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AS NADAL’S PERMANENCE ENDURES, ROLAND GARROS BRACES FOR CHANGE

Saqib Ali

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Jane Voigt

What would the French Open be without Rafael Nadal winning yet one more title? Sunday marked his eleventh, a run of bold, brave and impenetrable tennis we may never see duplicated by another player. But with the eleventh championship locked up, could there be a 12 or 13? Of course the answer is yes. Yet, additions to Nadal’s resume in Paris won’t occur on this version of Court Philippe Chatrier. They won’t unfold inside this iteration of the wonderful stadium called Stade Roland Garros.

After many years of litigation and design alterations, Roland Garros is scheduled for a massive facelift said to cost in the neighborhood of €350 million. Beginning Monday, as the women’s and men’s tours move to the grass season and leave the terre battue behind, throngs of workers will begin to break down the stands in Chatrier while office spaces inside Stade Roland Garros are dismantled as well.

“All the problems with people suing the project are behind us,” Guy Forget, tournament director of the French Open, told Tennis Channel.

Stade Roland Garros was constructed in 1928 specifically for Davis Cup competition. It seats 14,480 spectators and is the eleventh-largest stadium in the world. By comparison, Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York seats 23,200 people.

The French Open is the only Grand Slam event that has not made accommodations for rain. The Australian Open has two enclosed show courts. Wimbledon has one and the U.S. Open recently debuted its roof over Arthur Ashe.

RG18 NadaletalTrophy June10

All Images: JohnAnthony/ISPA/tennisclix

Don’t get your hopes up. Rain delays are on their way in 2019 in Paris because the roof for the completely new Court Philippe Chatrier won’t be operational until 2020, “though it might not be fully operational until 2021,” The New York Times reported.

That’s the same year all outside courts will have lights.  

“In 2020 we’ll have lights on all the outside courts, so we can finish matches,” Forget told Tennis Channel. “In 2021 we’ll have the first night sessions, at least we’ll give it a try.”

The Summer Olympics will be held in Paris in 2024, so deadlines have to be kept.

“We’re hosting the Olympics in 2024 and boxing will be on Court Suzanne Lenglen,” he added. “We’ll have the Lenglen court covered as well.”

But unlike Arthur Ashe stadium, which did not reconstruct that stadium before adding the roof, Stade Roland Garros will have a complete reconstruction that will alter its look, feel and capacities.

RG18 NadalWTrophy June10

Photo credit: JohnAnthony/ISPA/tennisclix

Gilles Jourdan, manager of the project, hasn’t been sleeping well because of the emotions and sentiments he attached to the stadium.

“I’m so attached to this stadium that I want to do this project well and do it justice,” he told The Times. “That’s what’s keeping me from sleeping.”

Jourdan calls the roof “an umbrella.”

Before play began this year, Court 2 had been closed. Many who attended the tournament weren’t aware of its closure until they arrived.

Court 1, or the “Bullring,” as it has been affectionately called by patrons from Paris and around the world, will also be demolished. It was erected in 1980. Until Court Suzanne Lenglen was built in 1984, the Bullring was the second-largest stadium on the site located southeast of the Parisian city center. In its place will be a green space.

“There will be lots of trees around and places for people to rest,” Forget said, per tennis.com.

Many historic matches have been played in the Bullring, but one stands out. In 1997 Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten began his surprising march to his first of three French Open titles on Court 1. Parisians and fans worldwide probably have not lost sight — or memory — of the hearts “Guga” drew in the red clay each time he won a match.

Guga was ranked number 67 in the world in 1997, one of the lowest-ranked players ever to win the French Open. This year, Marco Cecchinato pressed hard in an attempt to walk the same path. The Italian, who was ranked 72, ran through the first five rounds of the draw, upsetting Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, though, Cecchinato was routinely dismantled by Dominic Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in Sunday’s men’s singles final.

“Cecchinato’s story is very similar to mine,” Kuerten said, according to the Gazetta dello Sport. “An almost unknown player who has the greatest two weeks of his life. And he has an extraordinary way of playing his backhand, a one-handed, which is rare.” Guga, too, had a one-handed backhand.  

Kuerten’s affection for Paris and the tournament it hosts has followed him over the years and turned him into a legend. This year, he was given the position of Roland Garros’s first-ever tournament ambassador.

“We’re thrilled to announce that @gugakuerten has become the first ambassador of Roland Garros and will help spread the love of the tournament and the terre battue around the world,” the tournament’s Twitter feed posted.

A public relations campaign from the ever-smiling Brazilian will hopefully stave off disgruntled patrons, players and media… when the rains will probably fall sometime over the course of next year’s tournament, which begins May 26, 2019.

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RG18

NADAL’S OWN NOVELTY

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

The biggest upset at the 2018 men’s Roland Garros tournament was not Marco Cecchinato over Novak Djokovic. It was something much bigger: Through the first six rounds of play, the men produced a better, more interesting, more compelling tournament than the women. That hadn’t happened in a few years. The 2017 Australian Open was great on both the men’s and women’s sides. The last time the men were unambiguously better than the women? If you have a clear answer, good for you, but it won’t come from the past three years. The men have occasionally matched the women and usually fallen short.

At Roland Garros in 2018, the men were better. (more…)

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RG18

WOMEN’S TENNIS: THIS KIND OF SOCIALISM WORKS

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

Socialism sounds good in theory but never ends up well in practice, they say.

“They” obviously aren’t watching women’s professional tennis these days.

