USTA Announces Tournaments for French Open Wild Card Challenge

USTA pro circuit logo

(April 3, 2014) The USTA announced the tournaments for the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, which utilizes the USTA Pro Circuit to award wild cards into the French Open. Three women’s events will be hosted in Dothan, Ala., Charlottesville, Va., and Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., and three men’s events will take place in Sarasota, Fla., Savannah, Ga., and Tallahassee, Fla. The challenge kicks off on Monday, April 14, in Dothan and Sarasota.


Har-Tru Sports, the leading provider of clay tennis courts, is in its second year as title sponsor of the challenge after signing a three-year agreement in 2013. New this year, Har-Tru is launching a “Be One with the Clay” video contest in which tennis fans of all ages can create a video, demonstrating how clay courts have impacted their games. After a public voting process, the contest winner will win a trip for two to the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, Calif.


In the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, the American man and American woman who earn the most ATP World Tour and WTA Tour ranking points at two of the three select USTA Pro Circuit clay-court events earn main draw wild cards into the French Open. Only Americans who did not otherwise earn direct entry into the French Open are eligible. The USTA and the French Tennis Federation have a reciprocal agreement in which wild cards into the 2014 French and US Opens are exchanged. All tournaments will be streamed live on www.procircuit.usta.com.


“The USTA Pro Circuit’s clay-court season allows American players to develop their games and prepare for the French Open in their own backyards at some of our best clay-court facilities nationwide,” said Brian Earley, Director of the USTA Pro Circuit. “By partnering with Har-Tru through the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, we are also proud to utilize this time of the year to provide Americans who may not otherwise have the opportunity, the chance to get into the French Open. The challenge is a great asset to our season.”


The Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge will consist of the following events:


USTA Pro Circuit Women’s Events

– Dothan Pro Classic, $50,000 Dothan, Ala. (week of April 14)

– Boyd Tinsley Women’s Clay Court Classic, $50,000 Charlottesville, Va. (week of April 21)

– Audi Melbourne Pro Tennis Classic, $50,000 Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. (week of April 28)


USTA Pro Circuit Men’s Events

– 2014 Sarasota Open, $100,000 Sarasota, Fla. (week of April 14)

– Savannah Challenger, $50,000 Savannah, Ga. (week of April 21)

– USTA Tallahassee Tennis Challenger, $50,000 Tallahassee, Fla. (week of April 28)


In conjunction with the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, Har-Tru’s “Be One with the Clay” video contest is designed to empower tennis players and enthusiasts to share stories about how their love of tennis has been enhanced by the power of playing and training on clay. Fans of all ages can create a video, showcasing how clay has had an impact on their game, and submit it on www.beonewiththeclay.com. Fans can vote for their favorite videos on the website. The contest winner will receive a trip for two to the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, Calif., and play tennis on the resort’s Har-Tru tennis courts. The contest is now open and runs through May 31. Fan voting will be held from June 17-July 6, with the winner being announced on July 7.


“Think of how many junior players have dreamed about playing even just one match in a Grand Slam tournament. We’re very excited that Har-Tru gets to foster that dream through our involvement with the USTA Pro Circuit series held on our surface,” said Pat Hanssen, general manager of Har-Tru Sports. “We are also energized about providing interesting ways for fans of the game to connect to us. The “Be One with the Clay” contest we are adding this year does just that, by providing avid tennis players a creative and fun opportunity to share their passion for the game and  to share stories about what playing on clay has done for them.”


The USTA first used this wild card challenge format for its 2012 French Open wild cards, won by Melanie Oudin and Brian Baker. Oudin and Baker each advanced to the second round at that year’s French Open and subsequently broke into the Top 100. Last year, Alex Kuznetsov and Shelby Rogers earned the wild cards with Rogers winning her first-ever Grand Slam singles match at the French Open.


The 2014 French Open main draw will be held Sunday, May 25, to Sunday, June 8.


