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Thoughts On Roland Garros 2020

Words on Nadal, Swiatek, Djokovic, Kenin and more

Rafael Nadal thanks fans at Roland Garros 2016
The immortal Rafael Nadal | Beth Wilson

By Stephen Higgins | 12 October 2020

The third and final grand slam of this most unusual year ended with two familiar results: an expected male champion and anything but on the women’s side. Like the organisers of the US Open, Roland Garros deserves credit for putting on a show at all, particularly given the worsening Covid-19 situation in France.

With those thanks up front, let’s recap a clay court major played in Irish weather.

The Immortal Nadal

Only last year, I wondered if Rafael Nadal’s 98% winning record at Roland Garros was the greatest record in all of sport.

Well, with most of the season written off and just three warm-up matches before Paris, Nadal stands at 100-2 in the Bois de Boulogne. Staggering doesn’t cover it.

Even though Nadal-Djokovic is the most prolific rivalry in the history of men’s tennis, I think that the Serb was genuinely astonished by the Spaniard’s level on Sunday.

Nadal was untouchable for the first two sets and held firm when the Serb mounted a final stand in the third. Rafa has now lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires a ridiculous 13 times.

He is one of the immortal champions of tennis lore.

Infectious Iga

While many of us have been afraid to even catch a ball in recent months, Iga Swiatek’s fearless attitude and variety will hopefully spread.

Iga Swiatek
Iga Swiatek | Crosscourt View

There was a sign of the Pole’s overwhelming game in New York when she scared the life out of Victoria Azarenka in the third round. The Belarusian later said:

“I think she's super talented. She has a beautiful game, very smart...She's only 19, so I really hope she's going to turn up her game.”

Was that loud enough for you Vika!?

At just 19 and ranked no.54 in the world, Swiatek demolished the Roland Garros field without dropping a set. She is the first ever singles major winner from Poland. Beyond the statistics, I just love the way she approaches the game.

Swiatek has a unique blend of aggression, positivity, composure and court craft. I hope she’ll delight us in the future with many more exciting performances.

A Great Season For Novak?

The world no.1 has only lost two matches in 2020 but he’s probably far from satisfied.

There was little Djokovic could do on Sunday against the King of Clay but that stupid default in New York looks ever more costly. It’s all about capturing grand slams for Novak so the second half of 2020 will sting.

That said, the 33-year-old will of course look forward to his home major in Melbourne with the hope/expectation of winning championship no.9.

Kenin’s Anguish

It has been an extraordinary year for Sofia Kenin, particularly at the majors. The 21-year-old lifted the trophy in Melbourne, made the fourth round in New York and then the final in Paris.

Sofia Kenin
Sofia Kenin | Crosscourt View

Now the American no.1, she should be a huge star across the Atlantic. I wonder though if her on-court anguish may put off some spectators? In the final, the negative reactions and racquet drops grated for this viewer anyway.

Of course, why should she care if she wins?

Turnaround Troubles

The compromised calendar gave the players barely any time between New York and Paris and it certainly had an effect.

Fresh from their gargantuan stressball of a final, Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev understandably struggled here. The Austrian bravely fought Diego Schwartzman for five hours before falling in the quarters while Zverev went out in the fourth to Jannik Sinner.

It was a similar story for the women as none of the New York quarter-finalists made it to the second week here for a variety of reasons.

Breakout Stars

Majors often give us a deep run from an unheralded player but the 2020 French Open went into overdrive.

In the women’s draw, we saw an unseeded champion and exciting turns from world no.131 Nadia Podoroska (semis) and world no.159 Martina Trevisan (quarters). There were also surprising results in the men’s draw as Hugo Gaston (239), Sebastian Korda (213) and Daniel Altmaier (186) all made the second week.

Let’s hope that this is just a building block for them.

Tsitsipas Returns

With his style of play and rampant use of social media, Stefanos Tsitsipas is never far from the spotlight. However, his grand slam results have struggled to match the attention.

Since that breakout run to the last four of the 2019 Australian Open, the Greek had only made the second week of one major before this fortnight.

We watched an impressive return to form this fortnight and he really threw the kitchen sink at Djokovic before the body gave out. It bodes well for next season.

The Dropshot Major

Has there ever been a tournament with more dropshots than the 2020 French Open? Dropshot coaching drills probably contain fewer.

The heavy conditions were conducive to this sort of sneakiness and it certainly paid off for the finalists and other schemers like Gaston and Ons Jabeur. For Djokovic in the final, it was probably the only shot that really worked...until it didn’t.

WTA In Rude Health

While there may be concerns over the attractiveness of the men’s game when the terrific trio eventually retire, the women’s game is in fantastic shape. I can’t remember a time when I was more excited by the depth and variety of the WTA Tour.

Amanda Anisimova
Amanda Anisimova | Crosscourt View

There are a host of exciting young players to follow including Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu, Belinda Bencic, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Marketa Vondrousova, Anett Kontaveit, Maria Sakkari, Karolina Muchova, Amanda Anisimova, Daria Kasatkina and our new champion of course.

When you add in veterans like Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza etc., it’s a stellar cast for the WTA to work with.

I hope that the tour can make the most of this wonderful era.