Saturday, May 29, 2010

FRENCH OPEN Day 6 - G,S,M goes to Roland Garros

Watching Tsonga vs De Bakker on Philippe Chatrier from the media building

When it rains in Paris during the French Open, it generally means misery for everyone from the players, to the tournament organizers, to the spectators, to the media. However, the washed out schedule on Thursday at Roland Garros meant that the Friday schedule just got mind-blowingly awesome for someone who was actually going to Roland Garros... And yes that someone was me :D

For a true tennis fan, any given day at the French Open is suffice to change one's life, however; attending Roland Garros on a day that has Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga, Verdasco, Ferrero, Cilic, Youzhny, Serena, Henin and Sharapova, all in action, is a religious experience...

Juan Carlos Ferrero on Court 6 against Pere Riba

After Nadal posted a routine win over Horacio Zeballos on Chatrier, I went to see Juan Carlos Ferrer play a super long tie-break against Pere Riba on court 6. The beauty of the small courts at Roland Garros is that you are extremely close to the players and can see every single facial expression they make while they're playing and between points. Which is kind of cool!!

Marin Cilic vs Leonardo Mayer on Court 3

I head to court 3 after that and caught some of the Marin Cilic-Leonardo Mayer match which was pretty incredible. I was particularly impressed by Mayer who served huge against the towering Croat, especially in that second set which he won. The sun was out and the conditions seemed to make the court faster as both players served big and played some amazing net points.

I left midway through the Cilic match and met up with a commentator from Eurosport Spain, who generously offered to show me around. We went through the media entrance at Chatrier and I literally started getting the chills from the people I was seeing just hanging out in the lounge taking breaks from their work. From Conchita Martinez to Mats Wilander, to Karim el Alami to Annabel Croft... We even stopped for a quick chat with Heinz Gunthardt, Ana Ivanovic's coach, who is doing some commentating for Swiss TV.

I watched the Jo-Wilfried Tsonga match against Thiemo De Bakker from the media gallery and I gotta say, the atmosphere for that match was simply great! The crowd really pulled through for Tsonga, who suffered from muscle pain towards the end of the second set but kept on fighting against the impressive Dutchman, until he won 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4.

After that I went to the production zone where most channels have on-site studios for their live coverage. I visited the set of Game, Set & Mats where I saw Barbara Schett, Annabel Croft and of course Mats Wilander. No words can describe how charming and elegant Wilander is. He is a true natural on camera too. I watched a short live session with Croft and Schett, who gave a quick midday update, then moved on to catch some more tennis action.

Mikhail Youzhny during his match against Viktor Troicki

I was torn between returning to court 3 to catch the rest of Cilic-Mayer or heading to court 6 to watch Youzhny-Troicki. I chose the latter and I didn't regret it. Both players were playing really well but the match was eventually halted cuz of the darkness and was resumed the next day. Youzhny ended up winning in 5. Youzhny's crazy reactions to his bad points are really funny up close I gotta say. Again the net play was rather impressive as the conditions remained fast all day.

All in all it was one hell of a day. I hope I can go again before the tournament ends although my work schedule is pretty mad. At least my job involves watching the matches all day, so that's definitely a consolation.

Viktor Troicki receiving a ball from Youzhny

Cilic waiting for a serve from Mayer

Leonardo Mayer awaits a serve from Marin Cilic

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nadal's opponent Mina seeks advice from Tsonga, Monfils

It's quite daunting to get Rafael Nadal as a first round opponent at Roland Garros for any player on tour; so imagine if you're 18 years old, and it's only the second ATP match of your career!!! That is how French teenager, Gianni Mina feels like ahead of his first round match against Nadal on Tuesday.

Mina, who made it to number one in the junior rankings a mere 2 months ago after reaching the Roland Garros juniors final last year as well as the US Open and Australian Open juniors semifinals, played his first ATP match in Nice last week (lost to Lukasz Kubot 5-7, 4-6).

The Guadeloupe native turned to French stars, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, who both managed to post victories over Nadal last year, for advice on how to handle his match against the King of Clay.

"I have spoken to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. They told me he (Nadal) will hit the ball hard at the beginning but I must not allow myself to be frightened. They say I must enjoy it but that will not be easy," said Mina.

I bet you Monfils or Tsonga would be a little scared if they were to play Nadal at Roland Garros this year, don't you think?? Best of luck to the "mini Monfils". Rarely does a player get to have his Grand Slam debut so early in his career and he should relish every moment of it.

Roland Garros: Is Nadal really going to wear the watch?

