Tangled up in (Nike Paramount) Blue

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In a few weeks, when Wimbledon rolls around, the end of the blue period will be upon us.

But until then, we are not yet done with the Nike Blue – Paramount Blue, officially – that was ubiquitous during the clay-court season.

It was a step above the yellow and green neons that fought a valiant battle for supremacy on the Nike players during the Indian Wells-Miami swing a couple of months ago.

But the French Open was absolutely overrun with it.

Here is just a small sample of the protagonists. They ranged from the juniors, to the pro players – even to legends like John McEnroe and Conchita Martiez.

There were two varieties for the women. The basic kit matched up with the shorts worn by the men.

Some of the women were chosen to wear the non-patterned Maria Sharapova kit : Russian juniors Olesya Pervushina and Anastasia Potapova, American Anastasia Anisimova, Croat Alja Tomljanovic and Canadian Françoise Abanda.

But the vestiges from the battling neons era remained.

Where are the blue socks?

It was all about the shoes and socks.

Nike

We asked several Nike players why the heck the shoes didn’t match. None of them had an answer; they just wear what they’ve given, or paid to wear.

But one did point this out: “The socks don’t match, either!”

There was a little of the green neon around the trim of the shirts – and of course the Swoosh. But the sock/shoe wardrobe malfunction was definitely out-of-the-box thinking.

They should all have been wearing Nadal’s shoes. And it would have been perfect.

Nike

As well, they are also 10 French Open, winning championship shoes. They could even have kept the personalized “Rafa” and No. 9 on the backs of them – just for good karma.

The only outfit that matched the shoes was the black version of the kit, worn by Genie Bouchard.

Nike

On a related note, the two junior girls’ finalists and all four girls in the doubles final were tangled up in Nike Paramount blue. So you can see where the future is headed once they all graduate to the pro tour.

Del Potro done in Paris, but optimistic

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ROLAND GARROS – If he had his two-handed backhand of old, Juan Martin del Potro knows that he could have given No. 1 seed Andy Murray a better battle in their third-round match at the French Open Saturday.

But it’s not quite there – yet. So given what he has to work with, his first Roland Garros in five years went well on the whole, despite the 7-6 (8), 7-5, 6-0 defeat.

“The first two sets were really tight, and it was only few points for Andy, and he won both sets. But I felt playing so good for the two hours and a half, and then I was enjoying the match. The crowd was enjoying the match, too. And I think we made a great show for them,” del Potro said. “But in the end, Andy played better in the specific moments, and he won.”

The first set took an hour and 25 minutes. Del Potro had his chances. 

“When you play the best players, they give you very, very few occasions, opportunities. When they do, you can’t make a double fault like I did today. There was this other point. I had a set point. And I was going to win the set, right? Instead of being aggressive, I didn’t really do much. At that point, he won. See? That’s what happened,” del Potro said. “But beyond my tennis and so on, I need to improve my backhand. Andy is one of the smartest guys on the circuit, and he knew what my weak point was. Today, on clay, if I had been in slightly better conditions and with a better backhand, it would have been more difficult for him.”

Delpo

At the end of the first set, after a ball on set point against him was (correctly) called out, del Potro leaned on the net post for most of the set break.

It’s tough to accept when you put nearly an hour and a half into something, have your chances, and know you probably lost your best opportunity at beating a world No. 1. Because slogging away for another three hours-plus to win three sets against an opponent who’s excellent at slogging away for three hours-plus, on a damp, slow day, is a daunting prospect.

Murray fully realized the significance.

“Obviously his reaction at the end of the first set, you know, he was pretty disappointed. He had some opportunities to close it out, and he served a double fault in the tiebreak on one of the set points. It was an important first set for a number of reasons, but the conditions today were very heavy and tough, not easy to come back from,” he said.

Chess match won by Murray

When two premium players face each other, each knows what the other is going to do. The chess match comes down to who executes it better.

The other aspect – and this is far more true on the men’s side than the women’s side – is that both players often see the chess game the same way.

Del Potro: “I felt I was playing well. I could feel I was hurting him mentally. But it still was extremely complicated, because he was starting to return the balls better. My serve was not hurting him as much anymore later into the match. He was a real No. 1.”

Murray: “I was starting to play a bit better towards the end of the set. I was starting to get a better read on the returns and I wanted to come out and make it really tough for him beginning of that second set.”

Del Potro had been feeling it in his back and shoulder before the tournament even began. So to get to the third round was not so bad, after all. 

So-so clay season – but at least a season

This was to have been the Argentine’s first full clay-court season in five years. But after his first win in Estoril in early May, he withdrew and returned home after his grandfather died. He missed Madrid the following week as well.

To add to his struggles, del Potro sure hasn’t had much draw luck. His ranking is finally high enough to get him seeded, but in terms of Grand Slams he’s still slotted to get a top-8 seed in the third round. “If I want to change that, I need to improve my ranking; it’s the only solutions to get better draws,” he said.

del Potro

He should already probably be ranked higher. But some of his best results haven’t counted. No points are awarded at the Olympics, where he had a great tournament last summer in Rio. And no points are awarded for Davis Cup, where Argentina won it all in 2016.

