Personal impressions here from a journalist covering her 3rd Roland Garros: The 2019 French Open has been funneling huge amounts of hype and limelight to its stars. Attention always surrounds 11-time Champion Rafael Nadal and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. And nobody in the sport generates the interest of 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, who is back at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.
The crowds and filled-to-capacity new (and larger) Court Phillippe Chatrier have been dubbed “The Federer Effect” at this year’s tournament. The first day of this event broke a French Open record with attendance of 34,610. Nothing surprising there, given what we’ve come to know about the GOAT’s popularity.
But on Day 4, I wanted to venture away from Federer and Nadal, who I was confident would cruise to straight sets wins comfortably. I randomly picked an outer court to see the action there. I happened upon Court 13, where Italy’s Matteo Berrettini. These two young players would provide some fascinating tennis tidbits.
First of all, upon checking with the stats team at Roland Garros, I came to find that nobody is keeping deep-dive statistics on matches being played on the outer courts. I was shocked. Why wouldn’t all main draw courts at a Grand Slam get the same treatment? In some ways, Court 13 might as well have been The Statistical Sahara Desert.
But that’s okay–there was plenty to see in this match. And even more pertinent, the winner would get Federer in the 3rd round.
These two players are both baseliners, and both have extreme support from their home countries.
The Italians have invested heavily in tennis. They already host the NextGen Finals, and the ATP World Tour Finals will move to Turin in 2021. The Rome Masters also has major backing from the Italian tennis federation. Italy clearly wants its players to succeed, and the coaching support as well as the fan enthusiasm was evident at today’s Berrettini match.
Ruud is Norway’s great hope and favored tennis son, currently ranked No. 63 in the world. Ruud is the first Norwegian to crack the ATP Top 100 since his father Christian did it in 1994. Scandinavian fans were also well-represented at this match.
Maybe that was why both players looked tight, and Berrettini committed 38 unforced errors for the match on the way to a Ruud straight sets victory, 6-4 7-5 6-3. Then again, these young players’ development was the more interesting reveal.
Ruud and Berrettini each have unconventional habits. Ruud jumps unusually high on his split step, particularly on returns. It almost seems like a waste of energy. Players looking to move up and contend with the likes of Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal must study those greats’ efficiency of movement and use of energy.
On the positive, Ruud has tremendous “action” on his groundstrokes–meaning the racket head generates enormous speed and spin on the ball. He’s quick.
Berrettini, currently ranked No. 131, is a fit and tall 6’5″ but has an unusual service motion. The path of the racket and the angle of the racket head is not something seen inside the ATP Top 10. The Italian will need to take advantage of his build and dominate with his serve if he wants to move up.
At 20 years old and 23 years old respectively, Ruud and Berrettini have loads of potential among “NextGen” players. But after watching the GOATs on Chatrier and Lenglen for the first three days, it was evident why this was an outer court match. The level wasn’t quite comparable.
Still, it was exciting to see what these players might become and which path to higher development they will take. And, of course, Casper Ruud will draw focus on a show court in his next match. He is playing Roger Federer, after all.
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