Garros 07 Review
by Ray Bowers
with photography by John Meaney
Main-draw play began Sunday, May 29. Rain disrupted much of the first week,
interrupting play often and causing scheduling backups. The delays and the
cold, damp, and often windy conditions frustrated the players and the watchers,
but matters were back on schedule by the second week. As always, the level of
play was breathtaking. Even in matches where the scores appeared one-sided,
points were typically well-contested amid confident hitting and excellent movement
by the players. A favorite dared not arrive without his or her best game.
Strong serving was a large asset in all matches, typically setting the early
pattern of dominance in points. All players were good movers, but some were
clearly better than others in reacting quickly, arriving in time for good shot
preparation. The art of retrieving was only a moderate asset, as most players
were excellent at winning points after gaining strong advantage. The ability to
deliver consistent weight of shot and the ability to avoid error were, as
always, critical: Every player had to find his or her correct zone of risk,
balancing aggressiveness with safety. As is typical on clay, conditions favored the
player more inclined to patience. Drop shots were sometimes effective,
opening up an opponent to his or her weakness in forecourt. In critical late stages
of matches, mental strength and physical stamina sometimes proved
determinative. In short, it was clay-court tennis at the highest level.
The tournament produced relatively few upsets. Three members of the men's
Final Four as well as both semi-finalists and the tournament champion were the
players so picked by our computer. Seven of the women seeded to reach the Final
Eight indeed did so, and indeed the champion was the pre-tournament favorite.
Many more matches were settled in straight sets than in any of the six
previous years of this century. In the tally of singles and doubles matches won by
nations, the Spanish males and the Russian females were the winners, as
expected. In second place were the French males and U.S. females.
WOMEN'S TOP QUARTER
At opposite ends of this quarter were past Garros champions Justine Henin and
Serena Williams. Justine, who had beaten Serena in most past meetings on
clay, now advanced through the early rounds with the greater dispatch, but Serena
showed flashes of her past athleticism and power. They met in the final match
of the quarter.
Serena, often a slow starter, lost serve to begin their meeting. Serena
gradually eliminated the bad errors as the games next unfolded, and Justine stepped
up her own forcefulness. Henin closed out the first set, upholding that
opening break of serve. To start set two, with Justine now at championship form
Serena again yielded serve by misplaying several backhand slices. Returning to
her heavy game, Serena fought back to two-games-all. But after that, amid many
brilliant points, most of the errors came from Serena. Matters ended at score
64 63 after a dismal final game by the American. Although both players had been
brilliant in stretches, Serena's performance had been up-and-down, Justine's
Repeating the pattern of the top quarter, the two favorites at opposite ends
of the second quarter both advanced to their expected meeting. The two
protagonists were rising stars now reaching for greatness--Jelena Jankovic, 22, and
Nicole Vaidisova, 18. Enroute to their meeting Jelena lost a set in defeating
Venus Williams, while Nicole won her four matches in straights. Again, as in the
top quarter, it was the taller and larger player, Nicole, who drove the
flatter and more potent ground strokes, and again it was her opponent, Jelena, who
showed better avoidance of error, producing less than half Nicole's total of
unforced errors, albeit with plenty of punch and better court movement. Matters
became tense when Jelena failed to convert four match points, but finally her
good defensive skills set the stage for two deciding errors by Nicole.
Here again, the two favorites succeeded in reaching their predestined
meeting. Arriving without loss of a set was Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won U.S. Open in
2004 and is still, amazingly, not yet 22. Lana had been runner-up in the
recent Tier One events at Rome and Berlin. Her opponent, Ana Ivanovic, age 19 and
three inches the taller at 6-0, had beaten Kuznetsova in the Berlin final by
Ivanovic's superior weight of shot quickly became evident. The Belgrade-born
teenager captured the first set by score 60 and the final set by score 61. In
between, Svetlana managed to squeeze out the middle set by score 63, but at
the end there was no doubt that the stronger player had prevailed. Ivanovic led
in aces and also in average first-serve and second-serve velocity each by ten
miles per hour.
