French Open Recap: Nadal Wins 11th Title, Halep Wins 1st Slam & More

French Open Recap: Nadal Wins 11th Title, Halep Wins 1st Grand Slam & More

Big names advanced to the latter stages of the 2018 French Open, while other stars succumbed to the challenges red clay presents.

Updated: June 11, 2018 • 10:15 PM ET


Rafael Nadal is the undisputed king of clay.

Serena Williams came and went. Rafael Nadal came and went to the top. Roger Federer and Andy Murray never showed up. And Romanian Simona Halep cast the monkey off her back to win her first Grand Slam in Paris on her third attempt. 


Those are the big headlines coming out of the French Open Monday morning, along with the news that over the next three years, Roland Garros will be remade into a state-of-the-French-art Grand Slam site to the tune of €350 million. 


The quasi-subterranean stories that tickled the super fans but don’t make big-time headlines were, however, as entertaining and meaningful as Nadal’s 11th and Halep’s first.


Novak Djokovic was a cause célèbre on the opposite side of the draw from the anointed King of Clay, Nadal, as the Serbian continued to edge toward his former form and remained a fringe member of the so-called Big Four. Would he pull himself together enough, over the fortnight, to meet Nadal in yet another French Open final? Their two previous battles were stunning displays, many wishing for yet another. Alas, Djokovic did not have the answers he needed on court.


As a former world No. 1, Djokovic lost in the quarterfinals to No. 72 ranked Marco Cecchinato, a player who had never won a single match in a Grand Slam. His victory was the biggest upset of the tournament when looked at from any angle of comparison, especially considering the reality that Djokovic has 12 Grand Slam titles.


“I struggled from the beginning, Djokovic said via ASAP Sports. “Unfortunately, it took me time to get well, and struggled with a little injury, as well, at the beginning. And after, when I warmed up, it was better.


“But, yeah, just a pity that I couldn't capitalize on the chances in the 4-1 in the fourth set and some break points that I thought I had in there, but he came back and credit to him.”

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Marco Cecchinato pulled off the biggest upset at the 2018 French Open.

Cecchinato soared to No. 27 in the ATP rankings on Monday, and the astronomical jump could assure him a seed at Wimbledon. The match with Djokovic was a David and Goliath affair that thrilled fans, but sent the Serbian into a funk. In a disparaging press conference, he hinted at how the loss affected him. 


“I don’t know,” Djokovic said when asked about the upcoming grass court season. “I don't know what I'm going to do.”


Another Italian, Marco Trungelliti, led a hefty pack of “lucky losers” during the first round who filled vacated sports (The 2018 Official Grand Slam Rule Book states, “Lucky Losers are those players who have lost in the final round of the Qualifying competition or, if more Lucky Losers are required, those players who have lost in the previous qualifying rounds.).


In a nutshell, Australian Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the main draw hours before his match against Australian buddy Bernie Tomic, another qualifier. The mercurial duo and their meeting were the talk of the tournament, both dragging in reputations with accusations of tanking, lackluster attitudes toward the game that has paid them millions, bad-mouthing umpires and fans, plus questionable futures on tour. 


Enter Trungelliti. He drove almost 1,000 miles and 11 hours back to Paris from his home in Barcelona, along with his brother, mother and grandmother in their tiny rental car. Trungelliti had left Paris after his failure to get through qualifications, but arrived back at Roland-Garros with enough time to grab the empty berth vacated by Kyrgios.


On top of those heroics, the Italian beat Tomic, who was considered a much better player having been ranked No. 17 at one time. Trungelliti, on the other hand, had never been ranked above 126. The moment was another feel-good episode for an underdog on one of the four biggest stages of tennis.


We would be remiss to leave out the efforts and results from players and teams who proved their excellence in Paris. 


In addition to Djokovic, Serena Williams appeared at her first Grand Slam since giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, last September and her win at the Australian Open in 2017. Her entrance on to Court Philippe Chatrier was a head-turner, as she debuted a Nike black body suit, which was quickly labeled a “catsuit.” The skintight garment was specifically designed to protect against blood clots, of which she has suffered.


“It feels like this suit represents all the women that have been through a lot mentally, physically, with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves,” Williams said via The Guardian. “I definitely feel like it is an opportunity for me to inspire a whole different group of amazing women and kids.”


After suffering an injury to her right pectoral muscle during a doubles match alongside elder sister Venus, Williams withdrew before the fourth round and her headliner matchup against Maria Sharapova. The strain will not keep Serena from playing Wimbledon.


The question there, though, is whether Wimbledon will give the seven-time champion a seed. Ranked 183, as of Monday, a wildcard entry is almost guaranteed. But Wimbledon is an outlier when it comes to seedings. It has its own special formula based on players’ performances on grass over the season. Individual consideration is not out of the question, but the subjective nature of the tournament’s process leaves many in the dark until seeds are announced. 


Congratulations came quick and heavy for the French doubles team of Nicolas Mahut and his long-time doubles partner Pierre-Hughes Herbert. They became the third doubles team from France to win the men’s doubles title, and Sunday’s was their third overall Grand Slam, as well. The only missing crown: the Australian Open. 


Fourteen-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff of Delray Beach, Fla. captured the Girls’ Singles Championship when she defeated fellow American Caty McNally. Gauff became the youngest girls’ trophy winner at Roland Garros since 1993.


Although Americans are often chided for not playing well at the French Open, or at any red-clay tournament in Europe, American Sloane Stephens marched through the draw, only to be defeated by Halep in the final. Stephens’ friend and fellow American, Madison Keys, was a featured semifinalist with Stephens on their side of the draw. And finally, five of the past seven girls’ junior Grand Slams have gone to Americans, which included, we add with emphasis, Coco Gauff.


Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys hug at the net after their semifinal match at the French Open.

With the red clay in the rearview mirror, grass court tennis comes into focus. Tournaments in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, Stuttgart and Nottingham have begun, and one notable entrant to Stuttgart is Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro, a seven-time Wimbledon champion, won’t let grass grow under his feet. He’ll be the defending champion come July 2, when matches get underway at the All England Club.


Sir Andy Murray, two-time Wimbledon winner and the hope of Great Britain, should also be there, along with Djokovic, no matter what he said in Paris after his disappointing loss. 


However, Nadal, who hasn’t done quite as well at Wimbledon as Roland Garros, threw out a tidbit yesterday. He has entered the Queen’s Club tournament, the last grass warmup to Wimbledon, but has said he will consult with his team, including coach Carlos Moya, over the next few days, according to Reuters.


“Of course, it’s a drastic change from clay to grass,” Nadal, who turned 32 in Paris, said. “I did it in the past when I was much younger, quicker, because I played back-to-back.”


The low-bouncing ball on grass puts more pressure on Nadal’s knees, which have sidelined him many times. Perhaps then Nadal and Federer, the two biggest names in the men’s game, have found a compatibility at the top — they are ranked one and two, respectively — where favorite surfaces can be swapped and both men can extend their careers.

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