Andy Murray is running straight toward you. He's running so fast you begin to think that, to avoid the low wall that's the only thing standing between the two of you, he might have to do a flying leap in the general direction of your skull. Murray starts sliding at the doubles sideline. He keeps sliding until he’s threatening to take your front row seat. You realize something else at this moment, now that you’re at court level, that you never realized quite so viscerally before: Andy Murray is not small. A collision would probably work out better for him than it would for you. At the last second he tries to flick a backhand down the line, but he can’t bring the ball back into the court. Murray ends his slide just in time to stand straight up and avoid falling over the wall. He looks down the court, into the stands on the other side of the net, where a group of his opponent Juan Ignacio Chela’s fans are sitting next to Murray’s entourage. It’s not clear which of these groups he’s referring to when he points his racquet in their direction and mutters, in a tone of downbeat exasperation, “Oh, shut up.”
It seems that at each Grand Slam I write about the “best court in the world to watch tennis.” I’ve claimed the title for the Grandstand at Flushing Meadows, the old Court 2 at Wimbledon, and, at the start of this week, Court Suzanne Lenglen here at Roland Garros. I guess when I find a court I like, I suddenly can’t imagine watching a match anywhere else.
But my first love, my first favorite, was the Bullring, where I saw Murray yesterday. I loved the courtside seats because they could make a match seem unforgettable even when it wasn’t a classic in the broad scheme of things. You almost certainly remember Marat Safin dropping his pants against Felix Mantilla on this court in 2004, but what are the chances you ever heard about the five-set, third-round throwdown between Albert Costa and Xavier Malisse that same year, in which Malisse, against every odd, came back from two sets to one down to win. It was incredible to me then, watching the length and quality and variety and competitiveness of their rallies, the amount of talent required and energy expended on each side, that this was really just another match among thousands, and that each player would have to forget it as soon as possible. One shot would inspire a whispered “Holy ----,” the next get would elicit a mumbled “Jesus Christ.” Afterward, it almost seemed like it had all been a waste, that these guys were too good at what they did, that the skills of the pros weren’t impressive in the ordinary sense of the word—they were bizarre. This isn’t a reaction I’ve had anywhere else.
Maybe this is only true from the press seats, I don't know. They’re up close, along one of the baselines. You can hear the players breathe as they wait to receive serve in the ad court. You can also hear what they say under their breath, which, in Murray’s case, is virtually impossible for this American to understand. That may be a good thing.
I watched two matches in the Bullring on Wednesday. The first was between Svetlana Kuznetsova, the defending champion, and Andrea Petkovic, a 22-year-old Bosnian native and German citizen who has carved out a persona as the WTA’s resident Goethe-reading hipster (she says she eats at McDonald’s, too). There’s a lot to like about her game. She’s tall and lean, with short, sharp strokes that she has no trouble landing a few inches from the baseline, and a service motion with the virtue of simplicity. By the time I get to the Bullring at the start of the third set, though, Petkovic has held, and lost, four match points. I don’t expect much resistance from her from here on.
Despite winning the French Open, Rafael Nadal will be seeded merely No. 5 at Wimbledon, opening the prospect of a quarterfinal with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray.
Action at the French Open
Take a look at the best shots from Roland Garros in 2010.
Scenes from Down Under
Check out the best images from the 2013 Australian Open.
The best of Wimbledon
The best images from the Grand Slam tournament at the All-England Club.
French Open 2012: Top 10 Shots
June 10, 2012: John McEnroe, Ted Robinson, and Mary Carillo look back at the Top Ten best moments from the 2012 French Open.