Information on the Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge will be available at www.USTAHarTruWC.com, www.procircuit.usta.com, and on Twitter through @USTAProCircuit and #USTAHarTruWC.


Tennis Channel to Rebroadcast 2013 French Open Beginning December 1


(November 26, 2013) Tennis Channel will welcome the holiday season with a two-week rebroadcast of the 2013 French Open.  Set to begin at 12 p.m. ET Sunday, Dec. 1, Roland Garros Redux: Paris for the Holidays will include daily matches followed by evening wrap-up and interview show French Open Tonight.


Other than holiday-themed opens each day, Tennis Channel’s December French Open telecast will air largely as it first appeared on the network from May 26-June 7.  Match coverage will begin at 12 p.m. ET most days, followed by back-to-back segments of French Open Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, hosted by Bill Macatee (complete schedule can be found online at www.tennischannel.com/schedule/).


In all, Roland Garros Redux: Paris for the Holidays will offer 175 hours of French Open-related coverage, including the epic, five-set men’s semifinal match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal that is considered by many to be the match of the 2013 tennis season (December 13, 8 p.m. ET).  Serena Williams’ return to the pinnacle of clay-court success in her singles final against defending-champion Maria Sharapova is also part of the holiday schedule (December 14, 8 p.m. ET), as are numerous star appearances on French Open Tonight.  Among these are John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Roger Federer, and doubles twins Bob and Mike Bryan.


2014 Tennis Season, More of the Same for the Men?

Centre Court-001

By James A. Crabtree


(November 24, 2013) Of those who can truly challenge for a major, the list is very small. Consider in 2002 when swede Thomas Johansson won the Australian Open as the 16th seed or Gustavo Kuerten won the French Open ranked 66th in the world. Compare that with today’s rankings and we have Fabio Fognini winning in Melbourne and Yen-Hsun Lu in Paris. If you think that either of these results is far fetched for 2014 you are on the money.


When fourth seed David Ferrer made the French open final this past year nobody but his mother felt he could win it. Not surprising considering his opposition, Rafael Nadal, has only lost once out of the sixty matches played at Roland Garros. Only a mad man would bet against him over five sets on clay.


Add that to the fact the big four have not only dominated the slams but since 2009 only Nikolay Davydenko, Ferrer, Ivan Ljubicic, Andy Roddick and Robin Soderling have been able to add their names to the ATP 1000 champions list. That is only five differing names to the usual four out of 45 tournaments.


Although the dominance of the big 4 has been lessened since the 2013 horror campaign of Roger Federer, the collection of contenders hasn’t been increased far beyond those players who have won a slam in the past. When looking at the others within the top ten all have their flaws. Tomas Berdych struggles when playing any final. Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer don’t have the fire power to notch big back-to-back wins. Stan Wawrinka has the firepower and the arrogance but not the physical stamina. Comparatively Jo-Wilfred Tsonga has the arrogance and firepower but not the mental fortitude. That leaves Juan Martin Del Potro, the scariest opponent not named Novak, Rafa, Roger or Andy.


Australian Open, Return of the Muzzer


Yes, seriously. Andy Murray will be refreshed and hungry and will look for glory at a venue he has been a three time finalist. A fourth consecutive triumph for Novak Djokovic in Melbourne, even on current form, seems a bridge too far.


Look for Federer to regain some form and make the semi-finals once more.


Rafael Nadal

French Open, As predictable as a Vin Diesel movie


Novak Djokovic will have to wait one more year before he can unify the all four career majors belt.


Nadal on the ultra-slow clay of Roland Garros is too much for any mortal. It is impossible to argue with a 98.33 winning percentage over nine years. All we can say is shame on you Robin Soderling for ruining slam perfection.


Djokovic wins 89

Wimbledon, Novak Vengeance


By June Djokovic is going to be mighty mighty angry. Not only that, he is going to make both Andy Murray and the British crowd pay for the previous year. Look for Djokovic to sneak this one in 5 sets.



U.S. Open, The Federer Redemption?


