Roland Garros – Last Look

1. Roland Garros Logo

The final Saturday of Roland Garros, June 6th, was weather perfect. The day was made even better because Southern California had players with local ties in trophy battles. (This doesn’t even include Serena Williams, who began playing in the LA84 Foundation/NJTL Program in Compton.)

Going into the Men’s Doubles final, Bob and Mike Bryan had played Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil seven times. The top seeded duo had a five and two career record against the No. 3 seeds. The only time the teams competed on terre battue was at the Monte Carlo-1000, in 2014, where the Bryans won 6-3, 3-6, 10-8.

Bob and Mike Bryan with Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo  Photo Susan Mullane _camerawork usa

Bob and Mike Bryan with Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo
Photo Susan Mullane _camerawork usa

In the first Simple Junior Garcons (Boys) title battle, involving two Americans, Taylor Fritz, seeded No. 2, took on Tommy Paul of Lumberton, New Jersey, the No. 13 seed. Long ago, or so it seems, they were Boys’ 14 opponents and Paul “killed me”, according to Fritz.

The Bryans, Roland Garros winners in 2003 and ’13, were looking to tie Roger Federer with seventeen Grand Slams tournament championships. Even more remarkable, they have made seventeen appearances in Paris, and were appearing in their sixty-ninth doubles event at a major (which outside of Roland Garros includes Australia, Wimbledon and the US Open).

Fritz literally “exploded” on the international tennis horizon a year ago on the terre battue at the 50th Astrid Bowl where he was a semifinalist. He continued to open eyes reaching the 2014 semifinals at the Nike Junior International at Roehampton, England and Wimbledon. In October, he was the Osaka Mayor’s Cup-World Super Junior Championships winner. The triumph earned him Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Faces In The Crowd” recognition in a December issue.

This year, he was a finalist to Andrey Rublev of Russia at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) inaugural Junior Masters at the Sichuan International Tennis Centre in Chengdu, China, and he was the Easter Bowl champion.

Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul  Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul
Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Dodig and Melo, who were making their third appearance as a team at Roland Garros, had been 2013 Wimbledon four set finalist to the twins. The duo was looking to claim their third title overall.

According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Junior Media Guide compiled for Roland Garros, Paul last played elite junior tournaments in 2013. The ITF website noted that he had been victorious at Futures events in Spain and Italy this past spring.

After Saturday’s final shots had left their marks in the terre battue, both the Bryans’ team and Fritz were on the short end of the scores. Dodig and Melo edged the twins 6-7, 7-6, 7-5. Paul slipped past his Rancho Santa Fe opponent, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2. Even more startling than the closeness of the scores was the “You have to be kidding…” similarity in match statistics. The most startling of which was the Camarillo raised Bryans had earned 122 points to the 120 collected by the champions. Two was again the separation in the Fritz-Paul totals as the finalist rang up 89, while his opponent notched 87 points.

“I felt we lost a lot of the scrambling points,” Bob Bryan said after the match. “Once the rallies developed, they pulled out the long points. We had a break in hand in the second set, had a chance to pile on some pressure and get two breaks and didn’t play our best tennis. They just snuck back in it and clipped us. It came down to a couple of shots.”

Mike Bryan added, “I don’t think we played a bad match. We can sleep tonight knowing that we brought some good stuff. We were pretty close. You have to tip your hat to those guys. Their level stayed pretty high the whole match.”

Fritz and Paul were Grand Slam final novices. At seventeen and eighteen years old respectively, they had nowhere near the “playing in the show” experience of the Bryans or Dodig and Melo.

“It was really a high-level match,” Fritz said following the contest. “I can’t be upset with it because I played pretty solid. I think the difference was just a couple of points, a break or two, here and there.

“He got up on me early in the first and ended up winning it. I got up early in the second, and he got up early in the third and that was it. The momentum, with the early breaks in the sets, really made the difference.”

Paul, who admitted that he has always liked playing on clay, said that winning felt “Great…It was amazing.” He added, “I remember when he (Taylor) first came to the USTA where I trained two years ago, he was a little behind our level. Then, in the past year, he just completely shot up. We were talking about how much better he’s gotten on clay. He’s starting to like it so much more and play a lot better on it. I’m happy for him.”

A victory at a major is the ultimate. For both Dodig and Melo the championship was even more meaningful. With the title, Dodig became only the second Croatian to loft a trophy in Paris, (Iva Majoli was the Women’s champion in 1997). In Melo’s case, he was following in the footsteps of the beloved Gustavo (Guga) Kuerten, the 1997, 2000 and ’01 Men’s winner (who sat in the Presidential Tribune during this year’s doubles final).

Melo admitted, “To be honest, I don’t know the feelings yet. It’s great. All our lives hoping for this moment and that one becomes kind of a dream come true. It’s just this feeling that I need to relax to figure out what I did.”

The Bryans, Bob who resides in Sunny Isles, Florida and Mike in Wesley Chapel, are the best doubles team of all-time. They have claimed more doubles victories than any other team in history. Still, as Bob pointed out, “We have won more Slams than any team, but we have also lost more Grand Slam finals than any other team. That will be a record that will stand for the rest of time too, probably.”

He quickly added, “So, it’s mother tennis. She gives you a lot, but she also can burn you and take it away from you when you feel like it’s in you pocket. The only thing you can do with mother tennis is get back on the horse and hopefully, she will be nicer next time.”

Mike Bryan put a positive spin on the situation saying, “We came in and didn’t have a ton of confidence, but started building it round after round, We are leaving the tournament feeling pretty good about our game. We were close to winning our third championship.”

Fritz left feeling ecstatic. With his 6-1, 6-2 semifinal victory over France’s Corentin Denolly, he became No. 1 in the world. He is the first player from the US to top the ITF rankings since Donald Young in 2005.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for me,” the ever modest Fritz said, “It’s one of the goals I set for myself when I was 15 and just started playing ITF tournaments.

“It’s amazing for me to accomplish my goal because it’s one thing I always try to do when I set a goal. I always try to meet it.

“I just don’t want to let it get to my head. I’m thankful for reaching each of my goals, and I just want to move forward.”

Mark Winters

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

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