Li Na Li Na China) beats Francesca Schiavone (Italy) 6/4, 7/6 in the women's final, becoming the first chinese player to win a Grand Slam. The trophies were presented by former Australian tennis champion Evonne Goolagong and Jean Gachassin, President of the French Tennis Federation.

Li:  Narrowly denied in Melbourne, she finished what she started in style this time by sweeping the final nine points of the women’s tournament.  Like Schiavone last year, Li accumulated momentum with each round and metamorphosed almost visibly from fallible beginnings to an ironclad ball-striking machine.  Undaunted by the scrutiny of her compatriots, who celebrated her victory deliriously, the Chinese star relied upon self-discipline and composure as much as forehands and backhands.  When nerves finally crept upon her late in the final, she quelled them with the ruthlessness of a battle-scarred champion.  At a battered 29, Li probably will not emerge into a dominant contender for years to come, yet her breakthrough may have opened the long-awaited floodgates for the Asian game.  Rather than exploiting a decimated draw, moreover, she slashed her way through the most arduous route that anyone could have devised for her.  Neither Serena nor Venus nor Henin nor Clijsters nor Sharapova ever has defeated four consecutive top-10 opponents en route to a major title.  Li Na has.  Valedictorian

Nadal:  Already reeling from consecutive losses to Djokovic in Madrid and Rome, the top seed stared at a dangerous deficit against Isner’s mighty serve just three sets into the tournament.  Two weeks later, he stood as the champion after defeating three straight top-5 opponents at major for the first time.   Especially impressive was his comprehensive victory over Soderling, which illustrated Nadal’s ability to elevate his form almost overnight in response to a threat far more formidable than any that he had previously encountered.  Also encouraging were his comfortable victories in tiebreaks against Soderling and Federer, situations in which nerves might have ruffled his invaluable “calm.”  Only sporadically at his best throughout the fortnight, Nadal saved mountains of break points, struggled to consolidate momentum, and shanked more routine strokes than in any of his previous French Opens.  None of those frailties ultimately derailed him, a fact that should intimidate his rivals more than if he had won the tournament in impeccable fashion.  He enters Wimbledon favored to complete a third Channel Slam.  A+

Rafael Nadal - 2011 French Open - Day Fifteen

Federer:  Unwilling to serve the function of semifinal trampoline for The Streak, the 2009 champion served brilliantly and moved almost as well in a match that appeared a larger upset than the rankings suggested.  Often looking listless and deflated early this year, Federer contrasted with the pallid Serb in displays of visceral emotion throughout the match that demonstrated his undimmed desire.  At match point, his emphatic ace down the T felt just like the vintage era of the Swiss legend’s dominance, during which he seemed invincible on crucial points. Of course, he faltered again in the final against Nadal, failing to serve out a crucial first set and conceding the last set in anticlimactic fashion as he still could not solve the riddle of Rafa’s cross-court forehand.  But that felt just like old times too.  A

Schiavone:  Perhaps even more unexpected than Li’s title was the second straight finals appearance of her last victim, discarded as a bizarre anomaly until lightning nearly struck twice.  Defeating a series of younger and more powerful opponents, Schiavone reveled in returning to the scene of her greatest achievement instead of shrinking from the stage like so many surprise champions.  She rarely overpowered opponents with a single blow but rather entangled them in elaborate, meticulous snares.  From her feisty three-setters against Jankovic and Pavlyuchenkova shone her joy and passion for competition, rarely witnessed in a WTA of overwrought young women.  Although the Italian fell in the rankings by failing to defend her title, she rose in stature by defying the odds to come within a round of doing so.  Last year, Schiavone earned our praise; this year, she earned our respect.  A

Murray:  In an ironic twist, the Scot finally learned how to generate offense on the sport’s most defensively oriented surface.  Previously tethered to a spinning forehand far less potent than those of other top-5 players, Murray suddenly accelerated his racket speed, struck the ball earlier, and found himself with groundstroke weapons on both sides.  Whether he can permanently incorporate the innovations of Paris (and Rome) remains an open question, but his compatriots must have delighted to watch his exploits.  Nor should one neglect his courageous effort in surviving a third-round injury to record his best performance at Roland Garros.  Outside the injury, this fortnight held nothing but positives for Murray.  A

Djokovic:  Did he peak too soon at the clay Masters events?  Djokovic’s ability to endure the grueling fortnight of Roland Garros remains subject to doubt on psychological and physical grounds, for he brought less swagger to his meeting Federer than his 41-0 record would have suggested.  A step slower and a several degrees less intense than his conqueror, Djokovic failed to defend his winning streak with the ferocity that he displayed in similar circumstances against Murray in Rome.  All things must come to an end, though, and the Serb may feel liberated from his surreal 2011 record.  From a broader perspective, moreover, he remains unquestionably the dominant player of the year and likely to overtake Nadal for the top ranking during the summer.  A-