Some might call it OCD, some might call it superstition, Rafael Nadal calls it "habit". Either way, it is a well known fact that Rafael Nadal is quite particular when it comes to his match rituals. Be it staying at the same hotel in Paris every year for the French Open, fiddling with his underwear between points, or meticulously setting up his bottles a certain way during matches (apparently the labels have to face the side he is serving from), the world number two certainly has a way of doing things and that never included him wearing a half a million dollar watch while playing tennis.

This year at Roland Garros, Richard Mille have given Nadal a $535,000 watch provided the Spaniard wears it during his matches. Is Nadal willing to replace his left wristband for Richard Mille or will his lifelong habit of never wearing a watch during a match prevail?

“It is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about and don’t yet know what to do... We shall see but it will be a change and that is unusual for me. No?” said the 4-time French Open champion.

So we still aren't sure whether Nadal will be wearing the watch or not but one habit the 23-year old isn't breaking this year is his blog for Times Online. Be sure to check it here.

Nadal opens his French Open campaign on Tuesday against French teenager, Gianni Mina.

Quote of the Day: "Quizner" blogging from the French Open

American duo, Sam Querrey and John Isner, are seeded 18 and 17 at Roland Garros this year, are best friends on tour, play doubles together, and have already played each other 3 times this year including a final on clay in Belgrade, which Querrey won.

Querrey and Isner are blogging for from the French Open, where they are looking to change the perception about American tennis players on clay.

"I think both Sam and I have shown that we have game on clay and are looking to do some damage here in Paris," said Isner in his first post from Paris.

Querrey faces fellow American, Robby Ginepri in the first round, while Isner will play Andrey Golubev.

You can follow the "Americans in Paris" blog here...

Roland Garros Day 1 - It sucks when you peak in Rome, Ernie

The 2010 French Open kicked off today and am happy to say I am actually in Paris working for Eurosport this summer, so I will do my best to try and update G,S,M as often as I can.

Today I randomly bumped into Jelena Jankovic outside her hotel near the Tour Eiffel and she seemed to be in a heated discussion with someone from her team which I certainly didn't interrupt. It was a lucky coincidence though, considering I was only there checking out a flat for my stay in Paris.

The action on day 1 at Roland Garros saw the sad retirement of Ernests Gulbis against local favorite, Julien Benneteau. Gulbis' clay season so far had seen the Latvian reach the quarters at Barcelona and Madrid, and the semis in Rome where he beat Roger Federer before losing to Rafael Nadal in 3 tight sets. Naturally everyone was waiting to see some Ernie magic in Paris, and unfortunately, we won't get to see it, as it seems the 21-year-old had peaked in Rome.

Gulbis, who reached a career-high ranking of 27 last week, will have his hamstring injury checked to ensure he'll be ready for the grass season, now that his clay swing has come to an abrupt end.

French hot shot, Jo Willy Tsonga gave the Parisian crowd a scare when he was stretched to 5 sets by Germany's Daniel Brands. The 8th seed seemed out of sorts during his first round match, despite a decent ratio of 67 winners to 28 unforced errors.

Meanwhile on the women's side, Gisela Dulko crushed 10th seed, Victoria Azarenka, 6-1, 6-2, to book a second round spot. It's not a big surprise considering Dulko certainly has got game while Azarenka has had a somewhat unsuccessful clay swing prior to Roland Garros.

Roger Federer watching Rezai practice

France's new sweetheart, Aravane Rezai (originally Iranian), who arrived to Paris after capturing the Madrid title beating Justine Henin in the opener and Venus Williams in the final, kicked off her French Open campaign with an emphatic 6-1, 6-1, victory over fellow Muslim, Heidi el Tabakh of Canada. Rezai next takes on Germany's Angelique Kerber.

Make sure to catch Andy Murray face freshly crowned Nice champion, Richard Gasquet on Monday (third match from 11:00a.m. start, Paris local time).

World number 1, Roger Federer, is also in action on day 2, as he opens his title defense campaign against Australia's Peter Luczak.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Post-Monte Carlo: Nadal back at his best?

For die-hard Rafael Nadal fans, Monte Carlo was a breath of fresh air; for the Nadal skeptics, it was a huge surprise. The world number three seemed to be back at his fiercest form, as he took out his compatriot, Fernando Verdasco, to win a record breaking sixth straight Monte Carlo trophy. It was the Spaniard’ s first title since Rome last year, and he claimed it in emphatic fashion. Does Nadal’s performance in Monte Carlo mean his injury woes are behind him and that he’s officially back as a top Grand Slam contender?

