Yes, Petra Martic played really well on Wednesday at Roland Garros. Martic is an in-form player enjoying a productive season. She had all the answers against Kristina Mladenovic. Full credit to Martic for delivering the goods. We can all affirm that point and log it in our memory banks.
Yet, what French tennis fans will remember on the WTA side of this tournament is the simple, sad fact that yet again, a possible dark-horse contender for the French Open title fell short of expectations.
It is as normal as the sun rising in the east.
Amelie Mauresmo went through this. She succeeded in Australia and Wimbledon, but in Paris, she couldn’t find magic.
Marion Bartoli did better than most… which meant a Roland Garros semifinal, and nothing more.
Mary Pierce was the Frenchwoman who mastered the mixture of pressure and adrenaline which accompanies a French contender’s arrival at Roland Garros. Since her championship in 2000, no Frenchwoman has won Roland Garros… but that is not the most depressing fact about female French tennis players at the French Open.
This is the most depressing fact: Mary Pierce is both the only Frenchwoman to make a Roland Garros final in the Open Era AND the only Frenchwoman to even make a final in the same era.
Francoise “Frankie” Durr won the last amateur French championship in 1967. Since the advent of the Open Era one year later in 1968, Pierce is the only Frenchwoman to make or win a final in Paris. This fact is built on the decades of struggles for the Mauresmos, the Bartolis, the Caroline Garcias, the Alize Cornets, and others who have not been able to shoulder the pressure of playing at home.
The one fundamentally comforting thought for Mladenovic is that her professional partnership with coach Sascha Bajin is still in its early stages. Mladenovic can tell herself — legitimately and convincingly — that this wasn’t and isn’t an instant-fix project but a long-term journey with Bajin, formerly the coach of two-time major champion Naomi Osaka. Nevertheless, the reality that Mladenovic had begun to improve, highlighted by a deep run in Rome, created the thought (in this writer’s brain, and also some other minds) that she could make a run akin to 2017, when she reached the quarterfinals and raised hopes that she could replicate Pierce’s prime professional moment as a tennis player.
That thought did not come to fruition this time.
Maybe Mladenovic will be ready to deliver the goods next year. All in all, it is a reasonable — not desperate — line of analysis. It doesn’t feel like false hope.
Yet, it is still impossible to escape the notion that even if Mladenovic IS in fact in a better position to conquer Roland Garros next year, history says it will still be very difficult.
Home-nation pressure — whether Sam Stosur in Melbourne or Jo Konta at Wimbledon — is a very real thing.
This is a very familiar place to be for French tennis fans.