Roland Garros & Wimbledon Recollections

Every spring, players with ties to Southern California, either because it’s their birthplace or the location where they train, become newsmakers at Roland Garros and/or Wimbledon.

1. Taylor Fritz Photo Fred Mullane _ camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz Photo Fred Mullane _ camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz emerged as a global name in the game, a year ago in London, playing his way to the Wimbledon Boys’ semifinals. Since then, he has used his formidable serve and ripping forehand, along with improved fitness, to become one of best juniors in the world.

Seeded No. 2 at Roland Garros, he became the first player from the section to ever reach the Simple Garcons final. The “Never before…” history file was added to when Tommy Paul defeated Michael Mmoh, 6-4, 6-3, giving the US two players competing for the ultimate terre battue junior championship.

Playing in the “Bullring” (The historic Court 2 at Stade Roland Garros), Fritz made history, in the semifinals thoroughly dominating Corentin Denolly, the No. 4 seed, 6-1, 6-2. Having lost to Denolly, a crafty left-hander from Jardin, France, 7-6, 6-3 in the 56th Trofeo Bongiglio semifinals in Milan, roughly a week before, he was well prepared for the encounter.

“I am really proud of being here,” he said post-match. “I was ready today and came close to playing the best I can play.”

José Higueras, the USTA Director of Coaching, was a two-time Roland Garros semifinalist, and after he retired from competition, guided Jim Courier and Michael Chang to tournament victories in Paris.  Following the Fritz match, he offered, “It was the most responsible match I have ever seen Taylor play. He hits the ball so hard that, from time to time, he will become irresponsible and try to hit his way out of every situation.”

With the victory, he became No. 1 in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Junior Rankings, the first player from the US to do so since Donald Young in 2005.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for me,” the 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.”

He added, “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.”

In the final, Paul defeated his Rancho Santa Fe opponent, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2.  “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.”

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

Bob and Mike Bryan, the Camarillo raised twins who have literally become the face (faces, if you will) of doubles on the professional level, are comfortable on terre battue in Paris. This was obvious as Mike teamed with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to defeat Marcin Matkowski of Poland, (a former UCLA All-American) and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic, 7-6, 6-1, for the Mixed Doubles title.

For Mike, it was his second mixed doubles championship in Paris. In 2003, Bryan and Lisa Raymond also won the championship. With his second triumph, he tied brother, Bob, a Paris winner with Liezel Huber in 2009 and with Victoria Azarenka of Belarus a year earlier.

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

The twins, who were Roland Garros winners in 2003 and ’13, were looking to tie Roger Federer with seventeen Grand Slams tournament championships. Even more remarkable, they had made seventeen appearances in Paris, and were appearing in their sixty-ninth Grand Slam doubles event.

Dodig and Melo, who were making their third appearance as a team at Roland Garros, lost to the twins in the 2013 Wimbledon final in four sets. In this go round, the duo scored a 6-7, 7-6, 7-5 victory over the brothers.

“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 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.”

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 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.”

Each of the Grand Slam tournaments – Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open – are designated “Majors” and it’s easy to see why. Each is played on a distinct surface in locations filled with history. Each has a feeling, or perhaps it could be called a personality, which makes it unique. But, only Wimbledon has standalone status – it is, after all, known as The Championships.

Claire Liu  Photo Wen Liu

Claire Liu
Photo Wen Liu

Kayla Day and Claire Liu made their Wimbledon Girls’ debuts, and both won their opening matches, making July 4th, the day they played, an exceptionally good one, even without fireworks. Liu surely will not forget spending two hours and twenty-five minutes on the court, and being down a match point, before overcoming Evgeniya Levashova of Russia, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, in the second round.

Fanni Stollar of Hungary, the No. 11 seed, edged Day, in her second match, 7-5, 7-5. Tornado Alicia Black, the 2013 US Open Girls’ finalist who has been playing on the pro circuit, defeated Liu, 6-3, 6-2, in the third round.

In London, Day and Liu, who have both trained at the USTA Center in Carson, were guided by Mike Gennette, the well respected Cal Lutheran men’s tennis coach. “Claire got to the round of sixteen in singles, and with Michaela Gordon (of Los Altos Hills) did the same in doubles,” he said. “Kayla won her first Wimbledon match and with Monika Kilnarova (Czech Republic), was in the round of sixteen in doubles. I’m sure the experience of playing here was valuable and will help them, a great deal, in the future.”

