Sunday, 6 June 2010

Roland Garros: Hearts and Minds.


Your sweaty, clay-covered, yet-still-gleaming Roland Garros Champion for 2010. I defy you not to scream.

Ideologically unsound to root against anyone with as big a heart as that. In my heart-over-head world she’d already won.

Besides, what is the heart but another muscle? One that often trumps it’s distant cousins in the upper arm. Even when those arms belong to Sam Stosur?

Every sane entity on the planet, it seemed, had picked a win for Stosur in three if not two sets of hard fought tennis.

It seemed the rational choice, given that:

a) She had been (until this match) the best performing player of the event. I may have had some reservations over those back to back wins over Henin, Serena and JJ, yet a lesser player would have crumbled.

b) The matchup with Franny suited her to a tee. Sammy’s heavy kicking serve seemed custom built to hurtle over the shorter player who’d likely be reduced to countering it with a single handed backhand out wide…..and high. Right after that she was supposed to be reduced to rubble.

I can understand Franny out-grinding and out-hustling Sammy now and again.

I can even understand her out-foxing her at the net – not quite sure why the sight of Franny volleying immaculately should be the source of such bewilderment anyway.

What flummoxes me is how she managed to out-serve and to out-ace her. 6 to 3 on aces and 76 vs. 71 winning percentage on first serves.

That sort of sh*t’s not meant to happen.

She didn’t have the draw Sammy did, but also a little astounding, is it not, how she only dropped one set in the entire event – in round one on an outside court to Regina Kulikova (who?).


To those that say “choking” is a reductive explanation of what happened to Sammy out there I say this: It is. And I confess I don’t particularly like using that word as it seems to carry too many negative connotations and conjures up images of Dinara Safina double faulting on Championship Point.

Though it’s equally reductive to claim she was hit off court or “outplayed” (second time this week that words got up my nose) by “Fed Cup Franny”.

Besides, even if we agree to use another word, what precise conclusions are we meant to draw from the sight of a former world #1 doubles specialist, a four-time Slam Champion making an absolute hash of an easy putaway at the net?

Not every choke has Dinara Safina written all over it.

We can argue the semantics of choking till kingdom come, but the fact remains that Sammy “seized up”, let’s say, in the little ways on the biggest points: a double fault here, a sprayed forehand there, a drop shot that fades out before reaching the net. And here’s a more worrying one: over half of her first serves sat up comfortably in the middle of the service box.

A real shame - that’s not the Sam Stosur we saw in the last six matches. And none of this, at least, was forced by Franny.

If it sounds like I’m being too harsh on Sammy, it’s because I felt this match should have been “on her racquet” (another phrase I deplore, by the way). Her performances up until this match, indeed her leading win/loss record this season, suggested she should have won it - preferably in straights. In my head-over-heart world she already had.


Parting Shots:

-- Best Roland Garros final in almost a decade. (A)

-- That moment when Dementieva shook hands with Franny signalling her withdrawal. Tragic stuff. That look on Franny’s face? Priceless. (A+)

-- Sam Stosur’s voice quivering during her runners up speech. *sniff* Good news is Sam’s best placed to out-fox those pushers and bashers we love to, well, bash. On all surfaces. (A)

-- Anyone else bowled over by how well Franny and Sammy seem to get on with one another? (A)

-- Biggest disappointment of the tournament: JJ flaming out “at 20%”. What better chance will she have than four semi finalists without an Henin or a Williams Sister in sight? None. (E)

-- Franny’s disembowelling of CazWoz in the quarters. Best match of the event from the standpoint of witnessing the unequivocal truth and triumph of variety over push. (A)

-- Juju/Shaza: Strangely compelling match that suggests the best is yet to come from both. (B)

-- This seasons clay court winners: Henin, MJMS, Rezai and Franny. Henin only features once amongst them. Kimmie, Shaza and the Williamses don’t feature at all. Still think the WTA’s in a bad way? (A)

(Photos: AFP/Getty)

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