In 2007, Maria Sharapova amused the world by introducing it to the Russian phrase, "like a cow on ice," used fairly common to describe a situation where one feels out-of-place and awkward. However, over the years when Sharapova struggled with a shoulder injury and then recovery from her shoulder surgery, her game developed and became more complete, helping her most on clay. With the historic men's final the day after she triumphed in Paris and the rain that prolonged it, Sharapova's achievement of a Grand Slam and return to the No. 1 ranking gathered perhaps less attention than expected. But the win, despite a relatively weak slew of opponents, puts Sharapova firmly into the annals of tennis greatness.
It seems just yesterday that the tennis community was settling down to watch any of a number of 'epic' Federer-Nadal matches at the majors. As time went on and Nadal's haircuts got shorter, his perennial opponent has been replaced with Djokovic. The end result, for the most part, has stayed the same, however: Nadal tends to prevail on clay and lose on other surfaces, with beautiful, exorbitantly hard-thought matches off the dirt, and a straightforward but competitive victory on clay.
There is another Russian aphorism that fits here, this one stemming from a basic arithmetic rule, which states that, 'changing the order of components doesn't change the total.' That is, 1 Nadal + 1 Federer +red clay = red clay + 1 Djokovic + 1 Nadal = Teeth marks on the trophy.
Sara Errani, Roland Garros Champion, does not sound completely unimaginable. In fact, Sara Errani IS the Roland Garros Champion. In doubles, that is. Errani and Vinci won the doubles crown on Friday, June 8 in somewhat of a rehearsal of Saturday's Singles Final, beating Sharapova's friend and namesake Maria Kirilenko and fellow Russian Nadia Petrova.
In singles, it's a different story. Errani is a solid player, particularly on clay, and 'a fighter' as she was referred to constantly during the tournament fortnight, but she is an unlikely major finalist, much more so than countrywoman Francesca Schiavone ever was.
Sara Errani, like countrywoman Flavia Pennetta before her, among others, now finds herself with a Top 10 ranking in both singles and doubles. We are left to see where it will go when the clay has washed off her shoes.
Small Screen, Big Egos
Sometimes, ESPN will bring a broadcaster new to tennis into its coverage. Some, like Chris McKendry and Chris Fowler before her, go through a learning process and come into their own, their love and respect for tennis obvious, and their knowledge of the sport growing each day. Fowler, in fact, has become one of the best assets for ESPN's tennis coverage team. Others, like Hannah Storm, fail miserably.
But it's the former players who make the bulk of the tennis coverage that are most frustrating. They share insights and tennis history unknown to others, but a lack of broadcast training and, often, a subtext of bruised egos, missed career chances or even a too-strong connection to certain players or coaches make watching and listening frustrating.
The French Open coverage had been rather strong compared to some previous tournaments, with a lot of time devoted to actually showing matches, but some showed once again that the only profession they've mastered was 'tennis player'. John McEnroe, 2012 Roland Garros' Men's Legends Over 45 Champion (with brother Patrick), in addition to his innate inability to stop talking over points, at one point during NBC's coverage, asked, with no hint of humor, whether Maria Sharapova would play for Russia or the United States in the Olympics, and, at another, why Robin Soderling was not playing in the French Open (Soderling continues to recover from mononucleosis, as he announced to wide media mention before the start of the tournament).
And perhaps someone should let Chris Evert, who was sending on-air broadcasters public Twitter messages in support of Federer during a match she was not commentating, know that being a journalist does not stop when you turn off the microphone or press "submit" on an article.