jeudi 3 juin 2010

A Roland


Rafa
on the red clay at Roland Garros
Men's Simples 1/4 final against Nicolas Almagro
June 2, 2010


What am I doing here today, home, not "à Roland"? It was my first Grand Slam tournament, and it was exceptional. Entering Philippe Chatrier for the first time was something like walking inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral or Yankee Stadium (the old Yankee Stadium, of course) for the first time. Roland Garros is stunning, impeccable. The sunshine helps a lot, too. Ask anyone who wandered around its lovely, leafy avenues and walks the last few days.

And I don't even play tennis.

I watch tennis. A lot of tennis. And, today I was going to get to see current number 1 Serena Williams play Samantha Stosur, who has shot up from the shadows of doubles tennis to seize the WTP 7th place ranking this year.

Serena and Venus -- and everyone between them and her -- had best watch out, though, because Sam Stosur won't be number 7 for long the way she played yesterday. That said, Serena certainly won't be the top-seeded woman's tennis player for long, either, if she continues to play yesterday as she did. She looked lost on the court.

I had raced through finishing the details for the window trim and the framing for it to send off to the wood shop before heading "à Roland" (that is how the tennis snobs say it, said my husband, kissing me good-bye yesterday morning, accent on the "Ro" of "Ro-land"). I was taking my bike in. No traffic worries, no parking issues. No excess fat in the travel time. If my husband still kisses me good-bye in the morning, that is not to say that he doesn't express his frustration with our progress in the "petit salon".

By early last week, he had resorted to swearing and breaking his work, and so I had thought it wise to take on resolving the problem of how to attach and support the window trim. Something I should have done from the beginning, rather than not anticipating and leaving him to figure his way through a nightmare.

When I had shown the guys at Point P the plans, they said there were angles specially made to support window and door trim. When I finally saw those angles weeks later (they didn't have them in stock, but it didn't seem pressing at the time; we'd solve that problem when we got to it... manana. It usually works.), I realized instantly, on the spot that they were all wrong for the job. That's when another guy at the other Point P, the one even my stepdaughter could see was flirting with me, suggested I use shears to cut up metal framing to make angles and glue the wood trim to them, setting me, unbeknownst to myself yet, on a course for my nervous breakdown in Leroy Merlin.

Glue the wood trim to them. Pshaw.

My husband had seemed relieved for the first couple of days, when he returned home from work on that Wednesday evening last week, ready to attack the problem again, and I announced, "Non, J'ai une solution. Tu n'as rien à faire. Je suis allée voir le monsieur au Comptoir des Bois, et on va nous faire un cadre. Je vais leur donner les détails." He had settled on the sofa, Roland Garros on the TV.

He remained, surprisingly, patient and calm through the "lost" weekend of work.

"Ca va aller plus vite une fois qu'on aura le cadre prèt à fixer en place," I cooed, hoping to sound reassuring and make him forget about the precious hours and days slipping past.

It worked. At least it did for a few days, until he determined that waiting is worse than trying and failing and swearing. Why, he wanted to know, was it taking so long?

"Nous ne sommes pas leurs seuls clients, même si on m'aime bien, tu sais. Ils ont plein de boulot dans l'atelier." The shop, I explained, was working full-out, and we aren't there only clients, as much as they like me, which is to say so very modestly a lot. It's mutual. I just wish they used poplar.

He grumbled a little more on Sunday, and I very possibly served him a finger's whisky and some saucisse sèche and olives, leading him to the sofa.

Monday, it wasn't so easy to distract him.

"Alors, on a le cadre?" Think fast.

"Uh -- non."

"Pourquoi non?"

"Parce qu'ils n'ont eu les détails que vendredi soir --"

"Ils travaillent le samedi, n'est-ce pas?"

