The 2012 edition of the French Open is upon us. Wild presentation, from A to Z.
All new on the Eastern front: Just like cycling, tennis is a sport that became truly international in the late 80s, early 90s. The Eastern girls started to break into the tour: Monica Seles (1990-92), Iva Majoli (97), Myskina (2004), Ivanovic (08), Kuznetsova (09) have all taken the French Open crown. Today, 9 of the top 20 (including the top four) are behind the old Iron Curtain, not to mention Petkovic (German of Serbian origin), Kerber and Lisicki (German of Polish descent), and Wozniacki (Danish of Polish origin).
Borg, Bjorn: eliminated by Adriano Panatta in 1973 and 77, the man who won in 74 and 75 and from 78 to 81 (when he retired from the game at only twenty-six), did not participate in the 1977 edition, a mystery as famous as the absence of Eddy Merckx from the 1973 Tour de France. Against all odds, the future six-time winner let his greatest rival, Guillermo Vilas, win his very own "French".
Challenger: In the Open era (since 1968), the challengers, at high odds, never win at the Porte d'Auteuil. There are a few thirty-somethings who offered themselves a last hurrah (Gimeno in 72, Gomes in 1990), some teenagers who got their first taste of success (Wilander in 82, Chang in 89 or Kuerten in 97) as a prelude to later greatness, a few surprises in the final (Bruguera against Courier in 93 or Ferrero against Costa in 2002). The only exception is perhaps the unutterable Gaston Gaudio, coming back from two sets to love against Guillermo Coria in 2004. And yet, the Argentine would wander a year in the top 10 after his victory, before vanishing forever.
Deuce: In tennis, like at war, there is no tie. Equality can only be temporary...
Ecuador: winner in 1990 at thirty years and three months, the Ecuadoran Andres Gomez had an innate sense of patience. Beaten sixteen times in a row (including five Grand Slams and a couple of times at the Masters) by Ivan Lendl, he ended the hoodoo in the seventeenth game and shortly thereafter the French Open against a pre-pubescent Agassi. Moral of the story: nobody can beat Andres Gomez seventeen times.
Fabulous Fab ': Fabrice Santoro has participated in 70 Grand Slams over four decades (1989 to 2010), including a run of forty-six consecutive GS tournaments between 1998 and 2010.
Gluten: since he began his gluten-free diet (basically, no milk, no cereal but corn and rice), Novak Djokovic has won the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, a bunch of Masters Series and four Grand Slam tournaments. You know what you have to do...
Hingis, Martina: before the domination of the Eastern bimbos there was Martina Hingis, a kind of female Miloslav Mecir. The Swiss girl will win almost everywhere very young except at Roland Garros where she bowed out against Majoli in 1997. Two years later, in a match she should never have lost, she capitulated against Steffi Graf in her last game. She contested a point, tried to get the public involved and ended up losing. Less than two years after, she put tennis on hold ... at 22. She never returned to the level that was hers before and will never win the French Open that once seemed hers for the taking…
Incandescent: Roland Garros has a thing for complete strangers to the general public to ignite during the fortnight before vanishing into oblivion, or near-oblivion. Pernfors (finalist in 86), Berasategui (in 94), Norman (2000), Verkerk (2003), Puerta (2005), and even the priceless Gaston Gaudio (winner in 2005).
Jam (Kick out the jams...): the MC5 album with the title song composed in 1968, the year of chaos around the world. In its way, the Parisian May reached the dirt of Roland Garros. Thirty-one players gave up in the first round, through fear of not being able to get home (there is a general strike). Unlike the Cannes Film Festival, there would be a record reflecting the time that year. Two Australians (!) competed the final and Rosewall ended up beating Laver.
Kei, Andrea, Francesca and others: Andrea Petkovic (15th in the world) and Daniel Hanchutova (18th) in women; Mardy Fish (8th), Gael Monfils (14th) and Kei Nishikori (18th) in men will be notably missing this edition.
Latvian: Ernests Gulbis never fails to disappoint. He made it to the last 16 in 2007, the quarter-finals the following year, at not even twenty years old, and has since become silent. Guillermo Canas, who became his coach last year, makes no difference. The waste was not inevitable.
