Friday, 30 May 2008

The Latest Quest V

Serena Williams is no more. She went out and her conqueror Katerina Srebotnik was a joy in the press conference saying that she had worked very hard on her doubles play which fed into her singles life.

Srebotnik may have had a coach watching Serena on Wednesday night and if she did the coach would have said: "Make her move."

For Serena was looking ponderous on Wednesday night and she was moved all over the place during her defeat.

I have a chance to improve my play station prowess. There's some Xbox thing in the restaurant and when you're not watching tennis you can relax by playing it on some machine.

I was Boris Becker this afternoon, the studio producer was Roger Federer. It was one way traffic as poor Boris was annihilated.

Obviiously need to go and work on my forehand buttons.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The Latest Quest IV

Well I suppose it will go on being the latest quest for some players. The top men are into the third round. While Rafael Nadal looked pretty tasty, Roger Federer got through but it was not as brutal as Nadal's deconstruction of his opponent.

Still can't see Federer winning this tournament. Just doesn't look the part. He looks good but not quite the part.

Shame as he needs it to complete his grand slam collection.

Maria Sharapova was giving the ball an almighty lathering on centre court. I still think there should be a code violation for going over a certain decibel level.

It puts me off. And I'm not even on the court. But I guess those girls on the tour are used to bellows. If it's not from their coaches then it's their adversaries.

I find it loud and vulgar. It's certainly not cricket.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The Latest Quest III

What a difference a ridge of high pressure makes. Play got underway on time at Roland Garros. And with that a semblance of normality cradled the tournament.

But while day three was disrupted by torrential downpours, day four was hampered by wind. That doesn’t stop matches but it wrests the protagonists from their smooth grooves. But at least they were playing. The organisers are probably just praying.

They need some sustained good weather to shift the backlog of matches so everybody has a fair chance of ultimate glory. After all we’d hate to see Rafael Nadal playing his quarter and semi-final on the same day. But the Spaniard is just such a beast on this surface, he’d probably win anyway.

But we should take nothing for granted. Last year the event came down to who would Justine Henin carve up in the final – she was that dominant. And in the men’s we wondered if Roger Federer would surpass Nadal. With Novak Djokovic having risen to the top table and proving more than able to cut Rafa and Roger up rough, there’s an air of uncertainty in the men’s.

With Henin retired it’s wide open among the women.

In an effort to quell his curiosity, one journalist asked the Russian fourth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova a question about who she – without naming names - realistically thought had a chance of getting their hands on the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. The girl from St Petersburg said five of the top 10 and a few dark horses outside. Most of us would have left it there. But no, there was a further incursion.

“Top five of the top 10?” She looked at him and smiled.

“You say you don’t want names and then you ask top five of the top ten?” She laughed it off.

But it would be mouthwatering to have a crystal ball. If I knew the results I could go round in a smug haze pontificating with the sagest of them. But we’re not here for certainty.We’re here for the thrills.

To see rising young bucks, jangled with adrenalin, besting their betters, that’s what it’s about. For the children here on the first Wednesday, making inordinate amounts of noise is what it’s about. I’m told it’s a tradition.

Far from being a crusty old goat, I think there are certain strands of tradition that should be eradicated with maximum prejudice. But at least the children are in the stands. Centre court is often barely full while the people with tickets are elsewhere enjoying corporate hospitality.

For a would-be punter to be told there are no tickets for sale and then watch the TV to see a half empty stadium, makes no sense. But it’s happening more and more. A tradition should be introduced in which spectators who aren’t in their seat for at least three quarters of a match (calls of nature and basic subsistence are of course permitted) should be ceremoniously ejected by the Court Police.

True, there are overtones of Orwellian menace. But at least it would stop the notion that some spectators are more equal than others.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Latest Quest II

Just when I was thinking the main story at the French Open would be about either only the sixth man in history to win all four grand slams or only the third man to win four consecutive Roland Garros crowns….the posters put me right.

At Porte D’Auteuil, about a 10 minute walk from the hallowed courts, there was a massive Adidas poster slapped up against a building showing Novak Djokovic and Justine Henin.

Above Djokovic - there was the alluring prospect that the Serb world number three might collect his second grand slam title.

