OUR FIRST STORY: Tennisreporters.net, in Paris at Roland Garros

Pete Sampras, French Open, Roland Garros 2001


We started TennisReporters.net in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with TennisReporters.net. We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

FROM PARIS (2001): Having the glorious distinction of being the reigning Wimbledon champions means little in Paris other than being fortunate enough to have a gaggle of British journalist ask you whether you are planning on taking wildcards into Queens or Nottingham. Pete Sampras and Venus Williams discovered that quickly this year at Roland Garros; Venus, after she was bullied by Barbara Schett in the first round, and Sampras, when he was unable to uncork a bottle of white wine named Galo Blanco in the second round.

Sampras had perfect conditions this year to rid himself of the plague of Sisyphus in Paris  — hot, dry temperatures and only a little breeze. He had a great draw and actually followed his coach’s game plan to the tee – come in at all costs, run around your backhand and take a lot of chances on the return. 

But Sampras is nothing on clay when he’s not serving well and his forehand is sporadic. He is without a weapon. First, he barely got by No. 250-ranked Cedric Kauffmann. Then his serving performance against Blanco was one of the worst he has ever put on and he made a decent but not great player’s backhand look like Bjorn Borg’s during his prime. Sure, Blanco passed with precision, but it wasn’t as if Pete was making him guess much on his service games or was hitting deep approach shots.  The winner of a record 13 Grand Slam titles again failed to put together back-to-back wins at Roland Garros for the fourth successive year.  “It’s very frustrating, I knew what I had to do in that match and I just have to give him credit,” Sampras  said. “He came out with some clean passing shots. He had me on my heels and dictated all the baseline points. He just played better than I did – plain and simple.” 

Agassi zeroed in on Pete’s problems. “It’s straight fundamentals. It’s never been easy for a game like Pete’s to do well here. He’s great at turning an entire point around with one shot. On clay, you know, you can’t. You have to fight off three or four (shots) then slowly turn the point around, then slowly finish it. A guy like Alex) Corretja will slide to the forehand and buy himself a lot of time for the shot selection. Pete on the other hand will run to the ball, slam it, then slide. All that is doing is giving him much less time.  There’s nothing that you could teach Pete that’s going to make it any easier.” 

Blanco joins the list mediocre players who have taken down the dirt-challenged Pete in Paris: Gilbert Schaller, Ramon Delgado, Thierry Champion. Sampras will be 30 next year when he arrives at Roland Garros and even if he says he has many years to left to try to take the French title, you just don’t see aging serve-and-volleyers do well on the dirt anymore. Sampras may be the worst all-time great to ever comepete at Roland Garros. All of Open-era legends did better here – Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Edberg, Borg, Lendl, Wilander, Courier. Sampras would be better off taking his mind off the clay and zoning in quickly on the grass. He is titleless in ’01, having an awful year and is in danger of finishing the year out of the top-10 for the first time since ’89. He needs to take the fast train to London, find a pub, down a few pints and remember just what kind of player he is supposed to be.

Venus is another question all together. Williams was humbled 6-4, 6-4 by the Austrian powerhouse Schett, rendering her dream of grabbing the No. 1 ranking from Martina Hingis in the near future mute. “I just had a very, very rough day,” said Williams. I wasn’t playing normal.”

A confused Williams appeared to have her thoughts elsewhere, as the muscular Schett ate up her weak second serves and exploited her shaky forehand with blowtorch returns and a wicked forehand. Considered by many to be the tour’s hardest hitter, Williams frequently found herself on the defensive, unable to control the center of the court nor read where Schett was going with her shots. The Austrian also served effectively, stretching Williams out with a biting slice serve and occasionally running flat serves down the middle that left Williams flat footed. “It was my groundstrokes,” said Williams, who committed 43 unforced errors. “I couldn’t keep a ball in. I was making quite a few errors for no apparent reason.”

Williams did manage to fight off three match points in the contest’s final game, but unlike numerous times in the past, Schett didn’t seize up and Williams couldn’t pull herself through. 

Venus has played sparingly this year, but did win the Ericsson Open, devastated the field in Hamburg on clay and then was upset on dirt by Justine Henin in Berlin. She has never performed well here and why she thought that playing two clay court warm-up events was enough preparation for her stated to desire to win Roland Garros this year is confusing. She needed more preparation to find her footing on the clay and to be able to groove her groundies. The 20-year-old believes she has been playing enough. “I never dreamed it would turn out like this,” Williams said. “Normally I turn it around but today it wasn’t there.”

The Compton Crusher is not going to win a Grand Slam by using the retreat as her most common tactic, which was her main strategy against Schett. She’s now essentially in the same position she was last year, approaching Wimbledon with two bad losses in her last two Grand Slams. Can she repeat her 2000 performance and grab glory at both the All-England Club? Not if she brings the same attitude that she did to the court against Schett.

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