The French are masters in fields as far ranging as architecture and fashion, fine cuisine, and fine art.
When the seasons roll around to late May and early June, the sport of tennis becomes an art form for many Parisians with the French Open providing the stage.
On a sunny, hot Wednesday, the third day of qualifying for the 2017 event, crowds flocked to Roland Garros and many were keen students of the game.
The group above here were lined up to get into Court 6 in late afternoon. When the guy in the light gray T-shirt above was asked who he was waiting to see, he replied, “Maxime Janvier and then after that Paul-Henri Mathieu.”
Mathieu is a 35-year-old French veteran who has been through a veritable litany of soul-testing injuries, particularly knee, and had hoped to be given a main-draw wild card as he nears the end of an admirable career that saw him rank as high as No. 12 in 2007. He also played the longest match (in terms of games) at Roland Garros since the introduction of the tiebreak, beating John Isner 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 18-16 in 2012. On Wednesday he got through the second round, defeating Alejandro Gonzalez of Colombia 7-5, 6-1.
Janvier, another Frenchman who’s 20 and ranked No. 267, also had success on Court 6. The qualifying wild card defeated Norwegian 18-year-old prodigy Casper Ruud 7-6(4), 6-4.
The No. 118-ranked Ruud wasn’t always pleased with rulings by French umpire Emmanuel Joseph, as can be seen in the picture above.
Two Canadians, Peter Polansky and Steven Diez, were both in action in second-round play on Wednesday and both were eliminated.
At least it took solid efforts by their opponents – Polansky was beaten 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(3) by the razzmatazz game of Alexander Bublik, one of those Russian individuals who now represents Kazakhstan, while Diez battled hard against Pedro Sousa of Portugal before going down 6-3, 7-5.
The Polansky – Bublik match was an entertaining affair because the 6-foot-4 Kazakh is a highly unconventional player. He has a very effective forehand drop shot, that is doubly so because his disguise is helped by his ability to also really powder the ball off that side. Bublik has a big serve and an outsized personality to go with it.
After they split the first two sets, the match came down to the third-set tiebreak and the bespectacled Polansky seemed to have Bublik rattled when he took a 3-1 lead mainly on unforced errors by the Kazakh. But the lean and wiry 19-year-old roared back with some big shots, highlighted by an amazing tweener lob in response to a Polansky drop shot and lob combination to give him a 5-3 lead. Bublik sprinted back and perfectly placed a low-trajectory lob down-the-sideline and over Polansky. Then, two points later with a forehand passing shot winner, he had earned himself a spot in the third round of qualifying.
“It was an incredible battle right up until the last three points and Bublik (above) just came up with three beauties down the final stretch,” said Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau.
“It’s not easy to play a guy like that who throws in these sliced forehands and drop shots. He plays a little bit like Dustin Brown (of Germany). He smacks balls and then he lobs and drop shots. You never know what he’s going to throw at you.”
It was a tough loss for the No. 132-ranked Polansky, who has twice qualified at Roland Garros – 2009 and 2014 – in seven tries but has yet to win a main-draw match.
Unlike Polansky, Diez didn’t have to struggle against an unpredictable opponent, the 28-year-old Sousa (no relation to his compatriot No. 57-ranked Joao Sousa) was simply a bit bigger and more consistent off the ground. A late bloomer ranked No. 155 – his career high is No. 154 – Sousa won a Challenger event in Italy last month and has been showing some fine form of late.
Diez was behind 5-3 in the second set and saved three match points to level at 5-all and even had a point for 6-5. But Sousa weathered a shaky patch and finished off the match strongly.
“I think he could have turned things around,” Laurendeau said about Diez. “He was being dominated – 6-3, 3-1 and a point for 4-1 – and he came back. But the other guy is a good player who plays well on clay. Steven might have been able to turn things around in the second set but he was just missing a little something at the very end.”
Laurendeau (above with Tennis Canada’s vice-president of high performance athlete development Louis Borfiga, as well as a dart-puffing Frenchman) is also the coach of Denis Shapovalov and spoke about the 18-year-old and his experience in this year’s qualifying – an opening-round 6-0, 4-6, 6-2 loss on Tuesday to No. 90-ranked Marius Copil of Romania, the top seed in the qualifying.
“It was his first Grand Slam and I could feel that he was a little nervous even a few days ahead,” Laurendeau said about Shapovalov, “but that’s normal. He really started poorly, got behind and it went pretty quickly. He dug in the second, was behind 2-0 and came back to win it. He had a good stretch to 2-2, 30-love in the third and lost a few points by inexperience and Copil took over from there.
“It’s too bad because his game was coming together on clay. It’s still his first season on clay. He was on clay for seven weeks (Challenger-level events) and didn’t get out of the first round but they were still matches where he showed good things. It showed he can be someone who’s comfortable on clay even if it won’t be his first choice in surfaces.”
As for the No. 190-ranked Shapovalov’s future plans, Laurendeau said, “Now he’ll start getting ready for the grass. He’ll play Nottingham and Ilkley (both Challengers in Great Britain) and then the Wimbledon qualifying. He’ll be coming to Montreal in a few days to start preparing for the grass.”
Despite pulling out of Nuremberg on Monday with a right ankle injury, Genie Bouchard (above) had a light hitting session on Suzanne Lenglen Court at Roland Garros on Wednesday. Reports are that she didn’t do much strenuous moving, much like Simona Halep, who also has an ankle issue and had a light hit on-site Wednesday.
In Thursday’s qualifying the last Canadian, No. 191-ranked Francoise Abanda, will play her second round against No. 185 Monserrat Gonzalez of Paraguay. The 22-year-old from Asuncion has been as high as No. 150 (in 2016) but doesn’t seem to have had nearly as much international experience as the 20-year-old Abanda.
PARIS POST CARD
This poster, touting Novak Djokovic’s signing with the esteemed French brand Lacoste, can be seen all over Paris – including on this bus shelter in the 16th arrondissement with a woman enjoying a cigarette nearby.