PARIS—Americans will be present at this year’s French Open finals, albeit in the doubles draws rather than the more widely followed singles.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the mighty mite (she stands five-six) from Minnesota, continuing her partnership with Czech star Lucie Safarova, hopes to again hoist the Coupe Lenglen which they won in 2015. They are the defending champions at the U.S. and Australian Opens; they also won the latter in 2015.
The underdog American men are the Cinderellas in the program, none of them having Miss Mattek-Sands’ illustrious track record. Louisianan Ryan Harrison reached the quarters at Roland-Garros and Flushing Meadows in 2012. Chicago native Donald Young reached the mixed doubles semis at Flushing Meadows in 2014.
Young and Harrison, in short, are somewhat like Lewis and Clark, wandering into new territory. It may seem a pity they are not playing together; but this way there is a guarantee at least one American will go all the way in this otherwise dismal year for American men on French tennis courts. On the women’s side, the American-Czech team is the favorite, but knows better than to take for granted the Australian side, Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua.
Grand Slam tournaments are focused on the singles draws, of course, and the big questions at Roland-Garros concern which of two great veterans will raise the Coupe des Mousquetaires on Sunday, and whether a cheerful little dynamo from Latvia named Jelena Ostapenko will upset, at 20, Romania’s more experienced (she is going on 26) Simona Halep, who beat top seeded Karolina Pliskova with grit, power, and speed in yesterday’s semis.
Rafael Nadal demolished the most hyped player of the tournament, Austria’s Dominic Thiem, in two hours and three quick sets, the last one a bagel, on Friday afternoon at the court central of Chatrier Stadium.
There is no question Thiem has talent in heaps, and he proved it by taking down former No. 1 Novak Djokovic two days ago at the Suzanne Lenglen Stadium, with the same alacrity (and third set bagel) that Nadal dished out to him.
By contrast, in the other men’s semi final, the 2015 French Open champion, Stan Wawrinka, needed four and a half hours and five sets – the last one over, mercifully for all concerned, at 6-1 – to exhaust world No. 1 Andy Murray, who never has done well on the clay surfaces here.
Murray played magnificent defense during most of the match but in the end he could not bring out the killer instinct at the critical moments. After a close first set that he took in the tiebreak, he let Stan-the-man stay in the driver’s seat, dictating the course of the match even when he was losing the third set and battling through another tiebreak in the fourth.
Thiem’s error was to try to outplay Nadal at his own game, which seems a losing proposition as who knows Rafa’s game better than the man of Manocar? Against Wawrinka, Nadal will find an entirely different kind of opponent – as he well knows for having played against him often – whose game is not to overwhelm the other side with power and movement, but to do so with power and intelligence, a crucial difference.