Watching the French Open

10:16 Tue 05 Jun 2007. Updated: 17:42 06 Jun 2007
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The French Open is my favorite tennis tournament, and possibly my favorite sporting event. I’ve always loved clay court tennis, and it’s the premier clay court event. It doesn’t get as much attention as Wimbledon, which is more or less its opposite—grass and clay are at the extremes in terms of tennis surfaces, with the various types of hard court (and possibly carpet) in the middle.

I like clay court tennis because it features longer rallies. It’s harder to hit outright winners on clay, because the surface is slower, and therefore tactical play, maneuvering your opponent around until you have an opening, is increidbly important. This makes it more of a thinking contest.

The slower surface also diminishes the importance of serving. The serve is still incredibly important, but dominates less than on the other surfaces, so breaks of serve occur more often (which makes the match more interesting).

Of course, with longer rallies, you also need to have more endurance. I love players who are excellent shot retrievers, as well as those who are tactically smart, so appreciate a surface where their play really shines.

To play really well on clay, you have to be able to move well on clay, and to be able to slide into shots, something that’s not found on any other surface. This adds an additional layer of skill to the movement.

Overall, clay decreases the importance of serving and of raw power (although both are still incredibly important), and doesn’t feature as much of a net game, while increasing the importance of baseline fundamentals, endurance, speed, ability to slide, and tactical intelligence. All of that makes for better tennis.

I’ve been watching the French Open for years. Not unfailingly, as it’s a lot harder to watch in the US, but I try to catch it when I can. I think I started watching it regularly sometime around 1989, and remember Chang somehow coming back from two sets down to defeat Lendl in the fourth round that year. I watched it regularly throughout the 90s, but haven’t managed to follow it as closely this decade.

However, I did make it to Roland Garros in 2004, and watched (among other matches) Guillermo Coria eliminate Carlos Moya in the quarterfinals:

Guillermo Coria [3] vs. Carlos Moya [5], French Open, Suzanne Lenglen Court, Roland Garros. Coria won 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Coria made it to the final that year, losing to Gastón Gaudio in what must be one of the most bizarre Grand Slam finals of all time: Coria won the first two sets 6-0 (!), 6-3, and then lost the next two sets 4-6, 1-6, coming down with terrible leg cramps and essentially giving the fourth set away. But he somehow came back in the fifth set, partly thanks to Gaudio almost falling apart, and had two chances to serve for the set, and two match points. It was incredible to watch, full of crazy tension if not world-class tennis, and I found it disappointing when Gaudio finally won 8-6.

This year, it looks rather like another Federer-Nadal final—but I’m going to have to miss seeing that, unfortunately. Maybe I can find someone to record it for me.

I’ve never had the chance to play on clay, but watching it makes me want to play tennis again, which I’ll hopefully manage to do over the summer.

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