Friday, June 12, 2015

French Open awards: Stan, worst commercial, etc.

Stan Wawrinka stunned Novak Djokovic in the
final. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Reflections on the French Open while wondering whatever happened to Nathalie Tauziat:
   Biggest upsets -- Yes, Stan "The Man" Wawrinka already had won a Grand Slam title. And yes, he had beaten Novak "It's No" Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth set en route to the 2014 Australian Open crown.
   But Djokovic was 17-3 against Wawrinka and had won 29 straight matches. Wawrinka, meanwhile, came into the French Open with a 6-4 record in clay-court tune-up tournaments.
   So the eighth-seeded Wawrinka's 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 6-4 victory over the top-ranked Djokovic in the final at Roland Garros was a shocker. Djokovic might have been mentally and physically spent after beating nine-time French Open champion "San" Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the quarterfinals and completing his five-set victory over rival Andy "Bill" Murray the day before the final while Wawrinka rested.
   "I Love" Lucie Safarova's 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over defending champion Maria Sharapova in the fourth round also came with an asterisk. Sharapova, seeded second, coughed because of a cold throughout the tournament. Granted, Sharapova had barely survived in their most recent meeting, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (7), 7-6 (2) in the first round on clay at Stuttgart last year.
  Safarova, seeded 13th in the French Open, ended Sharapova's streak of three straight French Open finals and went on to reach her first Grand Slam singles final.
   Best match -- Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova played a mere 3 hours, 50 minutes this time.
   In a battle of past French Open champions, Schiavone upset the 18th-seeded Kuznetsova 6-7 (11), 7-5, 10-8 in the second round.
   Kuznetsova, a 29-year-old Russian, served for the match four times in the third set, and Schiavone, 34, of Italy saved one match point. It was the third-longest women's singles match at Roland Garros in the Open era, which began in 1968.
   Schiavone also beat Kuznetsova in the longest Grand Slam women's match in history, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in 4 hours, 44 minutes in the round of 16 at the 2011 Australian Open. 
   Said Schiavone about Kuznetsova's game after their latest marathon: "It's like playing in a mirror."
Serena Williams needed three sets in five of her
seven matches. 2013 photo by Paul Bauman
   Harry Houdini award (best escape artist) -- Five of champion Serena Williams' seven matches went to three sets as she battled the flu, and she lost the first set in four of those.
   Williams trailed former world No. 1 Victoria "Station" Azarenka 3-6, 2-4 in the third round, then won the last four games of the second set and the last six games of the third set.
   Williams fell behind Sloane "Ranger" Stephens 1-6, 4-5 in the fourth round, then won nine of the last 12 games.
   Williams dug a 4-6, 2-3 hole against Timea "Bo" Bacsinszky in the semifinals, then reeled off the last 10 games of the match.
   And Williams was down 2-0 in the third set of the final before winning the last six games.
   Sick or not, Williams is so talented that she consciously or subconsciously lets down to make matches more challenging. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglu, has said his biggest task is motivating Williams.
   We have seen all this before. See: Agassi, Andre.
   Breakout performer -- No. 23 seed Bacsinszky of Switzerland ousted No. 16 Madison "Avenue" Keys and No. 4 Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, en route to her first Grand Slam semifinal.
   Bacsinszky, a former child prodigy, has overcome mental demons to soar from No. 285 in the world at the end of 2013 to a career-high No. 15.   
   Bacsinszky was pushed into tennis by her Romanian father, Igor. She excelled as a child not only because of her talent, the New York Times reported last year, but to keep the peace between her father and mother, Suzanne, who have since divorced.
   “I guess I was playing well because I knew that if I would lose a match, my parents would fight, or something,” Bacsinszky, who turned 26 on Monday, told the Times. “I wanted for us to live like a happy family and everything, so for sure I was fighting even more on the tennis court just to make all the things right. Because I knew that if I would win a match or play well, there would be no troubles.”
   As recently as 2013, Bacsinszky pursued a career in hotel management. She can put those plans on the back burner, so to speak. Bacsinszky pocketed 450,000 euros ($509,543) for reaching the semis at Roland Garros.
   Honorable mention goes to unseeded Alison Van Uytvanck, a 21-year-old Belgian who advanced to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal before losing to Bacsinszky.  
   Best shot -- We all know Wawrinka has a sensational one-handed backhand, but this was ridiculous.
   Late in the third set of the men's final, Djokovic hit a sharply angled cross-court backhand. Wawrinka lunged for it and ripped a passing shot between the net post and the IBM box.
   Said commentator John McEnroe, himself a pretty fair shotmaker in his day: "Whoa, how'd he do that? ... That's threading the needle."
   "Ishtar" award (biggest flops) -- Simona "I Need" Halep, the third seed and 2014 runner-up, was ousted in the second round by 33-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
   Also losing in the second round was fifth-seeded "Sweet" Caroline Wozniacki, dismissed by Julia "She's" Goerges. Wozniacki has advanced past the third round at Roland Garros only once in nine appearances, reaching the quarterfinals in 2010.
   Sixth-seeded Eugenie "In the Bottle" Bouchard's tailspin continued with a first-round loss to Kristina "Applegate" Mladenovic.
   Tim Smyczek award (classiest player) -- With Djokovic serving at 5-4, 30-0 in the second set of the final, Wawrinka laced -- surprise -- a backhand passing shot, and Djokovic gave him a thumb's-up. Granted, after Djokovic lost the game and the set, he smashed his racket twice on the clay and received a warning. Hey, he's human.
   And how about Djokovic's sincere, philosophical speech during the awards ceremony after the three-time runner-up received a prolonged ovation from the crowd?
   "It's not easy for me to speak right now," an emotional Djokovic said, "but I have to say that in life some things are more important than victories, and those are character and respect. I have great respect for you, Stan. You are a great champion with a big heart, and you deserve this title."    
   Most improved nation -- Last year, CiCi Bellis of Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area was the only American finalist in any of the nine men's, women's, mixed, boys or girls events. Bellis, then 15, was the runner-up in girls doubles with Marketa Vondrousova, then 14, of the Czech Republic.
   This year, one or more Americans appeared in seven finals, and U.S. players won four titles (Williams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands in women's doubles, Mattek-Sands and Mike Bryan in mixed doubles, and Tommy Paul in boys singles).
   Not bad for a nation that supposedly can't play on clay.
   Phyllis Diller award (worst-dressed) -- Wawrinka gets the edge over Jarkko Nieminen.
   Jeez, Stan, where'd you get those shorts, the underwear department at JCPenney?
    Worst TV commercial -- "Hannah and her Horse" (DirecTV) in a landslide.
   Annoyance No. 1: The attractive woman lying provocatively in the surf in some tropical paradise. OK, now DirecTV has all the men's attention.
   Annoyance No. 2: The talking horse. Now DirecTV has all the airheads' attention.
   Annoyance No. 3: Naturally, the horse has an Australian accent. Apparently, British and Aussie accents are cool because seemingly every TV commercial in the United States features one or the other (the Geico lizard, that smug jerk on last year's IBM Cloud ads, et al.). OK, now DirecTV has all the hipsters' attention.
   Annoyance No. 4: That reggae-type jingle in the background. OK, now DirecTV has all the Rastafarians' attention. 
   Annoyance No. 5: The name DirecTV. I've had it with the butchering of the English language. Just call it Direct TV, for crying out loud. Are you listening, JCPenney?
   I have a better name for this commercial: "Hannah and her Horse----." 

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