At the time of the draw this had seemed the weakest quarter, where the
favorites were Maria Sharapova, who had been out with shoulder trouble, and Amelie
Mauresmo, whose recent return from appendicitis had produced few wins. Amelie
indeed became the only member of the tournament's high seeds to depart before
the quarters, losing in the third round to the fine 20-year-old lefty from
Czech Republic, Lucie Safarova. Meanwhile Sharapova narrowly avoided elimination
by clay-court artist Patty Schnyder, who held two match points in their
extended third set. The difference in the very tense closing moments was Maria's
fearlessness in continuing her aggressive albeit risky hitting. Maria then
completed her path to the Final Four by defeating Moscow-born Anna Chakvetadze, 20, a
crafty but not overpowering player.
SEMIS -- IVANOVIC d. SHARAPOVA 61 61, HENIN d. JANKOVIC 62 62
Ana Ivanovic outserved, outstroked, and moved better than Sharapova from
start to finish. Maria persisted in her high-risk, big-hitting game, but after
nearly every successful winner came an unhappy error by Maria. When Ana claimed
the initiative, which was often, Maria's mobility was usually inadequate to
answer her opponent's barrage. The demolition was total.
The Henin-Jankovic semi was slightly more competitive, but Justine showed her
superiority from the outset and never relinquished it. The defending champion
played at close to her best, hitting with pace equal to Jelena's with greater
overspin. Jelena played solid, tight tennis, with a good balance between
aggressiveness and safety. But with Jelena on the attack, Justine's magnificent
court movement and counter-punching ability fairly often defeated or neutralized
matters. Meanwhile it was Justine more often the attacker. It seemed that
Jelena's only hope was that Justine would contribute excessive errors, but this
happened only in a few stretches. Both sets ended in dismal serving games by
Jelena. Like Ivanovic earlier, Henin showed superb concentration and will.
FINAL -- HENIN d. IVANOVIC 61 62
A nervous-looking Justine lost the opening game, double-faulting at Ad Out.
Not surprisingly it was Ivanovic who delivered the greater power with lesser
effort at the start, and Ana took the lead on her own serve in game two at
Ana's nightmare then began. Her service toss seemed awry, her big ground
strokes became grossly inaccurate, her movement seemed awkward. In short, her
wonderful play of two days before was completely absent. Meanwhile Justine,
displaying her familiar hard-hitting style with strong overspin and merciless
consistency, won six straight games to capture set one. By the time the courtside
clock showed the one-hour mark, the game score was 61 51. Justine then yielded
the courtesy game and Ana promptly reciprocated, ending matters.
It was a terribly disappointing sequel to Ana's wonderful performance
throughout the tournament. That her recovery from the debacle will be rapid cannot be
doubted. For Justine, her fourth Garros crown assures an esteemed place in
MEN'S SINGLES -- FEDERER'S QUARTER
Tommy Robredo provided this quarter's principal surprise by advancing without
loss of a set to a quarter-final meeting with Federer. Tommy's most dangerous
victim was Filippo Volandri, an extremely strong clay-court player who had
defeated higher-seeded Ljubicic in the previous round. Tommy indeed won a set
from Federer, the only player to do so prior to the tournament's final round.
But Roger, who throughout the early rounds attacked more regularly than
expected, turned on his big game to sweep sets three and four. It appeared that Roger
was tuning himself for aggressive play in a likely final-round meeting with
This was a delicious quarter, headed by Chilean Fernando Gonzalez and Russian
star Nicolay Davydenko, both strong performers on clay or hard surfaces. The
quarter also contained familiar Argentine stars Canas, Nalbandian and Chela
plus an unusual number of younger players whose best surface was clay, among
them Monaco, Gasquet, Acasuso, and Almagro. Also on hand was Paris-born Gael
Monfils, 20, who at height 6-3 possessed outstanding speed and power along with
wonderful fluidity--tools that seemed to promise a career among the game's
Our computer picked Gonzalez to win this quarter over higher-seeded
Davydenko. Fernando had recorded a W-L record of 6-0 at Rome and Hamburg aside from two
losses to Nadal. But the often unpredictable Chilean star now proceeded to
lose his first-round match in straight sets to Radek Stepanek. I did not watch
the match but the statistics seemed to tell the story. Stepanek recorded 29
winners against only 7 by Gonzalez and won 24 of 36 points when at net, where
Gonzalez won only 5 of 14.