Musketeers: From 1953 to 1978, the winner’s trophy answered to the sweet name of Cup Simone Mathieu. The Musketeers’ one, inspired by Philippe Chatrier and manufactured by the jeweller Mellerio, dates from 1981.
New Birth: finalist in Strasbourg last week, can Alizé Cornet (who was ranked 11th Worldwide at eighteen) fight her way back into the Top 20 after four years? Wait and see...
One hour and nineteen minutes: The longest point in the history of Roland Garros between the young Ricart and Marot in the ladies's singles of 1981. The ball passed over the net more than 989 times.
Panatta, Adriano: the only destroyer of Borg in Paris. And he did it twice. In four sets. The first time in 1973, in the second round, the Scandinavian was only seventeen. The second time three years later, in the quarterfinals and Panatta would go on to win the tournament after saving a match point in the first round and "Ice Borg" would win the 42 games and six tournaments before and after (74, 75, 78, 79, 80, 81).
Qualifier: A woman or a man who survives the hell of the qualifications and loses in the first round of the big show goes home with 18 000 Euros. Hang on for one more round and it’s 28 000 Euros.
Rafa: No need to pronounce his full name to know who you’re talking about. It might sound a bit like "Guga" but the Spaniard will rate as highly as Kuerten did in the heart of Porte d'Auteuil public. Nevertheless, little by little, his trademark game earns him every year more and more points. The best player in the history of clay is a lord who will play this year to break the record of Borg (6 titles) and join Chris Evert (with a scarcely credible 7 titles in Paris).
Swedish: with the exception of 1984 (McEnroe-Lendl), there was always a Swede in the final of RG in the 80s. Borg to begin, Wilander to follow, Edberg and Pernfors to finish. The decade was one long endless ice flow before Norman (2000) and Soderling (2009, 2010) lose in the final against Kuerten and Federer. Who's next?
Teltscher, Eliot: One of the funniest episodes in the history of Roland. Eliot Teltscher, an American youngster, no slouch on clay, couldn’t stand to lose in the first round against an Ilie Nastase coming to the end of his career. It was pouring down, the court was invaded by a playful crowd and Teltscher lost the plot. He grabbed the referee by the collar while an executive strangled the Yankee crocodile for him to stop. A fine of 2500 dollars for aggressive behaviour. How much would be it today?
Unusual: Roger Federer is the only player to have lost four finals in the French Open and each time against Rafael Nadal, not to mention the semi-final of 2005. The saga continues…
Vladimir Velickovic: but also Folon Aillaud, Alechinsky, Miro, Meurice and Scully. They have all created a poster for Roland Garros. This year, it’s Herve Di Rosa who got the job. Modest, colourful and inspired by graffiti and rock & roll...
Wawrinka, Stanislas: Because we needed a W. Twice Olympic champion in Beijing with "Rodddggger", the world n°21 will not be in the same half of the draw as his legendary compatriot who has stopped his progress in the last 16 the past two years.
X (factor): the strange equation that says so much about the era. Apart from the Big Three, Lleyton Hewitt (U.S. Open 2001, Wimbledon 2002) and Roddick (U.S. Open 03) in ancient times, there is only one Grand Slam winner in the men’s draw. It's Juan Martin Del Potro (U.S. Open 09), the only title that has escaped the three ogres since Marat Safin's victory in Australia in 2005.
Y (Generation): The Generation Y - born roughly between 1980 and 2000 - with a computer in the bad - is also known to be precarious. Most of them are classified beyond the one hundred and fiftieth place in the world but are qualified in the table: Mannarino , Devilder (France), Krajinovic (Serbia), Baker (USA), Kuznetsov (Russia), Munoz de la Nava (Spain) ...
Zvereva, Natasha: finalist at seventeen in 1988, the former Soviet cashed in a double bagel (6-0, 6-0) in thirty-four minutes, against a dominant, unplayable Steffi Graf (then 19 years old). That year, the German would win the Grand Slam and the Olympic gold.
by Rico Rizzitelli