The 2015 French Open ended a little over a week ago. Both finals had a healthy dose of drama in their own way. Here is some historical perspective on each champions’ victory.
Stan the spoiler- Once Novak Djokovic dismantled Rafael Nadal in the QFs at the event the Spanish left-hander had previously owned to the tune of 9 titles. Most people assumed that this would be the year Djokovic would finally capture the French Open title that had eluded him so many times and complete his career Grand Slam. However, Stan Wawrinka had other ideas. The Swiss former Australian Open champion tallied just a 6-4 clay court record leading into Roland Garros, but something clicked when got to Paris. It is no secret that Wawrinka has huge weapons that translate well on any surface. He really started to believe after bashing his countrymen and occasional doubles partner Roger Federer in straight sets in the QFs. Despite only 7 spots separating Wawrinka from the top-ranked Serbian, he was a decided underdog against Djokovic in the final. The 8th seed was unfazed, winning in 4 sets, 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4. Despite a slow start, Wawrinka was able to begin dictating with his gorgeous one-handed backhand, one of the finest shots on the planet. By the last few games, the underdog was in “the zone” blasting winners from everywhere. Djokovic wasn’t done any favors by having to play his semifinal over 2 days, but you play the cards your dealt. This was truly about Wawrinka playing the match of his life. As far as Djokovic is concerned, if he cannot seal the deal after taking out his chief rival, it is fair to ask if he will ever have his day in the Paris sun.
Serena stumbles, but gets number 20- Serena Williams notched her 20th major winning in 3 sets 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2 over 13th seed Lucie Safarova, but the score line does not even begin to tell the story. Serena had battled an illness and had several near misses leading into the final. Early on, it looked like there would be no such drama. The American smashed her way to a 6-3 4-1 lead. Then the American self-destructed, spraying double faults and errors everywhere. It look like the moment was eating her alive. The surprise left-handed finalist from the Czech Republic sensed her chance and began to loosen up. She was able to steal the second set in a tiebreak and even went up a break of serve in the 3rd set. A lesser player would have folded like a cheap tent, Serena rose to the occasion. She was able to find that same gear that got her through 4 other 3 set matches in the French capital. This victory is as impressive as any of Serena’s previous 19 majors, simply because she was far from her best and simply refuse to lose. She is now just 2 majors shy of Steffi Graf’s modern era record. Even at 33 years of age, there seems to be nothing that can stop Serena from this record. For Safarova, a doubles title and a single runner-up trophy will serve as mementos of a dream tournament. She is now a member of the world’s top 10. It will be interesting to see how she handles the expectations that come with that.
Looking ahead to the grass- Believe it or not, Wimbledon begins a week from Monday and grass court tune up events are in full swing, Rafael Nadal bounced back to form with a title in Germany last week. Even so, on the men’s side it is hard to say who the favorite heading in to Wimbledon is. I’d expect a letdown from Djokovic. He put so much into winning the French. For the ladies, it is all about Serena, if she can win Wimbledon for a 6th time, she will be the current title holder at all 4 majors, A feat not accomplished since Serena herself did it in 2003, it was dubbed “The Serena Slam.” Given what the French took out of her, the quick turnaround, and the quality and depth of the field these days, I’d bet against it. Don’t ask me who will beat her or how until the draw comes out.