This is probably my favorite time of year. I’m hedging only because I am a woman inclined to throw herself into passions and I can already imagine myself making the same claim at the start of the US Open. And yet I am not being a dilettante or dishonest in this claim. I truly love this time of year.
April may be the cruelest month, but May brings sweet reprieve. The flowers are in bloom but the pollen count is a bit more manageable and some-time allergy sufferers like myself get a slight break. The weather is warm but not yet hot enough to force me to turn on the air conditioning. I can still get by with fans and open windows. And everyone is outdoors, running, skipping, playing.
I find that it’s generally easier to get a tennis match at this time of year. I don’t have to convince anyone that it’s really not that cold, and besides the snow already melted. I don’t have to rely on Spinn classes to keep me moving. At this time of year, there is no shortage of folks wanting to play tennis. In fact, the tournament season begins anew and when I’m not playing tennis, I’m watching it, not just on TV but in sundry districts across the state.
But most of all I love this time of year because it’s the culmination of the professional clay season. It’s time for my favorite Slam, the great equalizer, the one that makes boys of men. It’s time for Roland Garros. It’s when clay bunnies come out to play.
I joined a new tennis club this year, and and thus I have only played on clay, or at least what passes for clay in most parts of the US. The clay I play on is a dirty greenish brownish color. It‘s not even remotely related to the terre battue. It looks and feels more like sand than clay. I’ve never tried sliding on it. I’m not even sure if that is possible.
And yet I can feel the extra cushioning that this surface offers my joints. And I am enjoying the lengthier rallies that demand that I up my fitness game or step off. Playing on hard surfaces, I often get away with making big forehand returns. On this dingy-colored thing that passes for clay, my forehand is not guaranteed to zing. I have always to be ready for the ball possibly coming back. I have therefore to be fitter, to have better endurance. And I love it.
But there is a part of me that is going into Roland Garros with a touch of sadness as well. It’s the wistful sadness one feels in anticipation of a loss. How much longer will the William sisters play? Will this be Venus’ last year or will she keep challenging herself to keep going? Is Serena fit enough to defend her points? Will Roger protect his trophy or will Rafa snatch it back, humbling him in the process like he just did in Madrid?
And what of some of the newbies who seemed so promising this year? Will Ernests Gulbis deliver on the promise he has shown thus far or will he turn out to be a flash in the pan, just another player who had a moment, made some money, and started getting distracted by the hangers-on? Will Sam Stosur keep it going or is she, like Wozniacki, simply playing too much tennis and running herself ragged? Will Sharapova even care?
What of poor Safina? Is it time for me to remove her face from the masthead of this blog, time to accept that she will not live up to the sweet potential that some of us saw in her but which she herself perhaps never fully believed in?
I looked at the list of withdrawals today and was disheartened to see the name Sabine Lisicki. I think it’s time for me to give up on her, and that too make me sad. Her ankle remains injured. Already the images of Charleston last year are fading.
These are some of my sad thoughts. But mainly I have happy thoughts this time of year. This is Guga season. The season when an unknown clay bunny can stride atop the shoulders of giants and fell them all in succession. As much as I would love to see Roger defend his trophy, I would also welcome being introduced to another Guga, a smart tactician who eats, breathes, and sleeps clay tennis, a brilliant strategist who will come out of the blue and surprise us all.