Friday, May 21, 2010

Why You Should Watch the French Open

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.

Given all that, what can one do against a player who brings power, nasty spin shots, court vision, tactical genius and the foot speed to steal countless winners from his opponent? Over the past half-decade, the answer has been not much. Last year's loss to Soderling was an unfortunate blemish on a jaw-dropping record at the event for Nadal. It was the first Roland Garros match he had ever lost, putting an end to four straight titles. No athlete is truly invincible but Rafa on clay is about as close as anyone has ever come. He arrives in Paris having already won all three Masters Series clay court events. No one has ever done that before. Bet against him at your own peril.

Roland Garros was always Justine Henin's best Slam. She is the closest equivalent on the women's side to Rafa in terms of clay court dominance. Her run to the finals in Australia was impressive but expectations in Paris will be much higher, even though she hasn't played the French in three years. Kim Clijsters has already withdrawn from the event so it would seem that the Williamses are her most likely obstacles, mainly Serena, the stronger of the sisters on clay.

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.

Fantasy Tennis
Tennis Channel Racquet Brackets are available for the men and the women.

TalkAboutTennis will be running suicide pools.

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