Farewell clay, but hello records and rankings, Muguruza and Djokovic, Thiem and Bertens
Marianne Bevis takes a look back at an eventful clay-court season which culminated in Novak Djokovic and Garbine Muguruza triumphing at Roland Garros
And so what seemed such a long, lazy and warm stretch on the surface so redolent of summer—the red clay from Morocco to Italy, Monte-Carlo to Spain, France to Portugal, is done for another year.
By the time those warm Mediterranean tournaments had followed the sun north to the best of them all, Paris’s Roland Garros, the brightest in tennis would have enjoyed their longest, unbroken swing on a single surface through April and May to the climax in the first weekend of June.
That this burnished Grand Slam suffered one of its coldest and wettest months in recent history became a sideshow to a record-making, record-breaking main course—albeit a sideshow that tainted the schedule for many fans and players.
Because for all the floods and storms, arguments about roofs (or lack of them) and security checks, empty seats come semi-final day and Twittersphere rages over refunds, the records kept coming.
Where else to start but with Djokovic?
For Djokovic, the big numbers started on his first day and peaked on his last.
· Three times he had reached the French Open final, but this time he completed his biggest challenge: the full set of Grand Slams
· Even more exclusive, he became the third man ever to hold all four Majors simultaneously—and first since 1968
· He could still win the most elusive record of all, the Golden Slam if he defends his Wimbledon and US Open titles and wins Olympic gold. That would make him the only man ever to do so, joining Steffi Graf, the only woman
· He has extended his own record streak in Grand Slam matches to 28: He has not lost since the French final last year
· He marked his 29th birthday in Paris with his 200th week at No1, and has subsequently passed his 100th week in a row at the top
· By winning his second match at his 12th Roland Garros, he marked his 50th French Open match-win—now up to 55
· For the second straight year, his quarter-final run at Roland Garros guaranteed his place at the World Tour Finals
Garbine Muguruza: a star born
The tall and elegant 22-year-old Muguruza pulled off an extraordinary feat in beating the mighty Serena Williams in this year’s final, and it was her second victory over the world No1 at the French Open. For the then 20-year-old dealt Williams one of her earliest Grand Slam losses in Paris for the loss of just four games in 2014.
If that hadn’t announced the arrival of a new charismatic woman on tennis’s stage, the Spaniard’s final run at Wimbledon, losing to Williams, certainly did. She even took the first set off Williams in their Australian Open meeting last year.
With her first Major title—and she is only the third Spanish woman to win a Major singles title—she begins the grass season at a career-high No2.
But records halted Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
Federer’s record run of consecutive Grand Slam appearances was halted at 65 by his withdrawal with back injury the day before the draw. This would have been his 18th straight appearance in Paris.
Nadal was targeting a unique record, a 10th French Open title, but he shocked the tournament by pulling out ahead of his third match with a wrist injury. It was the first time in over a decade that Roland Garros was without both men, and more than 17 years since a Grand Slam had neither man.
And despite Nadal’s second-round win taking him to a remarkable 72-2 in Paris, he could neither win French Open No10, nor a record 50th clay title, nor keep his appointment in a scheduled record 50th meeting in the semis with Djokovic—which would have fallen on the Spaniard’s 30th birthday.
Youth—and maturity—will have its day
· Roland Garros achieved one new record before a ball was played: there were 51 men aged 30 or over in the main draw, a record for a Grand Slam.
· Dominic Thiem, age 22, arrived in Paris close to a career-high ranking and as one of the form players of the year: three titles already and top of the list of clay match-wins. He had also marked his 100th win in taking the title in Nice a week before. By the end of Roland Garros, he had reached his first Major semi-final and ensured his break into the top 10 at No7.
· Unseeded Kiki Bertens, who had just once before been past the second round of a Slam, arrived in Paris having been barely inside the top 100 two months earlier, but was up to No58 after winning the Nürnberg title as a qualifier. In Paris, she advanced through a tough draw via Australian champion Angelique Kerber and last year’s French semi-finalist, Timea Bacsinszky to reach her first Major semi-final. Bertens is now ranked 27—with a first Grand Slam seeding beckoning.
· Ivo Karlovic became the oldest man to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for 25 years: The 37-year-old survived a 4hr 32min five-set marathon before finally losing to Andy Murray.
· Teenager Alexander Zverev, in his debut at Roland Garros, made his first third-round run in a Grand Slam. He rises to another ranking high of 38 this week, and stands just 60 points short of a seeding at Wimbledon.
· The only unseeded man to make the quarter-finals, 28-year-old Albert Ramos-Vinolas, had won only one match in five previous visits to Roland Garros, and had never made it past the second round at any Major. Now he stands at a career-high 32, up from 55.
Britons rise to new highs
· Andy Murray may have fallen just one match short of another Fred Perry record—the last man to win the French Open 80 years ago—but he did become the first British man since 1937 to reach the final at Roland Garros, and he entered the tournament as the No2 seed for the first time.
· Johanna Konta was seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time in her career, and though she lost her opener, she this week breaks into the top 20 for the first time at No18.
· Aljaz Bedene enjoyed the limelight of Philippe Chatrier on middle Saturday against the best in the world, Djokovic, but only just. The weather forced late changes to the schedule, and they were moved to Suzanne Lenglen, but after the early retirement of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, they were moved back. It was almost dark by the time Djokovic won, but Bedene had never before got beyond the first round at Roland Garros, nor the second round at any other Major. This time, he made the third.
Doubles delight for Spanish, French, and veteran Hingis/Paes
· Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic won their first Major doubles title together to become the first all-French pair to capture their home Slam since 1971.
· Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez—not related—also won their first Grand Slam title to become the first all-Spanish team since1990 to win the French Open doubles. It was just their second Grand Slam partnership.
· As a result of the Spaniards beating Bob and Mike Bryan in the final, the 34-year-old Nicolas Mahut reached No1 in the doubles ranking for the first time.
· In another landmark victory, 42-year-old Leander Paes and 35-year-old Martina Hingis each completed a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles with the Roland Garros title. It was the 10th mixed doubles title at a Major for Paes, the fifth for Hingis.
· David Goffin’s first Grand Slam quarter-final moved him to a career-high No11
· Shelby Rogers, ranked outside the top 100 at the start of the French Open, beat three seeds, including Petra Kvitova, on her way to a first Grand Slam quarter-finals, and surged to a new high of 60 this week
· Before Tsonga retired in his third match, he scored his 100th Grand Slam match win
· Marcos Baghdatis notched up his 300th match-win
· He was swiftly followed by No15 seed John Isner, whose 300th win came over Kyle Edmund
· Nadal, before his untimely exit, became just the eighth man ever to win 200 Grand Slam matches