Monday, May 30, 2011

Thinking Of Mountains Redux

If there’s a volcano erupting under a glacier in Iceland (and there is) then there must be tennis being played on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris (and there is).

Last year it was the unpronounceable volcano—Eyjafjallajokull volcano—and this year it is Grímsvötn.

In the tennis world now I don’t really have a favorite player—On Being A (Very) Sad Tennis Fan—either on the men’s side or the women’s side. Everybody is pretty boring these days. But for the first time in open tennis history the number one and two women’s seeds lost before the third round. Even more women’s seeds have lost since then. So as we head toward the finals some interesting stories have appeared on the women’s side.

I don’t often talk about sports, but I’m going to talk about sports today because the French Open tennis tournament is my favorite sporting event of the year. And because Maria Sharapova has become a favorite topic of mine even though she was never, and isn’t, a player I like all that much. (I don’t know exactly why I’ve written so much about Sharapova. Maybe it’s just random. Maybe it’s because she’s so pretty. I vaguely suspect it’s a combination of her being so pretty and having, or appearing to have, such a tough character. I’m not a tough person myself and I admire people who are, especially women who can focus and just storm through adversity.)

So all the good women players are either out with injuries or out because they lost early.

Of the women players who remain, there are a few good stories to watch.

First, Na Li from China has a chance to become the first Chinese woman to win a grand slam. That would be a great achievement for China, and for Na Li. She is a very good, very determined player and she might do it.

Second, some unknown young player has a chance to become famous, to make a name for herself, by winning a grand slam. Most players go their whole career without winning a grand slam. It’s a big deal and Pavlyuchenkova and Petkovic have a reasonable chance to do it while they are young and really can enjoy the fame.

Third, some old players have a chance to relive earlier glories. Schiavone has a chance to repeat her victory from last year and Kuznetsova won the French in 2009.

And “old” Maria Sharapova—she’s 24!—has a chance to achieve real greatness in the tennis world.

Very few players will ever win a grand slam. Even fewer players will win all four of the grand slams. On the men’s side it is very rare. In recent years only Andre Agassi and Roger Federer have done it. On the women’s side it is more common, but still rare. Martina Hingis—who dominated the women’s game—never won the French Open and was so freaked out the year she almost beat Steffi Graf that she humiliated herself by running to Graf’s side of the court at one point to challenge a call. The French fans booed her every year after that.

Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006 and the Australian in 2008. She has never made it even to the finals of the French. Now she is older and has injury issues and her game is still one dimensional. But she has found ways to win this year, pulling out some tough matches. If she can find a way to pull out three more matches against less-than-first-rate opponents she can make history and become one of the women to win all four grand slams.

Of all the tennis players I’ve seen eating bananas—and for some strange reason I’ve seen, I think, more than my share—Maria Sharapova is by far the prettiest banana-eating tennis player I’ve ever seen.

This year I’m cheering her on. This year I hope she goes all the way. This year I’m rooting for her to make history.

Good luck, Maria!

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