Remember when Serena Williams continued and extended her control over the WTA Tour at the 2017 Australian Open, following a 2016 run in which she made three major finals and a fourth semifinal? That 2016 season was also a campaign in which Angelique Kerber reached three major finals and won two. Not a lot of sharing happened on the WTA Tour, and when Serena lifted her 23rd major crown in Melbourne, it seemed that women’s tennis would remain a monarchy run by Serena, not a democracy in which various players had an equal say in the year’s most important tournaments.

Then came Serena’s pregnancy, and in a heartbeat, the WTA became a vast expanse of questions and uncertainties.

We have seen on the ATP Tour how the injury-based absences of top players have created voids — not only in terms of consistent results at majors, but also the overall quality of play. This just-concluded French Open was one of the ATP’s better majors in a while, but over the past two years, men’s tennis at the Grand Slam tournaments has been largely dreary and uninspiring. Most finals have been numbingly predictable snoozefests, and without proven players to take charge in halves or quarters of draws, many random results — “someone will win because someone has to, not because someone is transcendent or special” — have proliferated. The 2017 Roland Garros tournament was like this. The 2017 Wimbledon tournament offered glimpses of such an identity. 2017 U.S. Open was the ultimate representation of this dynamic over the past 18 months. The 2018 Australian Open largely fit this description as well.

Missing the top stars the past 18 to 24 months has noticeably hurt the quality of the ATP Tour, so when Serena had to tend to the task of childbirth, everyone naturally wondered how women’s tennis would respond.

The results have been unpredictable, just as they have been with the men (hello, Sam Querrey making a Wimbledon semifinal; Kevin Anderson playing Pablo Carreno Busta in a U.S. Open semifinal; Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund making Australian Open semis; Marco Cecchinato making these just-concluded Roland Garros semis). However, women’s tennis has produced the compelling major finals men’s tennis has failed to deliver. Just compare the two Roland Garros finals we witnessed over the weekend.

More than that, women’s tennis is crowning the new champions men’s tennis is failing to produce.

Since the start of 2010, men’s tennis has created only three first-time major champions: Andy Murray at the 2012 U.S. Open, Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open, and Marin Cilic at the 2014 U.S. Open.

Ever since Serena stepped away from the sport in early 2017, the WTA — in a span of five major tournaments — has exceeded the men’s total of first-time major winners this decade.

Jelena Ostapenko last year at Roland Garros; Sloane Stephens at the U.S. Open; Caroline Wozniacki in Australia; and Simona Halep this past Saturday in Paris have all crossed the threshold. If the men — #ATPLostBoys — can’t pass the baton to younger generations just yet, the WTA is doing exactly that, and in supremely entertaining fashion. What is even more noteworthy: The players at the center of the WTA’s balanced distribution of signature championships are removing significant what-if burdens from the sport.

2018 Roland Garros - 24 May

Both Images taken from – Jimmie 48

Ostapenko is the outlier in the group, but Stephens has answered questions about who will be the next American player to follow in Serena’s footsteps — not to the same extent, of course, but certainly in terms of being a constant threat to do well at the biggest events in the sport.

In 2018, Wozniacki and Halep have both removed the eight most oppressive words in tennis or golf from their necks: “Best player never to have won a major.” The unpredictability we all expected in women’s tennis once Serena stepped away has been the happiest, most productive unpredictability one could imagine. The combination of entertainment value and redemptive stories has been off the charts.

The flow of life on the WTA Tour has been so cathartic and inspiring that after Wozniacki and Halep removed burdensome labels from their careers, there’s no similarly acute example remaining of a player currently in contention at majors who is trying to banish her demons. Karolina Pliskova, at 26, is the oldest player without a major in the current WTA top 10. As she gets to age 28 or 29, her story might become more poignant, but as someone who has made only two major semifinals and only one major final, Pliskova doesn’t have the accumulation of memorably painful defeats both Wozniacki and Halep absorbed before those two finally broke through. Wozniacki’s and Halep’s respective triumphs this year carried so much impact because the tennis world was aware how often they had climbed the hill, only to be knocked down to the valleys below. Pliskova’s story doesn’t carry the same weight — not yet. The WTA has written the two foremost feel-good stories it possibly could have authored in 2018.

The one still-active player on the WTA Tour who can legitimately claim to be the “Best Player Never To Have Won A Major” is Agnieszka Radwanska, now 29 years old. However, she is outside the top 25 and hasn’t been a top threat at the majors for roughly two years. (She lost to Serena in the 2016 Australian Open semifinals.) Among active players in contention at the year’s biggest tournaments, no first-time major hopefuls carry the promise of hope or the weight of longing to the degree Wozniacki and Halep offered.

In an age when so many sports teams — internationally and in America — are winning their first huge championships in their respective realms of competition, the WTA is in step with the times. That the WTA’s evolution has coexisted with a high quality of play and gripping major finals shows that this version of socialism — wide and relatively even distribution of resources — works in practice, not just in theory.

We will see at Wimbledon if it continues.

 

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RG18

Testigos de la grandeza

Saqib Ali

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Briana Foust

Mientras veía a Rafael Nadal intentar completar el tercer set de la final masculina de Roland Garros a la vez que resistía un calambre en su mano izquierda, de repente, comprendí algo que me impactó: cada pequeño detalle debe darse para que un jugador encuentre el santo grial del tenis, también conocido como ganar un gran título de grand slam. No puede haber ningún accidente.

Ningún conductor ebrio, como el que frenó a Thomas Muster, ni un fanático desequilibrado, como el que interrumpió el curso de la vida de Mónica Seles. No puede haber ninguna lesión, como las muñecas vulnerables de Juan Martín Del Potro o ninguna distracción que pueda causar algún problema personal. Ni siquiera se puede sufrir un lapsus de concentración porque eso le abre la puerta a rivales hambrientos que siempre están trabajando para mejorar. (more…)

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