This is a really 50-50 call between old man Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro has a good case as he was the best player to not win a slam this past year. Federer has a case because, regardless of form, he is still Federer. On top of that history often likes to repeat itself in certain ways and it would be quite fitting for Federer to snatch a triumph in New York as Pete Sampras did in 2002.


James Crabtree is a journalist living in Melbourne. Follow him on twitter @JamesACrabtree


Roland Garros Granted Approval for Enhancements

ext stade Roland Garros

(October 17, 2013) Plans to expand Roland Garros will be allowed to continue.

The Administrative Court of Paris overturned a ruling from back in March in which local residents complained that the expansion could harm the environment.

The French Tennis Federation says that the expansion of Roland Garros was set be finished in 2017.  Plans for the enhancement of Roland Garros include a roof over center court.


Serena Williams Says “Grip” is a Key to her Success

2013 French Open - Day Ten

(June 10, 2013) Serena Williams captured her second French Open title on Sunday with a 6-4, 6-4 win over defending champion Maria Sharapova. The victory is her 16th major championship.  She extended a career-record winning streak to 31.

The American stands just two majors behind Hall of Famers Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert at 18 who are tied for fourth on the all-time list. Topping the list for capturing the most majors are Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22) and Helen Wills Moody (19).

At 31, Williams is at the age when most tennis players are close to retirement, but she’s at the peak of her powers, going 43-2 with six titles so far this year.  Last year she captured Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the gold medal in singles and in doubles at the London Olympics and the WTA Year-End Championships.

Since losing in the first round of Roland Garros back in 2012, Williams is an astounding 74-3.

“I’m just really focused right now,” Williams said after her win in Paris.  “It’s late.  But I’m just really, you know ‑‑ I want to do the best I can.  I want to give myself every opportunity to do that.  That’s all I want.

“If that means I lose, at least I know I have done the best I can.  It’s okay.  I’m able to accept that.  I feel like it’s okay.

“But as long as I give that effort, it feels better.”

Not only does Williams have a tight grip on the competition at No. 1, but she credits her “grip” for her recent success – with a product she helped to develop – MISSION Power Grip. Williams is a co-founder of Mission Athletecare – “Mission” is the first and only line of athlete -generated products designed to enhance performance in training and in competition.  Other co-founders include Mia Hamm, David Wright among other elite athletes.

“My grip is absolutely KEY to my success,” Williams told Tennis Panorama. “When I’m playing for hours in the sun, heat and humidity my hands sweat a lot – that’s just the reality of being a tennis player. Sweaty hands can literally change your entire game. If your hands are sweaty your racket could slip or turn and ruin a shot, and even the thought of sweaty hands could affect your confidence. Before the MISSION Power Grip, there wasn’t a real solution – I just wiped my hands on my clothes to get them dry and that only lasted for a few minutes. I love this innovation; it’s definitely one of my most important keys to winning.”

Williams commented on how and why she changed her “grip.”

Honestly, when I joined MISSION as a Co-Founder it was one of the first ideas I shared with the team – sweaty hands don’t just effect tennis players, but really almost every sport where a tight, dry grip is needed. I started working with the MISSION team reviewing lab samples of MISSION Power Grip – giving feedback on feel, duration and dryness – and we finally landed on a formula that I loved. I started using it about 2 years ago, and I haven’t stopped since. MISSION Power Grip is a game-saver and game-changer.”

Next stop for Williams will be The Championships, Wimbledon, where she’ll  be coming in as the defending champion, going for her sixth Wimbledon title.


Protestors Fail to Halt Nadal’s Sprint to History

Rafael Nadal 2

By Ros Satar

(June 9, 2013) PARIS – A dramatic double interruption from protestors left an edgy air on an overcast Paris day, but it did not prevent Rafael Nadal from carving a place in history as the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event.


Nadal beat compatriot David Ferrer in straight sets 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 and now is the leading performer in Roland Garros history, with a 59-1 win-loss record.


The weather had turned cloudy and there were doubts that the match would get by without significant disruptions – for weather.


