What is it about a Grand Slam? Was it so long ago that tennisheads lived and died with Serena Williams in Hobart only to see her rise phoenix-like from what appeared to be the ashes of her career in Melbourne? Who can forget Oracene Price yelling at her daughter to “Get out of Melbourne!” or the disbelief even from Serena's fans as Maria Sharapova was reduced to being nothing more than a spectator at her own match.
And who can forget Fernando Gonzalez' miraculous run to the final losing to the man some want to call the Greatest of All Time?
But Melbourne is a distant memory and the warm up events, the Road to Roland Garros, are just about over. Jelena Jankovic gave her opponent a walkover today and is probably already in Paris. Lleyton Hewitt put up a fight but lost to Gael Monfils who is looking like Lazarus right about now. He was playing on the challenger circuit with moderate success a mere few weeks ago. Now he, as a European sportscaster put it, has added the scalps of world No. 3 Andy Roddick and the favorite of many fans, Lleyton Hewitt, to his belt as he heads for The City of Lights. Monfils plays Juan Monaco tomorrow for a championship many have already forgotten. But what they haven’t forgotten is that he suddenly looks able to fulfill the potential so many saw in him. Is Tarik Benhabiles, Gael’s new coach, on a mission? We’re watching.
We’ve had Monte-Carlo, Rome and Hamburg come and go. Monte-Carlo, hands down the most beautiful venue on the ATP tour, came down to a battle of the champions. Rome saw an Italian no one outside of tennis circles has ever even heard of take down the world No. 1. Just when it looked as if things were going to be dire indeed No. 1 and No. 2 played to their rankings on the slow dirt of Hamburg. Fatigue? Superstition? Who knows? No. 1 ran into the stands to embrace his long time girlfriend, a sight never before seen in public.
The women have not been quiet. Justine Henin managed to actually lose a clay match. Jankovic seems to be running on rechargeable batteries. Venus Williams has had a miserable clay season while Serena is being whispered about as the woman who will stand across the net from Henin. Can Jelena hold it together long enough, six matches to the final or will it indeed be Terror Fabulous hoisting the trophy?
The sisters Bondarenko, Alona and Kateryna, have made new fans. The Radwanska sisters from Poland have also got people looking their way.
You can’t talk women’s tennis without mentioning Maria. No longer the spindly girl, she now seems to have filled out. Will her serving woes right themselves in Paree? Aravane Rezai took her down today in straight sets. But a Slam is not Grand for no reason and I’m sure Maria wants to have some say in just who will be declared Queen of Clay for one year.
But all that is so much black and white film now. The eyes of the tennis world are on Paris. The men and women, the kings and queens, dukes and duchesses, the courtiers and courtisans, the wide-eyed and the ones looking ahead to the next event even as they unpack are all poised to wage war on the famed terre battue.
Let the battle begin!