One Day on a Hard Court, Then on Clay

Cole Porter, the composer of the 1953 Broadway musical “Can Can,” wrote of loving Paris within the springtime. Fortunately, he additionally liked it within the fall.

For practically 100 years, the French championship has been the end result of the spring professional tennis season. Played from late May till early June at Roland Garros in Paris, the event’s lengthy, gritty matches on crimson clay usually stretched into darkness.

But with the tennis calendar upended like a chess board in a windstorm due to the coronavirus, this 12 months’s French Open is now being contested in autumn, only one week after the United States Open in New York. With Wimbledon canceled this 12 months, the French Open is the ultimate main of the season as an alternative of the second.

As quickly because the French Tennis Federation introduced it might maintain the event from late September into early October, after the U.S. Open, questions arose as to how gamers would really feel about touring to the United States for one main event on exhausting courts after which flying proper to France for one more main on a fully totally different floor.

“The transition obviously was not easy,” stated Victoria Azarenka, who flew from New York City to Rome for the Italian Open the day after she misplaced within the remaining of the U.S. Open after which performed her first match on clay two days later. “Change of surface can be a challenge for a lot of players. For some who practiced longer on clay and played matches in Europe it may be a benefit.”

Five of the highest 10 girls on the WTA Tour are European, and 4 of them — Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Belinda Bencic — opted out of the U.S. Open. Ashleigh Barty, an Australian ranked No. 1, skipped the U.S. and French Opens due to Covid-19, and final 12 months’s U.S. Open champion, Bianca Andreescu, withdrew due to damage. Naomi Osaka, the present U.S. Open champion, pulled out of the French Open with a hamstring damage.

Among the boys, 9 of the highest 10 are from Europe, although all however Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils traveled to New York. Roger Federer is out for the remainder of the season following knee surgical procedure.

Playing on clay calls for a vastly totally different ability set than competing on exhausting courts. Balls bounce increased, mobility and agility may be examined as sliding aspect to aspect is usually required and lengthy matches are bodily and psychological endurance checks.

“When the season is on, everyone is playing every week so the game is there,” Yulia Putintseva, who misplaced within the quarterfinals on the U.S. Open after which headed straight to Europe for the Italian Open, stated. “Jumping so quick from hard courts to clay courts, there can be injuries because you have to get used to sliding and to the conditions.”

Conditions at this 12 months’s French Open may even be totally different due to the time of 12 months it’s being performed. In May, sundown in Paris isn’t till about 9:30; in late September it’s simply after 7:30. The solar is at a totally different angle later within the 12 months, which might have an effect on a participant’s serve and overhead photographs. Playing in chilly night time air, in addition to underneath the lights, can gradual the ball and make it tough to trace. It additionally tends to rain extra within the fall, making courts slower and balls heavier.

“The later in the year, the lower the bounces,” Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 main singles championships, together with two French Opens, stated. “You have a slower court, slower balls, heavier conditions over all. Rafa doesn’t like that. He likes a sunny, dry day and a high bounce.”

Nadal might get his want as a result of Paris has skilled an unusually heat September, although it’s anticipated to chill a bit halfway by the event. At the Italian Open in Rome, temperatures soared into the mid-90s. That helped Nadal cruise by his matches towards Pablo Carreño Busta and Dusan Lajovic earlier than he was upset within the quarterfinals by eventual runner-up Diego Schwartzman. Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, the boys’s finalists on the U.S. Open, withdrew from Rome after Thiem gained a four-hour, five-set battle in New York to say his first main championship.

There shall be different large variations at this 12 months’s French Open. For the primary time, the principle stadium, Court Philippe Chatrier, may have a retractable roof, permitting for play on wet days. (Unlike exhausting courts, clay absorbs water, permitting play to proceed throughout drizzles.) Lights have been added to 12 further courts, enabling extra matches to be performed at night time. And, not like the U.S. Open, a restricted variety of followers shall be allowed on web site.

“I actually think it will be weird to have fans,” Shelby Rogers, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, stated. “Maybe a little standoffish from the players not used to being around people. It will be another adjustment, something to adapt to.”

As they did in New York, gamers at Roland Garros shall be restricted of their actions from resort to event web site and shall be subjected to well being protocols, together with carrying masks and utilizing solely designated routes to and from the courts to keep away from interplay with spectators. For Thiem, runner-up the final two years to Nadal, recovering in time would be the hardest half.

“Physically, I’m going to be fine, 100 percent,” Thiem stated. “The question is how I’m going to do it with the emotions mentally. Obviously, I’ve never been in this situation.”

And then there may be Nadal, the 12-time French Open winner who’s seeking to tie Roger Federer’s males’s file of 20 profession majors with one other Roland Garros win. Nadal didn’t contact a racket for 2 months originally of the pandemic and solely resumed apply in May. He didn’t play a match from early March when he gained a hard-court event in Acapulco to the Italian Open final week.

“Let’s see how it all turns out,” Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1 and the Italian Open champion, stated. “Rafa decided to stay and practice, and surely that gives him more advantage. But even if he didn’t practice for that long on clay, he’d still be the No. 1 favorite at Roland Garros or any other clay court tournament, just because he’s Rafa.”

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