"Oui, mais l'atelier est fermé le lundi. Ils coupent du bois de lundi au vendredi, est il n'y a que calcun au comptoir de vente le samedi matin, alors, on me dit demain." I told a little falsehood there. I didn't really think they'd have it the next day. He'd sounded, the man who runs the place, rather doubtful about that, but since I'd have to go to Roland Garros on Wednesday, it seemed it wouldn't be much of an issue in the end.

I handed him another finger of whisky and the rest of the saucisse sèche, the last few black olives from the pouch.

Tuesday, I was frantically trying to finish the same details for the large window, hoping to take them to the shop and pick up the framing with the finish trim for the small window. But, that was the day my brain felt much too small.

I spent the day in front of my laptop at the dining table in my pyjamas and a cashmere sweater, fighting the chill of the rain that had fallen for several days, interrupting play at Roland Garros and soaking the freshly bloomed English roses in the border I could see through the kitchen window, the William Morris and Ingenious Mr. Fairchild, the Anne Boleyn and Pegasus, the Kathryn Morley and -- oh! -- the peonia orientalis I had saved from beneath some other plant and replanted two years ago, now much fuller and producing a number of buds that had opened without my even noticing. My only exercise was the frequent trips I made to and from the petit salon, taking measurements of the big window that, oddly, seemed to contradict each other.

It was only after two or three to remeasure the same thing that it finally occurred to me to measure the other side of the window. 82 cm.

How could that be? The other side was 83.9 cm. I was sure of that. I measured it again anyway. 83.9 cm.

The window was -- crooked? I grabbed the level and held it along the bottom of the window frame. The little bubble located itself way over to the right side of it's little window.

No.

I held it up along the side frame, and the little bubble was nowhere near the center of the two marks in the little window.

No.

Yes. The window had been installed close to 1° off the plumb.

Damn.

This means that if you install the frame for the trim and the trim itself on the vertical, the jambs of the trim will start out on the window frame, but by the time they get near the top of the large window, it will sit out past the frame on the right side, closer to the hinges on the left.

Damn.

Do you install the whole thing titled 1° to the left, or do you bring the jambs in closer, enough to just barely hit the edge of the frame at the masonry opening at the top?

I decided on the second, because you have to decide something, and rolled the dice. Hours had passed since I sat down to do what I thought would take a morning. I was still there in my pyjamas when my husband came home.

"Alors, on a le cadre?" He is, have I mentioned?, dependable.

"Non, j'ai travaillé toute la journée sur les détails pour la même chose pour la grande fenêtre, et j'ai raté le Comptoir." He nodded.

He nodded?

Yeah, I know. It was amazing, but he nodded and that was it.

Wednesday, I jumped out of bed, raced to my laptop, slammed out the JPGs to send to the Comptoir, in between doing the laundry, collecting everything I'd need to a day in the sun or rain, or both, at Roland Garros, printing my e-ticket, making sure I had my rain gear for the motorcycle (just in case), and made it out the bottom gate at 12:20 pm for a "shortly after 1 pm" rendez-vous at the Mousquetaires entrance on Avenue Gordon Bennett.

Just outside Mantes on the A13, once I hit cruising speed of 130 km (let us say), my scarf floated up from where it was tucked into my suede jacket, and began to tickle my chin and nose. It was not knotted. It could, therefore, fly away, and I really needed it for the sun during the matches, now that I have to hide in a chador, according to my dermatologist. At the same time, my bangs came lose and began to poke my eyes and the bag containing my rain gear, tied to the reservoir in front of me (which isn't on a F650CS) with a bungie cord started to flap in the wind. All I needed was enough of that for the thing to work its way lose, and my 100 euro (on sale) rain jumpsuit would fly away, too.

Damn again.

