French Open Tennis 2008 Review - The Amazing Story Just Told

by : David Horne

"Ivanovic fulfils grand slam destiny" and "Rafa the undisputed King of Roland Garros." These were headlines that could have been written before the tournament and so the 2008 French Open transpired. This year was probably as predictable as the French Open can be, with all the favourites reaching the semi's and the favourites winning the title.

Allez Justine! On the girls side the shock retirement of Justine Henin threw the draw wide open. Justine's beautiful clay court game had dominated the French Open for many years her form and comments leading up to the French suggested something was amiss, but retirement just before her favourite tournament seemed unthinkable.

After her superb 2007 season it seemed the lonely lifestyle of the women's tour was beginning to upset Henin and she becomes another young retiree of the circuit. Her game added flair to the women's tour and she will be sorely missed by lovers of the game.

Russia vs Serbia! Maria Sharapova stepped into the #1 ranking following Henin's retirement but the truth is that on clay she is not comfortable moving. Following two narrow victories she crashed out to fellow Russian and surprise finalist Dinara Safina. Like Sharapova, Serena Williams hoped to fill the void left by Henin but like Sharapova she isn't comfortable with the vagaries of the clay. Ultimately it was a battle between the Russians and Serbians as the draw reached the second week.

Semi finalists Kutznezova and Jankovic are both very fine players and Jankovic could easily have won the tournament if given some extra luck and a favourable draw. She is a fine competitor and seemed to fight injuries, fluctuating emotions and her opponents as she pushed Ivanovic to 3 sets in the semi final. She needs desperately to improve the penetration on her serve if she is to take her game to the next level and become a grand slam champion

Ivanovic was peerless all tournament and she seemed a more mature and composed player to the one who lost her nerve in last years French Final. While occasionally inconsistent, there is no doubting the superb quality of her ground strokes when in the groove. She is the new #1 and will now be hunted by several contenders for the coveted year end top ranking.

Ivanovic's forehand is elite and she made Jankovic pay for some weak 2nd serve, most notably on match point. She has a tendency to experience patches of high unforced errors, but this tournament she was mentally strong enough to get through these aberrations and steady her game. At the end of the semi she was going for her shots like champions do in close matches.

The Big 3! The big 3 men Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were all untroubled through to the semi finals, unlike the girls tour, these three appear clearly ahead of the rest of the field at this time. They three are unsurpassed all court players, equally strong on offence or defence, it is this that sets them apart from their competition. Ferrrer and Davedynko are both fantastic counter punchers but lack the attacking weapons while Blake and Roddick lack the defensive strength to cope under pressure against the top 3.

Despite the humiliation of the final, Federer is still a superb competitor and reached the final despite being well below his best all tournament. Whether he can regain his touch and win Wimbledon for a 6th time is questionable. To beat Nadal and Djokovic, even on his favourite court, he will need a surge of confidence and form in the next month. After Wimbledon he should take a long lay off, he seems to still be affected by the illness which struck him at the start of the year.

Djokovic is still player of the year winning on different surfaces at the Australian, Indian Wells and Rome. His game is so impressive, so intense from the baseline, but maintaining the level against Nadal over 5 sets on clay is almost impossible. He will be a chance at Wimbledon and should the favourite at the US at this stage.

The big 3 are all contenders for the end of year #1, it will be exciting to see it unfold.

The Greatest! Nadal has taken clay court tennis to an incredible level. His 2nd week opponents; Verdasco, Almagro, Djokovic and Federer are the very best clay court players in the world, yet they were all swept aside. You sensed a desperation in all of them, too scared to rally with Nadal, they resorted to playing low percentage shots to try and win points early.

The concerning thing for opponents is that Nadal is improving. His backhand, that was always more solid than spectacular, was superb during the French. Many times he swept hid double hander deep to the corner of the court to set up or win points. The backhand is becoming as damaging as the forehand, which is a very uncomfortable thought for opponents.

He has levelled Borg's record of 4 consecutive French Open's and must now be considered the great Swedes' equal on clay. The way he moves on clay and the vicious spin of his shots is extraordinary. While Tsonga showed Nadal is vulnerable on hard courts in Australia, no-one is close to Rafa at Roland Garros and he seems set to continue frustrating Federer's efforts at reaching a career grand slam and tennis immortality.

The Wildcards! The two wildcards in the semi final pack were Gael Monfils and Safina. Monfils announced himself as a talent by winning three junior grand slam events. His senior career has been plagued by injury and inconsistency, but supported by his home French crowd he produced the sublime tennis we have only seen in patches for almost two weeks.

Safina is a similar story, sister to the great Marat Safin, she has shown glimpses of great tennis, but reaching the final is her first major achievement. In defeating compatriots Sharapova, Dementiava and Kutznetzova she showed great mental resolve, previously this has been what she lacked. In two of those matches she found herself a set down and deep in trouble in the 2nd set, only to find a new level and crush her opponents in the 3rd set.

The packed European season moves to the grass courts and culminates at Wimbledon in June - July. Watch for Federer, the Williams Sisters and Sharapova to re-assert their authority. But the young guns will be determined to make their mark at the most prestigious of the grand slams. The grass seems to play slower every year, opening the tournament up to a wide variety of players