So Wrong, Yet So Right: First Blush on the French Open Final
The French Open Ladies’ final was a travesty.
Did you watch it? Hopefully you were busy. Everything wrong with tennis was on display for a little over three hours.
Where to begin?
The grunting. Nay, the shrieking. Maria Sharapova hindered eardrums worldwide with every tennis ball she hit. Winners, errors. Aces, double faults. Everything was turned up to 11. And it was awful.
The gamesmanship. Where was ABC’s 7 On Your Side when you need them? The Russian took days – no, years! – between points, and twice that between serves. No word on whether umpire Kader Nouni was in cahoots with the Russian figure skating judge from the Sochi Olympics, but we will keep you posted.
But not everything can be blamed on Sharapova. There was also a Hawkeye-free clay court we had to deal with. No technology to confirm a line call? Quel dommage! We were forced rely on umpires and we know how erratic they can be. But there was one more thing.
It was one of the best Grand Slam finals of the last decade.
It’s easy to write about what went wrong. But so much more was right. Muting the commentary and setting Twitter aside, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep played a match that truly had everything: long rallies, momentum shifts, and winners that were simply spellbinding.
Halep played the biggest match of her life with confidence and belief. She was intimidated by neither occasion nor opponent. The major final debutante can sleep well tonight knowing she played a mature match devoid of tears and tantrums. Though she rarely put a shot wrong, the Romanian hardly played her best tennis.
Sharapova was largely responsible for that. Shots that flew wide against Samantha Stosur, into the net against Garbiñe Muguruza, and into the back fence against Eugenie Bouchard, clipped the lines today, forcing Halep on immediate defense. When the Romanian was able to step into the court, she justified her hype. She could get Sharapova on the move and bury her signature backhand down the line with effortless precision and technique.
The 2012 champion, she of the foul first set, found her forehand early and used it fearlessly. It was clear as Sharapova recovered an early break that there would be no initial retread of the Madrid final. Halep, to her credit, was never far behind. Sharapova looked on course for an easy victory more than once, and Halep would have been forgiven for fading to a player who was certainly winning the day.
Combined, the two women dug deep enough to hit China. As Sharapova edged closer to victory, Halep would wrest control and seize momentum. A tense tiebreaker looked to be the Romanian’s swan song. That is, until, she stepped to the line and put up her hand, halting the Russian’s delivery. It had hitherto been Sharapova dictating the tempo of the match and yet, even as the match seemed at its end, Halep reached for the reset button.
And it worked. Sharapova buckled, Halep ascended, and the two began a final set, the first at the French since 2001. Those watching began to wonder just who would win. Suddenly, credentials and experience no longer mattered. Each game became more and more important.
It was entertaining. It was exciting. It was everything we love about tennis.
We saw two athletes at their physical and mental peak competing for a title that puts them at the pinnacle of their sport. We saw them battle through pressure and sometimes patchy play to make shots that brought spectators to their feet. We saw them attempt to outlast one another for over three hours through heat and wind.
But most impressively, we saw a four-time major champion recover from yet another long layoff to re-establish herself as the best player on red clay, a surface that was once least conducive to her game. A surface that once reduced her to a gangly “cow on ice.”
A surface that staged a thrilling final tennis fans should feel honored to have watched.
Merci beaucoup, mesdames. À bientôt!
Favorite piece I’ve read on the match so far. Keep up the good work! This blog is quickly becoming my favorite.
Bouchard is probably kicking herself seeing how easy it would have been to defeat the Queen of Shriek in the semis – a far poorer performance from Sharapova. She no doubt learnt something, watching Halep today.
I look forward to a Women’s final where a person doesn’t have to mute the TV.
But, Maria’s resilience is unique. She’s going to make an interesting mother!
Sharapova is only the “best player on clay” when Serena isn’t around.