Canadian sports writer Stephanie Myles has a great anecdote on yesterday’s El Tabakh-Rezai match on Centre Court. (Screen grab via Twitter.)
We don’t do too much in-depth, let’s-talk-about-the-tennis coverage here on TSF, but every once in awhile it’s a healthy practice just us TSFers to dive into and we’re pretty sure you get a kick out of us trying to sound like we know what we’re talking about.
I’ve had high hopes for many a players on the WTA Tour, especially those with such salacious backgrounds. You know who I’m talking about: the Jelena Dokic‘s and Melanie Oudin‘s of the world. To me, there is nothing better than a mid-ranked player making a run for her country at her home Slam with the crowd (and the world) cheering her on. It’s something unique about women’s tennis that you can’t quite find elsewhere, and though it rarely happens, when it does it is purely magical.
Last year, two such runs captured the attention of tennis fans as Dokic and Oudin made respective runs to the quarterfinals at their home Slams. The back stories were mostly inspiring and the chance for us to ride with them on their incredible journey felt refreshing and new in a women’s tennis tour that can often feel like another tattered episode of Beverly Hills 90210.
At the French Open, it has been a while since such a run has been made. A decade ago, Mary Pierce finally capped off a tumultuous Roland Garros record by winning the title over Conchita Martinez, and she surprisingly made a run to the finals in 2005, taking out Lindsay Davenport along the way before being humbled by one Justine Henin in the title match.
So this year, as Aravane Rezai makes her march through the women’s draw, she cannot do so as a dark horse. Her win two weeks ago in Madrid was a dazzling display of Pierce-like Big Babe tennis, where she hit through the likes of Henin, Jelena Jankovic and Venus Williams. The thing about Rezai seems to be that she really can hit through her opponents with little regard (unlike Oudin) but also has her head squarely screwed on after five years on tour (unlike Dokic).
Her history is that of a Dokic-Pierce storybook, chalk full of stories of an over-involved father and threats of playing for a different country (Iran) and spats with the French Tennis Federation. Perhaps such histories have plagued girls on the WTA in the past, but if Rezai continues to play with the resolve she showed Sunday in a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing of Canada’s Heidi El Tabakh, then the French could get their first home-grown story line in quite a while.
Amelie Mauresmo could never quite enjoy her experience at Roland Garros because of her distaste for the pressure of the French. But to watch the powerful strokes of Rezai is something special. Few players are not physically intimidated by the Williams sisters, but Rezai can go toe-to-toe with them in a baseline brawl, and if she doesn’t suffer from the Frozen Foot Syndrome that plastered Pierce’s feet to the clay in the 2005 final against Henin, she has a legit shot at being a threat for this tournament.
Like peers Sania Mirza and Shahar Peer, Rezai makes the internationalization of women’s tennis feel more enlightening. And though she can be a streaky player, Rezai seems to be enlightened herself by the journey thus far, something that could prove vital for a shot at Roland Garros glory: “When you play tennis, you make sacrifices to reach that level so this pressure, you like it, it comes with the reward.”
A reward next Saturday for Rezai? First she has to get past Angelique Kerber, a player who drubbed her at this year’s Aussie Open.