Eugenie Bouchard has not won many tournaments, but she was in the semifinals at the Australian Open. She took the first set in the semifinals at the French Open, formally the Championnats Internationaux de France, but she was playing against Maria Sharapova, the 2012 winner here at Roland-Garros Stadium, and the great Floridian, originally from Siberia, has been making a bit of a specialty in coming from behind, as for example in her quarter against another 20-year old phenom, the Hispano-Venezuelan Garbine Muguruza.
Sharapova-Bouchard was much the more dramatic of the ladies’ semis yesterday, as Simona (TAS apologizes for the misspelling in an earlier dispatch) Halep, still another early-20-something, beat Andrea Petkovic, yet another later-20-something like Miss S., later in the cool afternoon. It was cool, but not windy and outright cold, as it was during the astonishing men’s quarterfinal in this same Philippe-Chatrier Stadium the day before, the one that saw Andy Murray take it in the fifth set from Gael Monfils as night descended. (“Statium,” “stade” in French, can refer to what we call a stadium and to the venue, which we would refer to as a park or yards.)
Possibly the Roland-Garros fan base — as it has been every day during the tournament, the place was packed — like the idea of two young ladies scarcely out of their teens competing for the Coupe Lenglen, or maybe they thought young Eugenie, who is from Montreal, is one of theirs. The thing about people, and not only the French, is that they want to have their cake and eat it too. If you give up Quebec, or lose it to the British Empire, you cannot come back two and a half centuries later and say the French-speaking provinces of Canada are really French. But try to tell that to a tennis fan. They had Mary Pierce (American father) in 2000, and there are some who say a Belgian — Justine Henin, who won in 2003 and 2005-07 — is really a Frenchman, and then the record gets spotty. On the other hand, Suzanne Lenglen, of Lenglen Cup and Lenglen Stadium paternity, I mean maternity, won six times in the 1920s, plus six times in doubles and six times in mixed doubles, with Jacques Brugnon, one of the Four Musketeers, who were the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray of their time, late ’20s and early ’30s, except they were all from the same country.
France is a tennis power, if getting its men and women into the last few rungs of the draws at tournaments means anything. But they seem unable to clinch. Look who’s talking, an American commentator can hear them saying, but first of all some of our women, namely Williams sisters, have dominated the women’s tour since the late 1990s, and second our fall from the heights began at the turn of the century, with the retirement of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. We had a winner here in 1991-92 (Jim Courier), and 1989 (Michael Chang, then 17).
The Sharapova-Bouchard contest was not only more dramatic than Petkovic-Halep, it seems to me it was far more nerve-wracking than the Murray-Monfils five-setter that was played the day before on the same day. Certainly one cannot compare men’s and women’s tennis. Gael Monfils and Andy Murray played a wild game in terms of momentum shifts, but whoever had the momentum had it until he lost it. Murray was playing much better tennis than Monfils for three out of five sets. By contrast, Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard both played extremely well throughout; almost every game went to deuce (and often kept coming back to the deuce point).
The only objection one could have to the match was that the two young ladies kept the ball low over the net, going for strong deep ground strokes and setting up opportunities for winners. They went for fast ground strokes, showing nerves of steel as they repeatedly picked the ball on the rise and fired it back to the baseline, seemingly oblivious of the risk. There were several excellent plays at the net, but for the most part the issue was which one would manage first to pull her opponent to one side and then whack a winner down the line to the opposite corner.
The previous day’s Monfils meltdown remains a mystery, and likely will go down that way in tennis history. Andy Murray was, is — Monfils himself says so and the record is unambiguous — the better player, but the collapse of a player who had the momentum of two sets in a row, plus the home court advantage and with it a vociferous crowd, is still remarkable. Monfils won scarcely have a dozen points in the entire set, which was over in just over 20 minutes. Darkness? Perhaps, but it was Murray who said afterwards he could not see and wanted the ump to order a delay until the following morning.
The Big Four thus remain in control of the draw, with only Roger Federer missing from the semis. Rafa Nadal must hold off a Murray who is playing better on clay than he ever had, and follow up with a victory over either Novak Djokovic or Ernests Gulbis. However it goes, it will be a fine weekend on the west side of Paris.