Ubha: Five French Open Takeaways
Published June 08, 2014 12:14
PARIS, France - What a boring, predictable French Open. Yeah, right.
For the first time in the Open Era, none of the top three women's seeds appeared in the second week of a Grand Slam.
And while Agnieszka Radwanska has repeatedly claimed clay isn't her preferred surface - only two of her 19 finals have come on dirt - Serena Williams was the defending champion and Li Na a former winner who triumphed in Melbourne in January.
Who'd have thought five years ago that the Russian would win at Roland Garros not once, but twice? Certainly not Sharapova herself.
To match the drama of the previous rounds, it was only fitting that Saturday's climax against Simona Halep was spectacular.
Here are five things we learned from the fortnight.
Maria just doesn't back down
Sharapova was known as a warrior prior to this year's tournament, but she took her mental game up a notch still.
While one can understandably ask why Sharapova didn't start better in the semifinals, quarterfinals and fourth round, the bottom line is that once she found herself in a decider, she didn't back down.
When the 27-year-old's back is against the wall - it's the wall that gives in.
Not many have been able to do what Sharapova has: Win Grand Slams after two serious shoulder injuries. Her appetite for success on the tennis court has never diminished, even though she runs her own candy line and has a host of sponsorship obligations.
Saturday might be the last time Halep reaches a Grand Slam final, though you hope not. From being a set and break down, Halep became more aggressive and who knows how the match would have ended if she broke at 2-1 in the third.
Apart from the stunning backhand and great movement, Halep proved in the final that she, too, isn't short on mental toughness. Her fan club, which was already growing, is sure to increase.
Genie's a keeper
Several years ago, this author and a fellow tennis journalist watched Eugenie Bouchard at the Australian Open juniors. We wondered if Bouchard had the weapons to succeed at the highest level.
The Canadian is giving us the answers.
She's more aggressive, often found inside the baseline - forget about standing on the baseline. Her ability to change direction in a rally is an unusual perk and her backhand compared to even a year ago looks like a different shot.
But the most impressive thing about Bouchard is what rests between the ears.
For all the comparisons to Sharapova, the one most valid pertains to the aforementioned mental toughness: Bouchard is already gaining a reputation for being one of the game's top competitors.
Sharapova's experience was the difference in their intense semifinal, the third set score not a fair reflection of how tight the decider was.
It took years for Sharapova to feel comfortable on clay. Bouchard's learning curve, in that area, has trumped Maria.
The youngsters made strides
The young'uns are coming, but should it be a surprise? Williams turns 33 in September, Li is a fellow 32-year-old and Sharapova has spent 13 years stalking the professional tour.
They're far from washed up but generational changes are, like munching a croissant in Paris, inevitable.
It was, though, especially nice to see three players who've been discussed for a while - besides Bouchard - making a splash.
The course of history might have been altered forever if Garbiñe Muguruza hadn't attended to her ankle last year: Based on her career progression, she'd have been seeded this year and not confronted Serena in the second round.
Muguruza's composure and ball striking - hard and flat, atypical for a Spanish woman - mean the 20-year-old should continue to ascend.
Kristina Mladenovic needed confidence, and the 21-year-old got it by ousting Li and then advancing to the third round. A former French Open junior champion, Mladenovic's ranking entering her home Slam sat at 103rd. Yes, outside the Top 100.
With her coaching foibles seemingly sorted out, Mladenovic's level was high and the crowd did the rest.
Ajla Tomljanovic, 21, owns a rare luxury, an overpowering serve. With it comes the ability to manufacture free points on any surface. We should have seen the upset of Radwanska coming, since the Florida-based Croat nearly sent Sloane Stephens packing at the Australian Open.
Can they follow it up at Wimbledon? We'll be watching.
Petra needs a change
Almost lost in the shuffle amid the early demise of the top three seeds was Petra Kvitova's exit to former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Had 'Sveta' or 'Kuzy' - take your pick - won with a more routine score, instead of 9-7 in the third, Kvitova's departure wouldn't have received as much ink.
The Czech is now settling into an unsavoury routine of going home prematurely at Grand Slams - it's one quarterfinal in her last seven attempts.
The term 'one-Slam wonder' doesn't fit with Kvitova. She possesses too many weapons, the weapons that should be landing her more majors - many more. Perhaps bringing in an additional voice to help David Kotyza would help.
Serena will be back
The numbers suggest as much. Keep this in mind as Wimbledon approaches: When playing all of the first three majors in a calendar year, the last time Williams didn't make one quarterfinal was in her debut season of 1998.
Fatigue had to have been a factor - physically and mentally - when Williams was upset by Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon in 2013 so the second round loss at Roland Garros comes with a silver lining. She'll be fresher. That she plans to "work five times as hard" to turn things around is ominous for the field.
~ Ravi Ubha (@raviubha) has written for ESPN.com, CNN.com, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and is also a tennis broadcaster. He is based in London.