- The spoils of war are a double-edged sword
So, you find yourself in the final of the French Open for the first time. That’s not bad. From a financial point of view you are guaranteed a pay day of at least 1,120,000 euros if you lose and 2,200,000 if you win. And you get your name engraved on the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. Not that many people have done that. Sloane Stephens appeared her ever-elsewhere self when she came to talk to reporters ahead of her match on day 14 against top seed Simona Halep. “Yeah, obviously with wins and the deeper you go into a tournament, there is more expectation on you,” she said. “It's not always fun. Today is my off day and I'm spending it with you guys. It's not ideal. But it's what comes with winning. So it's not too bad.” Neither are the piles of euros.
- It’s all about fine margins I
Marco Cecchinato had never won a Grand Slam match before he arrived at the French Open. But the unseeded Italian won five in Paris to sweep to the semi-finals. After just being edged out of the first set of his semi-final against the seventh seed Dominic Thiem, he took the second to a tiebreak where he came from 3-6 down to lead 7-6. But a Thiem service winner deprived him of the set and bring parity. There were two more set points for Cecchinato before he succumbed 12 points to 10 to go two sets to love down.
The third set was a waltz for the man from Wiener Neustadter. He whirled into a 5-0 lead and it was just a question of whether Cecchinato would check out with a game in the third set. He held serve to make it 5-1 to Thiem. And Thiem served out to reach his first Grand Slam final at the age of 24.
- It’s all about fine margins II
Rafael Nadal as good as admitted he got lucky in the first set of his semi-final against Juan Martin Del Potro. The fifth seed had six break points on the Nadal serve, three of them at 4-4 in the first set. He couldn’t convert and after that it was a song of pain and suffering. Nadal raced through the second 6-1 and the third 6-2. “I think that was my chance of the match,” rued Del Potro. “I had a lot of break points. I couldn't make it. Rafa served well, played good points on those break points and I got unlucky in that moment. Could have been a different match if I’d won the first set. After that he made me run a lot. His intensity was too high for the whole match. He deserved to win. He played much better from the beginning till the end. He made a great match.”
- Your hopes can go down like a Zeppelin but you get a whole lotta love
Nine years ago in the semi-final Juan Martin Del Potro lost in five sets in the semi-final to Roger Federer, who went on to win the French Open. Could this be a sign? Perhaps not, because Rafael Nadal beat Del Potro on day 13 in straight sets. After his dreams were shattered, Del Potro was invited to reach inside and search his feelings about his voyage from crock to Roland Garros semi-finalist. “I got much love from the fans around the world,” he beamed. “That's amazing to me. I'm very proud of that. I have been doing a big effort to keep playing tennis. Next Monday I think I will be the number four in the world after many years, which is something special for me, for my family, for the people who were behind me all the time.” It would be a hard person who’d begrudge Del Potro his moments of happiness.
- Back to the future
In days gone by, when Rafael Nadal had only won 47 Roland Garros titles, the review used to monitor the Spaniard’s occasionally troubled march through the tournament with a “vamosometer”. Back then the twentysomething Nadal would roar his delight at winning a crucial point with a “Vamos!”. If the point was particularly important, the left fist would be clenched, punched down and it would rear up menacingly rather like his top spin forehand. Occasionally a knee would rise in concert with the clenched fist in order to emphasise the significance of the point. Well, the balletic beast that was the young Nadal has been tamed. We don’t see any such theatrics these days – maybe because it’s been a procession to the title of late. But, after the final point of his semi-final against Juan Martin Del Potro, Nadal stood on the baseline and pumped his left fist down six times. Ah, the good old days!