Stanislas Wawrinka was nice enough to give me some tickets for his match against Gael Monfils on the Rod Laver Arena. I wasn't disappointed at all by the show.
The intensity of the first set was pretty rare. Both players went for rallies, with diagonal backhands, forehands played by turning around the backhand and some down-the-line acceleration when needed, but their defending and counter-punching abilities often allowed them to push the points to very long and high-level rallies. Both also respected the strategy basics and the whole set was undecided.
Each player had his moment because, during a set, each is going through strong periods where confidence is there, where sequences are effortless, where the player remains calm, clear-headed: an efficient mixture allowing them to amass points.
But both players also went through tough moments, where hurry comes instead of calm, as well as bad choices and fewer good first serves. Commitment was total and each player could have won that first set.
Two or three points in the tie-break made the decision, following some bad choices from Monfils. Stan was very strong at that moment, using one of the best single-handed backhands on the Tour.
He finally won that set and, from that point, the match took on a different momentum because the Frenchman just gave up and was quickly behind on the scoreboard, 7/6 6/2 4/0: the two following sets combined lasted as long as the first one. Monfils slumped out by losing 6/3 in the last set.
Why did Gael break down like this? I think that, suddenly, he couldn't find any answers to the questions Stan posed him.
Or, even, he felt that what he was doing wasn't working at all, couldn't find a way to look for something else and didn't work out how to keep fighting by convincing himself that he wasn't that far away from the Swiss.
He needed to convince himself that Wawrinka could also have a little slump by keeping himself out there, in his face. But no, he just thought that his opponent was too strong. He refused the fight.
It's a pity because the Frenchman was in fact close, with the first set only decided on a couple of points. If he had fought all the way with the same mindset, he could have taken one or two sets and pushed to a decisive fifth.
When five-set battles are well-balanced, each player can benefit from his strong periods and the weaker ones of his opponent.
In those matches, anything can happen, even when one is outrageously one-sided. Not a single player (excepted Rafael Nadal maybe) can be at his best over three consecutive sets, so the rival always has an opportunity to come back if he keeps fighting and stays ready to seize on his first chance.
When he succeeds in making the opponent doubt himself, he still has a chance to win. A five-set match demands fighting spirit from the beginning to the end.
Those matches are the big ones won by the big champions. Those matches are the only ones to enter sporting history. Maybe France's young players must be taught the history of our sport, the weight of tradition and the respect due to those tournaments?
Trying one's best until the end isn't a necessity but a duty. A Grand Slam has to be respected. One should leave the court having tried everything possible, physically and mentally exhausted.
It's the duty one must pay in order to get the tiniest chance to be written into tennis history, where France isn't well represented at all compared to the number of people playing tennis and to the huge amount of money given to train the young players.
Is it an education issue? Probably. Education - and respect.
It's our responsibility as teachers. Playing in a Grand Slam is an honour that has to be deserved and one has to be proved worthy of it.
In France, we still have a lot to teach about that matter. Not many Australians, Serbs or Spaniards aren't walking off court without leaving a bit of their soul out there.
Let that be our lesson for the future.