Shibahara and Koolhoff hugging

photo : @rolandgarros

Today is the very first edition of the Friday Social. This page follows a similar vibe to the phrase “Casual Friday”, where lighthearted stories coming from players and tournaments will be shared. These will range from social media posts, flashbacks, funny press conferences, and more.

As the second grand slam of the season, Roland Garros, is entering its final weekend, there’s been a large focus on rivalries and records. The 59th edition of Nadal v. Djokovic and Iga Swiatek’s 34-match win streak come to mind, but tennis is about more than just that. On tour, and at the grand slams especially, long lasting bonds of friendship are formed.

Just ask Martina Navratilova who won the French Championship twice, but says her favorite Roland Garros was in 1975 where she lost the final to her rival Chris Evert.

Navratilova and Evert are arguably the greatest rivalry in tennis history. They played against one another in a total of 80 matches, 60 finals, 22 majors, and 14 major finals, all of which are records. Despite this intense rivalry, they remained great friends and still are to this day.

Even though Navratilova lost the 1975 French Open singles title to Evert, they teamed up to win the doubles. Few people know that the two were ever a successful doubles pairing, winning a second major trophy in Doubles at Wimbledon the following year . At that tournament in 1976 they again played in the singles event with Evert triumphing in the semi-finals and going on to win the title.

At this years French Open, there is a similar story for teen sensation Coco Gauff. Many are aware of the 18-year-old’s final showdown against world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, but she will also contest the women’s doubles final alongside Jessica Pegula.

If that name sounds familiar it’s because Pegula was playing in the singles as well. Had it not been for the freight train that is Swiatek taking out Pegula in the quarter-finals, there could have been a finals clash between the doubles partners just like there was in 1975.

“I’m exhausted. She’s 18, she’s just bouncing around. She doesn’t care but I’m taping my leg onto my body trying to keep it together,” joked Pegula after their quarter-final victory. Despite the fatigue, she’s enjoying and invested in playing doubles.

Not only can competitors be friends, players who were once strangers can form lasting bonds. On Thursday, Wesley Koolhof and Ena Shibahara won the mixed doubles final 7-6(5) 6-2 over Ulrikke Eikeri and Joran Vliegen.

Prior to this Cinderella run, the two had never even met. A month before Roland Garros, Koolhoff sent a dm (direct message) on Instagram to Shibahara asking if she’d like to partner up. A few weeks later, they are now grand slam champions. A dream Shibahara has had since she was a kid.

It’s moments like these that are a reminder that not everything is about competition. A player can be focused, physically fit, and well prepared while still enjoying the moment and having a little bit of fun.