Monday, June 11, 2012
Can't trust Serena Williams to win
By Greg Garber ESPN.com
PARIS -- It was a crazy, cathartic fortnight at Roland Garros.
It always is. The red clay, year after year, has the capacity to surprise.
Remember two weeks ago -- frankly it seems like two months -- when Serena Williams was the favorite to win the title? She came in with a searing 17-0 record on clay, the surface least conducive to her massive game.
And what happened on her way to the coronation? Well, nothing happened for Williams in her first-round match against Virginie Razzano of France.
Williams had never lost a first-round match in a Grand Slam event, and it certainly didn't look as if it would happen then, either. She won the first set 6-4 and was up 5-1 in the tiebreaker. Then, mentally, Williams went far, far away. Razzano came back, winning 13 straight points and took the third set 6-3.
What were the odds that Sloane Stephens, a 19-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Varvara Lepchenko, who was born in Tashkent of the former Soviet Union, would be the final Americans -- men or women -- in the draw? They both played for a spot in the quarterfinals and didn't embarrass themselves against eventual semifinalists.
So the No. 1 takeaway? Williams can no longer be trusted in a major moment. At the age of 30, she has shown a worrying pattern of nerves -- or a complete lack of them -- in the past few outings, losing to Samantha Stosur in the U.S. Open final and to Russia's Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round of the Australian Open. That's trending in the wrong direction.
Without further ado, here are five more things we learned while dodging the raindrops at Roland Garros:
1. Rafa (almost) never disappoints at Roland Garros:Rafael Nadal has won seven titles in eight appearances and his won-loss record is 52-1. Retire the trophy now. His only hiccup came against Novak Djokovic in the final, but a No. 1-ranked player in the world will do that to you once in a while. Nadal, for his part, looked utterly dominant. You could argue it was his most masterful major performance to date.
2. John Isner can't get enough court time: The 6-foot-9 American loves to go long at these majors. In the second round against Paul-Henri Mathieu, Isner seemed to be headed to an easy four-set victory, but he "didn't play the right way."
Because his serve is so difficult to break and his return game is not stellar, Isner gets caught up in a lot of tiebreakers and, at least recently, long fifth sets. The seventh match point was a charm for the Frenchman, who closed the deal with an 18-16 triumph. It was the second-longest match ever at the French Open, but at 5 hours, 41 minutes, it was still more than five hours shorter than the epic encounter Isner had with Nicolas Mahut two years ago at Wimbledon. That one was decided at 70-68 in the fifth and consumed more than 11 hours.
3. Maria Sharapova is feeling pretty good about herself right about now: She completed a career Grand Slam with a resounding victory over Sara Errani in the final. But was the whole world really against her as she attempted to come back from career-threatening shoulder surgery?
"No matter how tough it was, no matter how many people didn't believe I me, didn't think that I could get to this point, I didn't care and I didn't listen," Sharapova said. "I always listened to my own voice, and it always told me that for some reason I'm meant to be better."
That chip on her shoulder could carry her to another important title or two this year.
4. Roger Federer's all-time record of major titles might ultimately stand at 16: The tennis world has been watching as the 30-year-old Swiss champion's game has congealed ever so slightly over the past two years. He is still good enough to get to the semifinals of Grand Slam events, but it has been nine straight majors without a title, and even the most optimistic and supportive among the Fedfanatics are starting to get nervous.
5. The grass at Wimbledon has to be greener for the American men: A dismal outing for the U.S. men at Roland Garros turned out worse than usual.
Of eight Americans in the main draw, only three managed first-round wins: Isner, Brian Baker and Jesse Levine.
Here's hoping Mardy Fish, who underwent a daunting heart procedure, recovers quickly and returns to the All England Club, where he reached the quarterfinals a year ago.