There are always these tiny moments which give you an idea of what a player is really like, not when they’re answering questions or giving a TV interview, but it’s the seconds in between which can be insightful.
After what he described as the “hardest press conference of my career” following his withdrawal from Roland Garros due to a wrist injury, Rafael Nadal went over to kiss the stenographers goodbye before exiting the interview room.
He was fighting tears during his presser and couldn’t get out of there soon enough but still bid farewell to the talented women who type every word he says at every tournament.
After an injured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired from his third round match with Ernests Gulbis and faced the press about his heartbreak, he was unable to properly understand an English reporter’s question.
Kid's got game! To avoid getting cold during Troicki's medical TO, Wawrinka recruits ballkid to help him stay loose. https://t.co/KgUAZVOwg0— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 29, 2016
“Sorry, it’s my English, it’s not you,” he told her with a smile.
On Sunday, Stan Wawrinka offered a ball kid a quick hit on Philippe Chatrier while Viktor Troicki received a medical timeout.
The young lefty went back and forth with Wawrinka until Troicki was done, in a moment that kid will definitely never forget.
Asked why he did that, the defending champion said: “I don’t know. I was a little bit bored, waiting for Viktor, talking to the ball kid. I asked him if he played tennis. I said ‘okay, let’s play’. He wasn’t afraid to be on Centre Court. He was a nice kid. It was nice for him.”
Between all the negative news of injuries, bad weather and poor sportsmanship that have dominated in Paris over the past week, Shelby Rogers and Albert Ramos-Vinolas’ fairytale runs to the quarter-finals have been two rays of light shining through a cloudy French Open.
Rogers is an American former ball girl at her Charleston home tournament, ranked 108 in the world, and with just one previous main draw victory at Roland Garros prior to this fortnight.
The 23-year-old has taken out seeds No. 10, 17 and 25 en route to her first-ever grand slam quarter-final and was overtaken by emotion during her on-court interview with Marion Bartoli after her 6-3, 6-4 victory over an in-form Irina-Camelia Begu in the fourth round on Sunday.
“When you were ball-kidding in Charleston, did you ever think that one day you would be at Suzanne Lenglen qualifying for the quarter-final of Roland Garros?” Bartoli asked Rogers.
“I always dreamed it would happen but I’m not sure I thought it could,” Rogers responded before breaking into tears.
Rogers has backed up each win this past week with an even bigger one the following round, knocking out 17th-seeded Karolina Pliskova, the ever-tricky Elena Vesnina, two-time Wimbledon champion and No10 seed Petra Kvitova, before taking out 25th-seeded Begu, who made quarters in Madrid and semis in Rome this month.
Rogers’ goal for this year was to just make the cut for the majors and she was the second to last direct entry into the Roland Garros main draw.
“Anyone that’s in the draw has an even chance, I think,” she concluded yesterday.
Her run is reminiscent of her friend Melanie Oudin’s Cinderella story at the 2009 US Open and she admits that inspired her.
“I remember it very well. It was a time we needed an American player to kind of grab on to. She was so awesome, so feisty, and just really confident. It was definitely inspirational and gave me motivation to work harder, because I see her doing it, and why not me, you know?” said Rogers, who faces No. 4 seed Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals.
“So I hope that I can inspire some people too because that’s really one of the biggest reasons why I play is for the kids growing up, for the people from Charleston. I want to be a good role model. Hopefully I am.”
Ramos-Vinolas has lost in the first round in Paris in each of the last four years. The Spanish lefty pulled off a massive upseton Sunday, eliminating eighth-seeded Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a quarter-final with defending champion Stan Wawrinka.
“Difficult to explain how I feel. It’s a lot of emotions. I’m very, very happy,” said the 28-year-old world No55.
“I think I played a very good match, very smart match. I’m very happy.
“I have been working since long time ago very hard, trying to find the way to win more matches. I think this year here I’m saying that maybe the work I did, it’s working on now.”
Six and a half years ago, Serena Williams played her last of 14 matches against Justine Henin before the Belgian retired from the sport for a second and final time in 2011.
On Monday, Henin will once again be on the opposite side of Williams, as the coach of the world No1’s opponent Elina Svitolina in the French Open fourth round.
Williams and Henin have a storied history that includes an infamous “hand incident” during a three-set semi-final battle in 2003 in which the American accused Henin of poor sportsmanship.
Henin had put her hand up, to indicate she was not ready, while Williams was serving, with the ball landing in the net. Williams asked the umpire to replay the first serve because it was Henin’s hand signal that distracted her but the umpire said he did not see it and the Belgian, who won the match, refused to come clean.
In 2011, Henin discussed the incident with Belgian press, implying she regretted her actions after which Williams took to Twitter saying: “Question, I keep hearing about an admittance to someone cheating me and lying about it after at the French open? Did she confess finally?’’
It’s been over a decade since ‘Hand-gate’ and Williams surely must have moved on.
She faces Svitolina for the third time, having beaten the 21-year-old Ukrainian in all their previous meetings that included a three-setter at the Australian Open last year.
It’s the first time Williams will play her though with Henin in her corner.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Williams says when asked what it would be like facing Henin as an opposing coach.
“It’s just really about going out there and playing your best. That’s really all I can do right now. That’s all I look forward to doing.”
Svitolina won the Roland Garros junior title in 2010 and is coached full-time by Iain Hughes, with Henin coming in as a consultant last December, when the trio convened in Abu Dhabi for the Ukrainian’s preseason training block.
Seeded No18 in Paris, Svitolina is looking to reach a second consecutive quarter-final in Paris while Williams is trying to become the first woman to defend the Roland Garros since Henin kept the trophy from 2005 to 2007.
8th time's the charm. In their 8th career meeting it's Svitolina who finally scores a win over former champ Ivanovic pic.twitter.com/uPpssazazd— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 28, 2016
Svitolina, who got her first win in eight meetings with Ana Ivanovic in the third round on Saturday, is hoping to back up that victory with a huge upset over Williams.
“I think mentally I need to stay strong, stay positive, and no more junior mentality and junior tennis, you know,” said Svitolina, who is in the second week at a major for just the second time in her young career.
“It’s been a big thing for me now, and I need to change something, my preparation in my game, as well. “Of course I still make bad mistakes, but I cannot go further without doing mistakes.
“So we’ll see. It’s gonna be a tough match, but I’m going to try my best and I’m going to give 100 per cent in that day.”
Svitolina had a difficult clay season leading up to Paris which she says was affected by physical problems. She says she feels comfortable playing in the second week of a slam, but not everywhere.
“Maybe at Roland Garros, yes. But the other slams have been tougher for me. But we will work on it, and we will see what we can improve,” said Svitolina.
On how Henin can help her take on Williams, she added: “It’s different. Justine has a different game, and I have a different game. So it’s not like I have her in my team so I’m going to play exactly like her, because it’s impossible. We are completely different persons. So we try to find something in between that suits my game.”
Williams, who completed her rain-suspended doubles second round match alongside her sister Venus on Sunday morning before returning to the court for the third round later in the day which ended in defeat, is aware of what her young opponent is capable of.
“Obviously she’s a great player, and she knows how to play well. She knows how to just play on the big scenes, as well,” said the 21-grand slam winner after defeating Kristina Mladenovic in the third round Saturday.
“So it’s just another match for me. I think today, having this match is definitely going to be able to help me out going for it.”