It was important for Ferrer to get a good start but it was the defending champion who made the first break early.


Ferrer all but gifted Nadal the first set when he was broken again, despite having got himself back on even terms, thanks to sloppy errors and a double fault.


Nadal started the second set with real intent, drawing gasps at times as the intensity of his clubbed forehands and backhands racked up.


Play was initially disrupted in the middle of Ferrer’s service game (at 4-1) by a couple of protestors holding a sign up in the Chatrier against the recently passed same-sex marriage bill, which also legalizes same-sex adoption.


The players waited as the chanters were escorted out of the stadium, but more drama was to unfold Nadal was coming out to serve at 5-1 for the second set.


A bare-chested protestor leapt from the front row with a lit red flare, as security guards moved quickly to restrain him, also ushering Nadal safely out of the way, and to extinguish the flare.


A similar styled protest took place at the same time at the top of Suzanne Lenglen Court.


This latest disruption unsettled the public and players alike, as both were unable to hold on to their serves, but it provided Nadal with a decisive break once nerves had stopped jangling to take the second set.


As if that was not enough, there was a brief suspension for rain in the third set, with the players held on court.


Ferrer was whistled at his reluctance to re-start and thankfully for the end was relatively fast for him as Nadal was not hanging about, on his way to history.


Six-time Olympic Gold medal winner, Usain Bolt, presented the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy to Nadal.


When it came to the punch, Ferrer just came up short on the aggressive needed, as he explained in his post-match news conference.


“To beat Rafael in clay court, I need to play more aggressive.

“When the court is slower, it’s very difficult.

“He has more power than me with his shots, and it’s very difficult for to beat him.”


Despite losing the final today, Ferrer moves to fourth in the ATP World Tour Rankings, and at least could joke about that after the match.


“I lost the final against Rafael, but tomorrow I am going to be No.4 and him No. 5.

“But anyway, I change.  I prefer to win here and to stay No. 5.  (Laughter.)”


When asked about the disturbances due to the protestors, Ferrer rushed it off, although he did joke: “Rafael, he was scared a little bit, (Laughter), but nothing happened, so it’s okay.”


Nadal later agreed but was quick to praise the efforts of the security guards who quickly bundled the protestor from the courts.


Nadal called this an emotional win and described how just a few months ago, this position was the last thing on his team’s minds.


“Five months ago nobody of my team dreamed about one comeback like this because we thought that going to be impossible.

“But here we are today, and that’s really fantastic and incredible.

“I am enjoying a lot all these emotions since I came back.”


But serious questions must be asked in light of the second incident since 2009, in a men’s final at Roland Garros.


In 2009, Spanish “streaker” Jimmy Jump tried to approach Roger Federer to place a barretina cap on his head, before being tackled and removed by security guards.


Security measures are tighter at both Wimbledon and the US Open, especially in light of recent high profile terrorist activities in London and New York.


Security measures are less tight here – as someone pointed out it is nigh on impossible to smuggle a cup of coffee onto the chilly press benches, but people with flares can manage to get in, and moreover get onto the court.


In an interview after the final, tournament director Gilbert Ysern felt that the situation had been controlled and that there would be no need to review security.


But the moment belongs to the man from Mallorca.

“This one is very special one.

“When you have period of time like I had, you realize that you don’t know if you will have the chance to be back here with this trophy another time.”


Looking at the Modernization Plans for Roland Garros

ext stade Roland Garros

By Ros Satar

(June 9, 2013) PARIS – In these times of austerity, few countries would be forgiven for raising a skeptical eyebrow (or perhaps a Gallic shrug) at the ambitious modernization plans for the Roland Garros site.


But as the 2013 men’s final rolls around amidst cloud and rainy spells, and the potential for another Monday finish, how many people will rue the lack of a roof (amongst other improvements)?


There was recently concern that in order for Roland Garros to keep up with the other Slams, it would have to move from its current home.