As for Henin, Adidas’s star tennis player quit 11 days before the beginning of the slugfest. The marketing people obviously couldn’t pulp those posters so – this is ingenious this – they’ve simply adorned her picture with: “Four titles, bravo et merci”.

Until the sunburst finish, Henin won seven grand slams and around 20 million dollars in prize money.

As she chews the cud and pats her belly in her native Belgium, she’s proably tinkering with the offshore accounts and trilling a similar refrain.

She’s alright with her stack but what about Adidas’s next star girl?

But if Adidas were left in the lurch by Henin’s summary decision to retire at 26, pity poor Lacoste. The French clothing line has bolstered the wardrobes for generations of colour co ordinated Euro smoothies.

It too has a poster at Porte D’Auteuil showing the label’s founder René Lacoste in action from his heyday in the late 1920s and his modern heirs namely the American Andy Roddick and the French pair, Richard Gasquet and Tatiana Golovin.

Problem is all three have withdrawn from this year’s Roland Garros due to injury.

Roddick and Golovin went well before the tournament began but it’s the loss of Gasquet that has been most keenly felt.

He is the great French hope. Since he was an embryo in his maman’s womb he has anointed the man to lift La Coupe des Mousquetaires – a tribute to Lacoste and his all conquering compatriots Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon.

And all France is yearning. Well, they’re waiting. It’s 25 years since a Frenchman hoisted the trophy aloft. That chap was a certain Yannick Noah who was discovered by Arthur Ashe.

I read an interview with Noah when I was at school – so let’s say it wasn’t last week - in which he explained the dichotomy of being a black tennis player in France. He outlined that when he won he was French and when he lost he was le Camerounais.

Since he beat the Swede Mats Wilander in 1983, he’s been überFrench. That must be the only reason why he can get away with being a singer.

But I guess that if Tim Henman had won Wimbledon in his late 90s pomp – and no English man has done that since Fred Perry in 1935 – young Henman would doubtless have been made a knight of the realm and given swaths of the golden land.

Gasquet says his gammy knee will be operational come Wimbledon in a month and it has to be said his game does seem to have more chance of ultimate success there than he will ever have on the clay courts of Roland Garros.

But there would be a beautiful symmetry; a Frenchman sporting a French clothing line winning the French Open.

There’d be chansons d’amour indeed.

For the moment Lacoste has hitched its tennis campaign to a trio of non-combatants. That’s such bad luck. Roddick, Golovin and Gasquet will be back in due course punching away their volleys and ripping their forehand passings shots in their sponsored attire

But, in the meantime for the rest of us, there’s a great choice of colours.

Monday, 26 May 2008

The Latest Quest I

They love an underdog at Roland Garros. And so the crowd cheered every winning combination that Roger Federer drew from his bag of tricks.

The Swiss world number one may have already 12 grand slam titles and reached the last two finals here in Paris, but he’s been decidedly second best on both occasions to the Spanish clay court maestro, Rafael Nadal.

Federer started his latest attempt for the French Open on Court Suzanne Lenglen – an intimate venue named after the French champion from the 1920s. She was nicknamed La Divine. And she was a one. Renowned for her innovative free-flowing skirts and elegant shots; she was the type to quaff champagne after swatting aside the inconveniences known as the opponent on the other side of the net.

He who would be Le Divin certainly has an old world nonchalance about his game.

Effortlessly penetrating half-volleys off his feet as he moves into the court, a deceptively lethal forehand and an unreadable serve, there’s not much that the 26 year-old cannot do. While the others grunt their malevolence, the Swiss is silent menace. Federer eased past the American Sam Querrey without too much fuss. He said later in his press conference that he was happy to have advanced to the second round.

That was before the rains came down midway through a day of changing conditions. And the problem is that when the heavens open there isn’t that much to do within the stadium complex.

Suddenly the stalls promoting various makes of racquets become the most enthralling thing in the world. But that’s for the people who haven’t been able to huddle under the centre court walkways. Those lucky few stand around blocking the thoroughfare. And it turns into an effort to get out into other areas of the grounds.

Experience has taught me that the best thing to do at the first sign of rain is to vacate the centre court press box and head towards the RFI studio atop Suzanne Lenglen. But it was compelling on centre court today. The crowd was cheering on the underdog with a passion.

