Monday, June 02, 2008

2008 French Open

I think I deserve a whole mess of gold stars for my avoidance of the French Open this past week. I used to sign up to have ESPN match updates delivered to my cell phone, names and scores signified not by a ringtone but by the dulcet tunes of an orchard oriole. I miss a lot of work during Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and, usually, the French Open. Call it dedication to my profession, or the desire to acquire gold paper stars for my diligence. This year, I haven't followed the tournament unless I am able to watch the matches. So, this afternoon, having left work early to watch the Sharapova-Safina match, we sidled up to the only other person at Flat Branch, my summer tennis coach, Andy.

After I sang praises of Sharapova, her grace, her strength, her capability on grass and clay, her smooth backhand sluice, he muttered that she wasn't going to make it to the finals. I thought he was being prescient, considering the esteemed Sharapova was closing in on the second set. "It's like watching a tragedy," he says, explaining that he's known the outcome of the match since early this morning and, like a tragedy, you know what's going to happen. I don't like seeing scores, I just like watching the progress. Hence, hours camped out in front of our computer screen watching Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and even more hours at my local watering hole with ESPN.

Over a fine Irish Ale, Andy talked about how terrible American tennis is right now. I've ranted about it before, how Americans play a power game and ignore the net, how they don't understand the ball, but slam it at their opponents. American tennis is really a paradigm for our foreign policy and modern Hollywood film: inconsiderate, fast, hard, lacking intellectualism, ultimately failing. I think the real problem is that Americans are trained to play a power game and, moreover, seldom have access to clay and grass courts (just 6 months ago, Columbia lost its only clay courts to a soccer field, "because you can fit more people on a soccer field"). American players lack finesse, really. In the case of the Williams' sisters, their pursuit of financial reward has clearly impacted their game. Yes, Americans.

Alyssa and I learned on clay. We played very well on clay, in fact. It's a deliberate, slow surface, great on the ankles and knees, forgiving, even. I think I remember the sweltering June day when, at the ages of 10 and 12 Alyssa and I first walked up to LSU to play on the crummy hard courts. I sent the ball over the fence, into a soccer field, unaware that the bounce would be so dramatically different. Both of us laughed, and then we adapted, practicing for hours against a brick wall on a concrete surface. Clay's great. More people should play on it. If they did, we might actually have a professional tennis player reaching the semifinals this week. Read here why Rafa Nadal is so fantastic on clay. He doesn't just play on it, he drinks it.

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