The locations under consideration were Marnée-la-Valle (which is the site of the Euro-Disney resort), a suburb of northern Paris (Gonesse) or over to a vacant army base near Versailles, a wealthy suburb southwest of Paris.


But given that Roland-Garros is the major source of funding for French tennis and its continued development across the country, those plans have now been shelved in favor of developing the site at Auteuil.


Gilbert Ysern, Chief Executive of the French Tennis Federation (FFT) and tournament director elaborated: “The Tour de France and Roland Garros do send a very positive image of France around the world.”


“It is important to create a more positive message,” he continued.

“The vast majority [of politicians] understand that it is about the event.”


This event generates an approximate surplus of €70m, of which €20m will be re-invested in the facilities and €50m goes back into French tennis development and resources.


In addition there is an impact of approximately €250m on the Paris economy in terms of hotels, restaurants, local apartment rentals, etc.


Roland Garros contributes 85% of the FFT’s gross revenue (approximate €160m).


The site was built in 1928 so that the famous “Mousquetaires” – the Davis Cup winning team of Borotra, Brugnon, Cochet and Lacoste could defend their title, won in Philadelphia the year before, as well as a place to hold the French Championships.


Now it is recognized at the pinnacle of the clay court season but now it finds itself needing to keep pace with its cousins in Melbourne, London and New York.


The plans include a retractable roof for the top of Court Philippe Chatrier and even the possibility of scheduling night matches.


While we are on the subject of roof-gate, it is sometimes touted as the cure of all ills – get a roof, problems all fixed.


Well, not really so – What it fixes is getting through a schedule to try and get the big event to the finish line on time.


What it does NOT do is give the poor paying public any respite from the very unpredictable elements (Yes U.S. Open, I am looking at you!).


Rain is miserable at the best of times.  Rain when you have paid a small fortune for tennis tickets, and taken days off work, AND have nowhere to shelter is a sense of purgatory that can rival the most soporific match.


The modernization does mean opening up the site into the surrounding area, but also creating more space for the public to move.


Anyone who has ever been here, especially when both show courts let out at the same time, will know that it can take you an age to get anywhere else on the site.


It makes negotiating Oxford Street, London at Christmas time seem like a leisurely, purposeful stroll.


The new plans include a 75ft wide walk walkway to the West of Philippe Chatrier Court, and to the west the creation of a new Place de Mousquetaires.

The idea is that the increased space will help the flow of spectators around the grounds.


They also plan to open it to the public outside the tournament so local residents can enjoy the open area.


Which brings us to perhaps the main inhibitor to their plans – the extension into the historical public gardens nearby – the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.


Vitriolic postings and petitions have raised an outcry that something as trivial as a two-week tennis tournament should encroach on a piece of French heritage.


The actual historically listed Formigé greenhouses will not be touched, but rather the 1980’s built “technical” and “hot” houses will be remodeled around a new court.


The entire project would run in three phases (from 2015) with two tournaments in between.


And it raises an interesting concept – one that is sometimes asked back in London – the “what do you do with the place the other 50 weeks of the year?”


Holding conferences and cultural events at areas of historical and/or sporting significance is nothing new these days and it may even increase the interest in the surroundings and indeed the history of the public gardens.


The biggest irony is that the opposing political parties are in broad agreement over the development and its benefits.


In the first week here, there were demonstrations from neighbors opposing the development plans.


“Environment groups have deep pockets and can afford to go to court forever,” said Mr. Ysern.


But he remains optimistic that the plans will go through – the Federation faced similar opposition when they wanted to build Court Suzanne Lenglen, and it was the court and the Conseils d’Etat as the final point of appeal who allowed them to build it.


After losing the 2012 Olympic bid to London, the FFT and the City of Paris decided to improve the facilities, and in the past, they have always paid for those improvements themselves – this is the first time they are looking for help from the city.


The plans are to use the facilities as the base for the FFT outside of the tournament, and to also build a new National Training Centre at Porte d’Auteuil, with seven indoor and four outdoor courts.