Some might say that Nadal never really left for him to actually make a comeback. Afterall, winning the Australian Open and reaching the US Open semis last year would hardly be considered an unsuccessful season. However, doubts over Nadal’s form are certainly justifiable since he hadn’t won a title in 11 months, prior to Monaco, and despite showing signs of his vicious self this season in Doha, Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami, he still lost in all those tournaments and admitted his confidence was still a bit shaky, as his knee worries continue to haunt him.

Last week however, Nadal returned to where he feels most at home. He was back on clay, and unlike at Roland Garros last year, the Spaniard felt fresh, fit and hungry for success. Over the course of 5 matches, the claycourt talisman dropped only 14 games in total, including a 6-0, 6-1 victory over 12th-ranked Verdasco in the final.

“I think that the results, the scores this week, was too much. I think that's not real. But I was playing really good. I was very focused in all points. When you didn't win for a while, you are playing really well, you really want to win, you are focused more than ever, no? So maybe for that reason I won easier than usual,” admitted the six-time Grand Slam champion after his win.

Nadal insisted he never felt invincible on clay to begin with, and that he knows he can never play at his top level for the rest of his career, but for now, the Spaniard seems to be unstoppable on the dirt. So is he back to his very best? Here’s the answer to that question in Nadal’s own words:

“I back to my best level in January, 1st of January. I win a tournament now. In Abu Dhabi, 1st of January, I was playing my best level.”

It’s true that Nadal has played really well so far this season, but he was missing this title win to shatter any small doubts he had about himself. A true sign that Nadal is more careful than usual this season is that he opted to miss his home tournament, Barcelona, to rest his body for the remaining clay events. Nadal had won the last 5 titles in Barcelona, and missing it must truly hurt, however he seems to finally understand that compromises must be done in order to get back that French Open trophy.

So things are certainly looking up for Nadal at the moment. Winning Monte Carlo, choosing to miss Barcelona, and seeing him so happy on court again, are all signs that the 4-time French Open champion is back to business.

Lamine Ouahab: Arabs' Strongest Hope in World Tennis

Currently the most successful Arab tennis player, Lamine Ouahab is ranked 159 in the world rankings. The Algerian drew my attention when he clinched himself a spot in the 2009 Australian Open main draw after clawing his way through the qualifying rounds, where he beat familiar names like Mathieu Montcourt and Ryan Sweeting.

For me, it was the first time to notice an Arab in the main draw at a Grand Slam since Morocco's Younes el Aynaoui and I was instantly interested in following Ouahab's news, whenever I actually managed to find out his whereabouts and latest results.Sadly Ouahab was crushed in his first round match in Melbourne that year against Florian Mayer, but still I was impressed he managed to qualify.

It is quite evident from his track record on the ATP website, that Ouahab is a hardworker, which makes him standout amongst most players from the region. The 25-year-old chose Barcelona as his residence and spent the 2009 season improving his ranking by some impressive performances that saw him win back-to-back Futures events in Morocco, where he also made one final, one semifinal and two quarters in Challengers events.

This helped him grab spots in the qualifying draws of some ATP events, and besides qualifying for the Australian Open in the beginning of the year, Ouahab claimed himself a spot in the main draw of the ATP 250 event in Munich, where he fell to Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round.

Ouahab tried to emulate his Australian Open efforts in Roland Garros, but he fell at the very last hurdle in the 3rd round of the qualies to Monaco native, Jean-Rene Lisnard. Unfortunately, he was less successful in Wimbledon as he lost to Rajeev Ram in the first round of the qualies.

The Algerian almost qualified for the ATP event in Bastad but also fell in the final round, however that did not deter him from making it to the semifinals of a Challengers event in Italy 2 weeks later. That and a final showing in a Challengers in Slovakia, helped Ouahab reach a career high ranking of 114 in September 2009 and he ended his season playing in the main draw of the ATP tournament in Lyon, where he fell to Michael Llodra in the 1st round.

This season, Ouahab made back-to-back Challenger semifinals and is currently coming off an incredible final showing at the Rome Challenger that took place last week, where he fell to former world number 25, Filippo Volandri.

It is true that Ouahab has not won a Challenger title since his only two triumphs back in 2006 in Tunisia and France, however the 25-year-old's success is unmatched by any of his fellow Arab tennis players. His choice to train in Barcelona, undoubtedly paved the way for his success. A young Lamine Ouahab got the chance to face the likes of Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco in his debut season on the seniors circuit in 2002, in Futures events around Spain. Despite losing to both those tennis stars, it's still a pretty cool story to tell your kids later on, that you played Nadal when he was young.

Am not sure if Ouahab will try to qualify for Roland Garros this month, but his final appearance in Rome last week is a good sign that he might.