After using my left hand to try to secure the bag and then to push my scarf down into my jacket for the 40th time, I finally stuck it in my teeth, slowed and headed for the rest stop. Odd the number of times I need to stop there, or ask my husband to do the same when we are on his bike, to fix something or another. I am thinking, in particular, of shaving my head to keep the hair out of my eyes. Taking off again, I raced on to the Avenue de la Porte d'Auteuil, found a place to tuck my motorcycle between some cones on a traffic separator, the last in a growing line of motorcycles and scooters doing the same, changed into my sandals, stowed my gear and headed for les Mousquetaires entrance.

Roland Garros! En fin!

It is exciting. It is exciting like it is to get off the tube in Wimbledon and imagine it teeming with tennis fans. Storied names, like Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field.

[Note that I did not say Fenway Park. Ahem.]

My friend was there, where she said she'd be, waiting for me, and we headed off to decide where to get sustenance food to take up into the court, since my problems had made lunching civilly impossible -- damn, again --, and use the rest rooms near Le Village, where a group of really excited papparazzi were swarming up on a deck. Who could it be?

"I wish we could go up and see!" said my friend. I looked at the tournament employees lined up across the steps to the entrance terrace and shook my head.

"That is never going to happen. We're not ever going to know who it is," I laughed, just as an unmistakable head of hair moved past, surrounded by cameras.

"It's Amélie Mauresmo," I pointed to the dirty blond long hair, blown-dry and attractive now that she is retired from the courts.

"Is that -- Marcos Baghdatis?" breathed my friend.

I scanned every face visible, hoping. There was one that could maybe have been Baghdatis, but --

"If that's him there, then he looks sort of old for a pro tennis player," I said.

We walked on in our search for the café she had spotted the year before, never found it, got cash (of course there are ATM machines at a BNP Parisbas sponsored tennis tournament, silly!), made it through the ladies' room, got food and headed to our seats. Philippe Chatrier. I was going to Philippe Chatrier.

You're not too jaded to be excited, noted myself.

"Not at all," I confirmed. "I am here, and it's unbelievable!" We handed the young women in their Roland Garros tenues our tickets, they made very small and precise rips -- nothing is haphazard or inelegant at Roland Garros! -- in the top corners of our tickets, and we made our way up the stairs to the last staircase, Escalier 1, to our seats, and there, directly in front of me at the far end of the court was the France Télévision broadcast "terrasse", the long bank of television commentators' windows, the stands, and, I caught my breath, the stunning brick-red of the fabled center court with a figure in turquoise at the far end, Serena Williams, and another in navy blue at our nearer end, Samantha Stosur.

Serena and Samantha!

I have defended Serena Williams and cheered for her. I have admired her accomplishments in tennis and don't like to hear women or Rafael Nadal trashed by my husband, but yesterday, I had to start asking myself, "Can this be Serena?"

The New York Times can call this match a "fiercely fought" one, but I saw a Serena Williams who seemed at a loss to know how to play someone like Sam Stosur, who played tennis with all of the confidence of a major key and grace notes. Correctly, they attributed Serena's keeping up at all to a few exceptionally well-timed aces (unlike Nadal, who managed 3 back-to-back later). Once, the tigress appeared, and hope swelled, but how could you really not cheer for Sam, who never let down? Whose economical shot seemed to pack tons more power and speed? Whose cross-court slices and passing shots left Serena watching along with the rest of us? Who constructed her points like she was playing chess?

I wanted to watch Serena do it again, but she didn't. It wasn't a "bad" match, but it was a disappointing one for all that Serena Williams ought to have been able to deliver, and didn't.

Could it be that she just isn't used to someone not falling apart in front of her aura and power? asked Myself, during a particularly gritty moment in the match.

"Maybe," I replied. "Maybe. In any case, Sam isn't backing down, is she? And she's got more than enough smarts, shots and determination to do it. Not to mention energy."

[Serena does look much trimmer in person, though, I'll have you know.]

I turned to my friend and shared my suspicion, "Could it be that Serena just isn't used to anyone not failing to respond to her tennis and mental strength on the court?"

