Tennis heated up today at Roland Garros, and the weather had little to do with it.
The young stock and old guard were repeatedly stretched left and right, up and back, and the ones that came through wholeheartedly bounced back from the verge of elimination.
It had little to do with age.
At just under four hours, Francesca Schiavone — the 2010 French Open champion — defeated 2009 French Open Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-7(11) 7-5 10-8, in what will go down as one of the best matches of the tournament. After clinching the win, the Italian exploded with a joy we hadn’t seen from her since she won this major, which is the only one of her career…so far.
Thanasi Kokkinakis overcame a two-set deficit, a nasty fall, and a 2-5* scoreline in the fifth to upset his countryman Bernard Tomic, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 8-6. The 19-year-old Kokkinakis said his hip was pretty sore, but told the ATP that, “I trusted my fitness, and it paid off.”
And finally another teen, 18-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia, stood firm in his resolve to take out No. 18 seed and 33-year-old Tommy Robredo, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
Schiavone will be 35 by the time she reaches the clipped lawns of Wimbledon and is the oldest woman remaining in the French Open singles draw. She’s ranked No. 92 in the world. This is her 15th appearance in Paris and she was eliminated in the first round last year.
Kokkinakis is but a child compared to Schiavone. Yet he displays an on-court determination and fearless attitude beyond his age.
Asked by the press what he’ll do to take care of his bruised hip, Kokkinakis said, “Play doubles.”
He’ll play tomorrow alongside his friend, Lucas Pouille, who’s 20. The Aussie was pumped in press because they’re slated to play Bob and Mike Bryan, the No. 1 seeds and the best in the world.
On the other side, the Bryans are not hampered by age at 37. They’ve won Roland Garros twice, in 2003 and 2013. But like Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil — the coupling of two young eager singles players is a big challenge for the Bryan twins and most traditional doubles teams. Sock and Pospisil defeated the twins to win Wimbledon last year. The loss was forgotten, though, at the U. S. Open when they won that title for the fifth time and their 100th career title. With Sock and Pospisil seeded just behind the Bryans at No. 2 this French Open, the chances exist that they’ll meet in the final.
Other notable and elder statesmen on the men’s doubles side include Leander Paes. At 41, he just celebrated his 700th doubles match. He’s not nearly finished.
In Paris, he has teamed up with Canadian and 42-year-old Daniel Nestor. Seeded No. 10, they’ve made their way to round two and are on a trajectory to perhaps dance with Australian Open champs, Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli, in the round of 16.
Paes is also paired with his Australian Open mixed doubles champion partner, Martina Hingis. They are seeded No. 8. Paes and Hingis are masters of touch and power, with senses as keen as cats. As both have demonstrated, there is no such thing as an age barrier on those fronts.
Even 40-year-old Mahesh Bhupathi, Paes’ long-time doubles partner, got in the doubles draw alongside young-gun Nick Kyrgios, perhaps in a mentoring role. However, Kyrgios’ friend Kokkinakis and Pouille defeated them in the first round.
Max Mirnyi, 37, has teamed up with Feliciano Lopez. Although the 33-year-old Lopez bombed out of singles in the first round while seeded No. 11, his hopes to master the game which only requires half the court coverage could inspire the Spaniard to greater heights.
And in a pairing made in tennis heaven, Schiavone and Kimiko Date-Krumm have started their pursuit of fame in Paris, advancing to round two after defeating the Czech team of Denisa Allertova and Petra Cetkovska, 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-1.
When the commentators proclaim “oldest” playing at this year’s French Open, there’s only one player that fits — Date-Krumm at 44. The combined ages of Schiavone and Krumm take it to the limit at 77.
With the early action in Paris having thrilled us no matter the competitors — now we’re talking heart and age.