray has to beat two of his three great rivals to secure a major. In any other era I am sure he would have won at least two majors by now.
No sooner had David departed than his bed was claimed by my next guest , my Ski crazy friend Colin who competes in the Masters downhill ski races in the Alps each winter. I often wonder if his life’s ambition is to be to test the ability of each Ski Nations Medical team to repair his body after yet another calamitous accident! who has joined me and we will watch the Ladies semi finals and Final later this week and over the weekend.
The Ladies tennis this year has been a real revelation. For many years the Ladies circuit has been derided and it was often commented that with the exception of the top half a dozen players there was no depth. I always thought that this was perhaps a little unfair but like most generalisations the basic premise had some validity. But for sure things have been changing in recent years. When Dave arrived he commented that in recent months he had found himself enjoying watching Ladies matches more and more on TV and here at Roland Garos I too have found myself gravitating to Ladies match ups if I have no clear preference as to what to watch next.
I have no doubts about what is responsible for this renaissance in the Ladies game and it is the seemingly unstoppable conveyor belt of new talent being delivered to the tour from Russia and Eastern Europe and they they can all play so here is a tip – if there is a game on and the girl’s name ends in …ov or ova or ic you should go and take a peek . Whether or not you have heard of her is irrelevant. The chances are she will hit the ball hard, accurately and her name will be unpronounceable! All of a sudden there is a new face to Women’s tennis and it seems anyone can beat anyone. Unlike the men’s game where you have three of the all time greats and Andy Murray dominating the game and more often not filling the 4 semi final places at the Grand Slam tournaments the Ladies Game is a real pick and choose and not I hesitate to add because of a falling off of standards at the top but because the pack has caught up with the stars.
As I write these words the Ladies tournament has seen the departure of the champion Li Na from China as well as the No 1 seed and reigning Australian Champion Victoria Azarenka from Belarus, the Number 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska from Poland, Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark and Serena and Venus Williams who between them have dominated many of the Ladies Tournaments in the new Millennium.
Indeed the four semi finalists are Maria Sharapova from Russia, the qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova from Kazakstan, Sam Stosur from Australia and Sara Errani from Italy and all have got to the semis on merit – Errani for example demolished the previously impressive and former French Open Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in a previous round.
The times are certainly a changing in the Ladies’ game and Caroline Woizniacki who was ranked number one in the world as recently as January is already down to number nine, Svetlana Kuznetsova who won here two years ago is ranked in the 20s and the final stages of most Ladies tournaments often feature names with which I am not familiar.
I saw evidence of this first hand as I was leaving Roland Garos last Friday when as I often do I made a quick entry into the charming courts 2 and 3 near the main exit to check out the action.
Courts 2 and 3 are intimate and each has seats on three sides and an elevated walkway between the courts where you can gaze down on court 2 just a few metres above the players. These are courts full of atmosphere and together with courts 7 and 17 the first courts used for games featuring top players who are not scheduled to play on one of the three show courts. Indeed I always recommend to friends who come to Roland Garos on the middle weekend and only have tickets for the outside courts you can do no better than to arrive by 11am, grab a seat on Court 3 and enjoy a feast of top class singles and double s action in an intimate atmosphere where you are just yards from the players – and with a polite request the attendants will normally let you out briefly during the day for a toilet break without having to join the line that will have built up during the day to re-enter.
I sat down with our son David to watch a third round match between two ladies I had never heard of – Angelique Kerber of Germany and Flavia Pennetta of Italy which perhaps reveals my limited knowledge of the Ladies’ game as they were seeded 10 and 18 respectively and last year Kerber had reached the semis of the US Open! However these two women were well matched, hitting the ball hard on a full length and running their opponent from corner to corner and both had incredible defences each scrambling to somehow retrieve, return and even make winning positions from shots which I was sure were winners. I don’t think I have ever seen two athletes compete at such a sustained high level for so long – neither of them knew where the slow button was and eventually Kerber won after 3 enthralling sets jam packed with action, incredible defence and a terrific atmosphere with the enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd rhythmically clapping to support each player in turn at various points of the match – the crowd wanted it to go on forever and it did as we left the court at 930pm. Later when I checked out her pedigree I promptly put £120 on Kerber to win what is turning out to be a very open Ladies competition but she played like a drain in her quarter final against another Italian Sara Errani. David advised me she had no chance of going all the way and in retrospect her game was built on an impressive defence but suffered from a lack of aggression that too frequently surrendered the initiative to her opponent. Ah well – a fool and his money ……….
