The clay season ends with a familiar man atop the tennis world: Rafael Nadal. After a spring of upsets and unpredictability, the last weekend of the 2014 French Open was status quo with two former champions and second pre-tournament favorites repeating, Nadal and Maria Sharapova.
Here are some thoughts on what we saw.
1. All Hail Rafael Nadal Nadal
This was to be the year of Nadal’s downfall, at least that’s what I thought. And for much of the season that’s what it looked like. Missing the footwork, the forehand firepower and his confidence, Nadal finally looked human entering the French Open. But boy did that that change in a hurry.
Nadal won his jaw-dropping ninth French Open losing just TWO sets. And he did it punishing three of his main rivals David Ferrer, Andy Murray and Sunday Novak Djokovic in succession to close it out.
There’s little else to say but the guy is the greatest of all time on clay. It’s not even close.
Ferrer and Murray both basically threw in the towel while Djokovic was throwing up! Just imagine if this was Nadal from 2008? Geez, someone would have died.
And henceforth regardless of his form going into the event, as long as Nadal’s in the draw it’s simple a fool’s game to bet against him. Lesson learned.
2. Was That Djokovic’s Best Chance?
If I’m Novak Djokovic I’m thinking what else do I have to do to beat Rafael Nadal in Paris? I had won four straight over the guy (8 of 9 sets) as Rafa’s dealing with confidence issues, hired Boris Becker, won the first set and I still wasn’t close to winning. In fact, I had a better chance LAST YEAR than Sunday.
Now sure there was some sort of sickness issue, but to me Djokovic showed no signs of poor health when he got broken to lose the second set. Only thereafter did the “illness” surface and with good reason. I would have vomited too if I had just realized the career Slam was over for this year.
Novak mounted a late charge but Nadal just refuses to lose. And looking into Djokovic’s buggy eyes, I don’t think he believes he can beat Rafa on that Chatrier court. I just don’t see it. He was there in the second set but you sensed he knew he couldn’t maintain the advantage.
More troubling for Djokovic is the fact that he’s now lost four of his last five Grand Slam finals. For someone with his game and talent and dominance in Masters events that’s a disturbing trend. And with a family on the way, it begs the question, is the fire for tennis slowly burning out for Novak?
It will be very, very interesting to see how he recovers from this most recent loss.
3. Maria’s Might
If I had one match for my life I’d take Rafael Nadal first. But if I had to choose only a woman I’d go with Maria Sharapova. You may not appreciate her sonically or artistically, but you have to respect her fighting spirit. The Russian just does not give up nor does she give in. En route to her second French Open Maria won her last four matches in three sets, losing the first in three of them. According to what I think I heard on the TV, that means she’s won an incredible 20 straight three set matches on clay.
It’s a little apples to oranges, but imagine a men’s player winning 15-20 straight 5-set matches on any one surface. Amazing.
For someone has everyone – fame, fortune and looks – it’s remarkable she still wants it so badly. Full credit to her.
The one caveat I do have with Maria is the glaring fact that she won both her Frenchs without beating Serena. But that’s not her fault, is it?
4. Simona Slams?
One crystal clear takeaway I had from the French was the feeling that Simona Halep will win not one but multiple Grand Slam titles. With Serena and Li Na closing in on 33, Maria possibly looking ahead to making “little Marias or littel Grigors”, Victoria Azarenka always injured, Halep could really dominate the scene in a few years.
At just 22, she has very Justine Henin- or Nikolay Davydenko-like game with her compact and efficient groundstrokes. Her slight build leaves her susceptible to getting overpowered by the Serenas and Marias, but I think she’ll be a force on any surface. And if none of the power players like Sloane Stephens, Genie Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza, Madison Keys, etc., fully blossom, then it wouldn’t surprise me if she becomes No. 1 someday.
5. The Future Is Now
Speaking of Halep, it was clear from the French Open that the new wave of talent is fainlly ready to make a push. The 24 and under club for the men have many promising stars like Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, Jiri Vesely, Jerzy Janowicz, Pablo Carrena Busta, Nick Kyrgios and on and on. There’s a lot of talent in that group and just throwing darts at least one if not multiple will sit atop the rankings one day.
For the women, I mentioned above their future is also good. The American presence of Stephens and Keys will help the sport in this country and this new crop I think will fare much better than the languishing Kvitova/Azarenka/Kerber/Wozniacki/Lisicki generation.
6. The French Flameout
Looking at the current landscape of men’s tennis, Yannick Noah has to be feeling pretty good about his title of being the last Frenchman to win Roland Garros (or any Slam) because it looks like he’s going to be keeping that for a long, long time.
With JW Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet, this has to be one of the most talented foursomes ever produced by a single country in one generation. Yet what do they have to show for it? ONE Grand Slam final and it doesn’t look like that number is going any higher.
Especially not after the efforts in Paris where Tsonga played well up before he flat-out didn’t show for his rematch with Djokovic. Monfils had a nice, theatrical run until his humiliating collapse to Murray. Gasquet barely put up a fight against Fernando Verdasco.
At least Simon can hold his head a little high, he pushed Milos Raonic to the edge in a five-set loss.
But really these guys should be much, much better than that. And they just aren’t. Too bad.
7. Andy And Amelie
The big pre-final news on Sunday was the official announcement that Andy Murray had hired Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach. I don’t really care much for the male-female coaching angle (who cares? Murray’s mother’s always coached him growing up), what I do care about how she’ll handle his on-court demeanor and X’s and O’s. And honestly I don’t see the fit here.
Murray needs a disciplinarian like Ivan Lendl who won’t take crap from the Scot (we’ve seen Andy countless number of times scream at his box, almost blaming them for his poor play, but not with Lendl!). Is Mauresmo that woman who can that that heat or prevent it? I don’t know.
And I’m not sold on Mauresmo’s game meshing with Murray’s. Andy has to be offensive to win. Lendl taught him that. Will Mauresmo continue to pound the same game plan? Or will she mix it out? Murray has so many shots, so many options – at times too many I think – Mauresmo will have to find the right ones and the right occasions. With such an array of shots, it makes coaching him that much tougher.
8. Ernests Goes To The Top 10
Now that Ernests is finally in the Top 10, he’s a true marked man. Beating him will now be a big deal, a big achievement for many. And I’m honestly stunned to have to say that because I never thought he make it that far. But to his credit he has.
At just 25 – more than three years young than say Stan Wawrinka – he’s got a lot of career matches left in which to do some serious damage. And I think with that incredible power game if he can keep his head on right he’s going to keep climbing the ranks.
What’s scary is this kid doesn’t really have a ceiling.
But will the success get to him or does he really, truly want more as he says? We’ll see.
Haflway through the busiest stretch on the tennis calendar, we’ll also see more great tennis coming up with the start of the 4-week grass season this week. Enjoy it.
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