Serve and Volley

French Open Closes for American Men

A short Paris visit for our side.

By 6.2.14

UPI (John Isner, losing yesterday in Paris)
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PARIS — For a moment it looked like a typical Donald Young day: many brilliant shots, an aggressive game marked by movements to the net, and then frustration as errors pile up, discouragement, folding. But Donald Young was not having a typical day. After coming from behind in the first and second sets and then failing to follow through in the first one and letting an even stronger rally wilt at the end of the second one, he found his stride in the third and sustained a fierce tenacity in the fourth to even the match.

Donald Young is often mentioned in tennis circles as the most talented American of his cohort, the young-20s who are supposed to bring our colors back to the front of the international game. He has marvelous form and when he is on a roll he looks invincible, then he makes an error of tactics or hits long due to small miscalculation, gets mad at himself, blows the game, blows the set, abandons the match. This time, he was magnificent.

And in the press box we were hoping he would continue to be magnificent, stay on the roll through the fifth set and move into the second week of the tournament with John Isner, the only other American still standing in the gentlemen’s singles draw. Isner, in fact, was playing the following morning, Sunday, in the first of the round of 16 matches.

I say we were hoping, but were we? The truth is, I cannot be sure. As far as I could tell, I was the only American covering the match in the legendary Court No. 1, a great, circular stadium just small enough to feel you are at courtside. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful, windless day, perfect for the culminating tournament of the clay season, the second major of the year, the Championnats Internationaux de France, as the French Open formally is known, at the legendary park on Paris’s west side, the Stade Roland-Garros.

This is purely an anecdotal observation, of course, and mind, you can watch these matches on TV from inside the media center at the main stadium, the imposing Chatrier stade. I had not noticed any of my compatriots earlier in the day, either, when our Nebraskan hope, Jack Sock, went down in three sets before Dusan Lajovic, a young Serb whose vociferous cheering section went to encourage Jelena Jankovic as soon as the match ended. (She won easily against an attractive but rather witless, I should say inexperienced, young Romanian player, Sorana Cirstea.)

With Sock out, there remained Young, engaged in his marathon against the Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez late in the afternoon, and the possibility that Isner would hold off Tomas Berdych first thing in the morning.

By the time Young and Garcia-Lopez got to the fifth set it was nearly seven in the evening. With double daylight saving time (no need to ask), France in late spring and summer stays light until well after nine, which is when the last matches of the day end. On this occasion two of the most awaited matches of the first week had to be suspended, French star Richard Gasquet’s effort to break through against Fernando Verdasco to the round of 16 and the continuation of Andy Murray’s run, always unpredictable but especially so on clay.

Neither had much difficulty getting to the round of 32, and one of them and either Gasquet or Verdasco would have beaten Isner and the rest of the field to the round of 16 had the French introduced triple daylight saving. So Isner went first and was quickly beaten by Berdych. He played better, he said, good sport, and allowed as how for a big man at 6'5" Berdych is in Isner’s height class; he moves very well. Isner himself was wrong footed and caught by drop shots more often than I want to report. Murray was introduced by the announcer as “l’Ecossais,” the Scot, which may be normal or may be a sign of the continuing progress of regionalism in Europe. I have never heard Rafa Nadal (who won his match) introduced as “the Majorcan,” though of course he is described thus in the press just as Sock might be called the Nebraskan. It is unlikely, at any rate, that Murray would be announced at Wimbledon, where he will defend his title in a few weeks, other than as a Briton.

Anyway, this is not the Olympics and there is no room for these chauvinistic quibbles in this highly individual sport where players mutter to themselves and coaches insist on such qualities as mental toughness. Maybe the announcer is a nostalgic Gaullist who remembers Vive le Quebec libre! However, no one raised the issue and perhaps no one noticed or cared. It took Murray nearly three-quarters of an hour to get the better of Kohlschreiber, finishing at 12-10. Resilience must be mental, but from the looks on both players’ faces, it takes a physical toll too. The overnight wait cannot help; Murray admitted he did not get the best night s sleep.

By the time Young and Garcia-Lopez reached the end of their marathon it was getting close to eight — I think. It was taking a toll on me, too, and I lost track, even though there are clocks all over the place. It was a great match, though, and if it means Young is improving his mental toughness, it was, despite the disappointment, a good day — and a better evening for American tennis.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.