Sportswriter and broadcaster David Fearnhead, Women’s Tennis Blog’s long-time contributor, shares his Top 5 talking points from the 2016 French Open.
A NEW FLAME HAS COME …
So we have a new champion, and our third straight first-time Grand Slam winner after Garbine Muguruza followed Flavia Pennetta in New York and Angelique Kerber in Melbourne.
Before the final was played, Muguruza was 10/1 to win Wimbledon, they’ve now shortened the odds to 11/2 and I’m convinced they will shorten further. Muguruza has all the accoutrements to do well on grass. For a tall woman she has tremendous foot speed, and we saw only last year how effective she can be, when she charged into the Wimbledon final to face Serena Williams. The Serena v Garbine showdown is one we should get used to. The win in Paris will no doubt give the Venezuelan-born Spaniard the belief she needs to take on and beat Serena on grass.
Credit must go to her coach Sam Sumyk, who previously guided Victoria Azarenka to world number 1 and two Australian Open titles in their five years working together from 2010. Hiring Sumyk was a smart move by Muguruza and praise should also be given to Conchita Martinez. Spain’s Fed Cup captain was tireless in her pursuit of Muguruza, who has a Spanish father.
The world will now change considerably for Muguruza. As a highly-attractive young woman, the sponsors are bound to come calling. Let’s hope she doesn’t succumb to the same pressures as another of Sumyk’s charges Eugenie Bouchard, whose off-court demands derailed her on-count ambitions.
I GOT 22 PROBLEMS AND SERENA AIN’T ONE.
Serena has a problem. She is no longer playing her opponents, she isn’t even playing herself. She is playing against history. We saw it at the US Open semifinals and we’ve now seen it here in Paris too. The weight of equalling Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slam titles is proving too much. Serena’s been at this game a long time, she understands history and she also knows how close she is to it. Portions of the media seem to take a Serena win as a given, and when she doesn’t win they look only to Serena to explain why she didn’t win. At 34, she’s by no means spent, and this year alone she has two more shots to equal the record, plus there’s still the Olympics. I firmly expect she will rally herself for another assault on the Wimbledon crown and in all likelihood the woman at the other side of the net will be her 2015 opponent. Sequels and rivalries are always good in tennis. Thankfully, we won’t wait too long for the next chapter.
GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES IN PARIS.
Back at the Australian Open, I’d picked out Yulia Puntintseva for praise after she’d put out Caroline Wozniacki and prompted the Dane’s “Pretty shitty start to the season” comment. Wozniacki had blamed herself for the defeat, saying she let the Kazakh player back in the match after she’d taken the first set 6-1, but as I pointed out at the time Putintseva had earned her way back into it.
At 5 ft 4 she resembles Cibulkova, at times so much so that you expect to hear a “Pome!” after a winning point. She held her nerve when many might have wobbled.
The 21-year-old has plenty of fight and showed an impressive run of form in Paris, claiming the scalps of Wozniak, Petkovic, Knapp, and Suarez Navarro before finding Serena one step too far. She’s got an exciting game to watch, generating power far beyond someone you’d expect of her size. She also zips around the court as if on wheels. She might have to work twice as hard because of her lack of stature, but what she lacks in height she more than makes up for in heart.
A TOUCH OF CLASS
The point of the Championship has many contenders, not least the point that had won it all: Muguruza’s length perfect lob. However, one match provided so many of them. Round 3 Agnieszka Radwanska v Barbora Strycova was not a power match-up, neither player is going to threaten to smash the opponent off court. What we got was the beautiful game, a game of touch, placement and high skill. We saw some tremendous points, which culminated in Strycova winning a point that featured both players in a seated position. This is one for the highlights reel.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHAMP
Jordanne Whiley, with her partner Yui Kamiji, won her seventh Grand Slam wheelchair doubles title in Paris – repeating her success on the red clay in 2014. She turns 24 this week, and would like nothing better than to follow up her singles success at the US Open to claim the singles title on grass to go with the two doubles titles she already has from SW19. She’s an engaging personality and a wonderful role model for anyone who dreams of playing professional tennis, whether it be on wheels or not.