Wednesday, June 11, 2014

French Open awards: Marathon, wacky celebration, etc.

   Reflections on an eventful French Open: 
   Best match -- Argentine qualifier Facundo Bagnis, making his Grand Slam debut, saved a match point and outlasted French veteran Julien Benneteau 6-1, 6-2, 1-6, 3-6, 18-16 in the first round in four hours, 26 minutes.
   Benneteau soon turned despair into delerium, winning the men's doubles title with countryman Edouard Roger-Vasselin. The 11th-seeded pair topped 12th-seeded Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez of Spain 6-3, 7-6 (1) to become the first Frenchmen to claim the doubles crown since Henri Leconte and Yannick Noah 30 years ago.
   Biggest upset -- Serena Williams has laid an egg in both Grand Slam tournaments this year. After losing in the round of 16 to Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open, Williams, the top seed and defending champion, fell to Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the second round at Roland Garros.
   Sure, Muguruza is a 20-year-old rising star. But 6-2, 6-2? What's up with that?
SIMONA HALEP
2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Breakout performers -- Fourth-seeded Simona Halep of Romania reached her first Grand Slam final, losing to seventh-seeded Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4. Halep, 22, had been as far as the quarterfinals of a major only once, at the Australian Open in January, and lost in the first round at Roland Garros last year.
   No. 18 seed Ernests Gulbis of Latvia advanced to his first Grand Slam semifinal, knocking off No. 4 Roger Federer and No. 6 Tomas Berdych before falling to No. 2 Novak Djokovic.
   After reaching the French Open quarterfinals at 19 in 1988, Gulbis stopped working hard and went 23 straight Grand Slam tournaments without advancing past the third round. Feeling that time was running out to reach his potential, the 25-year-old Gulbis finally decided to get serious.     
   Biggest flops -- Reigning Australian Open champions Li Na, seeded second, and Stan Wawrinka, seeded third, lost in the first round. Neither upset, in truth, was all that surprising for several reasons.
   Players like Wawrinka often suffer a letdown after winning their first Grand Slam title. It takes time for the celebrations and distractions to die down and for players to regain their intensity.
   The issue is magnified for Li, who became the first player from China, with a population of 1.35 billion, to win a major in singles in the 2011 French Open. It took her almost three full years to win another at the Australian Open, Asia's Grand Slam tournament.
   Also, the Australian Open and French Open are played on different surfaces -- hardcourts and clay, respectively.
   Finally, Li and Wawrinka drew dangerous first-round opponents. Kristina Mladenovic, a two-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion, was playing in her home country. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain had won a clay-court tournament in Casablanca in April.
   Mentally toughest -- Sharapova, who's renowned for her determination, won three consecutive matches after losing the first set to reach the final. Then she topped Halep in three sets for her second singles title in the French Open and fifth in a Grand Slam.
   Best sandbagger -- After crushing Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 in the third round, Rafael Nadal complained that his back was acting up again. Nadal proceeded to win the title for the fifth straight time and ninth overall.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC
2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   Most poignant moment -- Djokovic, again denied a career Grand Slam, fought back tears during a prolonged ovation by the fans after losing to Nadal 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 in the final.
   Most poignant quote -- Amid the focus on the superstars, it's easy to forget that just playing in a Grand Slam tournament is a tremendous accomplishment. Especially if you're from the Dominican Republic.
   Victor Estrella Burgos became the first Dominican in more than half a century to compete in a major, losing 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-4 to 22nd-seeded Jerzy Janowicz of Poland. At 6-foot-8 (2.03 meters), Janowicz is one foot (30.5 centimeters) taller than Estrella Burgos.
   "This day, I'll remember. I'm never going to forget," the 33-year-old Estrella Burgos, who saved a match point in the tiebreaker, told reporters. "When I get into the court, I almost want to cry for the first time. There are so many people from the Dominican who come to see me."
   Estrella Burgos won a $15,000 Futures tournament in the Sacramento suburb of Loomis in 2008, beating Ricardo Hocevar of Brazil 6-4, 0-6, 7-6 (8) in a scintillating match. Hocevar escaped three match points and Estrella one in the tiebreaker.
   Best U.S. performance -- CiCi Bellis, 15, of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, became the only American finalist in the tournament.
   The seventh-seeded team of Bellis and Marketa Vondrousova, 14, of the Czech Republic fell to unseeded Ioana Ducu and Ioana Loredana Rosca of Romania 6-1, 5-7 [11-9] in junior girls doubles.
   Worst-dressed -- For some reason, Berdych felt compelled to wear a navy and white Hawaiian shirt. What, was he headed to a luau?
   This is the guy who wore a shirt with sky blue and white vertical stripes at the Australian Open in January. He looked as if he was moonlighting on the Argentine national soccer team or as a basketball referee.
   Who's Berdych's fashion consultant? Bud Collins? Craig Sager?
   Wackiest celebration -- Marinko Matosevic of Australia beat Dustin Brown of Germany in the opening round for his first Grand Slam victory after failing to qualify for nine majors and then going 0-12 in the main draw.
   Afterward, the free-spirited Matosevic rolled on the court from behind the baseline to the service line, got up caked with clay, screamed twice at the top of his lungs and finally raised his arms in triumph: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeeeYzC_TYs.
   Best dance moves -- Frenchmen Gael Monfils and Laurent Lokoli staged a dance-off during a rain delay on Kids' Day. The battle has received more than 3.4 million hits on youtube.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AO3IQtW8Dlc.
   Amazingly, Monfils didn't hurt himself. 

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