One after another the others faltered. Chela lost to Monfils, who lost to
Nalbandian, who lost to Davydenko, all in four-set battles. Close attention went
to Guillermo Canas, who had twice defeated Federer in 2007 and now moved
impressively through four rounds. But in the championship match of the quarter,
Guillermo was beaten by an at-his-best Davydenko, who showed the far more
penetrating weaponry. The official tally showed 25 winners for Davydenko, only 5 for
Canas (excluding service aces).
The highest-seeded player in the quarter was Andy Roddick, who proceeded to
lose in the first round to a potent Igor Andreev. The Moscow-born star, now
returned from knee injury, revealed a superior forehand, which produced many
winners unanswerable by the American. Andreev was extremely agile in stepping
around his backhand in time to unleash killer forehands to the lines. Igor also
out-aced Andy, 8 to 5. After beating Roddick, Andreev produced three more
victories enroute to his meeting with Novak Djokovic, who headed the opposite half
of the quarter.
Djokovic, now barely 21, had been tested by Olivier Patience. But throughout
his journey through four rounds, Novak showed the firm hitting, mobility, and
mental strengths seen throughout most of the year to date. Against Andreev,
Djokovic seemed to have learned from Roddick's difficulties. His hitting seemed
more aggressive than Andy's, and by running Igor often to his forehand
sideline Djokovic made it difficult for Andreev to step around his backhand. Novak's
straight-set victory was convincing.
Rafael marched through all five rounds with relentless efficiency. As in the
past, his heavy ground strokes created difficulties for his opponents, both in
their energy and in the height of the bounces produced by their heavy
overspin. Meanwhile, Rafa's ability to reverse an opponent's pressure by racing to
the corners and ripping back severe replies seemed at its very best. One
opponent, Lleyton Hewitt, who had taken a set from Nadal several weeks earlier at
Hamburg, now managed to reach tiebreaker in the third set but was otherwise
badly dominated. Nadal seemed clearly the most likely tournament champion.
MEN'S SEMIS -- FEDERER d. DAVYDENKO 75 76 76, NADAL d. DJOKOVIC 75 64 62
Both men produced screaming ground strokes and both answered with wonderful
defense and counter-attack, where Davydenko's sizzling play persistently
pressed Roger. Neither had much use for drop shots or even for net attacking,
preferring to seek sharp angles and keep opponent moving. Nicolay held the advantage
midway in all three sets by the margin of a service break or more. But if
Davydenko repeatedly put Federer in serious trouble, the speedy Russian was never
able to exploit his situations of advantage. Often when points mattered most,
it was Roger's first serve that produced a winning quick point.
Perhaps the first set was key. Midway in the set, Roger was several times
within a point or so of falling behind by two service breaks. But he managed to
survive these moments and, as he afterwards remarked, he always remained
confident of his ability to equalize by breaking serve.
In the second semi-final it was Rafael Nadal at his best--huge energy in every
delivery, relentless heavy overspin from both sides, superior movement often
in deep court, all with a ferocity and concentration surely intimidating to
most opponents. Rafa's opponent was Novak Djokovic, age 20 and height 6-2.
Djokovic was now recognized as the game's newest superstar, having won this
spring's hard-court tournament at Miami, where he defeated Nadal in two straight
sets, and now having reached the Garros semis.
The first two sets were ferociously contested. Djokovic's powerful ground
game essentially equaled Rafa's in its penetration, accuracy to the sides, and
excellent avoidance of error. Many of the exchanges were extended in length,
both players driving each other into the deep corners and both often able to
regain parity by means of superb movement and forceful hitting. The young Serb's
was the higher-risk, more-attack-oriented strategy, where his winners exceeded
Rafa's in the first set by 7-1. Compared with the Davydenko-Federer semi-final
played just before, both players showed more emotion, the play seemed of
higher order, and he crowd was more highly engaged.
