Rapid Fire from Roland Garros
With seven days of the French Open in the record books, here are a few quick observations from the days behind and the days ahead:
--I caught up with Israelis Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram – they of the abrupt Dubai about-face – who still aren't saying about why they bailed on becoming the first athletes from their country to compete in the United Arab Emirates at March's Barclays Dubai Duty Free tournament.
The tandem told me they are waiting to hear whether the ATP has received extra official written assurances that they can compete in Dubai, where Isrealis cannot normally travel. The deadline is Wimbledon.
“As soon as we get (the written assurance) we’ll talk,” said Ram following their second-round win Saturday. “As soon as we don’t get it, we’ll talk even more.”
Erlich said compatriot Shahar Peer also intends to compete in Dubai and therefore could beat them to the punch, as she did in Doha earlier this year, where she became the first Israeli to play an event in the Persian Gulf at Doha, Qatar. The women's Dubai tournament is the week before the men’s.
“She’s the guinea pig,” joked Erlich.
They also told me that they had ended their contract with Norman Canter, their agent and a vocal behind-the-scenes critic of how the Dubai situation was handled by tournament and ATP officials. The word is that things have simmered down and threats of a lawsuit have dissipated.
--The top half of the women's draw features seven players either from Russia or former Soviet Block countries: Sharapova vs. Safina, Zvonareva vs. Dementieva, Kuznetsova vs. Azarenka and Kvitova vs. Kanepi. The first five listed above are Russians, while Azarenka is from Belarus and Kanepi is from Estonia. Kvitova is Czech. I noted the flood of women players from countries that gained independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union in a story for USA Today last year.
--Just one native English speaker remains in the men’s and women's draws heading into Sunday: American Robby Ginepri.
--Speaking of Ginepri, if he and Federer win their fourth-round contests and face off in the quarterfinals, the two players will put Jose Higueras into a bit of a pickle. Higueras, who coached Michael Chang and Jim Courier to French Open titles, is sharing coaching duties for both players. Tennis.com's Kamakshi Tandon brought this to Federer's attention at his press conference Saturday. Said the Swiss No. 1: "He hasn't won it. I haven't won yet. If that problem occurs, I think (Higueras) is happy."
--After fretting about the absence of top French male hopes Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Roland Garros (both pulled out with knee injuries), the French boast five players in the last 16. Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau, who won Saturday, joined Paul-Henri Mathieu, Michael Llodra and Jeremy Chardy. The least known of this unlikely bunch is 145th-ranked wild card Chardy, who next faces tough No. 19 Nicolas Almagro of Spain. A reporter from L'Equipe says it's most Frenchmen in the fourth round since 1971.
--Former top-5 Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, who came back from two sets down to beat No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 and advance to the fourth round, claimed his first win over a top-10 player since Rotterdam last year (pointed out by ESPN's Bonnie D. Ford). It was the 30th-ranked Ljubicic's only top-10 win in all of 2007.