Destination: Paris

Hey guys!  Roland Garros is upon us!!!  Are you excited?  The next six to ten weeks are gonna be some of the most exciting for tennis fans.  You’ve got the French Open, Wimbledon and then the Olympics not long after.  Talk about blockbuster stuff.  History could be made, remade and unmade by the time August rolls around.  I suggest you all fasten your seat belts.

Today though, I’ll  be focusing on The French Open and some of the running themes coming into the year’s second and probably most challenging grand slam competition.

1.) “It’s just a little stiff…”

I can imagine Roger Federer saying this to Mirka while he lies motionless in bed, for fear of pulling, popping, breaking anything else.  This has been quite the challenging season for the Mighty RF and it is becoming clearer that the recurring back issue might be the career ending element for him.  I understand that it is a bold statement, but Federer has come off as quite testy, the last few weeks.  He is not use to his body failing him for such long periods and at 34 going on 35, I am not sure how much fight the champion has in him to overcome this.  Safe to say, a second week showing at the French Open might be all he can squeeze out of his aging physical gifts.  A deep run will be very difficult to pull off.  A win would be nothing short of a miracle.  I just don’t see it happening.

2.) Going for Number 10

Now here is a guy who knows a thing or two about bouncing back from hindering injuries.  Rafa’s clay court campaign might not be at the Desert King’s dizzying heights from his glory days, but it sure has been a marked improvement from last year.  His competitive performance against Novak in Rome was a victory in itself.  While he lost the match, the match wasn’t a dud or a blowout.  Those were becoming disturbingly frequent whenever he faced of against the top ranked, Djokovic.  The question is, can he pull off the win at the French.  This year’s French Open might be more open than even last year’s but you can’t count out a 9 time champion… no?

3.) There’s a Muzzard in Town

Up until last year the only real clay court pedigree Andy Murray could boast of was that he grew up playing on it.  Somehow that hadn’t translated into clay court success, the way most would have thought it would… and that’s okay.  Hey, it’s Murray.  He’s as genuine a conundrum as I’ve ever seen.  He of the big serve and defensive game, that hadn’t translated to results on clay, but had won him two grand slams and one Olympic gold medal on two of the most offensive minded show courts in tennis.  But recently, Murray has been putting it all together and he has to be considered the third favorite to lift this year’s trophy.

4.) It’s Serena vs everyone else… still

With a bit more focus, the queen was back in the winner’s circle in Rome, last weekend.  It seems that unlike Federer, she has put her health challenges behind her.  Her win also re-enforces the notion that once Serena is dialed in, there’s no matching her.  The Grand Slams are still on her racket.

5.) Maria… Mariaaaaaaaaaaaah

Bad pun on an old song.  It’s a classic though… check it out.  If Federer’s year has been rough, Maria’s has been horrendous.  She opened her season with yet another defeat at the hands of Serena – this time in the Australian Open final.  Then her season came to a crashing halt with the discovery of her failed drug test at the Australian Open.  The bad is that Sharapova is provisionally banned until a hearing that should happen this week.  The not so bad is that the substance in question, Meldonium, has proven to be a rather complex one to categorize by WADA.  It is this little sliver of hope that the Sharapova team is holding on to.  Best case scenario, we might see Maria back in time for Wimbledon.  Worst case?  We might never see her play active tennis again.  Admit it, you don’t wanna see the shriek go just yet.

6.) The tower of Tandil

He hasn’t fallen over yet and if recent indications are anything to go by, his powerful presence might be fully felt very soon.  There’s just something about Juan Martin Del Potro that makes me like him.  Out of all the tennis stars, he does come across as your regular Joe.  He’s the normal guy who can do super-normal things with a tennis racket.  He also might have been the missing x-factor in the reign of Novak the crusher.  Either way, it is good to see him back and one hopes that his wrist holds up this time.  Once he is back to peak form, I have a feeling he might have one or two more Grand Slams in him.

7.) Tale of the not so youthful

I will keep harping on this.. .dead horse until something changes.  In Australia, Milos Raonic was our darling youthful upstart.  He ran the table ragged until he hit a wall in Andy Murray, in the semifinals.  Still, as always, it was seen as a sign of bigger things to come.  Raonic has mostly been a dud since.  In the wake of his run, Dominic Thiem has been the youth of note through the spring hard court and summer clay court swings.  His biggest moment, the recent defeat of a crippled Federer, in Rome.  If you haven’t read Federer’s response to that loss, you should.  I found it quite amusing.  Despite the obvious element of hubris, I think Federer’s statements clearly underscore the feelings of the big four.  They don’t believe they have been surpassed… yet.  One good tournament every now and then is not gonna cut it.  The model is consistency in excellence.  For now, Thiem is my pick for another magical youthful ride in this year’s French Open.  We’ve had a few of them: Dimitrov at Wimbledon in 2014, Kei Nishikori at the U.S Open in 2014, Raonic at the AO in 2016… lot’s of smoke but no fire.

8.) Stop the Fear

I’d like to end this blog post on a rather serious note.  The recent spate of terrorist attacks across Europe , inhumane killings and murders in many parts of the middle east and political scandals in South America have made every sporting event from the European Grand Slams, to the Olympics, to EURO 2016, a major source of worry for world leaders, sports governing bodies, players and sports fans/lovers alike.  However, the essence of sport, the spirit of sport is in its unifying power.  The ability to showcase the extent of human capability and the beauty of the human spirit.  I enjoin all of us sports lovers to come together in a stand against fear and unnecessary bloodshed and to tell those who would rather we cower in their presence, that we will not be subdued.  No matter how much evil attempts to thrive in the world, the reason why we are human is because we can subdue it.

See you all at the French!


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