Clay is a surface which gives each player time to play at their best and it is games like that which make Roland Garos special – somewhat akin to going to the Glastonbury Festival. One wants to see the star names but it is often performers that you have never heard of that give the most enthralling and memorable performances. And in truth it is often the outstanding performances of young players on the way up like Blaz Kavcik of Slovenia and David Goffin of Belgium that I will remember from Roland Garos 2012 despite watching Federer three times and most of the other leading players at least once.
I am what the Americans would call a Sports Junkie – I love playing most sports and I follow sport on TV avidly. My main hobby for 30 years was Sports Betting and it was the gambling industry that provided me with the foundation that I parlayed into a Queens Award winning travel company but that is a another story for another day. I love watching any top class sport – live or on TV.
Interestingly enough however I find that when I am watching tennis in person I am more likely to miss a point and lose track of the score than I am at home in front of the TV. I am not sure if this because a certain level of fatigue builds up over several hours sitting in the sun or because there are so many distractions – nearby conversations to overhear, accents to decipher, attractive women to stare at and decisions to make – do I pee now or wait till the end of the set?
Each year Roland Garos brings out new sun caps and I peruse the crowd trying to decide which are my favourites, admiring a collection of caps from tournaments and locations around the globe, trying to match apparel and nationalities, accents and nationalities and all of a sudden I notice a game that was 3 – 2 is now 4 – 3 and wonder where the missing games went.
That would not happen if I was watching at home on TV but being here brings so many added insights and benefits. When I watched Kavcic lose the first 7 games to Djokovic it was clear there was really not much between them on the day– the young Slovenian just needed to get a game on the board and once he did he milked the applause from the crowd, bowed to all 4 sides and played the game of his life with two subsequent close and evenly matched sets that was well worth watching. If I had stayed home that match up would not even have made the TV screen.
Many of the doubles matches are played on the outside courts where you can really get up close and if not personal at least really close to the players and watch the interaction between a doubles pair. The instructions whispered into a muffled wrist with the back to the opponent as if the players are guarding a nuclear device code (in truth they probably do not want the opponents to lip read ‘serve left’!) is always as amusing as the speed of the payers reaction when volleying at the net is impressive. I have yet to decipher the varying signals the net player passes to his server with hand gestures behind his back unseen by the opponents.
When I started watching Tennis on TV in the late 1960s the doyen of British commentators Dan Maskell was at the helm of the BBC coverage. He was a master of his art because he often let the tennis do the talking with little more than ‘I say’ or ‘Well I never’ after spectacular points but the one thing I have remembered all my life from his commentaries was how he often commented on the ‘vital ‘7th game’ of a set. And it is true because if a set is going on serve and a player holds his serve on the 7th game it means his opponent is under significant pressure when they next serve because if they fail to hold the opponent has the opportunity to serve out the set. Similarly if a player does drop their serve in the 7th game it surrenders the initiative to the opponent when there is limited time to repair the damage. After the best part of two weeks here at Roland Garos it is noticeable that it is frequently the 7th game when the first break of serve occurs and it is also quite noticeable that to break your opponents serve is one thing but to hold the break is quite another.
We watched Andy Murray lose to David Ferrer todaywhich wasnosurprise as the Clay Court specialist Ferrer had a 3 – 0 career record against Murray on Clay despite Murray’s higher ranking and in fact I thought Murray played well – certainly better than the three error strewn performances we have seen from Roger Federer. In fact Murray broke Ferrer four times and on three occasions he failed to hold onto the break and lost the very next service game.
For me Tennis is the ultimate sport because to succeed you need to be master three key elements – one or two of which play a role in most sports but rarely do all three combine in a single sport as is the case with tennis.
Tennis requires speed and agility to move around the court, stamina to be able to play matches that can often last for four hours or more and touch/finesse to be able to conjure the ball to do the often seemingly impossible. Some of the shots that McEnroe or Federer pulled off at their peak conjured up thoughts of a magician. In my opinion the skill levels that Djokovic and Nadal demonstrated at Melbourne in January have rarely been equalled in any sport when considered they came after six hours of intensive one on one competition
And on top of this there are the mental challenges to deal with – there is no place to hide on a tennis court and no teammate to offer as an excuse or to blame for letting you down. As well as the physical and skill set challenges much of the game is also played in the mind with no coaches or teammates to offer support and advice. Together with Boxing it is the ultimate one on one competition and for me no other sport combines so many skills as top class tennis – speed, stamina and touch and then makes mental strength the final demand.