Djokovic's physical and mental strengths eroded somewhat in the final set,
allowing Rafa to claim the early lead and hold it throughout. The official
statistics showed that the number of Nadal's unforced errors in that set was,
Both players deserved high marks. The gallery appreciated the dazzling play
of the challenger, and the ability of Rafa to meet such strong pressure and
eventually prevail in straight sets was just as impressive.
FINAL -- NADAL d. FEDERER 63 46 64 64
The afternoon was mostly sunny amid temperatures in the low 80's, warmer than
earlier in the tournament. All watchers understood that this was the year's
most important match. A Federer win would be historic--a critical step toward a
classic Grand Slam. Our computer prediction made Rafael the favorite. The warm
and dry (i.e., fast) conditions seemed to me to favor the more potent server
and the expected attacker--i.e., Federer. But commentator John McEnroe pointed
out that the higher and speedier bounces would probably make Roger's favorite
attacking shots difficult to execute. Indeed, Roger's recent clay-court win
over Nadal had come at Hamburg, where the clay surface is usually deemed slower
than at Garros.
Watchers wondered whether Roger would play aggressively from the outset,
believing that relentless attack offered his best chance of winning. But Roger
played cautiously in the early going, apparently holding back as both players had
trouble consistently finding the court. Gradually Roger increased his
attacking, albeit very selectively, and it became Rafa who had more trouble in
holding serve. Roger enjoyed five break points in game six and three more in game
eight but failed to win any of them. The set's only service break came in game
seven in favor of Rafa, who was now making Roger hit many high backhands,
typically at armpit height, reducing Roger's power.
Set two was Federer's behind a first serve that now found the court with its
usual regularity. Roger was now attacking often and well, his strong bolts to
the corners producing weak replies, errors, or finishing opportunities at net.
(Roger won 13 of 17 points at net in this set.) Roger's attacking accounted
for the only service break of the set, in game seven, when Roger won two of his
four points on Nadal passing-shot errors. But the third set went to Nadal,
the lone service break coming in game three when Rafa twice won points with
Roger at net. Both men returned to careful play to start set four, where Nadal won
a 23-shot rally to save a break in game two. Receiving serve in the next
game, Nadal stepped up the pressure at 15-all and was rewarded by a failed drop
shot reply by Roger and a fine backhand angled winner. Roger attacked
successfully on the next point at 15-40 to reach 30-40 but then missed a critical
approach shot. It was the only service break of the fourth set, leaving it for
Nadal to hold serve four more times. Rafa did so, playing confidently with almost
no errors, relentlessly producing even-higher-bouncing rollovers while mixing
in occasional attacks. Roger was unable to mount sustained answer. Rafael
closed out the final game at love.
It was not an especially memorable match in its conduct. There were too many
errors especially by Roger, too few of the exhilarating exchanges seen in most
matches throughout the tournament, perhaps too little risk-taking in many of
the rallies in recognition of the fine defensive abilities of both opponents.
Federer's aggressive intentions failed amid his excessive errors. Surely a
large factor was Rafa's relentless high-bouncing pressure against Roger's
backhand and his sometime strong play when Roger attacked. Federer produced his top
game only sporadically, while Nadal kept getting stronger as matters went on,
approaching his best tennis at the end. Two statistics told the story: (1)
Roger committed 60 unforced errors against Nadal's 28, and (2) Federer won only 1
of 17 break-point opportunities.
There will be no Grand Slam for Federer in 2007. Roger remains the world's
second-best on clay, and he will be the strong favorite to capture Wimbledon,
where his attacking strengths will be most effective. But for the moment, Rafael
comfortably leads in the 2007 year-to-date points race and promises a strong
challenge at Wimbledon and during the summer.
Between The Lines Archives:
1995 - May 1998 | August 1998 - 2003 | 2004 - 2013
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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.
Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular
competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75
singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four
years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where
the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington
Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history
of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A
tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award
from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.
Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ray by using this form.