Paris: a world of tennis fans have been absorbing the pinnacle of the clay-court season.
During an opening week blessed with scorching sunlight, the royal box at Rolland Garros was scarcely populated, but the rest of the typically loyal French fans attended in their droves. And they were not disappointed.
In the men’s draw, the illustrious triumvirate of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer continued tradition: amusing, bemusing and defying gravitational limits.
…found himself in the middle…
Though, the undoubted highlight came in the limb-destroying five-setter of Thursday night, when John Isner almost found himself in the middle of another world record encounter. Victor of the longest ever tennis match (a 70-68 win in the fifth set after 3 days of gruelling Wimbledon action) Isner was at it again – taking another Frenchman the distance.
But just as viewers were wondering if history would this time be made on the orange clay, Isner’s opponent, Paul-Henri Mathieu (who has endured an injury-stricken career) made the decisive breakthrough. A rapturous roar of delight from the home fans greeted an 18-16 victory in the deciding set.
…there was routine progression…
Mathieu lost in the next round, but his marathon victory provided a moment for life. Elsewhere, there was routine progression for seven-time champion, Nadal and fellow Spaniard, David Ferrer. Yet, number one seed, Djokovic, had to fight from two sets down against Andreas Seppi of Italy to reach the quarter-finals. And third seed, Federer, faced a similar plight. Urged on by strong home support, 21 year-old Belgian, David Goffin – the surprise of the tournament – took the first set against his boyhood idol. Federer came gliding back, winning in four, but the clash certainly added to a middle Sunday worth remembering.
French number one, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, was also worked to his limits after a five set victory over Stanislas Wawrinka, a match that had to be carried over to Monday morning. Juan Marin Del Potro’s clash with Thomas Berdych also required a second day for completion, but upon resumption, Del Potro didn’t need a deciding set to seal victory.
…forced to dig deep…
Meanwhile, British number one, Andy Murray remains – but only just; he was forced to dig deep after a back injury reduced him to near immobility against Jarkko Niemenen in the second round. The Scot lost his first set 6-1, but battled back to win in four.
On the women’s side, tumbled have Francesca Schiavone, Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. And even bigger names fell in number one seed, Victoria Azarenka, number three seed, Agnasia Radwanska and 27-time Grand Slam winner, Serena Williams.
…suffered a torrid experience…
In fact, the Williams family as a whole suffered a torrid experience in this year’s Open. Venus also exited early – in the second round against Radwanska – and Serena experienced another first round defeat in the mixed doubles.
But disappointment for some has provided fresh opportunity for others.
…registering dominant results…
Last year’s winner, Li Na, remains in contention, joined by the Wimbledon and US Open champions, Samantha Stosur and Petra Kvitova. However, it is Maria Sharapova who has impressed the most, registering dominant results thanks to commanding displays. If she is to reach the final, she will be the new world number one – quite a reward to be competing for. With several strong contenders still in the mix, an exciting finish surely awaits.
Yet, the last word lies with Arnaud Clement – famed for his eccentrically worn sunglasses and headbands out on court. The long-serving Frenchman bowed out of his native Rolland Garros for the final time last week. He will retire at the end of the season. The former Australian Open finalist was handed an award in appreciation of his successful career and is now tipped to be France’s next Davis Cup captain.
Now for the business end of the tournament.
You can catch coverage of the French Open every day from 9am on ITV4, with matches also shown on ITV1 and ITV3.
Images courtesy of Roland Garros