Del Potro faced Novak Djokovic, a last-minute wild card, in the second round in Acapulco in March. He faced him again shortly thereafter in his second match at Indian Wells. And then, he drew Roger Federer  for his second match in Miami. With a little better draw luck, del Potro might have been in the top 16 by now.

He plans to play two warmups leading up to Wimbledon: ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands in 10 days and Queens’s Club the week after that.

(Screenshots from FranceTV)

Even Delpo hugs no solace for Almagro

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ROLAND GARROS – There are moments on a tennis court where humanity trumps tennis.

They are nearly always sad moments.

Thursday at the French Open, Nico Almagro and Juan Martin del Potro shared one.

The 31-year-old Almagro has been at this 15 years. He’s been in the top 10, won 16 ATP Tour titles and more than $10 million in prize money. He’s accomplished quite a lot in the grand scheme of things and on the ATP Tour these days, 31 is hardly retirement time.

But his last two tournaments have ended in agony and tears because of a left knee injury.

The Spaniard had just won the second set against his old friend del Potro when, early in the third, the knee went – again.

It happened just two weeks ago in Rome when he was playing another good pal, Rafael Nadal. He was forced to stop in the fourth game of the match.

On that occasion, it almost looked like he’d taken a bullet in the knee, when he went down in a heap after what seemed like a fairly innocuous twist as he landed after hitting a shot. It didn’t seem possible Almagro could be back in time for the French Open. But he was. And he won his first-round match against Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.

But it was hard-fought, four close sets. And sometimes it’s the day after, and the day after that, that prove the challenge with a not-quite-healed injury.

Deja vu all over again

The Spaniard felt the knee in the second game of the third set. Del Potro headed over to Almagro’s side of the net, but quickly returned to his own side as Almagro indicated he would try to continue. 

On what turned out to be the final point of the match, Almagro let a second serve just fly by. He didn’t even see it; his head was already down. He already knew it was over.

You could hear him from the top of Court 2, as the entire court went silent. He fell backwards onto the court, his chest heaving up and down, wracked with sobs.

Throughout, del Potro was as solicitous as it’s possible to be on a tennis court – especially on such a big occasion for both. They were extraordinary scenes. The Argentine stepping over the net to get to the other side to offer what help he could. Helping his old friend back to his chair, and sitting with him to offer comfort once he had retired from the match.

Del Potro is the guy you want around if the worst thing in the world happens to you. But even the power of a Delpo hug wasn’t nearly enough in this case.

Take a look:

DelPo not exactly tip-top

Del Potro knows exactly how it feels to be unable to do what you do best because of an injury. He has lost years to his wrist issues and, indeed, is playing his first French Open in five years.

“I tried to, I don’t know, tried to find a good words for that moment. I say to him, ‘Try to be calm.’ Try to think about his family, his baby. And sometimes the heart is first than the tennis match or the tennis life,” he said afterwards. “It’s an unpleasant feeling. You have a player who is suffering quite a lot. He was in agony. It was tough. I told him that tennis is important, but health matters more than tennis in this case, because I want him to be out of his bad patch.”

The Argentine, who will play No. 1 seed Andy Murray in the third round, wasn’t feeling all that great himself. 

He had treatment for a groin injury earlier in the match, and the anti-inflammatories still hadn’t quite kicked in when Almagro made the point moot – at least for this day.

“It happened to me when I was at 3-1 or 4-2 (in the first set). I had to hit the ball with my backhand, and I was wrong-footed. And I felt pain on the groin and lost some mobility. I won the set very quickly,” del Potro said. “In the second set, had to call the doctor so that I could get some anti-inflammatories, and I hoped that the anti-inflammatories could be effective. All of a sudden, he suffered pain on his knee.”

Del Potro said the groin situation is nothing new.

“I know I have one day and a half to feel better. It’s an old problem for me, so my physio knows how to treat that. But I will see,” he said. “Hopefully I can be in good shape, because I would like to play 100 per cent in the third round, and I’m feeling good with my game at this moment. But I need to be in good shape, as well.”

 

Tennis – the ultimate democracy

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ROLAND GARROS – First of all, no offense intended as we mention that Diego Schwartzman of Argentina is not a big fellow. That’s not breaking news.

But watching him practice with countryman Juan Martin del Potro Friday afternoon at the French Open, what stood out is how much of a democracy tennis is – at least on the field of play.

No weight classes. No age classes. It’s a sport where a man listed at 6-foot-6 and 214 pounds (he may be taller) can face a man listed at 5-foot-7 and 141 pounds (he may be shorter). They can go toe-to-toe on court for hours. And Goliath won’t automatically beat David, despite an extreme physical advantage.

field

The two are only 10 spots apart in the ATP Tour rankings, too.

It’s a sport where (on the women’s side, at least), a 43-year-old can play a 16-year-old – and the young legs won’t automatically mean victory. In fact, it can end 6-4 in the third set.

