From Novak Djokovic's heart on clay to Serena Williams' wait: Takeaways from French Open 2016
Now that the dust has finally settled on Roland Garros, let's take a look back at two tumultuous weeks of tennis. While it was poetic that the sun finally shone on Novak Djokovic as he lifted his maiden Coupe des Mousquetaires, I was glad to see the end of this year's French Open. Wrecked by torrential rains and player withdrawals, this was one of the most miserable slams in recent memory.
The Major began on a soaked note but it had a darn sweet ending, with record books being re-written and two new singles Champions. From a potential lawsuit to jaw-dropping tennis, the fortnight threw up some interesting stories and here are the top six takeaways from RG16:
Novak Djokovic makes history
The 2016 French Open will be remembered as the one where Novak Djokovic finally carved his name in history (and a heart on the red clay of Roland Garros). Eighth man to complete the Career Grand Slam, 200 weeks at No. 1, crossing $100 million prize money and only the third male player to hold all four Major trophies at the same time. Not a bad fortnight, eh?
Djokovic's dominance of the men's tour was reflected in the way he captured the one title that had eluded him (Cincinnati Masters remains the only jewel missing from his crown) - dropping only two sets and picking apart Andy Murray, the second-ranked player in the world, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 for his 12th slam title.
However, let's not forget that his 12th attempt at glory at the French Open could have had a very unfortunate (and rather anti-climactic) end if not for the quick reflex of a lines judge. In his quarter-final, Djokovic had swung and thrown his racquet in frustration, which ended up missing the agile official and hitting the advertising boards behind. Probably the closest the Serbian came to crashing out of the tournament.
History denies Serena Williams
Serena Williams quest for a 22nd Major title was once again thwarted, this time by upcoming star, Garbine Muguruza. After collecting four consecutive Grand Slam trophies through Wimbledon last year to raise her career count to 21 - one short of Steffi Graf's Open-era record - Williams has stalled, losing in the semifinals at the U.S. Open and in the finals at the last two majors.
The Spaniard was "Muguruthless" in the final, matching Serena for pace and power. The World No. 1 had played two tight three-setters over her last two rounds but came out firing in the final. Muguruza displayed nerves of steel to seal her maiden Grand Slam title in straight sets, 7-5, 6-4.
While at the age of 34, the window of opportunity may seem to be shutting down for the American, she is no mood to throw in the towel any time soon. Wimbledon now becomes even more important for the American and there's no doubt that she'll continue to be the favourite for SW19 as well as the US Open, but the pressure to cross 22 will keep mounting with every match.
The Future is (almost) here
While Muguruza produced a Serena-esque performance in the final, indicating that several more Grand Slams should be in store for the 22-year-old, the men's side saw an emerging star in Dominic Thiem. With his semi-final appearance he has firmly made a place for himself in the Top 10, rising to No. 7 this week.
The NextGen match between 22-year-old Thiem and 19-year-old Alex Zverev was one of the most interesting encounters of the earlier rounds. The men's game is crying out loud for new contenders, it seems that the baton might skip a generation - Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic all had disappointing campaigns - and it's about time that the youngest batch of male players stepped up to fill the void.
The upcoming talents may be eager to grab the proverbial torch, but the veterans are in no mood to let go. Djokovic and Nadal turned 29 and 30 respectively over the last two weeks, and the Big Four stronghold on the top of the rankings continues. In Paris, 50 men in the main draw were 30 and older, setting a new record.
Rain, rain...didn't go away
One thing the 2016 French Open made clear - Roland Garros needs a roof. Unfortunately for fans and the players, this isn't going to happen any time soon. The slam saw its first washout in 16 years last Monday and only two hours of play on Tuesday.
Not only did the rains completely mess up the schedule, they also kept spectators at bay. The semi-finals on Suzanne-Lenglen were played to half-empty crowds because of rescheduling and ticket issues. Agnieszka Radwanska was “pissed and angry” after exiting the tournament in a match played in unrelenting rain. Djokovic had to play for five days in six to make up a backlog. Thankfully, the slam didn't spill over to 16 days but trust tennis fans to spot humour in the direst situations. #DrenchOpen and #RainyGarros were fun hashtags while they lasted.
With the US Open getting a retractable cover this year, the French Open will be the only tournament left without a roof. Despite tournament director Guy Forget's best efforts, the slam in Paris will only receive respite by 2020. Let's hope the rains stay away for the next three years!
Injuries ruled the roost
From Federer's back to Nadal's wrist, from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's groin to Victoria Azarenka's knee - injuries played spoil sport at the French Open. The Swiss player pulled out before the draw was even made, Nadal withdrew after playing just two rounds and 5th and 6th seeds - Azarenka and Tsonga respectively - were forced to retire mid-way during their matches.
It was only the second time in 13 years that both Federer and Nadal didn't play the third round of a Major. The absence of these players took away the sheen from an already soggy slam. Massive fan favourites, their withdrawals definitely added to the organisers' misery as the French Open seemed to be missing a spark in its opening week.
Also missing in action, was suspended star Maria Sharapova. While the wait for her verdict keeps getting longer, the tennis player hasn't stayed out of the limelight, actively indulging on social media to make up for her time spent away from the courts.
Who let the zebras out?
For our final takeaway, let's look at the sartorial choices made by the Adidas-sponsored athletes. For two weeks, the grounds of Roland Garros looked like a bunch of zebras had escaped from a zoo, thanks to the black-and-white striped outfits sported by several top-ranked players. While the brand and players defended the design, called Dazzle camouflage, it was the butt of several jokes on Twitter and became a running meme.
Incidentally, the last "zebra" left standing was Kristina Mladenovic, who lifted the Women's Doubles Trophy along with compatriot Caroline Garcia. But what's more interesting is that Muguruza, also sponsored by Adidas, escaped the "jailed" look, thanks to her association with the Stella McCartney line.
Maybe it's something in the red clay that always brings out the weird and the garish in people.
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