We’ve reached the second Sunday of the French Open and no it’s not finals weekend as that happens on the third Sunday next week. Which means this year’s mudfest (riffing off Andy Roddick’s quote today about playing with “muddy balls”) is moving along about as quickly as the Michael Yani vs. Lukas Lacko match in the opening round which took two days and almost five hours which apparently is the required length of time for all matches being played unless you’re Rafael Nadal.
Despite some terrific matches yesterday on the women’s side including the one between Maria Kirilenko/Svetlana Kuznetsova and the dramatic Nadia Petrova/Aravane Rezai encounter which ended with a little bit of buzzkill today after Petrova finally won the last few games in fifteen minutes, most of the other matches I’ve watched have been the usual slog. And I know that’s the beauty of clay in that it forces players to construct points, but this year the action is slower than ever. Add in the almost daily rain delays that force late scheduled matches to be finished by candlelight, and it’s enough to make one wish for the chaotic yet speedy courts of Madrid a few weeks ago. Where’s that beautiful “Magic Box” when you need it?
Speaking of the light, I’m just finishing up reading “The Education of a Tennis Player” by Rod Laver with Bud Collins which recounts Laver’s historic Grand Slam run in 1969. In the book, Laver not only writes about how the French Open was run back then with “erratic timing” but he also mentions playing “after dark under the lights” in his second round match versus fellow Aussie Dick Crealy. I was surprised to read that and now I wonder where did the lights go and how did they use them on court? Did ball kids hold up lanterns in the upper deck of the stadium? I’m sure Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini would have agreed on that plan rather than trying to squint themselves to victory earlier in the week. But after doing some quick research, I found a video of Laver playing Ken Rosewall in the 1969 final that clearly shows lights planted on the court which opens the bigger question of why the lights were removed and why is it so hard for new ones to be added?
If the rain and darkness can be kept at bay, the second week promises some potential blockbuster matchups that could help wipe away the mud from our tired eyes. On the men’s side, their event is quickly turning into “who will meet Nadal in the finals?” It’s really easy to pencil in Roger Federer for that second slot, but don’t be surprised if Robin Soderling or Marin Cilic makes the current champion work for it in the quarterfinals. The other player I’m tracking is Andy Murray who, after his earlier problems literally finding the court this season, has settled down a bit and could actually make the semifinals. On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova at least proved Justine Henin 2.0 is vulnerable on the clay while no one is talking about Sam Stosur who will meet the winner of the Henin/Sharapova match. And Venus Williams is still surprising many with her play despite the fact that her dress is getting way, way too much attention from the media. At any event, at least the women’s draw is adding some much needed unpredictability and drama to make up for the grindfest on the men’s side.
So let’s hope that the next week in Paris, despite the forces of nature and the French Federation, brings out the best in all the players still left. But if all this mud and darkness is driving you to the point of au bord de la folie. Take heart. That third Sunday I spoke of earlier is when the Queen’s Club event kicks off in London. Yes, even in mud and rain, a little grass must grow.
Watch Laver and Rosewall in the 1969 final.