All-Argie 1st round for Del Potro – Pella

On the minus side for del Potro, there’s a good chance Schwartzman feels better than he does does heading into this French Open. Bigger parts break down more often.

Goliath is feeling it in the back and shoulder as he heads into a first-round encounter with another Argentine, qualifier Guido Pella. On the plus side, the No. 29 seed is in Andy Murray’s section of the draw. And Murray might even be feeling worse.

Schwartzman, good on clay (he won Istanbul last year on the dirt) plays lucky loser Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Despite his physical woes, del Potro still got out for two practice sessions Friday. The first one in the morning was with another undersized overachiever, Spain’s David Ferrer.

Here’s how they looked on Court 1.

Bouchard likely to make RG decision Saturday

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ROLAND GARROS – On the plus side, Genie Bouchard got out onto the practice court Wednesday.

She had been scheduled to hit in the small annexe courts, up near the Bois de Boulogne. But she ended up on Court Suzanne Lenglen in the middle of the qualifying zone. So some fans did get to see her hit.

A couple of the young boys waiting for Richard Gasquet to take the court after her weren’t too impressed. They had no clue who she was. They kept asking her, “Madame, une balle s’il vous plaît!” (Ma’am, give us a ball, please!)

Hitting was about all Bouchard did. There was no running, and Bouchard was careful not to land on or push off much with the injured right ankle.

As is the case with Simona Halep, who has an injury to the same right ankle, she lands on her left foot after the serve. So both were able to hit serves Wednesday, but neither moved a whole lot.

Here’s what it looked like:

The Canadian was in remarkably good spirits considering she’s in a race against the clock to be fit enough to play in the second Grand Slam tournament of the season.

It’s always better to laugh even when you might feel like crying – a good way to get through life’s trials.

Decision time looms

Bouchard is continuing with intensive treatment on the ankle. She’s likely to make the decision whether or not to give it a go on Saturday.

The singles draws will be made Friday. So that means she may be in the women’s singles draw whether or not she plays. Because she’s unseeded, even if she does pull out afterwards, it won’t mean the draw will have to be reshuffled.

Halep was one of the favourites to win the title before the ankle injury suffered during the singles final in Rome last week. She’ll be the No. 3 seed. Should she decide not to play, they would have to re-do the seeds and shuffle things around if she makes the call later than Friday morning.

These two are not the only players who have question marks around them as the tournament gets closer.

After losing in Lyon Wednesday, Juan Martin del Potro said back and shoulder pains have him pondering the possibility of missing the French Open – again.

With his series of wrist surgeries, and his decision to skip the clay-court swing a year ago as he was coming back to action, the 2009 US Open champion hasn’t played at Roland Garros since … 2012.

Hard to believe.

Everyone’s previews and predictions are going to have to wait until all these question marks become exclamation points. Otherwise, they might be out of date before the tournament even begins.

Bencic latest addition to the wrist list

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The list of tennis players beset by wrist problems is getting longer.

Belinda Bencic is the latest addition to the roster, which already includes Juan Martin del Potro, Juan Monaco, Madison Keys and Laura Robson.

The rising Swiss star, who just over a year ago entered the top 10 for the first time, announced via Twitter that she had surgery. She will be out for several months. 

“Hi guys, unfortunately I had to have surgery on my left wrist last week so I will be out of action for a few months. It was not an easy decision, but after careful thought and consideration with my team and doctors, we decided that doing it and fixing this problem now would help extend and enhance my career for many years to come.

“Thanks for your loyal support and I promise that I’m planning to come back stronger and hungrier than ever.”

It is Bencic’s left wrist, heavily counted on for her two-handed backhand. That also was the case with del Potro (he had surgery on his right wrist as well).

Not quite a plague, definitely a scourge

Just 20, Bencic is dealing with this at about the same time as Robson did. The British player had tendon surgery on her left (dominant) wrist just over three years ago. And she still isn’t close to getting back to where she was. Her career high of No 27 came in the summer of 2013.

Bencic
At Wimbledon in 2014, 17-year-old Bencic had the right wrist taped. Three years later, it is the left wrist that was operated on. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Robson played just three matches at the beginning of 2014 and didn’t return until Wimbledon the following year. She has played a number of tournaments down at the $25,000 level this season. 

Currently ranked No. 234, Robson was a prodigy at an even younger age than Bencic. She was just 14 when she won junior Wimbledon; Bencic was 16 when she won both the French Open and Wimbledon in 2013. When you look at the sheer number of matches Bencic played as a junior, you can see the wear and tear began early.

Bencic already has had her share of injuries. In 2016 she had a back issue that hampered her for several months.

Bencic

World Tennis Day at MSG

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World Tennis Day kicked off its 10th anniversary edition at iconic Madison Square Garden Monday with a star-studded field of past and present greats.

If there were any doubt tennis is the most international of sports, look no further than this year’s lineup.

In an increasingly saturated sports market, it’s hard to get too geeked up for all-star games or any kind of exhibitions. But World Tennis Day seems to have found some traction as 12,000 strong filled MSG to near-capacity on a Monday night in the dead of winter in the Big Apple.

So here’s to tennis and some savvy event marketing!!