When I was a kid, the most important sporting event was Play Day. With all the tests taken and report cards handed out, the fenced-in playground became an asphalt Olympic Stadium for the final morning before summer vacation. We’d compete in sack races, egg-carrying, and other elite competitions. Unfortunately, any winners ribbons did not compensate for poor grades when we made the last walk home for the year.
Now that I’m older, I don’t sweat grades anymore. When June comes around, I do sweat finding interesting stories so I don’t have to get a real job. The Stanley Cup and NBA Finals are winding down. European football is on hiatus between seasons’ end and the World Cup. Baseball doesn’t command full attention until the All-Star Game. It’ll be hard to even do that this year. Aaron Judge has already ruled himself out of the Home Run Derby. Remember 1989 when Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins ditched the NBA Slam Dunk Contest? June is the month to remind yourself there are other sports and other stars.
The French Open will reach its climax at Roland Garros this weekend. A collective “pfft mother, please” rises up from the entire United States at the thought. Tennis is the worst sport. How can it be any good if there aren’t any Americans in it and you have to get up early in the morning to watch?
Alright, I’ll give you the getting up in the morning to watch but not the no Americans. Bear with me. I know there hasn’t been a great American tennis player on the male side since Pete Sampras retired and Serena Williams hasn’t been carrying the torch for the women since she decided to get married and have a baby, as if her life was her own to do with as she pleased. But Serena has been back on the circuit in 2018, slowly rebuilding her game. She was looking like her old self at Roland Garros until she injured a pectoral muscle while closing out her third round match.
She had drawn Maria Sharapova in the fourth round. Williams, 19-2 and riding an 18-match win streak against the Russian in her career, expressed her disappointment at having to withdraw.
“It’s very difficult, because I love playing Maria.”
Apparently, there is such a thing as an understatement lob.
Despite Williams’ early exit, two Americans remained in the draw: Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. The duo sport names that would attract anyone casting a Dynasty reboot but both can bring it on the court. Stephens is ranked 10th in the WTA, Keys 13th. Seeded accordingly, they met in the semifinal.
Stephens started out painting the lines in the early games. When Keys questioned one that put her opponent up 2-1 and was overruled, the 23-year-old took out her frustration by firing a serve right back into Stephens, then powering a backhand passing shot down the line. Stephens still won the first set 6-4.
She continued to control the match in the second set, as well, again winning 6-4. She couldn’t seem to hit a ball out while Keys made a few unforced errors. Stephens meets world number one Simona Halep on Saturday morning.
Del Potro, PI
On the men’s side, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro gave us a little throwback to John McEnroe in his four-set quarterfinal against Marin Cilic. When he double-faulted after being distracted by a spectator, Del Potro approached the stands to identify the culprit.
Who says tennis is boring?
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.