How do French Open champions manage the transition to Wimbledon?

Jun 17, 2015, 8:38:48 PM

How do French Open champions manage the transition to Wimbledon?
From red to green, it's not just for the viewer that the transition between clay courts and grass courts is sudden. While it is the turn of Stan Wawrinka to give it a try, overview of how Parisian champions lived their Channel crossing.

From red to green, it's not just for the viewer that the transition between clay courts and grass courts is sudden, brutal even. Conqueror of the Seine, the French Open winner is exposed to many shipwrecks along the Thames. While it’s the turn of Stan Wawrinka to give it a try, overview of how Parisian champions managed their Channel crossing.


They quickly run aground during preparatory tournament for Wimbledon

Barely recovering from his Parisian strong sensations, the fresh French Open champion often has difficulty to keep the pace at the Queen’s, Nottingham or, more recently, Halle. No later than last year, Rafael Nadal, crowned by his 9th Musketeers Cup, was defeated from his first matches in Germany by a funny lad struggling to remain in the Top 100, Dustin Brown. Nine years earlier, Rafa had experienced the same misadventure against another German, Alexander Waske, 147th in the world, who was again defeated from his opening match in Halle a few days after his first Grand Slam victory. Meanwhile, Nadal accumulated the quarterfinals at the Queen's (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011), which, for a top seed means two matches won before falling, often against a grass specialist (respectively Hewitt, Mahut, Lopez and Tsonga). His elder Carlos Moya hasn’t been more successful after his French Open victory in 1998: arrived in Halle in stride, even though he had made a convincing opening match against the French attacker Guillaume Raoux, 35th in the World... Before falling even harder against the 101st in the world Henrik Dreekmann! And infamy doesn't strike only the Spaniards, in 1984, when he too, had just opened his record in Grand Slam, Ivan Lendl was defeated straight away at the Queen's by the American Leif Shiras, who managed the greatest feat of his career. The previous decade, Guillermo Vilas (1977, second round in Nottingham) and Adriano Panatta (1976, first round in Nottingham) had undergone the same kind of snub. Not to mention Björn Borg, defeated on a knife-edge in the first round of Nottingham in 1974 by the Czech Milan Holecek. (5/7 6/3 12/10)!


They only regain their footing at Wimbledon

Winning a Grand Slam. Celebrate it. Enjoy it. Take advantage of the media exposure. Rest. It's human. But it’s also generally a bad idea if one has ambitions for Wimbledon. It's simple: the French Open winners who managed to shine in the wake at Wimbledon without any preparation tournament can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And we must say that it was the greatest legends of tennis - and the most polyvalent: Roger Federer, in 2009, for example, and for the only time in his career, erased all intermediary steps on the road to Wimbledon, him who is the record holder of titles in Halle. This didn't prevent him to triumph on the courts of the All England Club in stride. Ten years earlier, it took an extraordinary Pete Sampras to deny to Andre Agassi this same double Roland Garros-Wimbledon. Against Boris Becker in 1986 and Pat Cash in 1987, Ivan Lendl saw the birth of his “Wimbledon curse”, also defeated twice on the last step. Finally, the king of kings of the category is called Björn Borg, and his triple double 'Roland' - 'Wimb' in 1978, 1979 and 1980 without updating the software in the meantime for the transition to grass. To say that in his time it was not to make simple adjustments from one surface to another, but to completely overhaul his game, to go from being a lifting baseliner in Paris to a serve-and-volley player in London!


For others, to only come back for Wimbledon means, most of the time, to arrive without much ambition: Mats Wilander (1985) unceremoniously eliminated in the first round by Slobodan Zivojinovic, terrible bomber of his time carved out to cut the grass; Andres Gomez (1990) Swept in the first round by Jim Grabb (49th in the World)... Rafael Nadal, the only time in his career when he decided not to do a trial run (2013), was eliminated in the first round against Steve Darcis. A little better: Jim Courier, third round in 1992 - but a sweet dream of calendar Grand Slam broken by the obscure Andrei Olhovskiy; Michael Chang, last 16 in 1989; Juan Carlos Ferrero, last 16 in 2003; Mats Wilander, quarterfinals in 1988, stopped by his London nemesis Pat Cash. Courier again in quarterfinals in 1991. Overall, the quarterfinals are often a glass ceiling, especially in twentieth century tennis, when the surface change was then similar to a wide gap.


They continue to crush everything on their way

But sometimes, a player is riding such a dynamic that he doesn't even realize that the surface beneath his feet has changed. It’s what happened to Rafael Nadal in 2008. Winner of Roland Garros where he crushed the competition, he did it again at the Queen's, defeating Bjorkman, Nishikori, Karlovic, Roddick and Djokovic to win his first title on grass... Three weeks before a second and even more prestigious. In the same spirit, Ilie Nastase succeeded the double Roland Garros and Queen's in 1973, adding Rome in the middle, at the time played after the French Open! Finally, we also had to pay tribute to the Stakhanovist of the courts Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who only had time to jump on a plane to Halle after his triumphs (in singles and doubles) at Roland Garros in 1996. The Russian - future triple winner in Germany - then signed his first final on grass, only defeated in three sets by Nicklas Kulti, after eliminating in the semifinals Daniel Vacek, his doubles partner... with whom he also played the final in Halle! A total of 22 games played for 20 victories in three weeks. But he paid the price in the first round at Wimbledon...


They boycott grass

If you truly hate grass, you might as well be honest and stay quietly at home rather than run after the prize money. This is what many diehard clay-lovers thought of Wimbledon. Pioneer of the affront to the All England Club, regularly considered the greatest tennis tournament in the world? A French obviously, prophet in his country in 1983: exhausted after his victory at Roland Garros, Yannick Noah - anyway uninspired by grass - took several weeks off. But the trend really intensified in the 90s, accentuated by the habit of Wimbledon to enact a system of seeded players not defined by ATP rankings, but by a (more or less) presumed potential on grass. Outraged, clay lovers, who felt written down, expressed their disagreement by passing: Sergi Bruguera in 1993 and then Thomas Muster in 1995 missed the entire grass season, like Gustavo Kuerten in 2001, when the revolt generalized to almost all the Hispanic and Latin American players. Albert Costa in 2002 and Gaston Gaudio in 2004 also did the same. They are the last to date. Since Wimbledon weighted its calculation method, slowed game conditions allowed (almost) everyone to shine on grass. With too, from this year, one more week between the two Grand Slam tournaments, the double French Open-Wimbledon has never been as much in racquet range than for the current champions.


By Guillaume Willecoq