French Open: Highlights

June 13, 2006

by Rahul Misra

The slide, long rallies, shoes tinged in red, ball marks… all of these are variants of tennis  that can be seen only on one surface and at one Grand Slam. Yes, the French Open has ended but the hangover continues…
Saying that this was a good tournament to watch would be an understatement.
Competing with the variety of sports being played around the world, from F1 to cricket to football, French Open 2006 had to be somewhat special to retain everyone's interest. Thankfully for all tennis lovers, it was…right from the first round where Hingis, in her methodical demolition of her opponent, showed that her comeback wasn't just about the universe whetting her appetite (to borrow a Coelho idea), and Nadal broke the most-consecutive-clay-wins record, giving us a premonition of things to come.
The signs were there for all to see.
The standard of matches remained high through the initial rounds; most seeds advanced, some were troubled, and a few new stars shone. Quite a few eyes were on Vaidisova, the latest prodigy out of the Bollettieri academy, and she didn't disappoint, beating Mauresmo and Venus Williams en route to the semifinals. From Becker to Agassi, Seles to Sharapova (I choose to attribute Kournikova's tennis escapades to the law of averages!), the Bollettieri academy has been home to so many great players in their formative years that I wouldn't be surprised if Vaidisova is here to stay.
But in the end, it was the past year's champions that shone through.
Henin-Hardenne, with her average build, proved yet again that tennis is not about muscle. Class, finesse and timing have over time outshown the grunts of raw power hurled by her opponents. In an era where tennis players come out on court dressed as fashion models (not that I'm complaining!), the Belgian just lets her game do the talking for her. Which, finally, is what matters.
The men's final line-up was a dream come true – what we wanted, what we expected, what we hoped. This French Open would have been somewhat incomplete, Nadal's trophy a little undeserved, if he hadn't beaten Federer. But he did, and did it with ease. Winning the first set, Federer might have wondered if it was his day, but once the Nadal magic began there was no looking back. He won the physical battle and with the way Federer seemed to give up before one last-ditch attempt, Nadal showed he was mentally stronger as well.
However, the clay has been covered now, the season done for the year and Nadal must quickly learn to walk amongst mortals. Grass beckons, though perhaps the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon aren't as inviting this year for a regular sports-lover.
The football fever is at its peak and come 9th July, the Wimbledon finals will not even come close to boasting a viewership similar to the grand finale of the World Cup in Germany on the same day. But there are a few of us who can't wait for The Championships to begin. Having watched someone else lift the silverware at the French Open, I'm sure Roger Federer is one of them.


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