Young and Old Play at The French
May 26, 2010 -- Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai, the 19th seed in women's singles at The French Open, learned at a young age to hit the ball hard. Her father taught her.
"'I push hard and it's easier to play like that,'" Rezai said in an interview last year in Toronto at The Rogers Cup. "'I practiced six to eight hours a day growing up like that.'"
At that time last year Rezai wore braces on her teeth and she cracked groundstrokes with the intensity of a man. She certainly enjoyed beating Dinara Safina in Toronto, too. The victory was Rezai's first win over a number one player. (Safina is ranked #9, currently.)
"'I'm happy because I take revenge from French Open,'" Rezai said excitedly remembering the fact she lost earlier in 2009 to the Russian on home turf... Rezai's terre battue. "'It was very important to me.'"
Last year was Rezai's breakthrough year. She won two WTA Tour titles. Two weeks ago in Madrid, Rezai won her first Mandatory WTA Premier event, the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open. Along the way she defeated Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic. In the final, she defeated Venus Williams who, literally, couldn't keep up with the speed of the ball. That's saying a lot because Venus and Serena and the two biggest power players in the women's game. They ushered in power tennis.
You might remember Rezai's match in Paris, last year, against Michelle Larcher De Brito. The Portuguese teen had, by far, the shrillest 'grunt' of any player to come up through a draw. The shrieks bothered Rezai to the point she implored the chair umpire to intervene. The only time a player can be addressed for a cacophony of sounds, like the ones belting from the lungs of De Brito, is if an opponent complains, which Rezai did. Chair umpire El Jenetti decided not to rule on Rezai's complaint so Rezai called in Donna Kelso, the Grand Slam supervisor, to voice her objections.
Rezai beat De Brito, which ended all the noise except it didn't because the media ran with the story for weeks. Experts chirped in on the topic. Martina Navratilova was the most vocal, emphatically saying that grunting was cheating.
"'It really did upset me because it was really unpleasant,'" Rezai said after the match.
The unpleasant fact this spring in Paris, as contemplated by her competitors, is the threat Rezai poses in the draw. She sits in Venus's quarter, where they could meet in the round of sixteen. However, let's not get ahead of things. Rezai must first get past Nadia Petrova who is no slouch when it comes to power, passion and experience in majors. Petrova (#19 seed) has a powerful serve and a variety of strategies in her tennis toolbox. She is an accomplished tour player in singles and in doubles.
Venus, too, must defeat Dominika Cibulkova (#26 seed) before Rezai comes in view. Cibulkova is very comfortable on red clay and scrambles for everything. It's her speed that makes her dangerous.
Rain delays spotted today's schedule. Some players were on and off court a couple times during their matches, as was Rezai. Her opponent, Angelique Kerber of Germany, challenged Rezai and took one set. However, as soon as Rezai saw the finish line in the third Kerber was all but done for, even being a lefty. She fell toward shots that zinged off Rezai's racquet, looking much like Venus Williams looked in Madrid as she dove for shots.
One drawback of Rezai's game -- she doesn't slide. All good clay court players slide, even the Americans who are skittish on the slippery red stuff. Rezai doesn't look off balance. She doesn't seem to have trouble changing direction. But, it should be noted that her balance could be affected by not sliding. If she's off balance, her power will be mitigated because her pristine timing will be thrown out of whack.
Going out on a limb, Aravane Rezai could be the French champion this country so dearly would like to see on the podium a week from Sunday.
On the men's side, Roger Federer -- who cruised through his match against Alejandro Falla today -- will next play a qualifier: Julian Reister. Reister is ranked 165 in the world; however, everyone has a breakthrough tournament. This isn't to say that Roger should be shaking in his Nike Air Vapors. Reister will probably pack his bags on Friday after his match with the #1 seed and head back home to Germany.
Nonetheless, Reister's performance in Paris is noteworthy. To make the main draw, he won three rounds of qualification matches. Then, he first defeated Feliciana Lopez, the #27 seed. Next, Reister beat Olivier Rochus -- a feisty player with enough game to beat any top 20 player. These are two solid wins for a man ranked 165.
By the time Reister sees Federer across the net, he could be tired (it will be his sixth match of the tournament). Or, he could be all charged up, full of confidence and raring to go. He has nothing to lose against the Swiss, like all players. They come out swinging, hunting the glory of a win over the man who holds sixteen major titles.