While we understood Serena as the prohibitive pre-tournament favorite, we have said many times that clay is a different animal that always treats her differently. We said that her M.O. at RG was that something always seems to go wrong. Were we surprised at the loss to Razzano? Absolutely. Were we on it? No. Betting against Serena is a bad business, as we’ve said, and only further reinforced by her destruction of Azarenka in Madrid, and that little gambit we took with Vica.
Hopefully someone took our underdog philosophy and made some bank on Razzano. Still, not an easy bit of business, down a set and 5-1 in the breaker before the tide turned. How often does Serena choke one away? Or lose R1 at a major? Until Tuesday, the answers to both were never. But then again, neither the partisan French crowd–in truth a pit of vipers–nor Chair Eva Asderaki, with whom Lady S has past history, were going to do her any favors. On Asderaki: 1) That’s a tough over-rule. I don’t like to criticize calls, as it’s bad form, and at RG, the Chairs do player a larger role than elsewhere because the stupid clay leaves stupid marks…and yet, there is simply no line call conflicts on any other surface and at the other majors, where they have gone to modern technology. John McEnroe has said often enough that he feels he would have been far more successful with the current Hawkeye system because he expended so much energy fighting officials and that had such a negative impact on his game. Anyone who remembers John John understands the point all too well. Are the French cheap, stupid, or just stubborn?
Ding ding ding. Anyway on to 2) Point penalties for “hinderance” on player audibles are never called, yet has now been called by 1 Chair in 2 different majors against Serena in the last calendar year. Does Asderaki make that call against Azarenka and Sharapova, the tour’s loudest players? No. But then again, they haven’t called Asderaki a “hater” and a “terrible person.” But then again, again, Asderaki’s 1st hinderance call in the US OPEN FINAL against Stosur was not prompted by unfortunate remarks.
The Chair has played way too big of a role in Serena’s most recent USO & RG losses. The same Chair. While we may stop short of calling Asderaki a racist on this page, we would have to agree with Serena’s assessment. Also, we aren’t one of those types who scoffs at the notion of racism in tennis. We also feel that Asderaki is obviously prejudiced against Serena, if not actually prejudice (although…) In a virtually even match on points (Razzano won on total points by 5, 117-112), those 3 points essentially gifted to Razzano would have swung the total in favor of Serena by one. Three points is practically a game, or half a breaker. Frankly, the Chair should not play a determining role in ANY match, EVER. If the Chair’s fairness is questioned, then it ruins the integrity of the game.
On to little Lauren Davis, who announced herself this week with a huge victory over very impressive German Mona Barthel. We thought Barthel was set to turn heads here. But Davis, on a foreign surface, abused Barthel. Despite her loss to the American bulldog, Christina McHale in the next round, we are very pleased with her results, obviously coming into RG prepared for both the surface and the stage. If Barthel hasn’t yet registered as a name, it’s only because ascent has been so meteoric. That is a tremendous win. Perhaps MJF is doing a better job with our young ones than we usually credit her for, having been awarded the Fed Cup post out of what we feel is blatant cronyism. As for McHale, she may not be ready to take out Li Na, but we watched it closely, and also listened to RadioRG tell it in stretches. We all thought that McHale scared Li very much with that strong, clean first set, and you can really see McHale winning a match like that next time around. McHale seems to get as much torque on her forehand as any woman we’ve seen this week. In short, Joy-zee was in da house.
John Isner, 2 years after setting the major match length record at SW-19 after his 70-68 5th set win over Mahut, now has the French Open record, this time losing to Paul Henri Matthieu 18-16 in the 5th. This match has us considering if John McEnroe isn’t right about something else as well. We were inclined to disagree with Johnny Mac, who has pushed for deciding 5th set breakers at all the majors. We had felt that the extended 5th set format at the AO, RG, SW-19, and DC has a certain mystique and that the players who take part in those matches enhance the history of the game and their own names by playing in these most memorable matches.
