French Open manifested everything from perfection to putrid
By now, we know Rafael Nadal left Roger Federer licking his wounds at Roland Garros, while Ana Ivanovic established herself as the sovereign Serb. But so much more went down during this fortnight.
For many it seemed like it might never end, but as always happens, the long fortnight of a Grand Slam has come to a close at this year's French Open.
We'll ignore the fact the French is the only Slam to play for 15 days -- despite a pervasive feeling from the players and the media that it's one day too many, though probably not for the fans who can't enough of grueling clay-court tennis. For those who work the event, however, the civilized middle Sunday off day approach at Wimbledon should be a schedule set in stone at all the majors.
But 15 days it was, and a lot happened, from emotional goodbyes to startling results and anniversary celebrations. Here's a recap of some of the more notable moments at the 2008 French Open:
Fabulous in perfection
Rafael Nadal has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the man to beat when it comes to clay. He not only rolled over seven consecutive players without losing a set to win his fourth consecutive French Open title, but his near flawless 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 final victory over Roger Federer left the top player in the world licking his wounds. Nadal has dominated at the French Open since first playing here, winning all 28 matches he's contested, and there appears to be no reason he shouldn't continue to rule with an iron fist. Classy to the core, Nadal modestly says he only feels like No. 2 in the world, but his game surely looked much larger than No. 1 could handle in the final. And fans shouldn't be surprised if Nadal can negotiate Federer on the Swiss' favorite grass surface at Wimbledon in just a few weeks.
Ouch! For the past three years Federer has been on the wrong side of the final decision to Nadal at the French Open, not to mention a semifinal loss four years ago. But at least in the past Federer was able to show off some of his talent by inserting himself into the matches. That was not the case this year. Federer was flat and flustered, looking a shadow of a man who has won 12 Grand Slam titles. When the top gun suffers a more humiliating loss to Nadal than Brazilian qualifier Thomaz Bellucci, who pushed Nadal to 7-5 in the opening set of the first round, it makes people wonder. The pundits say that Federer is the next best thing to Nadal on clay, but that's got to be up for debate now.
Three times the charm
Ana Ivanovic solidified her position as the player with that indistinguishable "it" factor on the WTA Tour. It was only a question of time until Serbia would become the sovereign nation of tennis; the only uncertainty was whether it would be Ivanovic or Jelena Jankovic playing queen. Ivanovic certainly won that right when she became the first Serbian in history to take over the world No. 1 ranking and the first Serbian woman to win a Grand Slam title all in the same week. Ivanovic sent Jankovic packing in the semifinals, then handled Dinara Safina with ease in the final. Twice a bridesmaid -- in the 2007 French Open final and 2008 Australian Open final -- Ivanovic became the tennis bride on Saturday.
So close, yet so far
History making was in the offing for Dinara Safina if only she had made good on her first visit to a Grand Slam final. Safina was cruising on a 12-match winning streak, which included victories over top-10 players Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva to win the Berlin title heading into the French. Safina solidified a reputation in Paris as the Comeback Kid, wiping away match points against Maria Sharapova and Dementieva in the fourth round and quarterfinals, respectively. But she couldn't climb the mountain a third time against Ivanovic in the final. Oh, but if she had, it would've been the first time that a brother and sister had achieved Grand Slam greatness.
Vive le France
An infectious personality, Gael Monfils looks quite the marionette as he dashes and darts around the court. The first Frenchman to reach the Roland Garros semifinal since Sebastien Grosjean in 2001, Monfils had France flushed with excitement. To his credit, he seemed unperturbed that he was playing world No. 1 Federer in the semis. Until the last point, whether it was Monfils or a puppeteer pulling the strings, the Frenchman showed a fearless approach in facing Federer. Unfortunately, Gael could not create enough of a gale wind to upend Federer, but he should be proud of taking him to four sets. It wasn't only Monfils' magic that delighted French fans -- wild-card recipient Jeremy Chardy went all the way to the fourth round with wins over sixth seed David Nalbandian and 30th seed Dmitry Tursunov.
Borg returns home
Since Bjorn Borg won the last of his six French Open titles in 1981, he has rarely visited Roland Garros, where he reigned so relentlessly. But Borg's visit to this year's event for the final weekend allowed his fans to see all is well with one of the true superstars of the game. Borg certainly has lost the shyness that was part of his persona in his playing days. He not only agreed to hold a news conference on Saturday afternoon, allowing the established corps of international journalists pick his brain, he actually arrived 20 minutes early. Sweden's favorite son is looking good at 52. Come around more often Bjorn, the sport could benefit from your involvement.
