For about an hour today at the French Open the collective tennis world was turned upside down as the two 2010 tournament finalists were fighting for their lives against a rare American clay uprising.
At the forefront of this attack was big John Isner who incredibly led the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, 2-1 sets to one on Philippe Chatrier stadium court. Yes, 2-1 in sets.
Over on Suzanne Lenglen, 19-year-old Ryan Harrison who headed home to the U.S. just a day earlier, looked primed for a fifth set battle after going up a break on two-time finalist Robin Soderling.
But when the red dust settled order was restored. Nadal escaped with a tense 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 win. Soderling broke back and eventually took the fourth from the “lucky loser” Harrison to win 6-1, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5.
So what did we learn? The nerves and pressure are still there no matter how many times you have success.
As for Nadal, who was pushed to his first career five set match at the French, he just isn’t playing the kind of tennis that we’ve seen from him in the past. The 2010 Nadal would never has lost even a set to Isner, nor would the previous “models” been in such a fight and I don’t care how well Isner was serving. Fact is, Nadal is struggling. He is rattled. Those two Novak Djokovic losses I think are partly the cause.
We’ll see if he can turn things around in the next match which luckily for him is against his countryman Pablo Andujar. Then things for the 5-time French winner could get tricky again with Nikolay Dayvdenko looming. But the way he’s playing he’s not going to beat Djokovic. He knows it. Uncle Toni knows it. You can see it in their faces.
Soderling also isn’t the same player he was a year ago or even at the start of the year when he was red hot. But credit Harrison for putting up some good opposition today – the American teen wasn’t even in the draw yesterday until Benjamin Becker withdrew. That said, if the Swede can stay in the tournament – he has a good draw – until Nadal he could do so real damage to the Spaniard.
While Nadal and Soderling struggled, Murray had a good day. It wasn’t his best but he shook off that bad taste from the Djokovic choke job in Rome to beat patsy Eric Prodon in straight sets.
And even better for Murray, with the upset losses by Milos Raonic and the real shocker by perennial French Open underachiever Nicolas Almagro, Murray’s draw, which was favorable a few days ago, has really opened up even more.
For Murray’s head, I wonder if that’s a good thing? On Thursday, he’ll play Italian Simone Bolelli with Arnaud Clement or Michael Berrer in the third round. I don’t think he could have it any better.
Back to the Americans. While Isner and Harrison couldn’t pull out wins, Sam Querrey did. The laid-back Californian who’s had his share of difficulties this year surprisingly picked up his first career win at the French beating Phil Kohlschreiber in four sets. Querrey now gets Ivan Ljubicic in a winnable match. What an opportunity for Sam.
Elsewhere, my semifinal pick Jurgen Melzer quietly won in straight sets and with Almagro’s upset, the Austrian’s draw looks excellent out to the quarterfinals.
Gilles Simon also had a good victory over Michael Russell.
As for second round matchups, the Djokovic Tour resumes on Wednesday. The Serb will try to up his streak to 41 against a Victor Hanescu. Djokovic was efficient in ousting Thiemo De Bakker yesterday and in Hanescu he gets another worthy foe. Big Vic was just a finalist at Nice and he’s had some experience on the circuit so I hope it’s a good test.
Federer is also in action against unknown Maxime Teixeira. Federer also played well in beating Feliciano Lopez in straight sets and he shouldn’t have any difficulty with the French wildcard tomorrow.
JW Tsonga, Stan Wawrinka are also on the court and so too are Juan Martin Del Potro and Richard Gasquet. If DelPo wins he’ll set up that big showdown with Djokovic on Saturday. And Gasquet, who was ultra sharp in his opener, could be Novak’s Monday fourth round opponent. What a path Novak might have.
So overall, some good tennis through three days. The 2010 semifinalist Tomas Berdych was the big stunner thus far – the loss to Robert from up two sets is almost inexcusable for Berdych who now must face the reality and greater pressures of defending Wimbledon finalist points next month.
After seeing the two scares today I’ll guess that there are more to come. And that should be fun.
Matches are again on early on the Tennis Channel with ESPN picking up in the afternoon. Live streaming is available on both networks.
WEDNESDAY FRENCH OPEN SCHEDULE
Caroline Wozniacki(DEN) v. Aleksandra Wozniak(CAN)
Guillaume Rufin(FRA) v. Gael Monfils(FRA)
Victor Hanescu(ROU) v. Novak Djokovic(SRB)
Vesna Dolonts(RUS) v. Francesca Schiavone(ITA)
Court Suzanne Lenglen 11:00 AM Start
Maxime Teixeira(FRA) v. Roger Federer(SUI)
Nuria Llagostera Vives(ESP) v. Alize Cornet(FRA)
Marion Bartoli(FRA) v. Olga Govortsova(BLR)
Igor Andreev(RUS) v. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga(FRA)
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