The least distinguished grand slam in recent memory also delivered one of the stranger semi-finals today, as Serena Williams and Kiki Bertens spent much of the match hobbling around the court because of niggling injuries.
This is not meant to be a criticism of either player. They both showed courage to play with as much fire as they did, given that Bertens was carrying a strained calf and Williams – who eventually triumphed by a 7-6, 6-4 margin – was reported to be suffering from a damaged adductor. It is more reflective of a jinxed tournament in which both men’s and women’s draws have been badly affected by withdrawals and wounded bodies.
Is this mere coincidence? Well, the wet and wintry conditions in Paris – which yesterday required the Louvre to be closed so that artworks could be shifted away from possible floods – may have played a part. Temperatures in the low teens are not conducive to smooth movement.
And the Babolat balls have been playing particularly heavy this year, whether because of the cold or some small variations in the manufacture process. Bertens admitted earlier in the event that her shoulder was sore after one match, so difficult was it to launch these little yellow rocks over the net. Who knows how much the equipment may have contributed to Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal with an inflamed wrist tendon?
Another problem out on Court Philippe Chatrier today was the lamentable lack of spectators in the stands, which were less than a third full in the early stages. “It almost doesn’t have the aura of a grand slam this year,” said Chris Evert, commentating on Eurosport, about this dank and gloomy French Open. And it wasn’t only the smart seats down by the court which were empty – as they so often are during lunch hour – but a good percentage of the top tier as well.
Even if you take away the thick blanket of cloud – and lord knows we would love to – the French Open has become the poor relation of the four grand slams. The lack of a roof, the small and increasingly dog-eared site, the lowest remuneration for players, the poor crowds – they have all contributed to a fortnight that few, apart from the eventual winners, will remember with affection.
In Williams’s case, this has been another painful slog after last year’s run to the title here, when she was battling a virus and spent the night before the final shivering in bed. This time, her movement has been suspect for the last couple of rounds, and she is increasingly having to rely on out-and-out aggression to keep the points short.
Even against Bertens, who had played through her calf problem in her quarter-final win over Timea Bacsinszky and sometimes hunched over in pain after attempting a wide retrieval shot, Williams didn’t want to get drawn into a slugging match. She tried to come to the net or use the drop shot – a tactic that has been ubiquitous this year because of those lifeless balls – and also marshalled her serve effectively.
Even so, Williams still needed one hefty slice of luck, for Bertens served for the first set and brought up 30-15 before a service return struck the net-cord and dropped dead on the far side. Instead of facing two set points, the defending champion was suddenly well positioned to break and duly did so.
Tomorrow’s final will thus pit Williams against Garbine Muguruza, the last woman to beat her at this event, who ambushed her with a remarkable 6-2, 6-2 hammering in the second round of 2014. Muguruza was ruthless in disposing of Sam Stosur today by a 6-2, 6-4 scoreline.
(Source: THE TELEGRAPH)