So much for my weekly roundup of tennis, huh? I guess that was being a little ambitious. After the Australian tennis summer, I'm always subconsciously convinced that the world will realise just how exciting tennis is and everyone will still be into it. But it never happens. Everyone forgets.
Actually, on a sort of tangent, I realised how little people know about tennis at the Australian Open this year when I was watching Rafael Nadal practice with Carlos Moya. 'Who's that practicing with Nadal?' I heard someone ask. 'It must be his dad,' someone else replied. I cringed. What is the point, I asked myself, of coming to an event like the Open when you recognise two, maybe three of the players? I mean, if it was Jarkko Nieminen or Sam Querrey or Philipp Kohlschreiber or someone practicing and they didn't know who they were, I'd get that - none of them are that famous - but Carlos Moya? Come on. He won a Slam (albeit in 1998, but still), was ranked #1 in the world and is, as one of my friends might say, a stone cold fox.
Speaking of Carlos, he lost at Roland Garros yesterday. I like him quite a lot, and I was very sad. This brings me back to the reason I've revived the ol' backseat tennis blog - we are, once again, in Grand Slam territory. Roland Garros, the French Open - which is, in many respects, the most interesting Slam of the year - has once again begun.
And, as I was saying, unfortunately, Carlos Moya, who won this tournament ten years ago, lost in the first round to Eduardo Schwank... who is really an interesting character in and of himself. I'd never heard of him until there was that hotel fire in Paris (that he started, apparently) and his prize winnings from one of the Challengers he'd just won went up in smoke. I must admit, my first thought was that that was a bit dodgy, because who pays in cash? but I suppose Challenger tournaments might have different standards. So yeah, he's never won anything before - this is his first ever Grand Slam match, if you don't include the qualies he played - and suddenly he wins three Challengers in a row. (Cremona, Rome and Bordeaux apparently.) And now he's beating Carlos Moya, who is a great player and seeded at the tournament... maybe he's going to pull a Marcos/Jo-Wilfried. Actually, if Marcel Granollers-Pujol wins his first round match against Michael Berrer, they'll face each other, and that could be interesting - Granollers ain't no slouch on clay, as he showed at the Houston tournament. Schwank is in the Djokovic quarter of the second half of the draw, along with Canas, Blake and Baghdatis... it'll be interesting to see how far he can go.
Actually, speaking of Challenger events, the whole Schwank story led me to looking at who has been winning the Challengers this year... I'd always assumed it was, like, this lower echelon of players that no one ever hears of, but a lot of them are top hundred - sometimes even top fifty. Ivan Ljubicic won a Challenger this year. Ivan Ljubicic, who used to be #3 in the world not that long ago, and who is seeded at Roland Garros. Seeded #27 or #28 or something, sure, but seeded. Who knew Challengers drew such good players? It makes me wonder what the Futures circuit is like. Are there people there that I've heard of as well? I had this image in my head of Challengers being people ranked down to about #500, and then Futures being #500-#1000ish (not that I ever thought it through). However, the standard is obviously a lot higher. I wonder how many of those top thirty, fifty players ever play a Challenger?
The real story of the first Sunday of Roland Garros, however, was obviously the emotional retirement of Gustavo Kuerten. (There is a really nice article in this month's DEUCE magazine, which does him much more justice than I can do here.) It was hardly surprising - and really, logistically speaking, everyone knew he wasn't going to get better after his hip surgery, and he really did draw this out A LOT - but it was still very sad. I wasn't really into tennis during the Guga years, but I still remember his three Roland Garros victories... him drawing the heart on the court in 2001 (or was it 2000?) and that great takedown of Sergi Bruguera in 1997. His run to the final that year was very Baghdatis-esque, with one change - Federer took Baghdatis out, much as Djokovic took Tsonga out this year, but Guga took out Bruguera, and he did it EASY. He was one of those instant superstar players that we haven't seen for a while... not since Nadal, really, when he won Roland Garros in 2005. And even then, Rafa was still seeded #6 or something, and I think he'd just won 5 clay court titles in a row, so it wasn't like it was totally unexpected. Guga came pretty much from nowhere. Don't quote me on this, but I think he was the lowest ranked player to win a Slam since Edmondson in Australia in '76. So that's some achievement right there.
And Guga was a good fun player as well. He was deceptively harmless looking... all thin and lanky, with that mop of funny hair, but if you gave him an inch, he'd wipe you off the court. And he was always so smiley. I like a good smiley tennis player. The more I think about it, Guga really is a prototype for Marcos Baghdatis - except that Guga made it to #1 and stayed there for a while, whereas Marcos made it to the final of the AO '06 and has been drifting round the top 20 ever since, but has hardly made huge waves. Not that anyone would ever expect the Baghdatises of the world to dethrone the Federers, but Guga's success is still proportionately much greater, I think.
So, farewell, Guga. It is sad to see you go... even if it has been coming for a long time.
Roland Garros Results - Day One
Paul-Henri Mathieu def. Gustavo Kuerten, 6-3 6-4 6-2
Novak Djokovic def. Denis Gremelmayr, 4-6 6-3 7-5 6-2
David Nalbandian def. Carlos Berlocq, 6-2 6-4 6-1
Andy Murray def. Jonathan Eyserric, 6-2 1-6 4-6 6-0 6-2
James Blake def. Rainer Schuettler, 6-4 6-1 7-6 (7-3)
Nicolas Lapentti def. Janko Tipsarevic, 6-4 4-6 6-1 7-6 (9-7)
Juan Martin Del Potro def. Josselin Ouanna, 6-3 6-2 6-3
Eduardo Schwank def. Carlos Moya, 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 6-7 (1-7) 4-6 6-3
Sebastian Decoud def. Olivier Rochus, 3-6 6-4 6-3 6-7 (8-10) 6-1
Jose Acasuso def. Dominik Hrbaty, 6-4 6-2 6-4
Maximo Gonzalez def. Roko Karanusic, 6-3 7-5 4-6 3-6 6-2
Jeremy Chardy def. Frederico Gil, 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-1)
Nicolas Almagro def. Boris Pashanski, 6-4 7-5 6-1
Ernests Gulbis def. Simon Greul, 6-4 6-0 6-4
Miguel Angel Lopez Jaen def. Frank Dancevic, 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 7-5 7-6 (7-2)
Alize Cornet def. Julia Vakulenko, 7-5 6-4
Ana Ivanovic def. Sofia Arvidsson, 6-2 7-5
Serena Williams def. Ashley Harkleroad, 6-2 6-1
Klara Zakapalova def. Virginie Razzano, 4-6 6-3 6-2
Mathilde Johansson def. Camille Pin, 6-4 4-6 6-2
Iveta Benesova def. Nicole Vaidisova, 7-6 (7-2) 6-1
Nathalie Dechy def. Julie Ditty, 7-5 7-6 (7-3)
Caroline Wozniacki def. Yvonne Meusburger, 6-0 6-2
Dominika Cibulkova def. Angelique Kerber, 6-2 6-2
Lucie Safarova def. Sandra Kloesel, 6-1 6-1
Anastasiya Yakimova def. Hsieh Su-wei, 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-4
Selima Sfar def. Stephanie Dubois, 7-5 6-2
Galina Voskoboeva def. Youlia Fedossova, 6-0 6-7 (4-7) 6-1
Milagros Seguera def. Lilia Osterloh, 7-6 (7-5) 7-5
Ekaterina Makarova def. Catalina Castano, 7-5 6-1