Paris in the spring has been truly glorious this year, and Roland Garros has never been so beautiful under the almost uninterrupted sun.
Yet, all was not well beneath the shiny surface of an event that was accompanied by a sense of fear and loathing.
The building blocks of it are varied, with some overlap. There has been the increasing encroachment of world politics into the sphere of tennis; the constant boos from the players, uncivil even by the standards of this event; boycotts of press conferences; controversy over gender imbalance in matches selected for night session; plus an investigation into the poor results of French players.
Chief among these is the subject of geopolitics and its unique importance in tennis with so many Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian players at the forefront.
The sports establishment is on edge and with good reason to be. A bloody and gruesome escalation is predicted in this European war, which could coincide almost exactly with Wimbledon. What is clear is that a relatively trivial but symbolic subplot of it all plays out in tournaments, and tennis really couldn’t have expected it to be any other way.
The French Open has had a hugely contentious few weeks. Photo above: Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka waits at the net after beating Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who passes in front
There has been the increasing encroachment of global politics into the tennis sphere, as well as constant boos from players including Ukrainian star Marta Kostyuk (pictured)
Wimbledon needs to prepare for this to continue to be played, and Russian players’ reaction to the tournament – assuming they get visas – will be interesting
The sport can hardly complain about the fallout, as it made a very clear decision to do all it could to welcome its players from Russia and Belarus, and allow them to play with the token status of neutrals.
As many other sports took a stand against allowing sporting success to be used for propaganda purposes, the world’s biggest racquet game came down aggressively on Wimbledon and British tennis, threatening it with consequences. disastrous if they didn’t toe the line.
So now there has been, almost daily during this highly publicized event, a faction of players attacking other factions and a flood of awkward questions. Every non-handshake at net when a Ukrainian completes a match against an Aggressive Nations player becomes an event in itself.
If you invite a loud guest to dinner, don’t be surprised if he dominates the conversation.
Aryna Sabalenka refused to hold a real press conference because she was embarrassed by questions from a Ukrainian journalist.
Still unable to avoid controversy, Novak Djokovic added a new dimension by scribbling a message of support for Serbia’s claims on Kosovo.
He may have felt empowered to do so, which is quite understandable, because of all that was being said and the vague rules governing political statements.
Meanwhile, his sponsors Lacoste, who are also sponsoring the tournament, have been challenged for continuing to do business with Putin’s regime. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
The Ukrainian journalist in question here, Daria Mescheryakova, has not apologized and neither should she.
It’s kind of ironic that Sabalenka complains that she doesn’t feel safe when asked about her cordial relationship with Alexander Lukashenko.
Mescheryakowa comes from Luhansk in the Donbass, but has not been able to return there since 2014.
As she told me, she is well aware of the fate that could befall her if she ever returns now.
Wimbledon needs to prepare for this to continue to be played, and the reaction of Russian players – assuming they get visas – will be interesting. The All England Club attracts a large number of specialized reporters, whose questioning has become almost the theater of the tournament. These can sometimes be funny – “Mr. Wawrinka, why is your nose so red?” was a classic of the genre – but this year they will certainly be more serious.
Novak Djokovic added a new dimension as he scribbled a message of support for Serbia’s claims to Kosovo on camera after a three-set victory over American Aleksandar Kovacevic.
The controversial message he wrote read: “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia! Stop the violence’
Meanwhile, Russian star Daria Kasatkina was also booed and slammed fans on social media
Of course, the whole issue of politics in sports is nuanced and goes well beyond the issue that is currently causing such a stir in tennis.
And no one with an impartial mind could think that individually all Russian players are bad people. In my experience, they are often bright and resourceful, with a wasp sense of humor. Who could not have attacked the charming Daria Kasatkina, so far the most courageous of them to condemn the hostilities. Daniil Medvedev can be sharp but has an endearing way of not taking himself too seriously. Andrey Rublev also comes across as likeable.
Yet some of them will inevitably see the war in a different way than the majority view in the West, and no one can be sure who really thinks what.
Suspicion hovers in the air and creates an unprecedented atmosphere, which has strongly contributed to another type of French Open – the Fractious Open.
Padel is on an upward curve, but still can’t match tennis for variety
Not a week goes by without an email arriving telling you about the latest new investments being made in padel or pickleball and how these sports are the next big thing.
As someone who loves Padel and sees his huge potential, that’s no surprise – he’s unquestionably on an upward trajectory.
At the same time, the culmination of the clay-court season this week and the impending switch to grass serve as a reminder that tennis will always claim to be the most interesting of racquet sports.
Padel is an upward curve sport, but tennis will always remain the most interesting racket sport
No surface exhibits its greatest dimensions – angles, rotations, variety of strokes and tactics – as much as clay, not to mention its undoubted aesthetic beauty.
When the grass season does start in earnest, it will show that it is almost a completely different sport, requiring a changed mindset and skill change. When the hard courts restart, it will be different again.
The fact that tennis is such a difficult sport to master probably works against it in the modern era, but the upside is that those complexities will always make it more intriguing than the games that come out of it.
Chic trend Coco Bucks at the top table
The latest edition of this column suggested that the comparative wealth of Grand Slam nations may actually work against them when it comes to producing elite players.
It is therefore interesting to note that by the second Monday lunchtime of the French Open, there was only one singles player from Australia, Great Britain, France and the United States left in the draw. fate, Coco Gauff.
Coco Gauff is the only singles player from Australia, Great Britain, France or the United States remaining in the draw
Postcard of a life on tour
A rude awakening on Sunday morning to the sound of sirens, as a major fire broke out in the high-end tanning salon a few doors down from my digs in Paris. Apparently one of the tanning machines overheated overnight.
A large crowd gathered as firefighters rushed in and you wondered if this was the most exciting thing to happen to the Porte d’Auteuil area since Molière wrote his masterpiece Le Misanthrope, at Le Mouton Blanc restaurant at the corner of the street.
But it’s actually a very pleasant area of Paris and probably a good place to live, except for the locals who walk around dragging annoying little dogs, allowed to defecate on the sidewalks with impunity.