Commentary

Best (and worst) from the French Open

Updated: June 7, 2011, 8:42 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

Six months ago, if you had told the casual tennis fan Rafael Nadal would win the 2011 French Open, it wouldn't have come as much of a surprise. And sure enough, Nadal made it six titles at Roland Garros on Sunday to tie Swede Bjorn Borg.

But that doesn't tell the entire story. Oh, no, far from it.

Nadal, for a change, didn't enter the tournament as the overwhelming favorite, and as it turned out, was far from his best. He struggled.

Li Na, who had never won a clay-court title before, ended the drought in the right place to become China's first Grand Slam winner.

Over the next 20 years, more will surely join the list.

It was indeed an absorbing two weeks in Paris, and we look back on the fortnight with fond memories.

MVP: Li Na

Was the women's field wide open with the absence of Serena Williams and an injury cloud hovering over Kim Clijsters? Of course.

But no one should call Li, an Australian Open finalist in January, an unworthy Grand Slam winner.

Li toppled three serious contenders in succession -- Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova -- before taking out defending champion Francesca Schiavone in the finale.

Li's turning point came in rallying from 3-0 down against Kvitova, the long Czech, in the third set of their quarterfinal.

Li certainly grew into the tournament, as she needed more than 2½ hours to dispose of another Czech, the tricky Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, in the first round.

Ample credit should be given to Li's new coach, Michael Mortensen, whose ultra-calm demeanour is a perfect fit for Li's combustible on-court personality.

If Li can avoid a letdown, she has a great chance at Wimbledon.

Best match: Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic

Nadal, looking ahead to Federer's semifinal with Djokovic, summed it up nicely: It's the "best player of the world today against the best player of history," Rafa said. "It's going to be, in my opinion, a fantastic match."

And on this occasion, the encounter lived up to the hype.

The first set produced bone-crunching tennis, as Federer and Djokovic, two superb athletes, sparred for an extended 70 minutes. When Djokovic clubbed his forehand, Federer would reply with an even bigger forehand.

Nadal delayed his arrival into the press room so he could watch the pivotal first-set tiebreak. In the end, Federer's serve proved vital in a four-set victory that ended the Serb's 43-match winning streak.

The crowd was far from impartial, rooting for Federer as if he was one of their own; rarely has a non-Davis Cup clash featured such an atmosphere.

Best match, runner-up: Fabio Fognini versus Albert Montanes

Note to tennis fans: Get a ticket to whichever court Fognini will be playing on at next year's French Open.

Docked a point and scolded by fans in 2010 during his controversial late-night match with local darling Gael Monfils, this year Fognini saved five match points on one leg in the fourth round against Montanes.

There are those who will argue, and probably rightfully, that Fognini shouldn't have been allowed to take a medical timeout deep in the fifth set, which he won 11-9, as it appeared he was suffering from a cramp. But umpire Louise Engzell, who bizarrely came out of her chair to direct Fognini to his own chair in the seconds leading up to the timeout, let him have one.

Montanes couldn't keep the ball away from Fognini's hitting zone, and the Italian thumped winner after winner. He also saved one of those match points with a superb drop shot.

When Fognini prevailed in the end, he was mostly booed.

Sceptics would suggest he pulled out of his quarterfinal against Djokovic -- which he had little chance of winning -- only to convince folks he was injured.

Engzell, incidentally, was somehow picked to officiate the women's final, and she messed up checking a mark on a Schiavone serve.

Costliest miss: Roger Federer

This was Federer's finest opportunity to beat Nadal at the French Open. Had he won, the "greatest of all time" debate would have been over, his supporters were saying.

Despite being in the latter stages of his career at age 29, it's the closest he's come.

The moment that changed the complexion Sunday was Federer's drop shot while holding a set point at 5-2 in the first. Right idea, but wrong execution, as the ball landed barely wide.

"I definitely thought that I got maybe a touch unlucky there," Federer said.

If the ball lands in, Federer might win the match.

Ironically, a Federer drop shot was one of the reasons he won the third set.

Biggest disappointment: Caroline Wozniacki

Wozniacki wasn't expected to win this tournament. What she was expected to do was advance beyond the third round.

Instead, the world No. 1 -- a fitting non-Slam ranking for the Dane -- was routed 6-1, 6-3 by veteran Daniela Hantuchova, a spotty performer at majors.

Playing less, and thus having time to work on aspects of her game, would do Wozniacki well. Thankfully for Wozniacki, she is scheduled to compete during only one of the two weeks heading into Wimbledon.

Nerviest player: Viktor Troicki

Troicki, Djokovic's buddy and fellow Serb, had a history of not being able to close out important matches. That was evident against Djokovic at last year's U.S. Open and in Japan versus Nadal in the fall.

Having won the so-called "live" fifth and deciding match in December's Davis Cup final, Troicki was supposed to have progressed.

Not quite enough, it seems.

As harsh as it sounds, Troicki's collapse against Andy Murray in the fourth round had to be termed a "choke." Troicki led 5-2 in the fifth set and was serving at 5-3, 30-0. He panicked on a backhand sitter at 30-all and was unable to recover on the ensuing point, and Murray ultimately prevailed 7-5.

Honorable mentions go to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Caroline Garcia, although they're both teenagers.

Strangest moment: The overeager ball kid

Ball kids do a tremendous job in mostly perfect anonymity.

Once in a very rare while, this happens: With Troicki in the midst of putting away an easy smash against Murray in the fifth set, a ball boy began running from one side of the net to the other, necessitating a let.

Murray won the replayed point, Troicki was ticked, and the ball boy was inconsolable.

No real damage was done, since Troicki broke in that same game.

Keep your head up, kiddo.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.