2014 US Open runner-up Kei Nishikori had a so so year so far: a title in Memphis, a bronze medal in Rio Olympics, and a quarterfinal at the Australian Open. Dou you think he will capture his maiden Grand Slam title in New York this year?
Here are a few pictures of Nishikori at practice with supercoach Michael Chang:
Roland Garros visitor’s guide:
A trip down memory lane:
1956: First time at Roland Garros for Rod Laver
Portrait of Manuel Santana, first Spaniard to capture a Grand Slam title in 1961
1967: Françoise Durr defeats Lesley Turner
1969: Rod Laver defeats Ken Rosewall
Portrait of 6-time Roland Garros champion Bjorn Borg
Portrait of Adriano Panatta, the only player to beat Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros
1978: Virginia Ruzici defeats Mima Jausovec
1978: Bjorn Borg defeats Guillermo Vilas
1982: At the request of Monsieur Wilander
1982: first Grand Slam for Mats Wilander
1983: Yannick Noah defeats Mats Wilander
1984 French Open: Ivan Lendl defeats John McEnroe
1985 French Open: Chris Evert defeats Martina Navratilova
Roland Garros 1985: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
Roland Garros 1988: bold Leconte swept aside by a Mats for all surfaces
Portrait of Natasha Zvereva, 1988 runner-up
Portrait of Arantxa Sanchez, 1989 French Open champion
Portrait of Michael Chang, 1989 French Open champion
1990 French Open: Opposites attract, Gomez defeats Agassi
Roland Garros 1990: Defending champion Sanchez loses in the first round
Roland Garros 1990: Edberg and Becker lose in the first round
1991 French Open 3RD: Michael Chang defeats Jimmy Connors
1991 French Open final: Jim Courier defeats Andre Agassi
1996: An unflinching Edberg causes a grand upset
Roland Garros 1996: Pete Sampras run through the semi-finals
1997: Going ga-ga over Guga
Steffi Graf – Martina Hingis Roland Garros 1999
2000: Mary Pierce finds peace and glory
2004: Coria vs Gaudio: the egotist vs the underdog
2005: Rafael Nadal defeats Mariano Puerta
2006: Nadal defeats Federer, wins second Roland Garros title
A look back at Roland Garros 2011
A look back at Roland Garros 2014
A look back at Roland Garros 2015
Pictures and Recaps:
Fashion and gear:
Who will win Roland Garros 2016?
- Rafael Nadal (50%, 125 Votes)
- Novak Djokovic (29%, 73 Votes)
- Andy Murray (11%, 27 Votes)
- Roger Federer (5%, 12 Votes)
- Kei Nishikori (2%, 5 Votes)
- Stan Wawrinka (1%, 3 Votes)
- Other (1%, 2 Votes)
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0%, 1 Votes)
- Tomas Berdych (0%, 1 Votes)
- Richard Gasquet (0%, 1 Votes)
- David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 250
Who will win Roland Garros 2016?
- Serena Williams (42%, 47 Votes)
- Victoria Azarenka (15%, 17 Votes)
- Angelique Kerber (13%, 15 Votes)
- Garbine Muguruza (12%, 13 Votes)
- Simona Halep (7%, 8 Votes)
- Other (4%, 5 Votes)
- Carla Suarez Navarro (4%, 4 Votes)
- Agnieszka Radwanska (2%, 2 Votes)
- Belinda Bencic (1%, 1 Votes)
- Petra Kvitova (1%, 1 Votes)
- Roberta Vinci (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 113
Article by Robin Finn, New York Times
He has never won a French Open championship, and if he doesn’t win this year’s, he never will.
But the 30-year-old Stefan Edberg, unseeded for his final campaign at the only Grand Slam event to elude him, took a never-say-never attitude into his match with Michael Chang today and turned a gloomy afternoon incandescent with his serve-and-volley artistry.
“I played some of the best tennis I’ve done for a very, very long time,” Edberg said after his 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, 7-6 (7-1) third-round victory.
“I’m not going out there giving him anything just because he’s 30 and it’s his last year,” said the fourth-seeded Chang. “He is not the type that wants any free handouts. I lost a little bit of timing in the third set and from there the momentum definitely shifted.”
By doing the little things right, said the 47th-ranked Edberg, he gave himself a little chance to retire from the game with all four Grand Slam trophies in his possession — an honor no male player has achieved since Rod Laver and Roy Emerson in the 1960’s.
“There’s a tiny little chance,” he said, “because I’m not feeling tired, I’m moving well, I’m serving a lot better than I’ve done for a long time. Little things that make a difference.”