And contests such as the Isner/ Mahut 72 -70 set at Wimbledon two years ago, the 2008 Wimbledon Final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (widely considered to be the greatest tennis match ever played) and the almost 6 hour final between Nadal and Djokovic in the Australian Open earlier this year rank are all deserving of places at the very pinnacle of any sports achievements of the last 50 years. I don’t think any two athletes in history have ever been involved in such a titanic as Isner and Mahut.
And if tennis is the ultimate individual sport then Roland Garos is the ultimate venue. Memories that I will look back from this year will include weather as hot as I have known in Paris during the first week, the 228 kmh serve of the young Canadian Milos Raonic who will have to eliminate the errors if he is to challenge Djokovic and Murray in the years to come and some high skilled and entertaining games on the outer courts in the first week – and in particular the match up between Marcos Baghdatis and Nicolas Almagro. Indeed Almagro was in a rich vein of form maintaining impeccable length and not dropping a set until he faced Rafael Nadal in the quarters where he gave Nadal more of a match than anyone else to date. I suspect Almagro is destined to become the next Ferrer – outstanding but not outstanding enough to win a grand slam in the current era.
The Clay courts, French style and tennis of the highest calibre produce a winning recipe year after year. When the sun is shining and the tennis is good Roland Garos in May is as good as life gets and I end as I began – Paris in May is a magical place but build in time before and after the tennis if you want to explore and discover Europes most magnificent capital city!
June 6 2012
Postscript from Switzerland June 13
I was at Roland Garos for 13 of the 15 scheduled days (extended to 16) choosing to drive to Switzerland on the final Sunday so I could watch the likely rain delayed men’s final on TV in our apartment rather than on the big screen at Roland Garos where I only had tickets for the Veterans and Junior Finals.
And the future of Belgian tennis seems in good hands because as well as Davide Goffin’s spectacular efforts in the Men’s Tournament the Junior Boy’s tournament was won by the impressive Kimmer Coppejans who I enjoyed watching in his semi final.
In the final days before leaving Paris I watched the Ladies’ Final and the three Doubles Finals. Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi defeated the Bryan twins in the Men’s Final in a so so match but the other two finals were outstanding. India triumphed in the Mixed Doubles and the Wikipedia profile of Sania Mirza’s personal life and controversies make fascinating reading regarding the challenges of being a high profile female Moslem sports star in India!
The Women’s tournament was won by Maria Sharapova who completed her collection of Grand Slam singles titles becoming only the 6th woman to do so in the Open era. I have a lot of time for Sharapova for she is not a quitter and since winning Wimbledon as a virtual unknown eight years ago aged 17 she has overcome a succession of serious shoulder injuries and despite a myriad of distractions has remained dedicated to the game – compare her record with the other stunningly attractive Russian player Anna Kournikova!
Many consider that Sharapova plays too aggressive a game for Clay but that is the only way she knows and she has done well to adapt to playing on a surface where she has often struggled, once famously describing herself after a defeat at Roland Garos as playing like ‘a cow on ice’
In the final she beat the surprise finalist, the Italian Sara Errani who seeded 21 was the lowest seed to make the Women’s Final at Roland Garos for many years. Errani had an excellent Roland Garos for she is one of the few players to compete at the highest level in singles and doubles and won the Ladies Doubles to go home with a Championship and Runners up Medal at the same tournament.
I have been very impressed with the quality of the Italian players – Errani and Flavia Pennetta both impressed me and on the Mens side Fabio Fognini played well against the French number one Tsonga and Andreas Seppi was two sets up against Djokovic but failed to put him away in what would have been the biggest upset of the year to date. Italian players are characterised by a neat and classical style to which is added a dash of improvisaton and this style is always pleasing and popular with spectators and pleasing to watch.
Three of the big four made the semis in the Men’s tournament with Ferrer’s defeat of Murray in the quarters hardly a surprise and for the fourth successive Grand Slam we saw a Nadal Djokovic final. Such was Nadal’s dominance – only dropping his serve once and not dropping a set at all en route to the final that he was a heavy favourite to win. Surprisingly Djokovic was a 3/1 underdog despite beating Nadal in each of the last three Grand Slam Finals and having beaten him in 7 of their last 9 meetings. This was partly due to his stuttering performances against Seppi and Tsonga both of whom should have beaten him. Nadal was after a record setting 7th French Open (Amazing as he only turned 26 whilst the tournament was on) and Djokovic was striving to become the first player since Rod Laver and in over 40 years to hold all Grand Slam titles simultaneously.
Nadal won the first two sets but more than almost any other player in the history of the game (except perhaps Nadal himself!) Djokovic is never beaten until he is beaten and amazingly he won 8 games in a row to win the 3rd set and be a break up in the fourth. And if it went to a 5th set there was only going to be one winner and it was not going to be Nadal so in effect all was riding on the fourth set.
