08 June 2008


I’m not really sure why I am making this post, considering I watched a woefully small amount of this years Roland Garros tournament. At least I could watch portions of the Australian Open before heading out to work (I even watched the men’s semi finals on the BBC website while actually at work, but don’t tell anybody).

New job, new danger. As I am not currently a temp, it would be really rather cheeky of me to use local government resources to watch tennis so, that situation miring me in yawning malaise, I had not been of the mind to watch any remaining action upon getting home. Rounds came and went as the unfolding events occurred to my obliviousness.

Funnily enough the one player I did see in three separate rounds was Gaël Monfils. Each time, I remarked to myself how pleasant it was to see this mine of potential on my screen; each subsequent appearance was more heartening still. In fact, I was surprised by how well he did perform. While not quite a Jo-Wilfried Tsonga* in terms of unheralded Frenchmen surpassing expectations, his showing against Roger Federer was something to fill him with pride, though not to the extent that he would not want to build wherefrom.

I suppose this brings me to the subject of Federer. His relative underperformance (losing to the eventual winner in the semi final? Boo!) at the Australian Open was variously described as an effect of rushing back to competition too soon after his glandular fever and the initial cracks forming in this sporting Roman Empire.

Considering the (again relative) amount of losses Federer suffered between Grand Slam tournaments, and to how many different characters he lost, perhaps both perspectives bore some level of merit. It seemed that Federer was becoming mortal once more (though this seems to have conveniently been forgotten over the years, despite losses in Grand Slam events to Mario Ancic and Marat Safin, not to mention what is swiftly becoming a Sisyphean struggle against Rafael Nadal).

Fears predictably mounted as Roland Garros, the one major he is yet to win, emerged on the horizon. He apparently fared rather well though, as he dropped a solitary set against each of the solid Fernando Gonzalez and aforementioned Monfils. It was, as you may by now be aware, insufficient preparation against a Nadal – already triple champion at this clay event – who was yet to drop a set.

The stats for Nadal are pretty insane on clay courts: he has never lost at Roland Garros; he once won twenty-seven straight sets (sadly not in one sitting) on clay; his run this year took in the likes of top-15 Nicolas Almagro and world-number-three Novak Djokovic without losing a set; he lost just three games against Fernando Verdasco. He’s pretty scary.

But for all the hoopla preceding Nadal, and his enviable clay record against Federer (8-1, prior to today), there was on paper no better opponent to attempt taking him down a notch. Federer, while losing to Nadal in the finals of the 2007 and 2006 tourneys, and in the semis in 2005, is still the second-best male tennis player on clay currently extant. There was very much the sense that if he couldn’t do it, nobody could.

To paraphrase The Simpsons, then, nobody could. Not only did Nadal best Federer this year, but he did so in straight sets. Not just in straight sets, but while losing only four games (at least Australian Open winner Djokovic had the gall to take the Mallorcan to a tie-break in the third set). Not just losing four games, but he won the last set of the tournament 6-0. Djokovic may have been skilled enough to capitalise on Federer’s many mistakes in February, but it had been a long time indeed since the world’s greatest player was dismissed in such comprehensive fashion.**

So what can we draw from this? As I am rather non-committal, I’d venture ‘not much’. Is this the middle of the beginning of the end for Federer? Considering how insane Nadal was this past fortnight, it’s hard to tell. As I mentioned a paragraph ago, world number three and Great Hope for thee Future, Djokovic, got straight-setted, so it’s not as though anybody else was about to beat Rafa. As with the Aussie Open post-mortem, it seems as though it may be a little from column A and a little from column B.

Djokovic is certainly someone not to be messed with. After winning one Grand Slam title already this year and losing to the eventual champ in the semis at Garros (not to mention already reaching the final of the U.S. Open and the semis at SW19), he would definitely be one to fear when it comes to playing on his favourite surface at Wimbledon***. Who can tell with Monfils. Part of me wants to applaud him for performing admirably against the best player in the world, though maybe he just lost in four sets against a former great on the wane; he lingers for the moment in the Potentially Great Frenchmen file with Tsonga.

There was a women’s tournament, in which Ana Ivanovic prevailed after filling the roe of losing finalist last year. Lucky for her that the 2007 winner Justine Henin had recently retired. Speaking of that little development, I had originally been of the opinion that she feared the resurging Sharapova. As the latter got booted in the fourth round by Dinara Safina, that seems not to have been the case. There is always hope for Wimbledon. I can’t wait for Wimbledon! But before I finish, two things remain:

Tipsarevic Watch: Following his respectably losing performance in that epic with Federer (that becomes less impressive with pretty much ever event Fedz competes in. Or maybe our man Janko just wore him down for everyone else?), it turns out that the plucky young Serb was eliminated in the first round. We still believe in you!

Makiri Watch: Following her rather inauspicious performance agasinst Daniela Hantuchová in February, esteemed Maria Kirilenko was uncharitably ejected from this tournament in the second round. Onwards and upwards for Wimbledon, Makiri!


* I was dismayed to learn that Tsonga had been forced to pull out of the tournament due to knee related ailments; chagrined still on discovery that the subsequent surgery should remove him from the roster of Wimbledon competitors.

** Apparently the losing player in my favourite sporting event ever (formerly known as ‘Pat Rafter’) won a love set over Roger way back in 1999. That’s right, Federer hadn’t been this manhandled this century. Scary business.

*** Rain-soaked paving slabs, then.

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