Tsitsipas showed he’s ready to take baton from Big 3; Krejcikova’s win demonstrated depth of women’s tennis-Sports News , Firstpost
Two of the game’s biggest mysteries were solved at the French Open last week: ‘How to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open’ and ‘Who will take over the mantle from the big three?’
Two of the game’s biggest mysteries were solved at the French Open last week.
‘How to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open’ has been a mystery and a question that has gone begging for everyone who plays tennis or follows it. If anyone had a chance, it had to be Novak Djokovic, Nadal’s biggest rival today. True to form, he played what he described as his best match at Roland Garros and one of his three best matches ever to carve out a four-set win in the semi-final. If that wasn’t enough, Djokovic came back from two sets down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic final thereby playing a role in solving the second mystery. Who will take over the mantle from the big three? Tsitsipas had been knocking on that door for a while and answered that question quite emphatically last Sunday.
The Djokovic-Nadal match was one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in recent times. The stakes were high for both with Nadal aiming to overtake Federer’s tally of 20 Grand Slam titles and it’s no secret that the French Open is his best bet. Djokovic was still smarting from the drubbing that Nadal handed him at last year’s French Open final which included a 6-0 first set. Even though Nadal was hardly at his best, the match certainly lived up to its hype with plenty of drama and a high quality of tennis. Finally, it was Djokovic’s supreme belief and confidence to back himself in tough situations that was the key to his win. In fact, the match itself had so much drama and the quality of tennis was so exceptional that the French government announced a special waiver to allow the spectators in the stadium to continue watching the match at the stadium beyond 11 pm which was the stipulated curfew time.
The French Open title gets Djokovic to 19 Grand Slams, just one shy of Nadal and Federer who are at 20 each. Federer gave himself and his fans some cheer by reaching the 4th round and showed glimpses of his class. After coming off two surgeries and hardly playing any tournaments this year, he beat Marin Cilic, a former Grand Slam winner on his way to the 4th round. More importantly, he showed that at age 39, he still hasn’t lost the fire in the belly as was evident in his tricky 3rd round match against Dominik Koepfer that finished past midnight with no spectators. His decision to subsequently withdraw to recuperate his knee was a smart decision as he realises that Wimbledon is his best bet of Grand Slam title number 21.
The find of the tournament was Tsitsipas. He clearly has the talent, ability and the strength, both mental and physical to win Grand Slam titles in the near future. Greece’s success was not limited to Tsitsipas alone. Maria Sakkari created history by becoming the first Greek woman to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam event and was unlucky to lose a cliffhanger to Barbora Krejcikova. There are many players from different countries that are bursting on the scene and it goes to show the depth and scale that modern tennis has.
While the men’s event veered only slightly off script, the women’s event was a different story altogether. Krejcikova, ranked 33 in the world with a lot more success in doubles played the tournament of her life and became the first woman from the Czech Republic since Hana Mandlikova to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup. She won the doubles title too becoming the first woman since Mary Pierce to achieve the feat. She was helped in no small measure by the early exits of the top 3 seeds Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka who fell by the wayside for varying reasons and under vastly different circumstances. The French Open has always thrown up some new stars and names and this year was no different. The last eight years have seen a different champion every year in the women’s event which speaks as much for the vagaries of clay as it does for the depth in women’s tennis.
For all the excitement on court at the French Open, the biggest story was and will continue to be Osaka’s controversial but gutsy decision to withdraw from the event after winning the first round. A lot has since been written about Osaka’s episode and while I think she is a fantastic personality and very good for the sport, she and her team could have certainly handled the whole episode better. Mental health has become a key topic of conversation in all walks of life and sportspersons bear the brunt of it more often than others. Careers are made and ruined by a fraction of a second, a single point and a few millimeters here and there. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence after losses, bruised egos, depression, frustration, anger, sorrow and home sickness are emotions that get played out in an athlete’s head almost on a daily basis sometimes in a quiet corner in some obscure part of the world away from prying eyes and sometimes in the full glare of the media and the world at large. No amount of ‘mental training’ can prepare you for dealing with the heartbreak and sadness that comes with playing modern sport.
The tennis bandwagon moves to grass courts and Wimbledon and I believe all eyes will be on Djokovic, Federer and Serena. All three of them have too much at stake and Wimbledon provides them with the platform to further cement their respective places as legends of the game. It promises to be one heck of a fortnight in London.