A rain interruption led to a suspension and the match continued on the Monday and the break was always going to favour Nada who immediately broke back, held serve, continually threatened the Djokovic serve and it all ended rather tamely with a Djokovic double fault on Championship point.
So history was denied for Djokovic and made for Nadal but I think this year at Roland Garos has laid some pointers down for the next few years as far as Men’s tennis is concerned.
Sadly I now think it is unlikely Roger Federer will win another Grand Slam tournament – his lapses in form in this tournament for me were not attributable to the Clay surface but the natural deteriation that comes with age. In any other era he would have another two or three Grand slams in him but not when he is up against Nadal and Djokovic – this is a truly unique era. His only chance will be if he comes up against Djokovic in a final and produces an error free performance on a day when Djokovic is not at his best.
I do not think there is any way Federer can beat Rafael Nadal in a final – the defeats he suffered against Nadal at Wimbledon in 2008 and Australia 2009 have scarred him forever and although he will not admit this it is inevitable there will always be a point in a final when he is thinking ‘What do I have to do to beat this guy’. There always is such an occasion against Nadal and I suspect Federer will inevitably and subconsciously look back to those defeats and think ‘’I cant beat him’.
Djokovic does not hold that same mental supremacy over Federer but is nevertheless younger, fitter and quite simply a better player today but Federer could beat him on his day. Federer’s only chance of another Grand Slam is if he can avoid Nadal. The fact that Federer has only beaten Nadal twice in 10 Grand Slam meetings tells its own story and lends credence to the argument that the world’s greatest tennis player is currently playing but his name is Rafa not Roger!
But perversely whilst I think that Nadal has a lock hold over Federer I am far from convinced that Nadal has overcome the traumatic impact of seven successive defeats to Djokovic leading up to and including this year’s Australian Open defeat. That was a career sapping defeat when Nadal performed miracles to get back in the match, put himself in a winning position approaching 6 hours and threw it away with an uncharacteristic error.
Nadal has performed wonders to subsequently defeat Djokovic on Clay at Monte Carlo and Rome and perhaps Djokovic’s form has dipped a tad after his momentous 2011. But when Djokovic began to turn things around and won eight successive games surely Nadal too was thinking the same as Federer must always think against Rafa – ‘Will I ever beat this guy in a Grand Slam Final’.
Rain came to Nadal’s rescue and he held on but to me the writing is on the wall and just as Nadal is a block for Federer so too I cannot see Nadal triumphing over Djokovic on anything other than Clay and I am not as convinced as others that Nadal will continue to dominate at Roland Garos – Djokovic is almost an equal force on clay and mentally I believe has the upper hand. It was interesting that in the exuberance of his triumph Nadal admitted to being wracked with nerves throughout most of the 18 hour interruption to the final. Djokovic and his team will have taken note.
For me as well as providing a feast of top class tennis this year’s Roland Garos has laid some big pointers down for the next couple of years – Federer to win no more Grand Slams and Nadal to probably fail to match Federer’s record 16 Grand slam titles. However Rafa will never quit as long as his body holds up and whilst for me the future is Djokovic he is vulnerable in the early stages of tournaments and that must be Nadal’s best hope.
I think Djokovic will successfully defend both his Wimbledon and US Open titles unless the likes of Tsonga, Berdych, Del Potro or Raonic can defeat him before the Semi Finals. All are capable of raising their game for a one off victory against the big four but I cannot see a Grand slam winner besides Djokovic or Nadal emerging which leaves Murray to continue to play the role of Colin Montgomery in tennis – the nearly man who is the best current player not to win a Grand Slam.
Roll on next year!
Postscipt Dec 12 2012
Well what do I know about tennis?
After predicting no more Majors for Federer he promptly beat Djokovic and then Murray in the final to win his 17th Grand Slam at Wimbledon just three weeks after I wrote the above words. However Federer did manage to avoid Nadal who fell to a surprise defeat in the early rounds and has not played since due to injury.
And after predicting Djokovic would retain both Wimbledon and the US Open for Murray to remain the nearly man of Men’s tennis Murray triumphed over Djokovic in the final of the US Open to become the first British Grand slam winner since Fred Perry in 1936.
Federer continues to defy the years and play brilliant tennis but as I reported from Paris with far too many errors. He threw away set winning positions in both sets of the season ending ATP Masters Final against Djokovic in November.
With speculation about the future fitness of Nadal who has not played for 6 months the future of Men’s tennis looks set to be increasingly dominated by Djokovic and Murray.
© Michael Bromfield 2012