It was a dark and stormy night. In fact, it was a dark and stormy fortnight in France, with flooding across the northern half of the country and alerts in Paris as the Seine flowed over its banks. This brought havoc to the tight French Open program, with rescheduled matches dismaying fans and damp conditions angering competitors.
Nobody’s mood was improved by rolling strikes and “occupy” type demos protesting the latest attempt — this one by a Socialist government — to inject a bit of flexibility in French labor law. Misery compounds itself, and the director of the French Open tennis classic, already feeling harassed due to corruption probes in the way the Federation of French Tennis (FFT) manages its affairs, let it be known this ought to be further proof to hurry projected improvements in the classy Roland-Garros stadium, including a retractable roof or two. But these may not be done before 2020.
To be honest, stadium development is probably over-rated, as per the new place in the Bronx where the Yankees play, not to mention the new Nationals stadium in Washington, D.C. And as to mismanagement, look at football (soccer), where the governing bodies’ high-ups are accused of stealing millions.
However, the march of progress and all that, and anyway I was keeping an eye on things from far away, due to the fact the snots who run the tournament on the posh west side of Paris chose not to accredit TAS this year. My pal Mike Mewshaw, one of the best tennis writers and one of the most irritating (to the snots) due to his dogged pursuit over the years of corruption in the sport’s establishments and cheating on the courts, alerted me that it wasn’t just us. He was given the shoulder too until he protested, but instead of following his example I traveled west for a change, visit my own country in its time of need.
Time of need? Nothing like getting away from the Washington, D.C. bubble to reassure you that all’s well in our great bountiful and beautiful land. All we need is massive layoffs in the federal capital. But I digress. With hi-tech TV at hand and the rest of our space age gadgets I couldn’t help keeping an eye on the ball, even if it’s well known that no matter how good the tech there’s no substitute for watching live sports. This became quite clear during Andy Murray’s fine run to the men’s final, wherein the World No. 2 and Most Improved (on clay) player of the year almost pulled off a repeat win against the No. 1 seed and World Best Novak Djokovic, whom he beat at the Rome Masters in May.
Djokovic has a serious edge on Murray, beating him at last year’s semi here and many other times. But even on the little screen, which dulls the force and speed of play, you can see that Murray has come a long way on the clay surface that many — players and observers — persist in nominating for the toughest in the sport.
Maybe, but more likely it depends on your upbringing. Anyway, Murray was broken at love in the first game of their match, recovered to show his new improved form and take the first set, appeared outclassed in the next two, and finally succumbed after a gritty and occasionally brilliant fourth. He was good, but Djokovic was better, taking his first French Open after four previous runs to the final. The win gives him a career Grand Slam, and having defeated Murray at the Australian Open in January, he is on track, two down two to go, for the even more rare single year slam.
At such high levels as these two, no one has a game that can be called similar to anyone else’s, but next to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both of whom dropped out of Paris with injuries, Murray and Djokovic, who have been friends since their teens, have comparable styles. With their power backhand groundstrokes, their strong returns of serve (Djokovic’s in particular), adroit change-ups, you could give them even odds. They were in top form, with brilliant wins on the way to the finals, notably in the semis where Murray dominated the defending champ, Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka, and Djokovic did the same (but more so) to the rising young Austrian star Dominic Thiem. The Americans were long gone, though Jack Sock and John Isner lasted about midway through the tournament and the Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, made it to the men’s doubles final, falling in three sets to the Spanish firm of Lopez & Lopez (brothers in tennis if not in blood).
The rain caused pain, but whatchagonnado? It rains in Paris. It probably will rain in London during Wimbledon in a few weeks. Now that Boris Johnson gave up his job as mayor of London to concentrate on tennis, it’s hopeless to get in there. Mike Mewshaw (him again) claims he can get me a in, but I’ve heard that before. Mr. Johnson is a FOB, friend of Bob (Mr. Tyrrell) and we once encouraged him to run for president (he is a New York native), but he is more interested in displacing David Cameron as Conservative Party leader and, in the immediate term, winning the Leave Europe (or Brexit) campaign.
You could argue that Mr. Johnson has his priorities straight, but that is an opinion, and this is not an editorial, so mum’s the word.
The French tennis federation expressed the wish, through the voice of tournament director Guy Forget (a top tennis man some years ago, he is new to the job following a purge at the top) that Roland-Garros get over its labor problems and lawsuits (the improvements involve moving a priceless botanical garden next door, to the dismay of environmentalists); notwithstanding, the “Bleus” did reasonably well, failing to win the men’s or women’s singles for the 100th year in a row or thereabouts but capturing the women’s doubles and the junior boys’. French tennis has a deep bench, as we might say, and observers credit the national tennis federation for its encouragement of local clubs and training programs.
There’s a downside, too, to any bureaucracy. There have been investigations lately into the way the moolah is spread among the local federations, and high-ups as well as players have been accused of making money off their complementary tickets, which seems scarcely a peccadillo (if they got the tickets, whose business is it what they do with them?). Fundamentally, however, no one knows if national organizations, corrupt or clean, have much effect on player development. There is no recipe for champions except work. And with that, and a salute to Serena Williams, who showed her customary grace in going down in the ladies’ final to the young Spanish phenom Garbiñe Muguruza, we close with advice on roofs: Foggedaboudem and if it rains, wait ten minutes.