Favorites Remain, Tears Shed, Controversy Abound After First Week at French Open

The first week of the French Open has passed, and the final eight players on both the men’s and women’s side are left to battle for the second Grand Slam of the season.  Here is a recap of what’s happened in Paris and a look at the contenders for the crown:

On the men’s side, seven of the top eight seeds are still standing, as #20 Pablo Carreno Busta (still LOVE that name… it just rolls off the tongue so easily) knocked out #5 Milos Raonic in the 4th round to prevent all eight seeds from advancing to the quarterfinals.  The other three players left in the bottom half of the draw were very predictable, as #2 Novak Djokovic, #4 Rafael Nadal, and #6 Dominic Thiem were all among the favorites.  The top half seemed to be wide open at the start of the tournament, as #3 Stan Wawrinka was the only one that looked to be playing well on clay heading into Paris.  Top-seeded Andy Murray seemed lost on the red clay, but has turned his play around and could be the odds-on favorite to return to the finals for the second year in a row.

In reality, no one may be able to even compete with Nadal this season, as he has absolutely demolished his four opponents en route to the quarterfinals.  Nadal has lost a total of 20 games in 12 sets, including a destruction of #17 Roberto Bautista Agut (another great name) in the previous round.  Carreno Busta is next up for Nadal, who is looking to win his 10th career French Open title, which would match his 10 career titles at the Monte-Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open (both won this year).

On the women’s side, it’s actually not as completely crazy as I thought (though that’s not saying much).  All eight women left standing have never claimed a Grand Slam title, but there are some very accomplished names in the quarterfinals.  Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova is three wins away from ascending to the top spot in the world, while #3 Simona Halep and #5 Elina Svitolina face off in the quarters in a battle of two of the hottest clay-court players on the WTA Tour.  #11 Caroline Wozniacki knocked off my pick #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova and could be on her way to erasing her name on the list of the best players to have never won a Slam.  #13 Kristina Mladenovic and #28 Caroline Garcia will have the crowds in Paris pushing them on as they look to hoist the title for their home country.

Halep would seem to be the favorite, as she has made at least the quarterfinals in all four clay-court tournaments she has entered this year.  She did lose to Svitolina in the finals at Rome, but was up a set when she suffered an ankle injury that put her participation at the French Open in jeopardy.  That ankle seems to be feeling better and better the longer she’s grinding on the clay, and if she can avenge that loss, she could be well on her way to claiming her first Major.  Someone has to take over at the top of the women’s tour with Serena Williams expecting a child, and while it seems like top-ranked Angelique Kerber wants no part of being that person, Halep could become the face of the tour with a victory in Paris.

The other big story during the first week-plus at the French Open has been the sheer emotion we’ve seen, especially on the men’s side.  No one was more emotional – and rightfully so – than #25 Steve Johnson from the United States.  Johnson lost his father unexpectedly two weeks prior to the start of the French Open, and had to be convinced by his family – who had planned on going on vacation to Paris to watch him compete at the French – to play in the event.  Johnson’s father was his coach, the person who taught him the game from a very early age, and his best friend.  His second round match with rising young star Borna Coric was an emotional rollercoaster, as Johnson was controversially docked a point late in the fourth set for hitting a ball into the crowd after a previous warning for racket abuse.  Johnson argued with both the chair umpire and the tournament director to no avail, which is out of character for the normally mild-mannered American.  Coric had two set points to even the match at two sets apiece in the fourth set tiebreaker, but lost the last four points and also lost his cool after match point, as he obliterated his racket.  Johnson broke down immediately after striking a winner to clinch the victory, as he dropped to his knees and sobbed over the person that would’ve loved seeing that win the most.  Johnson did lose in straight sets to Thiem in the third round, but he left a big impression on fans and players with his emotional effort last week.

There was also some great sportsmanship during the early rounds, with #29 Juan Martin del Potro gaining even more fans with his reaction to an injury to his second round opponent, Nicolas Almagro.  Almagro hurt his left knee in the early stages of the third set, and could not move for a service return from del Potro.  He fell to the clay and started crying, as he has had to deal with several injuries in the past few years which have derailed his career.  del Potro knelt next to him and tried to calm him down, then helped him to his feet and brought him some water while the training staff took him to his bench.  Delpo has dealt with his share of injuries as well, as he has missed several seasons after having multiple wrist surgeries which halted his career after winning the US Open in 2009.  Delpo has been a fan favorite since his return last season, which was highlighted by a crushing loss in the gold medal singles match to Murray at Rio where del Potro broke down sobbing himself.  Who knew there was this much crying in men’s tennis?

There has been some controversy off the court as well, with tennis great Margaret Court continuing her personal crusade to not only have her name removed from Center Court at the Australian Open but to be crowned the most hated person in recent tennis history.  Court recently stated her beliefs on same-sex marriage, transgender children, and the amount of lesbians on the women’s tour.  I’m not even going to repeat what she said because she’s totally wrong and completely homophobic.  Martina Navratilova has publicly lobbied for the Australian Open to take her name off the court, and former US Open champ Samantha Stosur brought up the idea of a possible boycott if action wasn’t taken.  John McEnroe offered up a brilliant solution to this issue – keep the court named after Court but have a same-sex marriage there whenever Australia legalizes it which should be hosted by his friend Elton John.

Tears, manners, and same-sex marriages… all in a week’s worth in the wacky world of tennis!

Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)

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