Maybe the most remarkable aspect of the 2017 French Open is that it definitely isn’t like the nightmare of Roland Garros ’16. That edition of the world’s greatest tennis tournament on clay was marred by cool wet weather that just didn’t let up – dampening spirits and even making the River Seine overflow its banks.
This year every morning (even Tuesday before some rain) has provided the same view out Parisian windows – bright, sunny, blue skies.
While the first week came close to une canicule (a heat wave), that has given way to much more moderate temperatures that can feel downright autumnal in week two.
On the court, this year’s event is minus the two greatest players of this generation – Serena Williams and Roger Federer (above as the 2009 champion on a 2016 video screen). But the sport has ambitious pretenders wanting to make their mark and established veterans set on protecting their territory. So there’s been no lack of entertainment, especially compared to 2016 when often there were dreary days with almost no entertainment at all.
With the paring down of the fields to the final eights, Rafael Nadal is the clear favourite for a massively historical 10th title among the men and group of contenders – one of whom will become a debutante Grand Slam champion on Saturday – remain among the women.
While Nadal has stayed with familial and faithful mentor Uncle Toni, defending champion Novak Djokovic, trying an innovative approach, has engaged 1999 Roland Garros champion Andre Agassi, now back in the USA, to revitalize him and his game.
Dominic Thiem in a quarter-final on Tuesday should prove a genuine test for the 30-year-old Serb who has looked uncharacteristically vulnerable at times in 2017.
On the other side of the draw Stan Wawrinka, champion in 2015, and Andy Murray, runner-up 12 months ago, are the most likely candidates to be in Sunday’s final.
But first there will be – for the first time – Friday’s split semifinals. The first one is scheduled to start at 12:50 p.m. (6:30 a.m. ET in Canada) and the second not before 15:30 p.m. Two separate sessions is obviously a cash grab for the French Tennis Federation but it’s certainly a risk, with emptying and refilling the Court Philippe Chatrier, to finishing both matches before sundown. Two years ago Djokovic’s bid to win Roland Garros was compromised by not finishing his semifinal against Murray on Friday and having to complete an energy-depleting set and a half on Saturday while Stan Wawrinka had the day to rest after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
In the women’s event there seems to be a scenario taking shape where 24-year-old Kristina Mladenovic could become the first host country champion since Mary Pierce in 2000. There are also potential storybook endings for Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, a pair of well-established players who have never hoisted a Grand Slam trophy.
At the beginning of the tournament, five women were considered favourites – defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza, Halep and Svetlana Kuznetsova (all pictured above) along with Elina Svitolina and Mladenovic.
The latter two and Halep remain – all three with ambitions for a life-altering final three days of the tournament beginning with Thursday’s semifinals.
(POST SCRIPT: With the Mladenovic and Wozniacki losses on Tuesday, one of Timea Bacsinszky, 27 from Switzerland, or Jelena Ostapenko, 19 (20 on Thursday) from Latvia, will be in Saturday’s Roland Garros final.)
From the Canadian viewpoint at Roland Garros, Milos Raonic was the biggest disappointment but only because he raised expectations so high with a standout performance before losing in Sunday’s round-of-16 – 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-4, 8-6 to Pablo Carreno Busta. While it was a disappointment, in terms of career evolution it might be considered a win from two perspectives: No. 1, Raonic fought valiantly and demonstrated his chops on clay against a hyper-tenacious opponent, and No. 2, he emerged from the tournament injury-free and stoked to do well at Wimbledon, the Grand Slam most suited his big-serving, aggressive game.
Probably the best way to sum up Genie Bouchard’s 2017 Roland Garros is to say she tried. Entering the event with a right ankle problem that limited her practicing, she nonetheless got through a round before paying the price when she got up the following morning and her ankle had stiffened. It loosened enough for her to face No. 17 seed Anastasija Sevastova in the second round a day later but just showing up wasn’t enough and the final score 6-3, 6-0 has to be viewed in the context of the injury situation.
