Roland Garros – Against The Wind

1. Roland Garros Logo

Roland Garros, the yearly spring Grand Slam tournament stop in Paris is from a weather standpoint, as predictable as the weather prognostication seen on the nightly news. It varies beyond the simple definition of variable. Yesterday, it was rain. Today, it was gale force winds.

As youngsters, many readers flew kites. During these escapades, time was spent getting a feel for the amount of string that would need to be released and just what would be the right angle to tilt the kite so that it caught the breeze and soared higher in the sky.

Taylor Fritz  Photo Susan Mullane_ camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz
Photo Susan Mullane_ camerawork usa

In horribly blustery conditions, Taylor Fritz put on an exhibition worthy of a youthful kite flyer or actually, an aeronautical engineer, subduing Tim Sandlaulen of Germany, 6-3, 7-6 in a second round Simple Junior Garcons match. Seeded No. 2, Fritz needed one hour and twenty-nine minutes to sail to victory.

In 1980, Bob Seger (& the Silver Bullet Band) recorded the award-winning album “Against the Wind.” It was his eleventh music compilation and it rose to No. 1 on the charts. The song that is the first track on side two has the same title as the album. Though Fritz wasn’t born until October 1997 he, along with Sandlaulen (whose birthday is December 29, 1997) could easily have used some of Seger’s lyrics to describe the match. Two of the more fitting stanzas are:

“…We were young and strong
We were running against the wind…”

And, they not only ran, they lurched, sprawled, lunged and did more contortions than a circus performer to get to the ball and make shots. It was as if they were posing for positions to illustrate a textbook on Human Kinetics.

Fritz’s mother, Kathy May Fritz and her good friend, Rayni Fox, a Roland Garros doubles finalist with Helen Gourlay Cawley of Australia in 1977, (the first year May Fritz was a quarterfinalist in Paris), provided thoughtful former player comments sitting in the bleachers on Court 10, where the match was contested. Everyone in the crowd was dodging showers of terre battue flying off the surface.

“I am surprised how many people are here (to watch the match)”, May Fritz said. She, of course, had not read the “Quotidien De Roland-Garros”, the daily tournament program which noted, “Watch out for the powerful serve of American 17-year-old Taylor Fritz as the second seed takes on German Tim Sandkaulen in the second round of the boys’ singles.”

May Fritz continued, “I was surprised that Gabriel Decamps was so good (Fritz’s first round opponent). I thought Taylor played pretty well, but the problem he has on clay is that he hits the ball so flat. This gives his opponents a chance to get into a groove, and I would like to see him mix it up more; come in when he has an opportunity.”

Dean Goldfine, a mentor who the USTA selected to work with some of the young US players during Roland Garros, and José Higueras, USTA Director of Coaching, were also in attendance. Higueras, a semifinalist in Paris in 1982 and ’83, and the former coach of 1991 and ’92 champion, Jim Courier, understands the shifty conditions that make playing Roland Garros so challenging.

“The ball does something different every time it bounces,” Higueras said. “Today is a day where you can’t play pretty.”

And, as it turned out, this was an understatement. There was a YouTube worthy presentation of shots where a ball seemingly headed for the Bois de Boulogne actually ended up as a dropshot. On one occasion, Sandkaulen drove a ball that appeared to be going well over the baseline. Fritz retreated and the shot, which had gone over his head, gusted back in front of him and he barely reached it in time, but bunted it over the net for a winner.

“I am really proud about the way he handles himself on the court,” May Fritz said. “Even when he isn’t playing well, he still remains pretty composed.”

Fox, knowingly pointed out after the first set came to an end in thirty-minutes, “Second sets are always tougher; they are always more of a challenge.”

Fortunately, Taylor Fritz finished the day in another fifty-nine minutes on court. He scrambled and adjusted, but happily left spectators (as Seger chorused) no reason to    “…Watch the young man runin’

Against the wind.”

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark Thoughts”


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