"Maybe," nodded my friend. "You can really see that she was a doubles player. The way she plays the net, her serve. She has a classic tennis, like Justine, with all the smart shots, and not just that baseline power tennis, smashing the ball."

My friend blames Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova for today's tennis, played by everyone coming onto the circuit. She loves Henin. Stosur took down Justine on her way to clearing Serena out of her path to a Grand Slam title and their number one spots.

"Maybe," she added after a moment, "Stosur will change tennis. I have been waiting for someone to come along and take it back."

Maybe she will. In any event, Serena Williams didn't have enough arms to outsmart her on the court, or the stamina to chase down those rapid-fire cross-court slices, fore or backhand.

A NYT reader thought the same thing:
This is unfortunately not a real shock. If Serena wants to win this tournament again before she retires, she will have to get into better physical shape like she was in 2002, learn to construct points better and generally not expect opponents to crumble.

Or, as The Australian put it so poetically (for Serena):
In the space of three days, the 26-year-old Queenslander has proved she can overcome the game's extremes: for Williams is to Justine Henin, Stosur's fourth-round victim, what an 18-wheel truck is to a sports car.

Just as Stosur was able to beat the fleet-of-foot and crafty Belgian with her own game of judicious angles on Monday, last night the Australian showed her power game could more than match the brute force of the American, particularly on clay.


Adding just a few paragraphs later:
After gaining the break, Stosur did to Williams what the American usually does to her opponents: she monstered the world No 1. The Australian won the next eight points with a flurry of winners to claim the first set.

"she monstered the world No. 1". Yup. That's what I saw. Stosur can do it all.

Nadal, though, and Almagro! That was another matter. From the first service return I saw Almagro hit, I knew we were in for a two-way tennis match, even if the 3-0 score up on the big screen when we arrived to take our seats, after a trip to the restroom (if it were going 5 sets...), to get more water and check out the t-shirts in the Lacoste boutique near the tribunes, and the brief wait until they changed sides, seemed to announce otherwise. Like Serena, Rafa can take time to settle into a match. Break him early, but don't get too excited about it, or at your own peril. We wanted 5 sets; we didn't want to see Rafa lose. We got 3 sets; we didn't see Rafa lose. It was electric tennis.

They exchanged a break in the first set, and did not at all in the second to finish them 6-7, 6-7 for Nadal, two tiebreakers in which he outscored Almagro 15-4, while they went 103-101 in the rest of the match, but he broke Almagro for 5-4 to serve for the match, and two match points later, when Almagro sent a backhand shot down the line long, he tore off his bandana and shook out his hair, victorious in straight sets.

Never mind that that backhand shot went long, he has one of the most beautiful backhand swings in tennis.

My bike was there waiting for me, in the lowering sun at nearly 8:30 pm. I put my boots back on, knotted my scarf, and turned around the Porte d'Auteuil to head back out on the A13, making plans for next year.

Oh, did I mention that I ran into chair umpire Kader Nouni, and shook his hand?

"Hey! You're the chair umpire! I'm sorry I forget your name," I said, holding out my hand.

"Yeah, I'm the chair umpire," he said, taking my hand and shaking it, just as someone who looked rather important came up behind me and said, "Ah, ravi de vous voir!"

"Ravi de vous voir, aussi," replied Kader Nouni, taking the older gentleman's hand in one and his shoulder in the other. He's officiating at the men's semi-finals tomorrow.



This morning, my husband asked me, "Tu vas chez le Comptoir des Bois?" Persistent and focused, isn't he?

"Oui, mon chéri, j'y vais."

Right now, I am off to start pruning the primrose hedges that are choking off our access to the pool and the motorcylces down in the bottom garden.

Update: It appears that Richard Williams agrees with me about the Number 1 spot, only he's got Aravane Rezai in mind for it. See the interview on the Roland Garros site. Maybe. That's what I thought, too, watching Madrid, but if I were a betting Sisyphe, I'd put my money on Sam Stosur.
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