Tuesday, June 06, 2017

French Open Day 10: A Rainy Day Interlude, Back in Time

Hey Y'all. Galileo here.

It was washed out today at Roland Garros. So, in order to get you ready for the quarterfinals, we have a time machine we built at BACKSPIN HQ. It isn't very good, but what it does do is bring you back to any tennis match in the Open era. It's almost totally useless for real world events, but for the purposes of looking back, more useful than a spanner-hammer combination.

But before that, we do have a result. Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison have beaten 7th seeded Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers. A former finalist, the Spaniard has at least hit his seeding. The Croat won it in 2015. It also means the last seeds left standing are the 16th seeded Colombians, Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. But they will play Harrison/Venus, who have already beaten the 4th seeds [Kubot/Melo] and now the 7th seeds. Can they beat their third set of seeds?

So take my hand and let's go back. Our first match comes from the 1970s. And ABBA's Fernando was ruling the world. But we are concerned with a different Swede...

...Only one man has ever beaten Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros. Not Ivan Lendl. Not even Guillermo Vilas. No, it was the unassuming and, sadly, mostly forgotten Italian. Adriano Panatta made three semi-finals at the French Open. All of them between 1973-76. In 1973 he beat Borg in the fourth round of his first ever slam, 7-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6. That year, in the semi, he lost to Nikola Pilic. When he won his lone slam, in '76, he was seeded eighth again. Borg had beaten him in four in the previous year's semi, but the Italian responded by beating the top seeded Swede 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6. The two time defending champion had looked rustier during that tournament and would skip the next edition. But Panatta saved a match point against Pavel Hutka in the first round. Had he lost that point he would not even be a footnote in history. For the 3500 fans at Roland Garros and those at home, this was a classic match and one that they never forgot.

In a list of classic quarter-finals the only guy who ever beat The Great One should be recognised.
...This is one burnt into the tennis annals. Ivan Lendl, seeded third, had dropped just one set in his first four matches. But Yannick Noah, coming off consecutive quarter-final appearances, has dropped none. The result? A famous 7-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-0 victory. This may have been before Lendl had that air of invulnerability about him, before he rose to the power he would become. But the fact someone who played, well, like Gael Monfils, could win a slam was amazing. It was an emotional run to the title, capped off by an excellent final. To beat Lendl and Mats Wilander in the latter stages of a slam is an exceptional feat, particularly at Roland Garros. It would be Noah's only run to a slam final but, supported by the crowd, he became the first Frenchman to win the slam in the Open era. He is also currently the last. And who could forget how happy he was to win?

...In 1996, Guga Kuerten and Wilander played at the 1996 French Open. For one of them it would be their first slam. For the other it would be their last. The next year Guga, unseeded, beat Jonas Bjokrman, Thomas Muster and Andrei Medvedev just to make the quarters. Against the last two he had won in five. The Russian defending champion had looked fairly good. And in the quarters he took a two sets to one lead against the Brazilian. But Guga, aged just 21, came back to win 6-2, 5-7, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

The Russian actually lead their head-to-head 7-5. But he lost from two sets to one up in 2000. And Guga beat him in four the next year, too. But there is something special about the original run of Guga's. He hit so freely and swung throughout that we all felt released, we all felt like we could hit the ball as he could. He showed a different kind of tennis then. His beautiful backhand and surprisingly big serve. His famous bandana and whippy forehand. He was a world number one you could get behind.
...When Nole beat Rafa Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 something inside this BACKSPINNER broke. Both of these guys has looked good in the actual tournament, though Rafa had not looked good during the clay court swing. At the end of match, as the Serb was closing it out, you just felt so sad for the Spaniard, so sorry for him. It was cruel watching the last ten minutes of that. Not a classic like the other matches, but memorable. It looked like the end of an era, like Rafa's time was finished. It is a match that will stick in the memory for a long time. A vanquished champion is one of the saddest sights in sport. And for Rafa to be back this year is incredible.


Thanks all and visit WTA BACKSPIN please.

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