Anything but "Open" at Roland Garros

June 1, 2007, midnight | By Lingfeng Li | 15 years, 5 months ago

Top contenders safe as weekend review looks at who's hot and who flopped in Paris

The middle weekend of a Grand Slam tournament is always entertaining, if only to survey the damage of week one. On the men's side, the seeds have been dropping like flies, many of them ousted by little-known clay court specialists. The women, on the other hand, have kept matches routine and predictable. But the main players are all still here after fairly straightforward wins, which should lead to some mouth-watering showdowns in the next week.

The hot

Jelena Jankovic continued her stellar clay court season, taking down Venus Williams in the third round. Jankovic's biggest weapon is her down-the-line backhand, but rumor has it that her forehand is improving as well.

After a two-month title drought, the Roger Federer era looked endangered, but in his three matches so far, he has yet to drop a set. For Federer, the calendar-year Grand Slam remains possible, as does the mantle of "greatest of all time."

Currently, Novak Djokovic looks like the main challenger to Rafael Nadal's perennial number two spot. The newly turned 20-year-old is a superb athlete and can do damage off of both wings. Plus, his ruthless attitude is Maria Sharapova-like, and she did all right for herself.

Serbian tennis is flourishing, with three top-10 stars in Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic and Djokovic, all of whom are still young enough to continue developing their games.

Nicole Vaidisova, the 18-year-old Czech phenomenon who was a 2006 semifinalist has drilled through her first three matches. Still, her game leaves much to be desired. There's plenty of power here, but her flat groundstrokes leave little room for error, the backhand is a work-in-progress and she still has an unfortunate habit of getting emotional in big matches.

The flops

Andy Roddick continues to demonstrate the need for more clay courts on American soil, losing in the first-round. Prior to the tournament, Roddick had said his goal was to make the second week of the French Open, but this will be the fourth time he has failed to win a single match in his last six appearances. Every year, some high-ranked player with no sense for clay gets a top four seed and their quadrant eventually opens up for a no-name semifinalist. Why else are there so many Mariano Puertas born at the French Open? This is just another reason for surface seedings at the French.

Roddick wasn't alone, as the American men fizzled spectacularly and went 0-9 in the first round. Some accessible clay courts in the U.S. would be nice, and so would a change of attitude in the Americans towards the tricky surface.

Anastasia Myskina, the 2004 champion, lost 6-0 6-1 to unseeded American veteran Meghan Shaughnessy. There was some serious retirement talk after Myskina dropped out of the world's top ten, and this humiliation at the site of her greatest achievement might signal the end.

Talented 21-year-old Frenchman Richard Gasquet continues to frustrate with his inability to capitalize on a wealth of talent. Gasquet, who may have one of the most stylish backhands of all time, was once considered Nadal's chief rival. But a second round exit in straight sets hardly silences critics who anguish over his mental vulnerability.

Former top-ranked Marat Safin, notorious for his early exits, was bounced in round two. No surprises here.

Conditions in Paris have been dreadful and dreary as rain delays have plagued the tournament. Even model sportsman Federer complained about being forced to play in waning daylight as the schedule was crammed to fit more matches.

What to look for in week two

A much anticipated quarterfinal clash between the top seeded Henin and Australian Open winner Serena Williams now seems even more probable, as both players coasted through week one. Henin has to be the favorite for the women's draw, having won three championships here in the last four years. Williams hasn't played great tennis on clay this year, but no one finds works their way into a match like Williams does. Such a match would no doubt be fierce, with Henin defending her most precious crown and Williams seeking retribution for that phantom-hand incident in the 2003 semifinals here against Henin.

And what kind of French Open column would neglect to discuss the Federer-Nadal rivalry? With both players coming off easy early rounds, it would be foolish to pick against a final featuring the two. Should they meet in the last round, Federer would still be the underdog, despite his top billing. He may have snapped Nadal's 81-match win streak on clay, but no one rational should pick against a guy who has gone almost undefeated for the last three years on this surface.

Lingfeng Li. Some say that Amy, girlie-girl of the first degree, tennis extraordinaire (not really), bearer of the feared and revered pink pen, should switch to an editing color of greater intimidation and formality. She thinks these people are stupid. Whoever said that orange was the new … More »

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