Awaiting the inevitable final Nadal-Djokovic and the equally inevitable triumph of Maria Sharapova, the French Open has fortunately been full of surprises, anecdotes and things of all kinds. Here are ten of them, with a lot of ping-pong in interview rooms.
Ernests Gulbis, a misogynist, a brilliant agitator or just a misunderstood man?
He may have played the best tournament of his career on the courts, Ernests Gulbis’ Roland Garros 2014 will be remembered for his answer to the question "Would you recommend to your two younger sisters a career in tennis?" asked in press conference. Tit for tat the Latvian replied: "I hope that they won’t make a career in tennis, because for a woman, it's really difficult. I would not want one of my sisters to become pro player. It is a difficult path." Until then, everything was fine the point of view of the enfant terrible of world tennis was defensible: the top level is tough with a lot of sacrifices for a very uncertain success... The fall, however, is less clear: "A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family needs to think about kids. What kids you can think about until age of 27 if you’re playing professional tennis, you know. That’s tough for a woman, I think." Suffice to say that he didn't make many friends that day...
Maria Sharapova, return to sender
As a tennis player she may be monolithic, but as the young woman that she is, Maria Sharapova doesn't lack subtlety... When the questions interest her. Asked about the Ernests Gulbis incident, her eye fizzled: I mean let’s be honest with that. I think he’s great entertainment and we love to listen to what he has to say… in a way, I think he was joking, but he’s playing the sport, so how bad can it be?» Before developing a more subtle argument than expected: « I think the sport brings so many opportunities to women. I mean, it’s brought me so many things into my life and my career. I don’t regret any step that I have taken. I mean, but then, on the other hand, sometimes I wake up and think, well, I don’t want this on my kids. But then when I’m playing the matches, I’m in front of thousands of people and the experience that this sports brings, I think, of course I want my kids to do this. This is such a huge lesson in life.»
Roger Federer and his records
Roger Federer is like that: even in a little fortnight, he sets records. Defeated in the last sixteen by Ernests Gulbis, the man with 17 Grand Slams has nonetheless added two new lines to his personal Guinness Book: he became the only tennis player in history to have won more than 60 matches in all four majors (73 in Australia, 61 in Paris, 67 in Wimbledon and 67 at the U.S. Open) and, incidentally, the most consistent player in this second week of Roland Garros (12 times, just one more than Guillermo Vilas).
We had never seen anything like it: the first three seeds of a Grand Slam eliminated in the first three rounds. At Roland Garros, Serena Williams (No. 1, 2nd round), Li Na (No. 2, 1st round) and Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 3, 3rd round) have all, in spite of themselves, wrote history. Curiosity: all three have lost against players from the new generation, born in 1993, namely Garbine Muguruza, Kristina Mladenovic and Ajla Tomljanovic. The long-awaited emergence of the new wave in the WTA?
We had never seen anything like it (again): the two champions of the Australian Open eliminated in the first round of the following Roland Garros. Stanislas Wawrinka, defeated at nightfall before a handful of spectators by Guillermo Garcia Lopez, and Li Na, ejected by the French Kristina Mladenovic, wrote a first, overwhelmed by the pressures and expectations weighing on their shoulders. By dint of seeing Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams winning every tournament, we almost forgot that, even more than the rare feat, a series of success is the greatest challenge for a champion.
Petkovic, tennis, Nietzsche and the existentialists
In sport, there are press conferences where the player comes with a catalogue of banalities to discuss - to the tune of "It was a tough game," "I played my best tennis" and "I'm not looking further than my next opponent "- and then there's Andrea Petkovic. A 27-year-old young woman, rising to the Top 10 with an insatiable curiosity. A fan of music, politics and literature. So when the interview suddenly drifted to her literary tastes, no reason to be surprised. Just enjoy: "Philosophy-wise, Nietzsche is the one that impressed me most. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says and it’s very dark and sad, but he was a good writer. I actually really liked the existentialists in French. I read a lot of (Jean-Paul) Sartre and (Albert) Camus" Here you go…
My Taylor is rich
“Sorry – my bad” moment: spectators, but also journalists, wavered between disbelief and patronizing smile when Taylor Townsend first appeared on the Suzanne Lenglen court to challenge Alizé Cornet in the second round. It must be said that the curves of the girl who just turned 18 make her look more like a gospel singer than a high-level athlete. But those smiles only lasted the time of the warm up: the American then made sure to make them disappear with heavy shots and inspired volleys, eliminating in the meantime the French No. 1. It was a long time since women's tennis had generated such a raw talent. Indeed, with her slightly chubby body, this incredibly talented player somehow reminds us of a man called Henri Leconte...
The log cabin in Canada gets bigger
Tabernacle! Usually, the best North Americans in tennis are American. But now that Canada has decided to endlessly reshuffle the cards and writes the most beautiful pages of its history on the courts. While the kids of Uncle Sam have all packed up before the quarterfinals, Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic have represented the maple leaf country in their respective Big Dipper. Simply put: Bouchard is the first player from her country to play the semi-finals of a Grand Slam twice... and furthermore twice in a row: in Melbourne in January and now in Paris. Raonic is, for his part, the first Canadian to play a quarterfinal in any major in the Open era. It was about time: at 41, Daniel Nestor was starting to feel a little lonely to hold high the red and white colours in the second week of Grand Slams... in doubles.
From fathers to sons
They are called Bubka, Mecir and Gomez. First names? Sergei Jr., Miloslav Jr. and Emilio. The first is the son of the ultimate legend of pole vaulting, the second is the offspring of the legendary "Cat", tennis Olympic champion in 1988, and the last one is the progeny of Andres, who won Roland Garros in 1990. All three were playing in the qualifier rounds of Roland Garros. Bubka lost in the first round, Gomez won a match, while Mecir - spitting image of his daddy - managed to get a ticket to the final table. And if the stories of siblings are common in tennis, it's less the case with regard to heredity: only the Stolles (Fred and Sandon), the Dents (Phil and Taylor) and Roger-Vasselin (Christophe and Edward) have managed the feat to play Roland Garros two generations away. While we’re at it: thanks to his first round played against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Edouard Roger-Vasselin emulated his father, who had walked the Central in singles three decades earlier (semi-finalist in 1983 in particular). They are the only fathers and sons to be able to boast of having played a match on Philippe Chatrier court.
Nicolas « chip and charge » Mahut
Nicolas Mahut can be sharp elsewhere than at the net: defeated in the first round by Mikhail Kukushkin, the French did not appreciate to be welcomed in the interview room by an American journalist obviously unfamiliar with his result, and who was eager for a second round Mahut/Isner, remake of their blockbuster at Wimbledon, four years ago.
Mahut: Congratulations? I lost.
Journalist: Oh you lost? Oh. What happened then?
Mahut: Are you serious? Have you watched the match?
Journalist: No. I thought you won. I’m sorry.
Mahut, turning his head towards the other side of the room: Questions in French please.