Roland Garros 2018 The High and Lows
Roland Garros 2018 served up a record 11th title for Rafa Nadal, a nice run from a much derided young gun, and an amusing and to the point outburst from Schwartzman. But while there were some entertaining highs, there were some lows, too- the predictability, the final, and the lack of hi-tech facilities. The Tennis Review takes you along the rollar coaster that was the French Open ’18.
Excellence pursued, pursuit excelled.
Nadal is no longer in pursuit of excellence. he has attained it. Everything else he achieves at Roland Garros from here on is a bonus, be it 12 titles, 13, 14, no one is going to close in on his record at a single slam whatever the number from 11 onward.
As it stands, he has already distanced himself from past mass slam accumulators in the Open era- Bjorn Borg won six Roland Garros titles (74-75, 78-81), Pete Sampras 6 at Wimbledon (93-95, 97-00), Roger Federer 7 at Wimbledon (04-07, 09, 12, 17).
One factor most likely to leave Nadal standing alone at the top is that the Spaniard got into slam trophy collecting early, winning his first title aged 18, a feat today’s 18 year olds are far away from achieving, the end of the first week at a slam the best they can hope for.
Nadal has another time factor in his favor, too. Back when players did win slams in their teens on a regular basis, their careers ended in their late 20s at best, and if they were playing into their 30s they were shadowy figures disappearing in first rounds. Nadal, now 32 and No.1 in the world and holder of two slam titles, is, however, a new breed of slam champion and has carried on winning into his prime and into his second prime, revitalizing his career with the latest technology, science, and playing conditions, to win into his early 30s, and there is little to suggest he won’t be biting into that Roland Garros trophy for seasons to come.
This Roland Garros may have the best time for Nadal’s opponents to halt the top seed in his record-making tracks. This season, Nadal looked more vulnerable than in previous championship form seasons. particularly in the Rome final. However, his Roland Garros draw was a good one for the defending champion featuring few players capable of exploiting his patchy form over the course of a five set match, and after a rocky start versus Simone Bolelli, in which the Italian threatened to out hit the Spaniard, one of the only ways to beat him in Paris, the Spaniard survived, lack of light helping him by giving him a night to think matters over, and the next day Nadal defeated Bolelli and cruised through the draw, beating Guido Pella, Richard Gasquet, and Maximilian Marterer until the last eight when that cruise got a little choppy and Diego Schwartzman took a set and led by a break in the second.
The same rainy damp conditions which helped the Argentine hit the ball with a heavy hand also turned out to help Nadal when rain sent them off court until the next day when the defending champion came back and won the next three sets with ease, Nadal, arguably the game’s quickest problem solver over the course of a match more than capable of getting to the root of his issues versus Schwartzman with a night to sleep on it.
Nadal’s semi-final versus Juan Martin del Potro was straightforward, too, when, after saving six break points in the first set, the Spaniard went on to dominate the match and reach his 11th Roland Garros final.
High hopes for the final versus Dominic Thiem were dashed after a competitive first set, the Austrian struggling on his serve and going down a break early in the second and third sets and never able to steady himself and get into the match against the game’s best front runner. Even Nadal’s cramping hand could not come to Thiem’s rescue, the Austrian overwhelmed by then and unable and lacking the big match experience, the feel for the occasion so absorbed into Nadal, to keep Nadal on court and take advantage of the tennis scoring system.
Those Nadal hands were healed in quick time, ready to lift the trophy for the 11th time.
Zverev’s run to the quarters
Zverev had been pestered with the question of when he was going to start producing at slams ever since he won his 1st ATP 1000 title in Rome, and the more trophies he won, the more bothersome the questions became.
As the second seed in Roland Garros, after a strong clay lead-in, Zverev had even more pressure on him than usual to perform.
In his second, third, and fourth roud match it looked like he would have to swat those questions of when, when, when, away once again with his typical answer that he was only 21 and had time on his side. In each match Zverev fell behind, 2 sets to one versus Dusan Lajovic and Damir Dzumhur and 2 sets to love versus Karen Khachanov, and, in each contest, Zverev made the most of the extra time five sets gave him as he fought back, scrambling into the quarters where he had little to give versus Dominic Thiem, going down in straights.
Likely to be seeded three and fourth at the remaining slams of the season, the next question is when is Zverev going to reach the semis? His inconsistency means that when that might exactly be is a touch unpredictable, but when it happens it will probably be, as his answer to his critics was at Roland Garros, loud, crazy, and divisive sports entertainment of the highest order.
Diego Schwartzman’s outburst
The trend, or hard to give up habit now, of fist-pumping winners, or your opponent’s errors, and letting out an accompanying shout of “Come on” is a controversial one.
We know which side of the fence Diego Schwartzman sits on in this debate after his outburst to the umpire on a change of ends in his last sixteen match versus Kevin Anderson.
Trailing two sets to love,. Schwartzman took his frustrations out verbally, perhaps being a little too candid for his opponent who was in earshot. But venting his fury served Schwartzman well- he won the match, saving match points, and he went on to become the only player to win a set off Nadal.
One man’s continued excellence is another man’s never-ending predictability.
As much a legend as Nadal is, and while it is a pleasure to witness his excellence on the surface, the lack of competition made the tournament a hard watch for neutrals.
The final- more of a final blow than a grand finale.
Much was expected of Dominic Thiem in the final and his failure to deliver did not go unmentioned out loud when Ken Rosewall said, when asked his thoughts on the match in the pre-ceremony chatter, that Thiem had “disappointed”.
Thiem blushed. Anyone watching did, too.
2018 and Roland Garros, in the city of lights, is still without them. Next year will be lit, though, and there will be rooves, too.
Let’s not end this review on a low note, though. Let’s remember instead the wonderful spectacle that was:
The best match of Roland Garros 2018:
Marco Cecchinato vs Novak Djokovic. Cecchinato won 6-3, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-6 (11)
An old champ on the road back, driven by his hunt for glories past, a player with a past seeking to make a good name playing inspiring tennis, the kind it takes to romance the Parisians, a tiebreak of the most dramatic order, in an at times lackluster tournament, this quarter-final rewarded those who stay tuned by taking us to the rare heights tennis can take us.
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