Roland Garros is one of France’s sporting crown jewels – it was not without some irony that Mr. Ysern rued the fact that Wimbledon’s plans were approved without anywhere near as many hitches as the FFT face now.


No-one can deny that heritage is important, but so too is the march of commercial sporting progress.


As Mr. Ysern said – the plans are spectacular, all they need now is the permission.


Serena Williams Makes It Sweet 16

Serena Williams Day 2 Press Conference

By Ros Satar


(June 8, 2013) PARIS – How does Maria Sharapova solve a problem like Serena?


The answer is she doesn’t, at least not today as the head-to-head between them grew to 14-2, when Serena Williams regained the title she won back in 2002 6-4, 6-4.


It perhaps feels uncharitable to say that there was an air of inevitability around this final.


After all, the numbers do not lie and at best people wanted the match to be competitive at least, especially those who remember the London 2012 Olympic Final.


It is always a challenge to defend a title and Maria Sharapova certainly made her intentions clear at the start of the match, gritting her way to defending four breakpoints, before breaking Williams in the next game.


But of course, the world No. 1 was not standing for that – with the first set a bizarre see-saw of breaks and clutch points and “come-on’s” from them both.


If Sharapova was going to make her claim to defend her crown, it really had to be here to put Williams under pressure from the start.


You just had the feeling, though, that it was taking every ounce of effort from Sharapova to stay in contention, so it was no surprise when Williams served out for the first set, having nudged ahead again.


The second set started in much the same way, with a long protracted hold and the saving of many break points (again) from Sharapova.


Even though it came down to a single break at the start of the second set, Sharapova never stopped fighting, but Williams stepped up a gear, firing down three aces to start and finish the last game, and with it gaining her second Roland-Garros title, and her 16th Grand Slam title.


She now holds the most slam titles of any active player, and the sixth of all time, as well as becoming the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam in the Open Era – it may be impolite to refer to a lady’s age but just for the record, it’s 31 years, 256 days by the tournament end date.


Having nothing to defend here after her first round loss was a key for Williams today.


“I played so well leading up to the French Open last year ‑ and same thing happened again this year ‑ but I didn’t put any pressure on myself,” Wiliams said.


Sharapova had pointed out that Williams was serving harder that tomorrow’s finalist David Ferrer.


“I think growing up with Venus, you know, she’s serving so big, I was like, I want to serve big, too,” she said.


“So I think this definitely really helped me a lot.  Again, I am not the tallest girl on tour, but I definitely think I use my height in a very effective way, and I use it to the fullest of my ability.”


Seated alongside the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, Williams admitted her had been very nervous in serving for the match.


“I thought, I’m not going to be able to hit groundstrokes.  (Laughter.)

“No joke.  As you see the one groundstroke I did hit went like 100 feet out.


“I thought to myself, Look, Serena, you’ve just got to hit aces.  That’s your only choice.”


Of course having been on the receiving end of those, it was an obviously reflective Sharapova who faced the press later.


“I think getting to the Roland-Garros final is not too shabby, so I’d say that’s a positive.  Coming back as a defending champion, I know it’s never easy to come back with that title, so I’m happy that I was able to produce good tennis within these last two weeks and come to that stage.”


To reverse a trend of losses against Williams dating back to 2004 is obviously a work in progress (to put it mildly), but today showed that Sharapova could go toe-to-toe with her.


“Some of the results against her last year were not so good.  But the match in Miami and the match here, I think I’m doing a few more right things than maybe I have done in the past, yet obviously not consistent enough.”


We are only half way through the season, with Wimbledon coming up, so Sharapova could at least look ahead.


“It’s always the one that I always want to perform well at and the one that I always look forward to.


“It’s not like I really need someone to give me motivation towards that.”


If age is just a number now to Serena, and a new number was reached today (16 Grand Slam titles), then does she have her eye on the next prize?


“If it means I stop at 16 or if it means I have more, I definitely want to continue my journey to get a few more.”


Roll on Wimbledon and the US Open.