And why not. Tzipora Obziler from Israel was giving the American eighth seed Venus Williams a hard time. From 4-4 in the second set, the Israeli won three games in a row to take the set and go a break up in the decider.

As the first droplets of rain spattered about the centre court there was a sense of a shock in the offing. But Obziler refused to accommodate the upset and she promptly lost her own serve. Venus held to lead 2-1, took the Israeli’s serve for 3-1 and just as it all seemed wrapped up, she faltered and we had the prospect of an upset again. No. Very wrong. From 3-2 to Williams it was suddenly 6-2. Venus, pirouetting daintily, waved triumphantly to the spectators and off they came.

Those who had tickets to see Nadal against the Brazilian qualifier Thomaz Bellucci prepared themselves. But the men did not show. Worse still, the covers came on. And that’s where they stayed until play was abandoned at just after 7pm.

The hardy souls that had stayed perched under umbrellas on their seats within the show courts were at least regaled with replays on the giant screen of clashes from yesteryear. It’s one way of passing the time during a rain break but it’s hardly value for money after a certain point.

Tickets will be reimbursed 50 per cent if there’s been two hours play or less and completely refunded if there’s been less than an hour of slugging. You pay your money and take your chance as a spectator at Roland Garros. No wonder they love an underdog.

Friday, 9 May 2008

The Bank Holidays II

Just as I thought it was safe to return to a normal routine, there's the disruption. The children are due to go back to school on Tuesday morning. Wednesday is the usual day off and next Thursday there's a strike at the school.

Shame that the stoppage isn't on Tuesday. That would have been helpful as everyone could have stayed away on their long weekends a tiny bit longer. But this is not to be. They're all supposed to be back at their desks and then away again. May has been full of blazingly hot days so far, but it's a washout in other ways.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The Bank Holidays

I have become all confused. I've been here nearly eight years and yet the May Bank Holiday extravaganzas leave me blitzed. Today's day off is for the end of world war two. There's another day off coming on over the weekend.

I just hold my breath and close my eyes and then it's all over.

The school holidays ended on May 5 and before you know it they're into truncated weeks. Methinks the holidays should have just fallen in the bank holiday binge. But that would be logical and I have learned many things during my time here.

Do not expect logic. Hell that's why I live here. It isn't obvious.

At least the swimming pool was open this morning. I went with the missus a few days back and we found an appalling level of service. There were no lockers available. Either in use or broken. So I had to put all my worldly belongings in my bag and stick it by the side of the pool.

I wasn't so worried about my Euro laden wallet being taken more my Paris Passe Famille which allows me free access to the pool. If that had gone..well interaction with bureaucracy is not good at the best of times.

Just imagine it during the bank holiday beano.

The horror.

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Drawings

Quite how the Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson got a hold of my Guardian email address, I'll never know. And it seems quite churlish to ask.

The invitation arrived a few weeks ago to go along to the press view of an exhibition on Saul Steinberg at the foundation down in the 14th.

So as today was the day off I went. And it was excellent. Well that's what I wrote in the visitors' book. When confronted with such tomes, there's a pressure to add something spectacular. There was a book in the gite where we stayed in the Loire. I did not consign my thoughts to it.

However when the email from French Country Cottages arrived about whether I was satisfied with my stay, I did fill that out suggesting that it might be a good idea to get the address right.

But at least the telephone number was correct.

Anyway, the Steinberg exhibition was excellent so I thought why not put "excellent". At least I didn't spend minutes trying to be creative. Got on with the task of enjoying the drawings.

A range from the playful to the political. The whole creative gamut.

Sadly the latter has excaped the football team for the season and we're going back down to division two. One inglorious season in the top flight. And it's all over. The team we came up with whom we beat at the beginning of the season is staying up. We've just not adapted well with key injuries and of course I'm sure me going to Ghana and missing six weeks didn't help.

Though I'm not so sure about that given that I've missed two good chances to score a goal in recent matches.

This has caused no end of existential doubt. I do not know what happened for I expected to score.

And the fact that I didn't has left me rather perturbed. Fortunately it was not going to alter the course of the match. But it's all about personal satisfaction.

Just have to get back out there and try again.

Obviously need a midweek five a side football match.