by Rob Hemingway
Perhaps it is fitting that a tournament named after a trailblazing fighter pilot who vanquished his many adversaries should become so synonymous with Rafael Nadal, who administers the same fate to his opponents as Roland Garros did during the First World War.
After putting away Stan Wawrinka on Sunday in Paris, the Majorcan notched up yet another French Open title and achieved La Decima, his tenth grand slam victory in one event, a feat that transcends sport and is surely comparable with any other individual achievement in the modern age.
Such unparalleled dominance, the result of a unique combination of extraordinary talent, world-class coaching and insatiable drive, has been supplemented in the 2017 edition of his reign by the presence in his camp of long-time friend and influence, Carlos Moya. Analysis of Nadal’s matches during these two weeks – and indeed earlier in the year – is clear evidence of subtle tweaks that have allowed him to be so successful since returning to the tour after injury. These changes, including an improved backhand and greater consistency and variety on the serve, should allow him to remain competitive even as age and physical decline gradually take their toll over the coming years.
There was enough evidence in Paris this year to suggest that the men’s game will be well served even when Nadal and his “Big 5” rivals have moved on. Dominic Thiem, the 23 year-old Austrian, broke through emphatically in getting through to the semifinals, and Karen Khachanov, the 21-year old from Moscow, displayed all his emerging skills during a run to the fourth round. Further down the age range, the next big thing from the junior ranks could be Alexei Popyrin, who triumphed in the Boys Singles, becoming the first Australian to take home the title since Phil Dent in 1968. His game, modeled on Juan Martin del Potro’s, could become equally as effective, given his powerful serve and varied forehand.
On the other side of the locker room, the women’s event revealed a new superstar. Jelena Ostapenko, the unseeded 20-year-old Latvian, defeated the experienced Simona Halep in three sets, sparking wild celebrations at Riga’s iconic Freedom Monument as the country celebrated its first ever Grand Slam champion. This was a remarkable triumph given that she went the distance in every match from the fourth round onwards, that she was a set and a break down in the final, and particularly as clay is her least favourite surface. This breakthrough should equip her with the necessary confidence to build on this win which, incredibly, was also her first ever on the women’s tour.
Tournament Director Guy Forget fortunately had far fewer scheduling headaches this year than in 2016, as the weather remained dry enough to catch up on matches delayed from the first week’s showers. The modernisation project at Roland Garros – provisionally approved earlier this year – cannot come soon enough however. Capacity issues still affect the site, particularly when compared to the other three Grand Slams, and the roof that will be present for this year’s US Open will once again throw into focus the glacial pace of change in French Tennis’ administrative corridors.
As the last of the players now start dusting down their socks, the grass of Wimbledon looms large on the horizon. All eyes will be on the returning, rejuvenated Roger Federer, whose decision to rest during the clay court swing could bear fruit as he seeks his eighth crown in south-west London. It promises to be another unmissable event in this already extraordinary 2017 season.