After 15 days of battling play on the terre battue, the second Grand Slam of the year ended with a historic 10th French Open title for the "King of Clay" Rafael Nadal. The two weeks made for plenty of interesting stories and results — some surprising, some expected — and as the dirt settles on the courts of Roland Garros, here's a look at some of the defining moments from Paris.
Rafael Nadal's achievements rewriting history books
It was a perfect 10 for Nadal at this year's Roland Garros as he completed 'La Decima' with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 thumping of Stan Wawrinka in the final. It wasn't just the title that further cemented his legacy as the greatest clay-courter of all time, but the way he cruised his way through seven rounds.
The Spaniard didn't lose a single set (for the third time in his career) and only dropped 35 games on his way to the title — the fewest he has ever lost while winning a Grand Slam trophy. Only Bjorn Borg, who lost 32 games at the 1978 French Open, had dropped lesser. The records that he has set with this title win — his 79-2 win-loss record, 10 trophies at the same Slam — look like they will remain untouched in the history books for a long, long time to come.
Kudos to the FFT (French Tennis Federation) for putting up a celebration worthy of Nadal's towering achievement. The "Bravo. Nadal" banners unfurled in the crowd, the No 10 monogrammed with the Roland Garros logo, uncle Toni, his coach since he was six, handing him the Coupe des Mousquetaires all made for an emotional ceremony. To top it all off, a video montage of Nadal's domination since 2005 helped underline why he is one of the greatest players to ever embrace this sport. Not that anyone needed a reminder, but it was a sweet moment to see the Spaniard tear up as he took it all in after his victory.
A new star is born in Jelena Ostapenko
Ostapenko's stunning title triumph was surprising for more reasons than one. The young Latvian played a fearless brand of high-risk, high-rewards tennis throughout the tournament and barely showed any sign of nerves even in her maiden Grand Slam final at the young age of 20. She became the first unseeded woman to win at Roland Garros since 1933 with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Simona Halep.
Ostapenko crushed the ball on every shot, blazed the clay-courts with her forehand and backhand winners, swung freely to blast her opponents off the court and played like she belonged to the big stage. She broke every rule in the how-to-play-on-clay manual and emerged a winner on her least preferred surface. And she was able to do so after beating a player whose defensive, counter-punching game is suited perfectly for the red dirt.
The fact that Ostapenko notched up 299 winners in all (131 more than men's titlist Nadal), had not won any tour-level titles in her professional career before the French Open, had never won a match at Roland Garros before and fought her way back from a set and 0-3 down all added to the spectacle of her victory. The bizarre coincidence that the last player to win their debut title at Roland Garros was Gustavo Kuerten on 8 June, 1997 — the very day that Ostapenko was born — just made the title win that much more incredible.
Ostapenko's win was also a great achievement for her two female coaches — her mother Jelena Jakovļeva and two-time French Open doubles champion Anabel Medina. May her win encourage more players to train under female coaches.
Simona Halep's lost opportunity
Halep came in to the tournament as the heavy favourite to win. Even though there were some concerns over her fitness, they were soon dismissed by her authoritative wins in the opening few rounds. Her Houdidni-esque escape in the quarter-final against Elina Svitolina further convinced fans and experts alike that she was poised to win her first Grand Slam title.
Halep's efficient defensive game, high-percentage shots, quick pace and brilliant retrieval skills to transition to attack helped her navigate her way past Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals.
In the final, she was just three games away lifting the trophy and had break points to go up 4-0 in the second set, but that's when the tide turned against the third seed. She would only win four games after that in the match and seemed helpless in the face of Ostapenko's aggressive play.
With Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka all missing from this year's edition of the French Open, one has to wonder if this was Halep's best chance to win a Grand Slam title. The Romanian finished runner-up at Roland Garros in 2014 as well, but this defeat is definitely bound to sting way more.
She has been working on a more positive attitude on court, and she will need a lot of mental strength to bounce back from this defeat.
Novak Djokovic's embarrassing exit
The defending champion hit a new low at this year's French Open after his tame 6-7, 3-6, 0-6 loss to sixth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals. Djokovic, one of the best returners on the tour, won a measly 28 of 82 points on Thiem’s serve and was handed a bagel for the first time at a Major since 2005.
It was his lack of a response after losing the first two sets that was extremely uncharacteristic and this is the first time since 2014 that he will not a hold a Grand Slam title. Over his 12-month downward spiral, he has only won two ATP titles and he has also dropped out of the top two rankings for the first time since 2011.
The Djokovic decline is officially a slump — he tried the "shock therapy" of firing his entire coaching staff and then attempted to recover by working with eight-time Slam champion Andre Agassi, but nothing has yielded results yet.
He isn't being held back by any ailment or injury, and his problems seem to be more mental than physical. The Serbian needs to desperately find a way to stop his downward slide, and with Wimbledon coming up, things could get far more worse very quickly.
Stories of compassion on and off the court
This French Open will be remembered for a number of sweet gestures, with incidents of sportsmanship from the players winning lots of hearts. Petra Kvitova's return after a horrific knife attack and subsequent surgery was easily the story of the opening few rounds, as she received an outpouring of support from her peers and everyone in the tennis fraternity.
Juan Martin del Potro's kind words to an injured Nicholas Almagro, Horacio Zeballos's kind efforts to to help carry David Goffin's bags off court after the latter suffered a nasty ankle injury, and Thiem's comforting words of consolation to Steve Johnson for his father's death after he defeated the American all were great stories of humanity in the backdrop of tough competition between the players.
Petra Martic's feel-good run to the fourth round after a period of 10 months spent on the sidelines due to a potential career-threatening injury, and lucky loser Ons Jabeur's accomplishment of becoming the first Arab to reach the third round of a Major were other performances that grabbed headlines for all the right reasons. Every Grand Slam gives the sport intriguing storylines and new players to watch out for, but this French Open has been a really heart-warming one.
The fuss over wildcards
Heading into the French Open, the main controversy was FFT's decision to deny Sharapova a wildcard on the basis of "protecting the high standards of the tournament". They ended up giving out wildcards to 12 French players (six male and six female) and two each to Americans and Australians.
However, only two of these wildcards — Benjamin Bonzi and Chloe Paquet managed to win their first rounds. Bonzi's opening opponent Daniil Medvedev retired hurt in the fourth set to give the win to the Frenchman.
Moreover, one of the French wildcards, Laurent Lokoli, and French qualifier Maxime Hamou were embroiled in controversies — Lokoli for refusing to shake his opponent Martin Klizan's hand after a tough-five set loss, while Hamou had his credentials revoked after forcibly trying to kiss a TV reporter during a live interview. In a sharp contrast to the FFT's moral high ground, these incidents did considerable damage to the reputation of the sport. Perhaps it wouldn't have been such a bad decision to allow Sharapova to participate in the tournament after all.
Published Date: Jun 13, 2017 07:01 am | Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 07:01 am