French Open Grades

As we briefly swat the terre battue out of our sneakers and slip across the English Channel to grass, here is my French Open report card:

A+: Rafael Nadal

This should really be an A+++. Relentless Mallorcan Masher takes clay-court tennis to a new realm. He ties Borg's mark of four consecutive crowns without dropping a set and humbles Swiss maestro Federer along the way.

A: European tennis

The stats don't lie: The fourth round of the French Open featured 30 of 32 players that hail from the Old World. All 16 women were European, the only time that has happened at a major in the Open era, while the last non-European man to win a major remains stuck on Gaston Gaudio, the '04 Roland Garros champion from Argentina.

A: Ana Ivanovic

The dark-haired beauty with the sweet disposition conquered her nerves and confirmed her No. 1 status with her first major (and also avoided the ignominious label of becoming the third ascendant to No. 1 without a Slam after Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo). But would she be holding the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen if Justine Henin hadn't literally handed it to her?

A-: Serbs

The Big Three of Serbia - Jankovic, Djokovic and Ivanovic - all advance to at least the semis of a major for third time in last five Slams. Pool draining for tennis has no doubt become an epidemic all over Belgrade.

B+: Dinara Safina

Baby Marat showed her Berlin title was no crazy stroke of luck by again beating three top-10 players to reach her first final in a major, and in dramatic, fighting fashion, no less. The broad-shouldered Russian didn't have enough gas at the end against Ivanovic, but more good things should come for the 22-year-old who has long toiled in her brother's shadow.

B+: Gael Monfils

On the 25th anniversary of Yannick Noah's win, the 6-4 Gumby with the love of McDonald's and American rap bolsters dispirited Gallic hopes after head-case Richard Gasquet and fragile Jo-Wilfried Tsonga pull out of the tournament. If Monfils can learn to become a more disciplined shotmaker, the upside is bright. If not, he can commiserate with the other best-known Yankophile in France, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose own popularity is sagging.

B: Robby Ginepri

We've expected more from Ginepri for a while, which is why he doesn't get a better grade. But the 25-year-old gave the U.S. a boost by reaching the fourth round after going winless in five previous French Open appearances. The reward: A trip to the Olympics after jumping from No. 88 to No. 59 in the rankings.

C: Argentine Tennis

The land of cheap steak produced three of the four men's semifinalists in '04 (Gaudio, Guillermo Coria and David Nalbandian) and another finalist in '05 (Mariano Puerta) but Argentina's once mighty clay force couldn't punch it's way out of the third round. Only qualifier Eduardo Schwank advanced that far. Not to be harsh, but even he world's guest, '77 champ Guillermo Vilas, shows up more consistently.

C-: Williams Sisters

Serena, 26, and Venus, 27, go out on the same day just as they did in 2004, only this time it's not the quarterfinals but the round-of-16. Regression? Whether this represents decline or not is up for debate, but a second Roland Garros title for Clan Williams (Serena won the sisters' only crown in '02) seems unlikely. 

D: Pablo Cuevas

Leading the top-seeded Bryan brothers 5-1 in a tight third-set tiebreak in the fourth round, Uruguay's Cuevas chooses a shortcut and hops over the net in front of the American twins rather than walking around the net post as is customary. The good-natured Bryans refuse to shake Cuevas' hand and call his actions "classless." Cuevas and partner Luis Horna of Peru, who have never played together before, go on to win their first Grand Slam title, proving that poor sportsmanship is no obstacle to professional glory.

F: The Weather

After two weeks in which the temperature barely touched 60 and the sun shone a total of about three hours, I'm looking forward to getting to London -- so I can warm up.

Honorable mention: Ashley Harkleroad

How do you grad a Playboy pin-up until you see the performance? Georgian Harkleroad, 23, reaches the quarterfinals in doubles and the second round in singles but causes small sensation by revealing she is Hugh Hefner's August cover girl.

Finally, here are my two wrap up stories on the men and women’s finals in Monday’s USA Today.


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