Maria Sharapova - 2011 French Open - Day Eleven

Sharapova:  After a sizzling spring that led from Indian Wells and Miami to Rome, she entered Roland Garros determined to revive her relevance at majors following seven straight pre-quarterfinal defeats.  That skid looked likely to continue a set and a half into her encounter with French prodigy Caroline Garcia, at which moment Sharapova steeled herself to forget the swirling wind, her precocious challenger, and the dirt that has bedeviled her throughout her career.  From that stage forward, the Russian blasted all of her artillery with unbridled aggression as she cast aside conventional wisdom, thrust her opponents on the defensive, and dared them to do something about it.  In the end, only the eventual champion could, and only after Sharapova had delivered her finest Slam performance in more than three years.  The French Open probably will elude her forever, but other majors may not if her serve stays with her just a little longer.  A-

Bartoli:  In a quarter with Wozniacki, Kuznetsova, Stosur, and Julia Goerges, the idiosyncratic Frenchwoman somehow became the last woman standing as she rejoined the top 10.  Breadsticked in her first set of the tournament, Bartoli profited somewhat from an evacuated section but delivered impressive victories over Goerges and then the 2009 champion.  Impervious to the surface advantage of her opponents, this player most renowned for her grass-court talents translated her flat strikes to clay as she perhaps benefited from the new balls.  The first Frenchwoman to reach the semifinals here since Mary Pierce, Bartoli demonstrated fortitude as gritty as the surface.  Like Sharapova’s surge, her semifinal run will have inspired similarly clay-averse peers by reminding them that players, not surfaces, win matches.  A-

Russian women (outside Sharapova):  While the former empire of women’s tennis may not have struck back with full force, it rumbled ominously by sending six citizens to the final sixteen.  The exploits of Makarova and Kirilenko owed a debt to vacated draws around them, but the fearless hitting of Pavlyuchenkova not only led to a first Slam quarterfinal but augurs promisingly for the teenager’s  future.  Twice rallying from deficits against Zvonareva, she dominated Schiavone through a set and a half and then battled her with stunning tenacity in a bare-knuckle third set before finally succumbing—on that day, anyway.  Somewhat less surprisingly, 2009 champion Kuznetsova scored her best string of victories since February en route to a somewhat disappointing loss against Bartoli.  B+

French men:  Notorious for meltdowns at their home major, three contrasting Frenchmen left an impact on the Paris dust by reaching the second week.  An unassuming grinder who suits the clay in personality if not in playing style, Simon scored a commanding victory over the recently imposing Fish.  In the lower half, Monfils repeated an earlier French Open victory against Ferrer with a five-set battle stretched over two days during which he somehow preserved his focus.  Perhaps the most satisfying run came from tormented genius Gasquet, though, who atoned for squandering a two-set lead against Murray last year by reaching the fourth round after defeating Madrid semifinalist Bellucci.  Close to the top 10 again, this sensitive Frenchman finally had the opportunity to bask in the applause of his compatriots.  B+

Old men:  Entering the second week without losing a set were Federer, Ferrer, Murray, and…the 32-year-old Ivan Ljubicic.  Although Nadal soon halted that trend, the Croat merits mention for his ability to outlast the recently woeful but much younger Verdasco and Querrey.  Less immaculate in the early rounds, the ageless Chela penetrated even further than Ljubicic after outlasting Falla in a five-setter.  As young stars like Dolgopolov and Raonic imploded early, these veterans proved age, in Li Na’s phrase, “just paper.”  B+

Kvitova:  Falling to the eventual champion at three of the last four majors, the WTA’s highest-ranked lefty came closer than anyone here to derailing Li.  The Czech led by a set and later by 3-0 (nearly 4-0) in the final set before injudicious shot selection provided her opponent with a vital respite.  As that match oscillated through violent momentum shifts, though, Kvitova demonstrated her best, her worst, and the fact that not much lies between those poles.  This latest mercurial youngster can look forward to more stunning titles and unsightly first-round losses in equal proportion.  B+

Petkovic:  Surging to the second week for the third straight Slam, the German edged to the verge of the top 10 and reaffirmed her supremacy over her compatriot Goerges.  Petkovic survived challenging three-setters against Gajdosova and Kirilenko that illustrated her mental as much as her physical fitness.  Equally adaptable to all surfaces, she has shaved many of the rough edges off her weapons to yield a balanced style with few glaring weaknesses.  On the other hand, the Petko-dance and its progeny must depart for good if their creator aims to become something more than a WTA Monfils.  B+

