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A thrilling end to historic contest of national flags


The European Claycourt season started in Monte Carlo and ran through consecutive weeks to Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. Inherent in the schedule was the danger of overworking the body, some players would have been worn out by the time they reached Paris.

However, a seemingly innocuous thing occurred in Rome. Inclement weather made it necessary for some players to play two matches in the closing rounds and the fatigue factor accounted for the major upsets in the semi-finals.

Another symbolic incident from the warm-ups for Roland Garros came from Nick Kyrgios. In Rome, he introduced underhand serves and hit shots that produced a circus-like entertainment akin to what the Harlem Globetrotters did with basketball in America. Apparently, the talented Aussie was sending a message that became clear on the eve of the climax in Paris. He withdrew from the event after the draws had been made and flew to London to watch Andy Murray practice on the lush grass-courts of the All England Club, Wimbledon.


From the hallowed grounds, he wondered aloud why any tournament would be played on the red clay. He said it was surreal that Nadal had won 11 titles in Roland Garros and was headed for the 12th.

When the 128 men and 128 women gathered in Paris, the annual tennis fiesta was about the quests for records. Djokovic was attempting a calendar Grand Slam of winning four consecutive titles starting from 2018 Wimbledon Championships, the 2018 US Open and the 2019 Australian Open. Serena Williams was gunning to equal Margaret Smith’s 24 Grand Slams. The Maestro was aiming at 12 titles on the “quicksand” of Roland Garros.

Serena fell to the pressure of her quest and the youthful talents of compatriot Sofia Kenin. Djokovic contended with many obstacles in his semi-final match with Dominic Thiem. The Serbian bickered about the wind blowing clay dust into players’ eyes and was involved in exchanges with the umpire and received warnings during the match in which Thiem defeated him in the fifth set.

All along, the King of clay proceeded through an easy draw. He sent out two successive German players to reach the third round and faced his first stiff battle with Belgium’s David Goffin, who took a set off of him.

In the semifinal, he beat friend and archrival, Roger Federer in straight sets. Only the talented and powerful Thiem stood in his path to history. After a closely contested two sets, the Austrian succumbed to the relentless barrage of Nadal and the consequences of a five-set semi-final with Djokovic. The maestro picked up an unprecedented 12th title and described the feat as “encroiable” in his modest French.

In the women’s draw, American Amanda Anisimova sent out second seed Simona Halep, after the world number one Naomi Osaka had suffered an upset loss to Czech player, Katerina Siniakova.

Britain’s Johanna Konta was so close to victory (and perhaps the title) but lost to Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova. In the end, Australia’s Ashleigh Barty took the Suzanne Lenglen Cup back to the country of the lady, whose record America’s Serena was chasing, Margaret Smith Court, who last won the Paris title in 1973. The great tennis carnival in Paris was indeed a contest of national flags.

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