Kayla Day  Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Kayla Day
Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Fritz made his inaugural tournament appearance in 2014. As he recalled, “Last year was a breakthrough. I wasn’t even supposed to get into Wimbledon, but I did well at Roehampton, (He was a semifinalist at the International Tennis Federation tournament the week before.), and received a Special Exempt. I think, by the end, I showed that grass is my best surface.” (Last year, he dropped a 6-4, 6-2 semifinal decision, to the eventual tournament winner, Noah Rubin of Rockville Centre, New York.)

As the Boys’ top seed, and ranked No.1 by the ITF, Fritz made it clear, from the beginning, winning the singles championship was his goal. Unfortunately, he faced Reilly Opelka in the 2015 Boys’ semifinals. Opelka, (whose serve makes him the second coming of John Isner), is six feet, ten inches tall and has an inch on Isner. He surprised Fritz, 6-3, 7-6. The match was as closely contested as the Tie-Break, which ended the contest, 13-11.

Opelka, followed Rubin’s “defeat Fritz and win the tournament” formula, becoming the second consecutive US junior to take the Wimbledon title. He stopped Mikael Ymer of Sweden, 7-6, 6-4, in the final. After the victory, he pointed out, “I didn’t play well in the first round.  I wasn’t happy with how I played. I think I started to get more confidence after my second‑round win. I started to find my game. By the time I played Taylor, I was pretty high on confidence going into the match, which is why I was able to play really well there. I transferred that over to today’s match.”

Fritz also lost a doubles semifinal to Opelka. Teaming with Michael Mmoh, he finished on the short end of a 6-3, 6-4 decision against the Floridian and his partner, Akira Santillan, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, but plays for Japan. (Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam and Sumit Nagal of India downed Opelka and Santillan, 7-6, 6-4, in the trophy round.)

After the singles defeat, Kathy May Fritz, (Taylor’s mother, and a former Top 10 WTA competitor), offered, “It was a tough loss for him. Reilly came out firing, playing like he had nothing to lose. Taylor wasn’t ready for that and that is his fault. Hopefully, he will learn from this. You always have to be prepared for everything and anything.

“Taylor was always on the defense in the first set. Reilly was moving him side to side, and Taylor wasn’t moving him. Taylor had chances in the Tie-Break, but didn’t capitalize. He fought really hard and I have a lot of respect for that. He was extremely upset that he lost, but you learn from your losses and, hopefully, this was a good lesson.”

Because of his almost boundless potential, the seventeen-year-old Fritz was in the media spotlight. Affable and very bright, with an extremely high tennis IQ, he was completely at ease dealing with a wide range of Wimbledon situations. This was very apparent as he segued from doing an ESPN photo shoot to hitting with seventeen-time Grand Slam tournament winner, Roger Federer, who was duly impressed with the Roland Garros Simple Garcons finalist’s potential.

5. Coco Vandeweghe Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Coco Vandeweghe Photo Susan Mullane / camerawork usa

The junior competition is played during the second week of The Championships, and Coco Vandeweghe, for the first time in her career, was among the Ladies’, (not the juniors), who were competing. The Rancho Santa Fe resident was still on the lawns because she was dazzling, defeating Karolina Pliskova and Lucie Safarova, the No. 11 and No. 6 seeds both from the Czech Republic. Her 7-6, 7-6 victory over Safarova put her in the quarterfinals against Maria Sharapova.

It took Sharapova, the No. 4 seed, almost three hours to earn a 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 victory. After playing on Centre Court, Vandeweghe said, “It’s been a long two weeks, playing singles and doubles here (with Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany).  So I’m happy with my progress through the tournament, and I’m happy with the whole experience of it.”

Comfortable, dealing with the diversity of questions she faced after matches, Vandeweghe added, “I came out there (Centre Court), and I was definitely a bit shaky. I was a bit nervous, as you probably would be for your first time, going out on any main stadium.”

Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears didn’t exhibit any nerves dispatching the Australian and Roland Garros champions, Mattek-Sands and Safarova, 6-3, 6-2, ending their hopes of winning a doubles Grand Slam this year. The veteran Cal-UCLA partnership was defeated in the semifinals by Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza, the Switzerland/India combo who ended up winning the Ladies Doubles.

Jelena Jankovic, the Serbian with a home in San Diego, was too good for last year’s champion, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, scoring an emotionally pleasing win, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. But, in the fourth round, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, edged Jankovic, 7-5, 6-4, then defeated Madison Keys, who Lindsay Davenport and Jonathan Leach assist, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3.

Keys, after the quarterfinal match, said, “I think I’m most pleased with the fact there were times, in matches, when I wasn’t playing my best, but I was able to figure out how to win. I am definitely disappointed that I wasn’t able to win the points that I needed to win today.”

Competitors with Southern California connections were in the forefront of much of what took place at the 129th edition of Wimbledon, which means they each played important roles in making it – The Championships.

Mark Winters

 

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