RG17: highlights of the men's draw
The Roland-Garros 2017 men's draw served up an off-the-scale historic victory as well as indelible images of acts of sportsmanship, gladiatorial duels, desperate disappointments, shock losses, short-term heroes and - as always - a gamut of emotions to thrill spectators.
Alors, we have enjoyed a fabulous 50th French Open at Roland-Garros and when the emotional celebrations of Rafael Nadal’s incredible La Decima quieten, what will we remember of all the men’s action here in the 16th arrondissement of Paris?
Nadal’s quest to become the first player to win 10 titles in the Open Era at a Grand Slam dominated the build-up and the course of the tournament as 128 players fought to leave one champion standing on 11 June. The 31-year-old Spaniard’s victory over the 32-year-old Swiss makes him the oldest player to win 15 Grand Slam titles. Coming hot on the heels of his meeting with the 35-year-old Roger Federer in the Australian Open, the 2017 Grand Slam finalists so far delivered an emphatic message to the younger generation of Thiem, Zverev, Khachonov et al: hold on to your chapeaux - the 30s Club is not finished yet.
La Decima, of course. Rafa’s 10th title was magically delivered in a better-than-textbook display of how to compete on terre battue. In his inexorable seven-match run towards the trophy ceremony, the undisputed King of Clay made light of any weight of expectation. As the obverse storyline to the women’s championship – where unseeded Jelena Ostapenko, free of any expectation, romped to a victory out of nowhere – the tales of the two title runs are delightfully complementary.
Steve Johnson’s win over Borna Coric in the second round showed that emotion in the moment of taking match point can overwhelm for reasons other than pure victory. The bearded American fell to his knees, chest heaving and eyes flooding with tears after his epic 6-2, 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-6(6) victory over the Croat. It was just weeks after he had lost his father, Steve Johnson Sr, who was his first coach and died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 58. “I knew he was looking down on me in that last point,” he said. “And it gave me the strength to finish it off.”
No.1: The Dominic Thiem-Novak Djokovic semi-final. The shock was not so much the defending champion’s loss, but the manner of his defeat. He arrived with Andre Agassi, surely the most illustrious possible new supercoach, and a new look as “le Nouveau Crocodile” or Lacoste ambassador (subliminal message: “I am ready to show my competitive bite”), but in his straight-sets defeat (and 0-6 final set) cut a bizarrely lost and demotivated figure.
No.2: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France’s greatest hope of ending a 34-year wait for a men’s champion, arrived at Roland-Garros having clinched his first clay-court title in Lyon - only to fall in the first round to world No.97 Renzo Olivo. He created the wrong sort of record with the number 10; it was Tsonga’s first shock loss in the opening round at a major in 10 years.
The ever popular Juan Martin del Potro added to his legion of fans when he acted instinctively to console a weeping and distraught opponent. Nicolas Almagro was forced to retire from their match with a serious knee injury. The Argentine, who suffered a groin injury in the same match and has come back from years of career-threatening wrist injuries himself, knew exactly the words of compassion required. He sat next to Almagro offering calm reassurance. It was a stirring act of pure sportsmanship that leaves an indelible memory, and culminated in him carrying his wounded opponent’s bags off court for him.
Ditto, Horacio Zeballos. These Argentines are brought up well! The 32-year-old Buenos Aires resident carried the helpless David Goffin’s bags off Court Suzanne-Lenglen following the No.10 seed’s freak injury in their last-16 meeting.
Alexander Zverev v Fernando Verdasco, first round. The unseeded 33-year-old left-hander from Spain won the battle of youth versus experience in four sets across two days, causing a major upset in beating No.9 seed and wunderkind Zverev - who had arrived at Roland-Garros as the champion in Munich and Rome.
Milos Raonic v Pablo Carreno Busta, fourth round. It took seven match points, four hours and 17 minutes on court, and a defiant defence against a barrage of 25 aces and 95 winners for the Spanish 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta to stun fifth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-4, 8-6 and set up a quarter-final clash with Nadal.
Andy Murray v Stan Wawrinka, semi-finals. The match against two three-time Grand Slam champions was difficult to call right up to the start of the final set. The world No.1 was one tie-break away from reaching his second consecutive Roland-Garros final, but it was the Swiss who prevailed 6-7(8), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1 to book a place in his second French decider.
Purist’s choice - Kei Nishikori v Hyeon Chung, third round. Rain stopped play, but the overnight interruption re-fired the No.8 seed, and the next day Nishikori was able to emerge the winner in a tricky, five-set rollercoaster which had everyone on the edge of their seats.
Emotions in quotes
“It's true 10 is a beautiful number, but actually my favourite is nine. But for sure if it becomes 10, it will be my favourite.” - Rafael Nadal, having fun with numbers.
“I was expecting, obviously, a very, very difficult match, but not something like this. The score [0-6, 1-6, 0-6] is quite embarrassing, you know, but I have to accept it.” - Nikoloz Basilashvili, on facing Nadal in imperious form.
“I don’t really like running. That’s one thing. So when the rally gets pretty long I tend to just go for a low-percentage shot… I also don’t like how my shoes get dirty. When I’m back home I don’t really train that much on clay because it makes my cars dirty, too.” - Nick Kyrgios, not so keen on clay.
“I’m so happy to see the crowd cheering for me at this level. I just try to be myself all the time. I think all the people like my story.” - Juan Martin del Potro, the comeback maestro feeling the love on his return to Roland-Garros.
A new word for tennis dominance