Edberg didn’t cringe at the notion of squaring off against the very player who shut the window on him in the 1989 final here. Instead, he relished it. And today he got partial revenge for the loss that allowed Chang, at 17, to become the French Open’s youngest male champion and forced the Swede, then 23, to wonder if he had blown his best chance to excel on his worst surface.
Now Edberg, who bumbled away a dozen break points in the fourth set of his 1989 final against Chang, has the chance to become the French Open’s oldest champion since Andres Gomez in 1990.
“It does get tougher, but it’s possible, there’s a tiny little chance,” said Edberg, who admitted he would rather have beaten Chang in their only other meeting on clay — the 1989 final — than today.
With four rounds separating him from record-book immortality, Edberg said it will “take another four matches to make up for” what went wrong seven years ago.
One auspicious sign for Edberg, who prefers to deal in facts but didn’t mind hearing about a positive portent, is that he has won all four Grand Slam matches he has played against Chang since 1989. More important, at Wimbledon in 1990, and at the United States Open in 1991 and 1992, Edberg went on to capture the championships.
If he does it here, he’s certain to have ample support in the stands.
“You’re popular when you’re young, and then when you’re old, the people start cheering for you again,” said Edberg, who definitely had the sentiment and sympathy vote against Chang.
Championship Sunday coincided with Valentine’s Day this year, which provided the tournament with a theme for several promotions, including a “Treat Your Love to Valentine’s Brunch” and a tableful of chocolate truffles in shiny red boxes.
The truffles, glasses of prosecco, and tickets to a drawing for a $2,500 necklace (compliments of Memphis’s James Gattas Jewelers, whose current Twitter avatar [@GattasJewelers] currently features a photo of Gattas with Kukushkin and Kudla) were sold to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Ushers handed out ServiceMaster towels, which emcee Andrew Krasny would later encourage fans to wave during his exhortations to “MAKE MORE NOISE!”
Robin Soderling was scheduled to sign autographs in The MO at 1 p.m., which was also the starting time of the doubles final. On Stadium Court, Beg to Differ, an a cappella group from Memphis University School, performed a selection of pop standards, and then the national anthem:
Extract from 25 Years of the Tennis Europe Junior Tour:
Amidst the frenetic bustle of the ‘village’ set up every year in the foyer of Tarbes’ Parc des Expositions to accompany Les Petits As, a big screen showing the second week of the Australian Open looms over the central eating area. The two tournaments on opposite sides of the globe thus progress concurrently to their respective climaxes: the superstars battling through Melbourne nights before 15,000 spectators for $40m and one of the four greatest prizes in the sport, the juniors fighting their hearts out in a cold indoor hall in the Pyrénées in front of 2,000 diehard fans and no money, but arguably the most prestigious 14 & Under trophy in the world.
It’s about as neat an encapsulation of the extremes of a tennis career as you could find – but it feels fitting to have it here. The iconic competitors whose every forehand and fist pump is magnified and replayed over us may seem larger than life, but many of them once passed through this hall in a small French town: 2015 Australian Open finalists Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray first played each other here in 2000. Fifteen years on, they serve as inspiration to the awestruck kids who dream of following in their footsteps.
“Everyone who wins here is a star!”
marvels top girls’ seed Anastasia Potapova, of Russia – the eventual champion this year.
Tarbes, a community of 50,000 in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has a proud sporting tradition – indeed, it was voted the third sportiest town in France by L’Équipe in 2010 based on the quantity and variety of sports it offered, and the financial support for them. It made sense, then, that Jean-Claude and Claudine Knaebel – a local couple with a passion for tennis – found it an accommodating site for their brainchild back in 1983.
“We knew that the 12-14 year olds were good players already – but amateurs, while the category above them had already started playing on the professional circuit,” says Claudine. “We wanted to give the youngsters experience in their own tournament.”
The local authorities immediately suggested the cavernous Parc des Expositions as a suitable venue, and – with coaches used as offices, a physio set up in a caravan and Yannick Noah, who went on to win Roland Garros that year, gracing posters – the first edition of Les Petits As welcomed competitors from four countries. By this year, that number had grown exponentially, with 32 countries represented across the singles main draws: traditional European hubs of the sport (France, Spain); recent emergent forces (Russia, Croatia), and overseas contingents travelling from as far as Asia and North America. The globalisation of tennis has been one of its most important narratives over the past two decades, and the quarter-final stage at Les Petits As proved a strong reminder of this. Over the day’s play, the diminutive fleet-footed Maltese Helene Pellicano took on the powerful Polish second seed Iga Swiatek in an absorbing match of stylistic contrasts; the ultra-aggressive strokes of Japan’s poker-faced Himari Sato, at 12 the youngest player left in either draw, thrilled spectators for a set as she pushed Russian 14th seed Kamilla Rakhimova to the brink of exit – but proved her undoing as they began to misfire throughout the deciding set. Meanwhile, though, another member of the Asian competitors, Taiwan’s Chun-Hsin Tseng, the boys’ fifth seed, was ruthlessly ending the surprise run of home favourite Adrien Gobat – and would ultimately go on to win the trophy.