Victoria Azarenka - 2011 French Open - Day Nine

Azarenka:  Through the first four rounds, the fourth seed looked like a genuine favorite as she surrendered no more than six games in any match.  Holding her ground against Li for a set, Azarenka demonstrated her combination of lithe movement and explosive offense possessed by many former Roland Garros champions.  When adversity struck, though, Vika faded swiftly once again as her record in Slam quarterfinals fell to 0-4.  Still unable to withstand the psychological pressure of a major, she showed that her bark remains worse than her bite.  B

Soderling:  Although he could not deliver the upset on this occasion, the Swede again unleashed some of his finest tennis at Roland Garros despite unimpressive displays at the preparatory events.  For a player who labored to string together victories since March, a Slam quarterfinal represents a hopeful step forward towards his majestic form in January and February.  B

Jankovic:  Suffering her fourth consecutive pre-quarterfinal loss at a major, she displayed flashes of her former self during one of the most entertaining fourth-round encounters.  In that loss to Schiavone, Jankovic displayed more feistiness and agility than in most of her victories this year.  Nevertheless, those extended battles of will that she once used to win now repeatedly slip away from her.  B

Ferrer:  Once again, the diminutive Spaniard stood tall at the preparatory events by reaching consecutive finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona before extending Djokovic to three sets in Madrid.  Once again, Ferrer shrank into mediocrity at the clay major in a five-set loss to Monfils in which one would have expected his dogged resilience to prevail.  Without denying the Frenchman credit, one must suspect the Spaniard’s self-belief as a reason for his underperformance at Roland Garros, for one cannot question his fitness in the best-of-five format.  B-

Wozniacki:  Stagnant if not in recession since Indian Wells, the world #1 concluded her clay campaign in embarrassing fashion with a 73-minute loss to the hardly intimidating Hantuchova.  In a major without the Williams sisters and effectively without Clijsters, Wozniacki spurned a golden opportunity to capture that legitimizing major title.  For an intelligent girl, she has exhibited a notable lack of intelligence with regard to setting her schedule and priorities.  Wozniacki should contemplate the unenviable fate of Jankovic after she reached #1 and proceed with caution.  C

Stosur:  Toppled to the edge of the top 10, the Australian has shown scant glimmers of the player who dispatched Henin and Serena here in 2010. While the giant-killing Dulko has upset three former #1s and Henin in the past three years, Stosur’s far mightier serve and forehand should have enabled her to dominate their meeting.  Instead, she squandered a third-set lead and continued to show a mind much less sturdy than her muscle.  When she lost to Schiavone, it still seemed just a matter of time before she claimed a major; a year later, the question has become not “when” but “whether.”  C

Ana Ivanovic - 2011 French Open - Day Three

Ivanovic:  For the second time in three tournaments, she bageled a first-round opponent en route to a loss.  Neither mentally nor physically capable of competing across three sets at the moment, Ivanovic has not reached a Slam quarterfinal since winning this tournament three long years ago.  Her body will heal eventually, but will her mind?  She arrived in Paris with little match practice and less confidence, though, so her early demise didn’t exactly surprise.  C-

Technology (or the lack thereof):  Let there be light, quoth the gods of Roland Garros, but not until 2016.  Meanwhile, captivating encounters such as Djokovic-Del Potro, Ferrer-Monfils, Murray-Troicki, and almost Federer-Djokovic stretched from one day to the next, wearying the players and diminishing the suspense.  On another note, the absence of Hawkeye cost Schiavone a crucial point late in the women’s final that would have brought her within a point of a third set.  Upholding tradition does not require freezing a tournament in the—literally—Dark Ages.  D for Darkness

Berdych:  Who is “Stephane Robert?”  Most tennis fans outside France do not know.  But you will never forget.  F

Almagro:  The more dedicated among us do know something about Lukasz Kubot, albeit mostly in doubles.  And the especially dedicated among us know enough about him to know that someone of the Spaniard’s talents cannot excuse himself for wasting a two-set lead against the lanky Pole.  F

Del Potro:  Handed a brutal draw after an injury absence, the 2009 US Open champion gallantly fought past the titanic serve of Karlovic and snatched a set from Djokovic.  While the latter accomplishment looks less splendid in retrospect, Del Potro deserves applause for summoning the courage to challenge a player who had looked invincible until that stage.  If the Serb could find no answer for his forehand at its best, nobody can.  Incomplete

Clijsters:  We expected little from her and got less, as the Belgian suffered the second first-week Slam loss of her comeback to accompany the three Slam titles.  Casting a pall over her tournament from the outset was the ankle injury that hampered her movement and probably should have forestalled her appearance here altogether.  Now, can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put her back together for Wimbledon?  Incomplete

 

 

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