Spectacular and Streaky – A Tale of Two Semifinals

Rafael Nadal


By Ros Satar


(June 7, 2013) PARIS – On perhaps the hottest day of the French Open tournament this year, the scene was set for two potentially explosive semifinals. There would be an air of expectation for both semifinals, but only one would deliver.


Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7

After an emotional week for Novak Djokovic, here was a chance to get the one slam that had so far eluded him.


All that stood between him was his conqueror last year, and defending champion – Rafael Nadal.


The sheer ferocity of hitting from the start was like a game of cat and mouse, but with sledgehammers for paws.


The first set was a tight affair, with Nadal capitalizing on his first break point opportunities to nudge ahead, and take the first set.


It would always be key to any success Djokovic might enjoy to start fast, or now at least stay in contention.


The Serb was starting to show his frustration as errors crept in under the pressure of Nadal’s intensity.


A couple of traded breaks, but at least Djokovic had seen that Nadal was breakable.


A moment taken to adjust the wooden crucifix around his neck, and perhaps to ask for some assistance or divine intervention finally delivered with another break for Djokovic to edge ahead at 5-3, serving out the set.


Suddenly we had a fight on our hands, but it was almost as if a wave of weariness hit Djokovic, who was now slipping and sliding on the newly swept, very dusty court.


It looked like he might have tweaked something, and either way, Nadal was not taking any prisoners, quickly romping to a 5-0 lead as Djokovic slumped about the place lethargically.


Having already received a time violation warning, Nadal received a point penalty in the last game, not that it made any difference to Djokovic, who by now had at least escaped a “bagel”.


A new lease on life came back to those elastic legs of his, and the crowd were treated to some lovely rallies and reflex volleys at the net.


Twice Nadal broke for the lead, and twice he was pegged back immediately, pushing the pair into a tiebreak – won by Djokovic, and giving the crowd what they wanted – a deciding set.


Djokovic must have thought it was his time, breaking immediately and staying ahead until he missed the simplest of overhead put-aways by sliding into the net before the ball had bounced twice.


It really became a day for the rule-book as Nadal had no play on the ball and it had effectively bounced outside of the court lines when he made contact with the net.


In any case, it was not the first fudged overhead, and it certainly would not be the last as time and time again, Djokovic would send them crashing into the net, or spectacularly long.


Finding himself now serving from behind to stay in the match, there was another twist of drama as Djokovic asked to speak to the supervisor, after slipping several times on the dried out clay at the back of the court.


The final salt in the wound was a break to love, ending his pledge to win the French in memory of his first coach.


“I congratulate him, because that’s why he’s a champion.  That’s why he’s been ruling Roland Garros for many years, and for me it’s another year,” said Djokovic after the match.


“I managed to come back and start playing really, really well as the match was going on, but it wasn’t good enough.


“I lost the match after five hours.  I wanted this title so much, so I am disappointed.  That’s it.  You know, that’s the way I feel.”


Nadal, playing in his first five-set match since his return from a seven-month injury layoff was relieved to have made it through to another final.


“So happy the way that I played, and more than happy the way that I [fought] in the fifth set after losing big chance in the fourth.

“So that’s probably the most difficult thing to do it, and I did.”


David Ferrer

David Ferrer

David Ferrer def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 7-6(3), 6-2


It is inevitable that people suggest that the Nadal/Djokovic match-up was the “final that should have been” and following it was the ‘blockbuster that never was.”


Jo-Wilfried Tsonga found himself carrying the hopes of a nation, looking to become the first French finalist since Henri Leconte in 1988.


David Ferrer was looking to reach his first slam final.


Certainly the crowd wanting to lift Tsonga as much as they could, roaring when he finally got a game on the board in a first set drubbing, and as he made things a lot more competitive in the second set.


For Tsonga it seemed a match of irritations – differences of opinion with the chair umpire over marks, some wild errors, and just overall inconsistency.


If there is one player that you can ill afford to have streaky patches against, it is David Ferrer, who just played solidly all the way around.