But the epic Isner-Mahut affair did effectively scuttle the rest of both players’ 2010 seasons. Mac talked about how the players have discussed job actions in order to pursue better prize money for lesser players and better protections. He’s correct that the 5th set breaker would protect players health and ultimately their careers. And the very personable Dimitry Tursunov underscored the travails of the lesser player in a phenomenal interview he gave to Matt Cronin and Matt Brown of RadioRG. Tursunov discussed his gig as a pro tennis blogger and how fickle fans always threaten to unfollow him, and more serious stuff, like how expensive the tour is for lesser players like him, who God forbid, want to travel with a coach, a physio and even a girlfriend. Tursunov candidly explained that in a city like Paris he can barely afford to do anything. We loved Tursunov in this spot. While Justin Gimelstob (who hit with Brian Baker prior to Baker’s win over Xavier Malisse and gave great insight as to the Baker story, an American who played in the RG Junior Final in 2003 and was injured the next year and then spent almost 8 years off the tour) is obviously our favorite TTC personality by a mile, we are considering throwing our support behind Tursunov as well, who would be a fine score for TTC.
After an easy R1, Isner spoke with Bill Macatee of TTC, and discussed how he really likes playing on the clay, because of the time it affords him and because the ball bounces up high, right into his strike zone. We weren’t paying close enough attention, and missed on another upset. Paul Henri Matthieu is perhaps the flattest hitting Frenchman there is, and goes very flat on both sides. Even flatter, we feel, than Gilles Simon. Isner got a bad matchup in that regard, and is not as good when he has to get down low to play balls. But the central issue with Isner remains his inability to generate opportunities in the return game. We talked a lot about how Kevin Anderson was such a bad matchup for him back in Delray, because Anderson holds serve easily. How many times have we seen Isner play these matches where he can’t muster a break? We know that Jim Courier has been coordinating his efforts with guys like Isner and Harrison, and their coaches. Isner’s coach, Craig Boynton, has done a great job getting this giant to play defense as he does, but the laterals are always going to be the question with a guy this big. And now, in 3 recent majors (2012 AO, 2012 FO, 2010 SW-19), he has had to go to an extended fifth set, and all 3 times he faced unimpressive servers (Nalbandian, Mahut, Matthieu), or relatively unimpressive servers.
Isner has heart and smarts and weapons, but he has to do better in spots like these. Matthieu in the 2nd round, on a collision course with Andy Murray, weak on clay in the quarters, then possibly Nadal, who he pushed to a 5th set here last year, Nadal’s only 5th set ever at RG. That’s a bitter defeat. But Wimbledon should also offer a wealth of opportunities for a guy who serves out of a tree top.
Then there’s Sloane Stephens. Wow. This is why we have been begging for her inclusion on the Fed Cup team. She’s our best bet. She’s not tiny like McHale, but she can defend like McHale, and her weapons are real. Frankly, she has dominated this week, blowing out BMS and Johansson, and also straight setting Makarova, who was a big favorite. We are going with her tomorrow against another SS, Sam Stosur. We’ve gotten hot, pegging Varvara Lepchenko for good things throughout the week so far (another American), and today we had Granollers, Kanepi, and Rus.
Tomorrow it’s Sloane at +475. As we see it, Stephens has the pace to target Stosur’s backhand and actually get the ball there. If Stosur is allowed to run around every forehand, she wins. She probably does enough to win here tomorrow, but she has been very wonky since winning the Open, and Sloane has the power and speed to show her up a little. We do not see this line as being a realistic indicator of the scoreline. We do not see the rock solid Stosur we saw two years ago here.
We’ll be happy to watch it all play out, provided NBC and ESPN and TTC can get the coverage straight, and we don’t have to watch a Spanish feed of the match off the internet (as we did today for Raonic-Monaco). And hopefully Asderaki is chairing on another court, or better yet, no court at all.