I have mentioned before that #1 son lives in Dublin, Ireland with his wife and our grandson who is now 14. I refer to him as The FOG which is shorthand for the First and Only Grandson. The Fog follows European football and the team he supports in the English Premier League – – football is not nearly as big a deal in Ireland as it is in other parts of Europe – – is Arsenal. For Christmas in 2020, his parents gave him the gift of a trip to London to see an Arsenal game. COVID-19 travel restrictions obviated that travel and so the gift naturally carried over.
In the intervening year, The FOG became more interested in – and more proficient at – tennis; that led his carryover Christmas present to morph into a trip to Paris to see some of the French Open tennis tournament there. I asked him to be the “Sports Curmudgeon Exclusive Correspondent” and give me some reports on the matches he saw.
As luck would have it, his first match of the day allowed him to see the #1 ranked woman in the world, Iga Swaitek against Danka Kovinic. Here is his report:
“The first set was dominated by the more experienced Swiatek who dictated the tempo of the game, only occasionally showing flashes of weakness when Kovinic would use her superior strength to blaze a forehand past the experienced Pole. The second set though was a different story, Kovinic came out guns blazing and managed to grab a break on Swiatek’s mere second service game. The Montenegrin was playing impressive tennis and she looked on course to win the second set if she could just keep up the high level of intensity which was forcing her opponent to fire long over the baseline, an issue addressed by Swiatek in her post match interview. Sadly, this success was short lived and the world number one managed to break back and subsequently hold her service to level the score 3-3 in the set. They would go on to trade game for game until the score would come to 5-5. This is where Swiatek would grab the critical second break she needed to pull ahead and after an easy service victory she won the match in straight sets. Swaitek has yet to lose a set this week, but this is the closest she has come to losing that streak.”
Here is The FOG’s commentary on the second match he saw that day:
“The second match of the day on court Phillipe Chatrier was between the Chinese 18-year-old and world number 70 Qinwen Zheng and the French home favourite Alize Cornet. From the offset the atmosphere in Phillipe Chatrier was electric unlike that of the previous game with the French fans cheering on their token athlete. Shouts of “Aller Alize” were coming from all over the arena and were being met with audible reaction, but Zheng didn’t allow this to affect her tennis and she dominated from the very first point which she won easily on the back of a rocket of a serve. The Chinese superstar continued to control the pace and tempo of the play with strong shots coming from both forehand and backhand.
“By the time she jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the back of two breaks it was clear that no amount of support the home fans could give would be able to help their beloved Alize against an opponent of clearly superior skill. Watching this match my mind drew comparisons to a young Serena Williams as Zheng obviously possessed far more athletic ability and strength than her opponent, a strong and accomplished tennis player in her own right. With the exception of a long deuce in the second game Cornet failed to put up much of a fight and the 1st set ended with a disappointing bagel for the Frenchman.
“The second set started off better with Cornet challenging Zheng’s service in the first game, but once she managed to fend of this crowd-pleasing resurgence the match fell back into its rhythm and after being broken and denied the break herself Cornet retired due to fatigue as the second set was only three games old.”
The third match of the day pitted Gilles Simon against Marin Cilic. Here is what The FOG had to say about it:
“The third and final match of the day on Phillipe Chatrier that I had the privilege of observing, without access to the night pass, was Marin Cilic facing off against Giles Simon a French tour veteran and wild card entry into this year’s Roland Garros. Simon was obviously the crowd favourite and for understandable reasons as he has been a leader in French tennis since the late 2000s whereas his opponent possessed a higher ranking and was the 20 seed in the tournament. The two had played multiple times before this match the first being in 2007 as they were both experienced members of the ATP tour.
“The first set started as it eventually would continue as Cilic dominated all the early exchanges, only falling into trouble occasionally through his own errors, never losing control of the point. There were a few long deuces in the first set that could have potentially gone Giles’ way and a few times when the chair umpire left his high loft to check the mark, he would rule in favor of Cilic leaving the crowd in anger. Much like the previous game, despite the fact that Simon was outmatched he still held the overwhelming crowd support and every time his hustle and speed would win him a point the crowd would erupt and begin cheering. Despite this support though “Gilous”, as the crowd affectionately nicknamed him, would go on to be bageled in the first set unable to claim victory in even one game.
“The second set however had a different feel. Although Cillic was still the dominant force on the court Simon began to play better and using his superior speed and drop shotting ability he shifted the game from one based around hard groundstrokes to one played at the net. He also possessed better hand skills than his Croatian opponent, so this played into his strengths perfectly. The second set was a great improvement for the Frenchman, but he was unable to win it managing only to win three games.
“The third set began well for Simon, and he won his first service game, but he was hampered by quad tightness as the match went on which would severely limit his ability to play the style which he had been relying on to win him points. As I saw this situation unfold, I pointed out to my mom the marks in the clay which showed clearly where each player was spending the majority of the points. On Cillic’s side the clay around the centre of the court was covered in footprints whereas on the Simon’s side the centre was relatively smooth with either side having been blemished by footprints and slide marks. This shows that Cillic had superior control from the baseline and that he had his opponent on the run for the majority of the points. This dominant display continued for the rest of the final set with the French crowd going into a frenzy every time Simon managed to win a point until Cilic finished the set off with an ace to win 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.”
Now before anyone here decides to accuse me of exploiting child labor for writing today’s piece, the way this happened was that I asked The FOG for a favor, and he graciously agreed to do this. Moreover, The FOG will return tomorrow with commentary on the UEFA Final game between Liverpool and Real Madrid which – coincidentally – was also in Paris last weekend because the venue was moved out of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine,
Finally, since this is all about the French Open, it seems fitting to close with some words from the French author/philosopher, Voltaire:
“Animals have these advantages over man: they have no theologians to instruct them, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………