World No 1 Novak Djokovic shows up as the overwhelming favourite to record a routine win over Stanislas Wawrinka to capture the last piece of the puzzle on his way to becoming only the eighth man in the Open-era to win tennis’ elusive Grand Slam. After all, by slaying King of Clay Rafael Nadal along the way, the scene was set for the Serb to extend his 28-match winning streak even further and take his Majors tally to nine titles.
But the French tennis gods are a strange bunch. They run the show on their terms.
Nobody doubts Wawrinka’s credentials, but he was on a hiding to nothing reaching the final. As a one-hit Grand Slam wonder going into the meeting, he was trying to become the oldest man to capture the title and was also in dangerously deep in uncharted territory after only reaching the quarterfinals once on his previous 10 visits to Paris.
But the lopsided tale of the tape made the Swiss underdog the perfect candidate for yet another twisted French script.
I honestly feel for Djokovic, who has started doubting his chances of ever completing the career Grand Slam. With three runners-up places and the clock ticking, it is no wonder he will start thinking he might be stuck forever in an unwanted group with Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, who all failed to capture the Roland Garros crown despite winning the other three Grand Slam crowns.
If it wasn’t for Robin Soderling, even the great Roger Federer might still have been part of this group. Soderling ended Nadal’s 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros in 2009 by winning in the fourth round and was duly beaten by Federer in the final.
But again, it wasn’t serial world No 1 for most of the time during Nadal’s first 10 visits to Paris – Federer – who inflicted the Spaniard’s only defeat in his first 67 outings at Roland Garros. This honour was reserved for the unheralded Swede.
Out of Djokovic, Sampras, Edberg and Becker, Edberg, actually came closer than Djokovic to bagging the French title when he was within a set of success in Paris in 1989.
But my boyhood hero Edberg had a Paris party-pooper of note. A 17-year-old laaitie who had lost four of his first 11 Grand Slam matches going into the tournament and believed defence was the best form of attack. In what turned out to be his only Grand Slam title, Michael Chang kept Edberg from adding a senior career Grand Slam he had captured as a junior.
The French rollercoaster isn’t limited to the men’s draw either. In 1997 “Swiss Miss” Martina Hingis had the unique opportunity to win a calendar Grand Slam at the age of 16.
Australian Open: check. Wimbledon: check. US Open: check. French Open: oops.
Anybody remember the name Iva Majoli? The unfancied Croat beat Hingis in the French final that year which eventually denied the teenager a massive slice of history. You guessed it, that was Majoli’s only Grand Slam title.
I don’t know whether to love or hate this frantic French novel, but I can’t wait for the 2016 chapter.