Open Season at the French Open

I don’t know too many people who voluntarily wake up at 6 am. But as Grand Slam season rolls around, early morning call times are rote until we get to the reasonable hours of the US Open. With the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, baseball season taking up time on television, along with a horse making history, the French Open slipped into our consciousness without us really knowing it. The heat taking center court, along with the stars, and the red clay grabbing your attention as you flip through television channels.

Both on the men’s and women’s side, the brackets for the last two weeks easily led to the key match ups and, until the quarterfinals, there were few surprises.

On the women’s side, there is no one who brings attention to the court like Serena Williams. Her power is majestic, the rest of the top ten a distant second. When she is at her best, no one can stop her. And even when she is not at her best, like in this weekend’s final when she was battling the flu, she was still unbeatable. Watching her during rallies on the court, she is all business, but during the grueling hot changeovers, you could see a look of “please just let me be done with this.”

Serena’s temper and her lack of concentration have gotten her in trouble in the past, but her relentless pursuit of perfection, done in couture flair, is remarkable and, this weekend, she was simply undeniable.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka was the surprise. The 30 year old, described by commentators as a “late-bloomer,” beat fellow Swiss Roger Federer in straight sets during the quarterfinals. The fact that he beat the world no. 2 should have given him some street cred, but as he walked into this weekend’s final against Novak Djokovic, the “Stanimal” was still a heavy underdog. Djokovic had command of the tournament up to that point.

Djokovic looked like a man on a mission because, in many ways, he was. The French Open is the one major that has eluded him. All week, Djoko was finishing opponents with ease, even downing 9-time French Open champion Rafa Nadal in straight sets, and fought through a rain delay to beat Andy Murray. It looked like this was Djokovic’s time.

So when bleary-eyed tennis fans watched Wawrinka take advantage of a second set break point and go for broke, it seemed to be a dream and Djokovic’s nightmare.

The level of parity in the men’s tennis game is unparalleled right now. Federer’s grasp on number 1 has slipped to number 2 and Nadal and his weak knees have moved down to 6. The two guys who took over after the Sampras-Agassi era are starting to fade, not nearly as crisp as they were a few years ago. Yet, when you scroll through the top ten of the men’s game, it is a remarkable lottery of fantastic and diverse players. One of the most exciting is Kei Nishikori from Japan.

The only Japanese man to be ranked in the top 10, Nishikori went from hanging in the background to coming into clear focus at last year’s US Open. After changing his coach and taking the lead of former French Open champion and top player Michael Chang, Nishikori made it to the finals. Since then, he has been a crowd favorite and a force to be reckoned with.

Unlike the Sampras-Agassi days of tennis, this is a new era, where it really could be anyone’s game. Even in the last decade, when the top spots were occupied by Federer-Nadal, the two didn’t leave much room for anyone else. And unlike those two rivalries, Djoko is on his own. His rival is a revolving door of new talent and the old guard.

Yet, Djokovic, much like his predecessor Sampras, has yet to win a French Open title. But at 28 and in the best shape of his life, a Career Grand Slam, and so much more seem inevitable. It’s up to the Nishikoris and Wawrinkas of the world to prove that they can stop him.

Sidenote: Though there were some great moves at this French Open, nothing beats Gael Monflis’ moves from last year’s French Open.

Cover photo via Reuters.

LATA PANDYA | @LataPandya

Lata Pandya is an award-winning TV and radio journalist. Currently she works as a producer on the Los Angeles-based public television news magazine show SoCal Connected. She freelances with several news organizations in the LA Area. Lata holds an undergraduate degree from University of California, Santa Barbara and a graduate degree from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She is known to be notorious about watching sports  while researching public policy stories. Lata is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.

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