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By Chris Oddo | Monday June 12, 2017

 
Nadal

Rafael Nadal's La Decima in Paris was just one of the riveting storylines that we followed over the course of the Roland Garros fortnight.

Photo Soruce: Julian Finney/Getty

Before we step into those funky, dimple-soled grass-court sneakers and spend the next five weeks eating strawberries and cream, let’s reflect on the two weeks that were in Paris.

1. La Decimation

Nothing anybody can say will ever do Rafael Nadal’s domination at Roland Garros any justice. It is incomprehensible. Daunting. Magnificent. Scary good. Ten titles at a single major? In this era with the greatest generational quartet that tennis has ever known? Three times without dropping a set? And, perhaps most remarkable, the tenth time so stunning as to render each of the other nine a mere table setting for the ultimate feast. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Nadal on clay is the GOAT. One man, one surface, no limit.

2. Ostapenko’s masterpiece

Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko was the antithesis of women’s tennis in Paris. There is fragility and hesitance at the top of the tour without Serena Williams in the mix. Angelique Kerber’s confidence is shot. Simona Halep is blessed with talent and vigor, but has been her own worst enemy at times. Garbiñe Muguruza is hot, hot, hot then cold, cold, cold. That’s why it was so refreshing to see Jelena Ostapenko march in and grab the tiger that is Roland Garros by the tail, swing it around like a buggy-whip forehand follow-through, then tame it. The 20-year-old never wavered, never doubted, never cowed. She just put the blinders on and went for the lines. Who knew she had this in her? None of us, and likely not even Ostapenko. But she’s a Roland Garros champion now, and a deserving one at that.


3. It has to Hurt for Halep

Simona Halep reached her second Grand Slam final and was in the driver’s seat, leading by a set and 3-0 and playing confident, assured tennis. Where did it all go wrong? Hard to say, but somewhere in that second set she became a spectator—it was a good effort from Halep, who came in as the favorite and nearly made the oddsmakers look smart for once. But not good enough. What can Halep take away from this difficult experience? Will it make her stronger in the long run? She's just 25 and has two Grand Slam finals under her belt. A third opportunity is surely coming, and for Halep it likely can't come soon enough.

4. Dominic Thiem will win Roland Garros next year

You heard it here first. Thiem has everything that he needs to become his generation’s dominant clay-court player. He was blitzed by Nadal in the semifinals, but he’s improved by leaps and bounds over the last 52 weeks and he’ll continue to do so over the next year. He is like Nadal in so many ways. A physical phenom with a heart of gold and a burning desire to improve.

5. Mattek-Sands and Safarova Make it three

Props to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, aka Team Bucie. The American-Czech duo has now won five majors, including three in a row. They are quietly becoming one of the most dominant doubles teams of this century. They are currently right there with Errani and Vinci and Hingis and Mirza as one of the best doubles WTA teams to come around in the last decade, and who knows what the future holds for them. Can they double their total and make it ten majors?

6. Ultimately, the French women disappointed in Paris

It was a fantastic first week for the French women, who placed Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia into the quarterfinals, along with Alizé Cornet in the round of 16. That alone was quite an achievement, and yet, it felt as if it could have been better. As for the French men, Lucas Pouille showed some promise in reaching the third round for the first time. But it was disappointing to see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga knocked out early and it never really felt like Gael Monfils or Richard Gasquet had a shot to make an impact in week two. A wildly talented generation of men’s tennis talent from France is past its prime and the French title drought in singles at Roland Garros looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

7. La Decimation, part 2

What was most impressive about Nadal’s title run in Paris? Was it the way he served? How he struck his forehand? His movement? Nah, for us it was about his preparedness and his execution. This is a player who turned over every rock to ensure that he could return to form on his beloved terre battue. When he arrived at the tournament in blistering form, he didn’t waver. He didn’t doubt. He kicked his game into the next gear and played impervious tennis. There was pressure all around, but Nadal’s mind was a fortress in Paris—nothing could touch it.

8. Stanimal, hats off

So, somebody finally beat Stan Wawrinka in a major final. But the Swiss showed us once again why he is one of the most inspiring figures in tennis. After a career’s worth of underachieving (or not achieving at a level commensurate with his talent), the Stanimal turned the page and has become a tour de force in the men’s game. At 32 he became the oldest Roland Garros finalist since 1973.

