Sunday, May 27, 2012

Roland Garros Day 1: Sijsling

Curtain Call

Player: Igor Sijsling
Age: 24
Nation: Netherlands
Current Ranking: 122
Today's Result: loss to Gilles Muller (Luxembourg) in five sets

Photo via Mitra Images

This was Sijsling's first Roland Garros main draw.  He attained his career-high ranking just this week.  He is currently the second-highest ranked Dutch player.

When I launched The Armchair Squid nearly three years ago, I started with tennis.  My very first post was entitled Why You Should Watch the US Open.  Part of my initial mission for this blog was to spread the word about my sport of choice and I offered several reasons why fans of other sports should give it a try.  Some of them are outdated now, but here are a few highlights which still hold true:

Eye Candy
There's plenty of it in both locker rooms. Are tennis players the most attractive athletes in the world? Judge for yourself. No helmets so you can actually see faces. And for the most part, the clothes are flattering.

Gender Equity...Well, Kinda
Tennis players are the highest paid female athletes in the world. Tennis is one of few sports where men and women are equally popular and equally acclaimed. Does that mean there is no sexism in the game? Certainly not. The TV commentary for women's matches often makes me want to throw things. But I still contend that tennis does better than most.

International Flavor
I grew up on standard North American team sport fare: football, basketball, baseball and hockey. But in my adulthood, I've been drawn to soccer and tennis due in large part to their international platforms. The North American sports have done better along those lines recently but still come nowhere close to what you see on the tennis tour. Over the course of the year, the tours hit six continents and the player rankings reflect that. Gone are the days when Americans and Australians dominated. That fact has hurt TV ratings here in the States but for the sport overall, it's been wonderful.

During Squid Year 1, I offered similar testimonies for each of the other Majors. Here are the highlights from my Why You Should Watch the French Open post: 

Clay Court Tennis
Roland Garros, the tournament otherwise known as the French Open, is the showcase event for clay court tennis. Tennis was born on grass and, before concrete took over the planet, much of the world played the game on well-manicured lawns. But the sport which developed in Continental Europe, the Mediterranean and Latin America was played on red clay. In essence, two very different games emerged. The ball bounces low on grass, favoring players who play with power: the Pete Samprases of the world. The higher bounce on clay increases the reaction time of the ball striker, a difference in milliseconds which favors a very different variety of tennis god: Gustavo Kuerten, for instance. The dirt also is more difficult to run on so getting your opponent out of position is key to winning points. Grass court tennis is a duel at 20 paces. Clay court tennis is a knife fight in the alley.

The Beginning of the Summer Slog
This is just the beginning of a brutal four-month run, the heart of the tennis year. Two weeks after this one's over, Wimbledon gets underway. Then comes the North American hard court season, including big pay days in Montreal, Toronto and Cincinnati. Finally, the US Open kicks off in late August. Only the strong survive.

Back to the present...

The Curtain Call idea was to highlight a different player everyday who could reasonably be said to have had a good tournament, even though s/he'd lost.  I grew tired of the television commentators being so dismissive of the qualifiers and other lower-ranked players, essentially portraying them as cannon fodder for the big stars.  Consider Sijsling.  He made his first Major main draw at Wimbledon last year at age 23.  Most professional players never make it that far and plenty give up if it hasn't happened by that age.  There are 128 players in the men's draw in Paris.  Compare this to Major League baseball: 30 teams with 24 players each.  That means 720 players are suiting up in Major League clubhouses today.  Never mind all the capable players in Cuba and Japan who could walk in and take their spots given the chance.  For tennis, the Majors are the main stage.  To make it once in a lifetime is a very big deal.

This was the idea with which my blog was born: there are stories everywhere.  You just have to dig a little deeper for some of them.

When one of my Curtain Call players continues to improve and does well in the next Slam, I feature him or her in a section I call Catching Up with Old Friends.  If they continue to improve through the next two, I deem them Golden Squid, worthy of greater devotion through the ups and downs of their tennis careers and, perhaps, beyond. 

Golden Squid Report 

Rebecca Marino - Marino is currently taking a break from tennis, citing mental and physical fatigue.  What details I could find are outlined here.  I wish her well and hope she'll be back on tour soon.

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