Young and Old Play at The French
May 25, 2010 -- Early in the match between Rafael Nadal, the big pick to win his fifth title at Roland Garros, and Gianni Mina, a French teen wildcard ranked 655 in the world, it became clear. The next generation had arrived. And he stood across the net from Nadal... a Mini Me of sorts.
No need to think the worse. Nadal didn't bow to Mina, the youngest man/boy in the draw at 18. Heavens, no. Nadal stayed focused and determined, as always. This was his first round at the 2010 French Open. The King of Clay wants to reestablish his royal domain. He defeated Mina is straight sets: 62 62 62.
But the uncanny loop of Mina's ball, as it traveled the length of the court toward Nadal, and the amount of 'work' on each one, and the depth of his shots, plus his speediness and tireless ability to track down balls coming off Rafa's racquet, was at once frightening and beautiful to witness.
Frightening because of Mina's age. Beautiful for the same reason. His backhand, in particular, penetrated the court. It was hit without less spin than his forehand. He leaned into the shot heavily, looking as if he might topple over.
"I didn't know nothing before the match [about him]," Nadal said. "I think he's a good player. He has good potential with good serve and he's fast. Later from the baseline, I think he can play well. He's going to have good chances to be in the tour very soon."
Gianni Mina was born in Guadeloupe in The West Indies. At the end of last year, he won the prestigious Orange Bowl in Key Biscayne, Florida, becoming the top junior in the world. The French Tennis Federation had to give him a chance at the main draw of The French Open. I'm sure they were proud of his performance today.
Mina accumulated 9 break points over the three sets, but couldn't convert one. That's not a bad thing. It shows, on the other hand, how well he hung in the match. Hanging with Rafa isn't easy, and he plays left-handed -- a quirkiness that compounds all kinds of problems for even those in the top 100.
The talented wildcard served four aces. Rafael had none. Mina had more unforced errors to winners, but so did Rafa.
"I played really bad," Nadal said, laughing. "I won anyway, so that's always a positive thing. But I think I can do it much better next round."
Dinara Safina, last year's women's finalist and the odds-on favorite to win that championship but didn't, crushed her chances to the quip today. She lost in her first round match to 39-year-old comeback Kimiko Date Krumm 36 64 75 who instantly became the oldest woman in history to beat a top-ten player.
Up a break in the second and two breaks in the third set, Date-Krumm staked her ground on the center hash mark and roped Safina left and right along the baseline until the error appeared -- poof. On top of that, Krumm had injured her left calf three weeks ago. It was wrapped; and, she visibly limped.
"I should have closed it in two sets," Safina began. "She plays aggressive. She takes the ball early. She plays pretty flat. She plays little bit different."
A woman who took a 12-year break from the tour would play differently. She doesn't have a loop on her forehand or backhand. She uses an Eastern forehand grip. She has simple and effective strokes, which she is known for, just ask Steffi Graf.
At the 1996 Wimbledon, Graf and Date met in the semifinals. Date played unbelievable tennis, as if she would oust Graf. Her balls landed inches from the baseline. Graf couldn't do a thing. She lost the second set. Then, the rain came. Graf went on to win the match, but later said that there was no way Date could have kept up hitting balls so deep; she was playing too well. Perhaps Graf hoped Date wouldn't continue on her trajectory. However, no one will ever know.
"She start to get a little nervous," Kimiko said about Safina." So, I try many things: dropshot, and then to use more wider, slowly, and then she start mistakes.
Safina committed 17 double faults in the match, a similar stat from her first-round loss last summer at The Rogers Cup in Toronto. Her ranking has plummeted over this year's clay court season. Her back problem required extensive rehabilitation. Because of her brilliant record from the spring of 2009, she had lots of points to defend. She will slip farther down the ladder after today's debacle.
"I couldn't work on my serve until I came here," Safina said flatly, no affect to her face. "I thought I was doing pretty well, but then I got tight and I lost the motion."
Thank goodness Safina has parted ways with her coach Zeljko Krajan and hooked up with Gaston Etlis of Argentina. She needed to rattle the cage. Safina is a gifted and talented player. She is extremely dedicated to tennis. She practices hard, maybe too hard. Does she have the passion for it? The jury's out on that one.
Andy Roddick probably felt like an old man out there this morning against Jarko Niemenen. The American had been sick and hadn't practiced enough.
"Spending three days in bed in Madrid wasn't the way we wrote it up," Andy sat, fidgeting with his Lacoste baseball hat. "We scrambled last week. It was definitely less than perfect today, but we got some time in."
To make it through to the second round, Roddick went the distance: five sets. He was on the verge of losing in four, but got to a tiebreak and won it. His confidence bolstered, he went up a break in the fifth and then Niemenen gifted Roddick the second break and the match on a double fault. The match went close to 3 and a half hours.
"I feel better now than I did 45 minutes ago," Andy said after the match. "But, it's tough for me because I also feel I don't have a lot of rhythm in my movement out here. I feel like I fought against myself and get stuck. But I've always been able to recover well. A day of rest... I feel like I can get back to neutral more times."
Andy Roddick isn't old. He will be 28 in August and turned pro ten years ago. We've watched him grow up on tennis courts around the world. He works three-times as hard as his younger opponents in order to stay in shape and in the top ten. Maybe for Andy Roddick being older means wiser yet less willing to give in to age as an excuse.