Saturday, May 28, 2011
Early exits nothing new for Americans
By Greg Garber
PARIS -- In the 1951 classic film "An American in Paris," Gene Kelly plays a struggling painter who falls in love with a French girl, Leslie Caron. If they ever do a remake of that romantic musical, it would be wise to avoid the first week of June.
Lately, it's been hard to find anyone from the United States in the second week of the French Open.
Over the past six years, only Serena and Venus Williams have done it among women, Serena three times and Venus once. Two American men, Andy Roddick and Robby Ginepri, have managed the feat a collective three times in the past seven years.
This time, with 18 in the field to start, the second-week total will be, uh, zero.
On Saturday, Mardy Fish and Vania King -- the last Americans standing -- fell in the third round here at Roland Garros. Fish, the No. 10 seed, lost to Gilles Simon of France, 3-6, 4-6, 2-6. King was defeated by the No. 9 seed, Petra Kvitova, 4-6, 2-6.
Fish was asked to assess the 2011 American campaign.
"We've got three pretty big names missing on both sides," he said, referring to the absent Williams sisters and Andy Roddick, all former No. 1 players who are injured. "We would like to have them here."
"Maybe an incomplete?" he said. "We come here every year saying, 'When are we going to put someone [male] in the quarters?'"
The last time that happened was eight years ago, courtesy of 1999 French Open champion Andre Agassi.
"I never played on that court," said Fish of the centerpiece here, Court Philippe Chatrier. "[Simon] is pretty comfortable on that court. It would be fun to be good on that court. It would have been a lot more fun if it had been more competitive."
Here, as a special Memorial Day weekend bonus, nine more things I know I think:
The Streak will be tested Sunday: Lost in the wake of Novak Djokovic's 40-0 start to the 2011 season is the fact he had to turn it around and play a hungry Frenchman in front of a rabid French crowd 24 hours later. Ugh. It would be the victory of Richard Gasquet's life.
Andy Murray is still quasi-favorite, but with an asterisk: The Scotsman has had an easy draw -- French qualifier Eric Prodon (No. 124), lucky loser Simone Bolelli (No. 126) and Germany's Michael Berrer (No. 95), a 30-year-old who found himself in a major third round for the first time. In the midst of an otherwise routine straight-sets win, Murray rolled his right ankle running down a drop shot. After some drama -- writhing, a visit from the trainer, grimacing, etc. -- he continued. Going forward, you might think it's going to be a problem, but there are no serious threats between Murray and a berth in the semifinals opposite Rafael Nadal.
Vika has the stuff to get to the final four: Victoria Azarenka has never been past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event, but with the rapidly deteriorating women's draw, this represents her best chance. The No. 4 seed tagged Roberta Vinci 6-3, 6-2 to move in the fourth round. She has now won 24 of her past 27 matches.
The jury is still out on Rafael Nadal: After spending an intolerable 7 hours, 19 minutes on the court for his first two matches, Rafa escaped Croatian qualifier Antonio Veic in a relatively speedy 101 minutes. Rafa did manage to avoid the biggest upset of a No. 1 seed in Grand Slam Open era history, but he didn't play great.
Petra Kvitova needs to step it up: The No. 9 seed knocked the last American woman, valiant Vania King, out of the tournament, 6-4, 6-2. It was a sloppy win, featuring 30 unforced errors and three breaks of serve. Tennis Channel analyst Martina Navratilova, a fellow Czech, didn't like what she saw. "She's going to have to clean up her game," Navratilova said. "She's not going to win the title playing like that." King, a 21-year-old American, was playing with a groin injury but equaled her best-ever Grand Slam performance.
Mother Russia is rocking Roland Garros: Players from Russia and countries from the former Soviet Union in round of 16 (seven): No. 3 Vera Zvonareva, No. 4 Victoria Azarenka, No. 7 Maria Sharapova, No. 13 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 25 Maria Kirilenko and Ekaterina Makarova.
Andrea Petkovic continues to be the best interview in the women's game: ESPN.com's guest blogger at last year's U.S. Open can dominate even in her second language, English. Asked by a reporter if she would bring back the Petko Dance if she won the title at Roland Garros, the German's eyes widened. "If I won here, I give you anything you want." The reporter responded, "We'll talk later." Petkovic just kept laughing.
Maria Sharapova is still a serious threat to complete her career Grand Slam: Down 3-6, 1-4 to French teenager Caroline Garcia, she came back to win the last 11 games in a row to win her second-round match. Her 6-2, 6-3 win over Taiwanese qualifier Chan Yung-Jan was a little more encouraging.
More than a few players will be watching that little soccer match between Barcelona and Manchester United: "For sure, yeah," Nadal said. "I am a big supporter of Real Madrid, so I prefer Barcelona. I know a few people from inside of Barcelona. But what I really want to see is a fantastic football match tonight."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.