To fail to live up to a crowd’s, and even a nation’s expectations will have been a tough pill to take.


“Maybe in a few hours, few days, you know, I will say, Okay, it was a good tournament; I played well; I was in semis.


“But, yeah, today I’m just disappointed,” said Tsonga after the match.


For Ferrer, there is the prospect of facing his compatriot, who has owned him on clay all but one of the times they have met, (Stuttgart, 2004).


“I won once when we were kids.


“Then I also won on faster surfaces, but each match is different, anyway.


“So I need to focus on the now and I need to make the most of all my shots.”


Serena Williams to Meet Maria Sharapova for French Open Title

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

By Ros Satar

(June 6, 2013) PARIS – Victoria Azarenka’s burgeoning love affair with the clay came to a halt today, at the hands of Maria Sharapova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.

In a three-setter interrupted by a brief wringing-out of a cloud, Sharapova did not have the best of starts.

It looked like she had left her first serve in the locker room, but had brought its best friend the double-fault out instead.

In truth, Azarenka did not have to do much except turn up for that first game, as Sharapova was broken to love.

But the situation did not last for long – it was clear that Sharapova had her eye in, quickly taking advantage of Azarenka’s errors, taking the first set in a little short of half an hour.

Azarenka managed to make a better fist of things, made all the easier when Sharapova gifted her the set with two consecutive double faults.

But the players also had to contend with a fidget-en-masse in the last game of the set as spots of rain fell, and the gentry in the expensive seats promptly allez-ed to afternoon tea at 15-0.

The crowd reactions also caused amusement – there was no doubt that the warmer applause was for the defending champion, but they were quick to whistle and boo (admittedly in the rain) as she challenged a point, and as the umpire had them on and off the chairs before finally taking them off.

The third set saw the errors that had been plaguing Azarenka in the first set return, although Sharapova made life hard for herself letting four match points go at 5-2.

There was no doubt at the second time of asking, thumping down an ace to finish it off.

Azarenka denied that Sharapova had cut off her rhythm or rushed her.

“There’s not much rhythm when we play each other.  We just try to, you know, take opportunity, whoever takes it first.”

Having joked in her last conference about her and clay moving in together, she was positive about her progress here this year.

“My game on clay got much better, and it’s just a matter of [the] whole process.

“Process started for me.  It unfortunately ended today in this tournament.

“But, you know, coming back next year there is so much to look forward to for me, and, you know, trying to figure it out and find it every year will be something that is going to motivate me to come back here.”

Sharapova was no doubt relieved to get the job after failing to take advantage of four match points.

“Despite having those two match points and not taking advantage of them, I was happy with the way it came out at 5‑4 and served it out.”

She will meet Serena Williams who demolished last year’s finalist Sara Errani for the loss of just one game, 6-0, 6-1 in 46 minutes.

As Errani picked up the vocal effort, the only sounds from Williams were the odd squeak as sent a ball flying long or wide.

And as the Italian finally got a game on the board, she raised her hands in triumph, as a gladiatrix might after facing down a lion.

But meal-time was quick to follow, with Williams finishing (as Sharapova had) with an ace.

When asked if playing her was soul-destroying at the moment, Williams allowed herself a smile.

“I would never say that.  Ever.

“But I just go out there and do the best that I can and that’s it. “

That being said there was no question of her giving up on any game, out of any sympathy.

“She’s a great girl.  I love her fighting spirit.  I really like her as a person.

“But when you go out there, you just have to play and forget about who you’re playing.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s final, Sharapova had to face the inevitable question about her record against Williams, last beating her in 2004.

“Well, I’d be lying if it doesn’t bother me, obviously.  (Smiling.)

“But obviously she’s won so many matches already in a row on hard and clay, so I don’t think it really matters.

“You try to go out there and do something different, because whatever you have done just hasn’t performed well.

“I hope that I can.”

And Williams’ view of that record?

“It’s a different time, a different era, just a different match.

“But we have played a lot.  Just gotta do the best that I can.”