As with Raonic, she’s a former Wimbledon finalist (2014) so a properly operative right ankle and she can legitimately have high hopes for the grass-court season, beginning for her in Majorca in two weeks and then at Wimbledon.
The 2017 French Open provided qualifier Francoise Abanda with the first experience of winning a main-draw match at a Grand Slam tournament when she defeated the prolifically-named Tessah Andrianjafitrimo of France 6-3, 6-4. It’s now to be hoped that with a career-high ranking of about No. 137, she can continue to rise. At just 20 years old and 5-foot-10 and a fine striker of the ball, the possibility is there for her to become a regular participant in the sport’s most important tournaments.
As this grand tournament comes down to its last few days, the good news is there is little rain in the forecast – helping to make up for all the tedium and discomfort of that miserable Roland Garros weather one year ago.
Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., reached the third round of the French Open junior girls singles on Monday with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Wang Xiyu of China.
It wasn’t without struggles – including an unlikely four double faults in one game when she served leading 4-3 in the opening set. “I honestly don’t know,” she laughed when asked to explain four double faults. “I guess it just happens.”
Summing up her match, Andreescu added, “I was up 4-1 and she changed her gamestyle and put more pressure on me and that threw me off a bit. In the second set I forgot about the first set, got used to what she was doing and put more pressure on her, which she didn’t like.”
Wang, a tall lefthander, has a lot of power but once Andreescu starting varying a bit and tightening up her own game it was one-way traffic in her direction.
Turning 17 on June 16th, Andreescu lost in the first round of the women’s Roland Garros qualifying event and then spent some time in Biarritz at the home of her coach (1998 Wimbledon runner-up) Nathalie Tauziat. “The south of France is very nice by the water (Bay of Biscay),” she said about the experience.
Assessing the strength of the 2017 girls singles draw, Andreescu said, “I think all the seeds are pretty tough and I don’t think any match I’ll play will be easy.”
She is seeded third behind top-seeded Anastasia Potapova, 16 of Russia, and second seed, 15-year-old Amanda Anisimova of the U.S.
Andreescu struggled with a stress fracture in her foot for the first half of 2016 and has had the odd issue this year but things have improved. “Fitness? – no finally I’m all healthy,” she said with a big smile on Monday.
Her next opponent will be Sofya Lasere of Russia, a Muscovite who is 16 years old.
In doubles on Monday, Andreescu joined Carson Branstine of Montreal for a 6-2, 7-6(5) win over Maria Jose Portillo Ramirez of Mexico and Sofia Ewing of the U.S. In the second round Tuesday, the top-seeded Andreescu and Branstine, champions at the Australian Open in January, will face Amina Anshba of Russia and Kaja Juvan of Slovakia.
In boys doubles Monday, Ben Sigouin of Vancouver and his Isreali partner Yshai Oliel, seeded eighth, were beaten 7-6(2), 6-4 in the opening round by Axel Geller of Argentina and Nicolas Mejia of Colombia.
Gabriela Dabrowski and Indian partner Rohan Bopanna reached the semifinals of the mixed doubles on Monday with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over second seeds Sania Mirza of India and Ivan Dodig of Croatia.
They have a day off and will next play the No. 3 seeds, Andrea Hlavackova of Czech Republic and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, who advanced with a 7-6(3), 6-3 victory over Andreja Klepac of Slovenia and Dominic Inglot of Britain on Tuesday.
The last Canadian woman to reach a French Open mixed doubles final was Jill Hetherington of Peterborough, Ont. She and South African partner John Laffnie de Jager were beaten 7-6(8), 7-6(4) in the 1995 final by Ukraine native Larisa Savchenko Neiland and Todd Woodbridge of Australia.
As any visitor to Paris soon discovers, a lot of Parisians haven’t received the memo about the ill effects of smoking. While France has moved with the times and disallowed smoking in restaurants, there are still a lot of cigarette aficionados around in the City of Light – including on the grounds at Roland Garros where smoking is permitted.
NOTE: Next blog is on Friday heading into the final weekend of Roland Garros.