Tseng is the latest example of the tournament’s pro-active approach to global expansion that has been so key to maintaining its prestige. Though he had never played in Europe before, tournament referee Michel Renaux had been impressed by the youngster’s game in an American junior event – and by his father’s devotion to his son’s nascent career, working nights so that he could coach his son during the day. Renaux extended a wild card invitation to Tseng – and it paid off, as Tseng swept to the title without the loss of a set, and indeed without the loss of any more than four games in any set, beating Europe’s top player Timofey Skatov (RUS) in the final.
There were echoes of the first time this policy paid off for the Tarbes organisers, back in its 1986 fourth edition.
“We wanted to enlarge the tournament,” recalls Claudine Knaebel. “We went to America and saw Michael Chang, spoke to his family and invited him to play. He came with his mother – it was his first time in Europe.”
The prodigious Chang also won the title – and, of course, just three years later was to become Roland Garros champion, a result that put Les Petits As on the tennis world’s radar in a huge way.
But if effective scouting is one side of the Tarbes story, the tournament’s success can also be attributed to what greets the players during their Pyrenean sojourn. Elite-level junior tennis can have something of a tough reputation: stories of temperamental, pushy or unsporting players, parents and coaches abound, and were famously the reason cited by Richard Williams for withdrawing his daughters, Venus and Serena, from junior competition. Yet at Les Petits As there is no ill behaviour on display, bar a few minor on-court grizzles.
This is a source of some pride to the organisers, who have gone to great lengths to create a ‘village’ atmosphere at the tournament. Food, clothing and equipment stalls line walkways near the courts; before and after their matches, players and coaches can be seen relaxing and socialising with each other. Indeed, Renaux states that the greatest challenge of his job – after maintaining the uniformity of the regulations – is to maintain this atmosphere.
“The aim for the players, because they are so young, is to find some conviviality in the village,” he says. “After the match, if they unfortunately lose, they are still with other players. At other tournaments, it is often just the coach and the hotel.”
This extends to supporting the children in times of real need, as well: the Knaebels recall 1995 as one of their most emotional years, when a talented 13-year-old Belgian competed the week after her mother had died. It was Justine Henin, a future legend of the game – and despite her personal trauma, she managed to make it all the way to the final that year, losing only to Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic.
It’s no wonder, then, that Tarbes holds long-lasting treasured memories for players who go on to professional careers. Renaux beams with pride as he describes Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters sending good luck text messages from Australia to the Petits As players, and 1994 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero later calling his time here his best memory as a junior. This year, one family is making a particularly special return. Way back in 1985, Canada’s Philippe Le Blanc became the first North American competitor at the tournament – again, scouted by the organisers. Two years later, his brother Sébastien followed. Both boys were coached by their father, Guy. This year, Sébastien and Guy are both back – but this time, from a different perspective, as Sébastien’s own son Alexandre is playing. Sébastien, an Olympic and Davis Cup player for Canada during his professional career, reminisces:
“This was such a boost for me, it was probably the start of everything. It hasn’t changed much – all the people, tournament directors and volunteers, are the same. They want the kids to have a good time, and the families also. The Tennis Europe Junior Tour taught me about hard work: make sure you play hard every time. We got lots of matches, met a lot of kids from all over the world. If you stay in Canada, you always play against the same kids and you never know how good you are.”
It’s to this end that Alexandre, who reaches the final of the consolation event, is now based in Barcelona.
“And in Europe you play on the red clay, which is a lot better than North American hard courts to learn the basics of the game,” notes Guy.
In fact, so impressed were the Leblancs by Les Petits As that it even inspired them to try their hand at setting up their own tournament, a 12 & Under team competition in Canada, which already counts much-touted talents such as Taylor Townsend and Françoise Abanda amongst its former players.
“We remembered how this was for us, and we tried to do the same thing,” says Sébastien.
Evidently, a successful tournament doesn’t just create the stars of tomorrow – but is key to the growth of the sport worldwide.