9. Muguruza’s title defense wasn’t all that bad

The pressure—and the French crowds—got to the Spaniard in her round of 16 loss to Kristina Mladenovic, but on her way there it was easy to see that Muguruza has enough talent to win this event a few more times.

10. Andy Murray made strides

Andy Murray was a set from returning to the Roland Garros final. It appears that he has finally rid himself of the World No.1 hangover and simultaneously shed the injuries that have plagued him this spring. Watch out for dandy Andy on grass.

11. Djokovic not out of the woods yet

We were surprised to see Novak Djokovic thumped by Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals in Paris. The Serb’s struggles show just how difficult it is to maintain excellence in men’s tennis. There are simply too many talented players to deal with. Either you are 100 percent committed, fit and confident or you are going to struggle. Djokovic’s remarkable rise to the pinnacle of men’s tennis last year in Paris took a lot out of him. When he’s ready to give himself to the sport again in that way, he’ll start to climb back to the top. But at 30, one has to wonder, will he ever want it as badly again?

12. Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus take men’s doubles

The American-Kiwi pairing knocked off another unseeded pair (Donald Young and Santiago Gonzalez) in the final to claim their maiden major title. Will a triumph like this be a boon for Harrison’s singles career? He’s only 25 and sitting at a career-high ranking of No.41.

13. La Decimation, part 3

That forehand winner that Nadal struck in the second set of the final, what the heck was that? One of the most jaw-dropping shots the Spaniard has ever hit, and yes, there have been a lot.



14. Sharapova missed?

If Maria Sharapova had been handed a wild card to Roland Garros (assuming she was in good health) how would she have fared? Oddsmakers were tabbing her as a favorite but we don’t know if she’s ready to make an impact on a Grand Slam stage just yet. We’ll have to see it before we believe it.

15. Generation next?

Looking at the Top 10 in the Race to Milan, only Karen Khachanov managed to win two matches in Paris. His run to the round of 16 was an eye opener. Wins over Tomas Berdych and John Isner bode well for the future of the young Russian at Roland Garros and beyond.

16. Pliskova next to win a major?

She’s not well-suited for clay and yet she reached the semifinal in Paris and nearly got past Simona Halep to make her second Grand Slam final in her last three majors. That’s a really good result for Karolina Pliskova. She’s on track to bag a major pretty soon (and reach No.1) one would think.

17. Hello, Petra!

Did we see enough good tennis from Petra Kvitova to believe that she’s in position to make a run at a third Wimbledon title later this summer? Maybe not, but if she starts to find her game on grass this summer: watch out! Either way, her return to the game was one of the high points of the whole tournament, right there with Steve Johnson’s heartbreaking sadness at the passing of his father and Juan Martin del Potro’s willingness to console Nicolas Almagro after the Spaniard went down with a knee injury. These treasures belong stacked next to Nadal and Ostapenko’s titles; they are the enduring images that we’ll be reflecting upon (with tissues close by) later this year when we tell the story of the 2017 tennis season.


18. Is this as good as it gets for Kei Nishikori?

There was a time about two or three years ago where we were absolutely sure that Kei Nishikori was going to win a major someday. Now, we just don’t know. He’s a remarkable talent, one we absolutely love to watch, but he always seems to run into a brick wall at the end of these events. At this point it’s hard to imagine him putting it all together long enough to collect a major title.

19. Fernando Verdasco, draw buster

If there is one guy that nobody wants to face in the first round of a major, it would have to be Fernando Verdasco. Ask Alexander Zverev, he’ll tell you. If you can’t find him, ask Rafa Nadal.

20. What we’ll miss most about the road to Roland Garros

What will we miss most about the clay season? There are so many things. Aesthetically speaking, we love the color of the clay and the organic way that the surface changes character over the course of a match. The beautiful cities of Europe, from Monte-Carlo to Barcelona to Madrid to Rome, all of them with their very own style of tennis fandom. And finally Paris, with its stylish crowds, moody weather, the lovely cadence and tone of the French language, and the stately, serene showcourts: Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen. It’s tennis heaven in a heavenly setting, and we can’t wait for next spring.

AS for now – bring on the grass!


 

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