What to do about the Williams sisters. So much talent, so often squandered. For the American contingent at this year's French Open, it became the day the earth shook when both Serena and Venus were ushered to the door by lesser opponents -- Serena by Katarina Srebotnik and Venus by Flavia Pennetta -- in the third round. The last time the two sisters lost on the same day at a Grand Slam was right here in 2004 when they both lost in the quarterfinals -- Serena lost to Jennifer Capriati and Venus lost to eventual champion Anastasia Myskina. One thing you can credit the Williamses with is they always keep you guessing. Just when you think you've got them figured out and they're sounding so interested in playing tennis, they throw in a double fault.
Au revoir, Guga
It happened all the way back in the first round, but it provided a poignancy that pervaded the entire atmosphere at this year's French Open: Three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten, hobbled by a bad hip that ended his career too soon, bid farewell to his career. While he has said that if an Olympic berth is offered he might make one last appearance, for all intents and purposes, this was Guga's final goodbye as a professional player. From his first surprising victory here as an unknown to his two that came when he was an established force in the game, Kuerten added a pizzazz to Paris -- samba drums and dancers continuously circled the Roland Garros grounds all the times he was crowned king of clay.
The last American standing
For Americans on clay, it's typically a waiting game to see which players show the fewest allergies to the surface. This year that prestigious honor fell to Robby Ginepri, who stayed around long enough -- the fourth round -- to allow an American to be recorded in action. That was a huge achievement for Ginepri, who never before went beyond the first round in Paris. And it was a huge showing for the American men, who the previous year had nine players show up and lose in the first round. They came, they played and now they dust off the dirt and head to Wimbledon, where the U.S. contingent will have a better chance of mowing the grass.
80 years grand
To commemorate the the 80th anniversary of the Stade Roland Garros, past champions were celebrated before Sunday's final. Some of the biggest applause by the crowd was for Bjorn Borg, Ilie Nastase, Gustavo Kuerten and Yannick Noah -- the latter being the last Frenchman to win the title here in Paris in 1983. Borg, who won a record six titles on this stadium court, choked up when he addressed a few words to fans: "This is sort of my second home, playing on this court," said an emotional Borg. Some of the others in the parade of champions were Fred Stolle, Guillermo Vilas, Andres Gomez, Mats Wilander, Mary Pierce and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.
Springtime in Paris
The image has long been held as a given -- the romance of walking along the Seine, soaking up the sun and taking in all that makes the City of Lights so elegant and special. Well, that's not exactly how it went as these two weeks of spring rarely yielded sun, putting forth a steady dose of dreary, damp days. That's not to discourage fans from making the trip to the French Open, where the red clay provides an excellent backdrop for well thought-out matches. But if Roland Garros is in your future, don't forget a lined raincoat and your parapluie.
Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
2008 FRENCH OPEN
French Open Video
May 25-June 8
Women: Justine Henin
Men: Rafael Nadal
Day 15 • Men
• Ford: Nadal simply too good against Federer
• Garber: Federer resolute in confidence, ability
• Harwitt: Rafael Nadal the best clay-courter ever?
• Photo gallery: Best of Week 2 from Paris
• Ubha: French Open men's final instant analysis
Day 14 • Women
• South Americans take men's doubles
• Garber: Maturation, confidence help Ivanovic
• Ford: Zen-like calm elevating Ivanovic
• Harwitt: Can Ivanovic hang on to No. 1 ranking?
• Ubha: French Open women's final instant analysis
Day 13 • Men
• Bob Bryan, Azarenka win French mixed doubles
• Garber: Federer in need of a monumental effort
• Ford: Nadal handles Djokovic with relative ease
• Harwitt: Borg spends birthday extolling Nadal
• Who will win the French Open women's final?
Day 12 • Women
• Garber: Ivanovic, Safina set to duke it out
• Ivanovic to take over No. 1 ranking
• Ford: Djokovic ready to reshuffle world order
• Latest Dirt: Men's semifinal preview
• The big three: Federer looking past Monfils?
• Harwitt: Safina's mom has reason to extol virtue
• Men | Women
• Latest Dirt: Women's semifinal preview
• The big three: Federer semifinal streak lives on
• Harwitt: Rolling out the red carpet
• Tennis.com: Federer's time right now
Day 10 • Men | Women
• Garber: Serbs thriving because of each other
• Chip and Charge: Assessing the French
• The big three: Nadal-Djokovic ready to battle
• Sharapova to fall from top spot after French Open
• Men | Women
• Garber: Sharapova sent packing by Safina
• Latest Dirt: Americans officially done
• Garber: Ranking the sweet 16 players
• The big three: Federer and Gonzo to clash
Day 8 • Men | Women
• Garber: Ferrer worthy of being in top five
• Latest Dirt: Evaluating the top-five players
• The big three: Humdrum day for Nadal, Djokovic
• ITF to probe player's claim she was told to lose
• Ex-French Open winner Pierce hoping for return
See all stories from Week 1