When your sporting event is missing a 14-time champ, it is no small thing. Much the same way Bruce Springsteen’s absence would loom large at an E Street Band concert, Rafael Nadal’s absence has hovered over Roland Garros. Nevertheless, with Nadal at home (you can’t spell Majorca with “Major”) the 2023 French Open carries on. And the vacuum has been filled. By Carlos Alcaraz, another relentless Spaniard. By emerging young stars. By players from six continents. By a Ukrainian mom playing for much more than herself. By Novak Djokovic—who we sometimes forget—is fixing to stand alone, a week hence, with a record 23 Major titles.
The void has also been filled by….the French fans. They have always angled to be part of the show, whistling and doing the wave, cheering the players and booing them, often the same players, often in the same match. (Some “love to boo everything you do,” says Djokovic.) The French crowd carried the aging entertainer, Gael Monfils, to an enthralling five-set win in round one. They have rallied behind his wife, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, especially when she faces Russian opponents. They cheered against American Taylor Fritz so relentlessly and lustily, he shushed them after winning. Then they booed him for more than a minute.
There are no French players left in the draw. But there’s another week of matches. Which means innumerable occasions for the French fans to get in on the act. Our midterm grades through Week One.
Iga Świątek and Aryna Sabelenka: Top two seeds are headed for a Saturday showdown- both looking untouchable in week one.
Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz: The two favorites are playing like it. And it seems like the de facto final will be their anticipated semifinal.
Young gunslingers: The dictum that “thirty is the new 20” now seems….old. Teenagers galore. So much so that when young Coco Gauff played Mirra Andreeva, the American was three years the senior player.
GEMSLIFE: Gaël Monfils wins a thrilling five-setter (down 0-4) in the last stanza. His wife—playing for Ukraine, back from maternity leave—is still in the draw.
College tennis winners: Every year, attention gets siphoned by the French Open. But the NCAA crowned champions last weekend. Georgia’s Ethan Quinn and UCLA’s Fangran Tian won the men’s and women’s singles national champions Saturday at the USTA National Campus in Orlando. Meanwhile, Ohio State won the men’s doubles national title and the North Carolina women concluded their memorable 2023 NCAA Tennis Championships with a women’s doubles national championship to add to their team title.
Mirra Andreeva: She’s 16. and she’s here to stay.
The War in Ukraine: It’s figured prominently in week one. Players from Russia and Belarus—most notably Sabalenka—have been grilled about why they aren’t forcefully condemning the war. Ukrainian players refuse to shake hands with Russian and Belarussian opponents. Players from other countries have weighed in. Are sports and politics mingling here? Yes. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No.
Jessica Pegula: Top American shows up Iowa-flat for her third-rounder against Elise Mertens. But she’s still in doubles and mixed doubles.
Americans: There were 35 Yanks and Yankettes, a quarter-century, in the two main draws. Currently, only six remain. Dark horses include Marcos Giron and lefty Bernarda Pera.
Coaching: Midmatch consultation is allowed. And it’s hard to say it’s had much impact, good or bad—kind of a meh, as the kids say.
Alizé Cornet: Went out meekly in round one, but credit to her for playing her 64th straight Major, a real credit to her durability and professionalism.
The hosts: Maybe it’s a perverse form of hospitality. But every single French singles player had left the soiree by the first Thursday.
Jannik Sinner: A lovely kid and a lovely player. But for the fourth straight Major, he loses a five-setter, this one to German one-handed-backhand slinger, Daniel Altmaier, in a classic war…. a step down from the previous three vanquishes (Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alcaraz and Djokovic).
The balls: Player after player—men, women; older; younger—have complained about the heavy balls. The tournament gets the money. The players get the wrist injuries. Name another sport in which the competitors have no say over the equipment.
Barbora Krejcikova: The 2021 singles and doubles champ loses her first match and then—in the real shocker—lost Wednesday in doubles. Rough event for a fine player.
Netflix: Matteo Berrettini, Nick Kyrgios and Paula Badosa didn’t post. Félix Auger-Aliassime, Maria Sakkari…the first three were non-starters; the second two were out by Day Two.
Agents behaving badly: After Thiago Seyboth Wild’s five-set upset against Daniil Medvedev, a reporter asked Wild about the domestic violations against him, a matter of public record. The player declined to answer. After the session, the player’s agent angrily confronted the journalist and tried to photograph his credential. This was a completely legitimate question to ask. It was completely legitimate for the player to demur comment. What a bullying but of bush leaguery by the agent. Unless the intent was to call more attention to the client’s alleged bad acts—see: Streisand Effect—this was professional malpractice.