While they haven’t had early success on clay, Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez and Naomi Osaka can find hope in the example of Maria Sharapova.
The two millimeters of terre battue – iron oxide is what creates that distinctive burnt sienna hue – that cover the courts in Paris can represent a quagmire for the clay novice. It’s exceedingly unstable, creating all kinds of physical issues.
Maria Sharapova’s first exposure to these horrors ended badly in 2003, with a 6-0, 6-4 loss to Spanish clay-courter Magui Swerna. Sharapova was only 16 years old – but already a big hitter with a promising career underway. Still, nothing suggested she would ever solve the Rubik’s Cube that was clay.
After winning a second-round match four years later at Roland Garros, Sharapova uttered an unforgettable quote, saying she felt “like a cow on ice.” It brings an immediate (and indelible) image to mind and was a hot topic in 2012 when she actually reached the finals in Paris.
“I can’t tell you how many times that I have heard that phrase in the last four weeks from journalists,” Sharapova said at the time. “I will give you the standard answer. That I do occasionally still feel like it and, I’m sure, look like it, too.”
It wasn’t only about movement for Sharapova. It was also the grinding, physical toll exacted from matches where her serve and groundstrokes didn’t create as many winners as they did on the faster surfaces. The different muscles that sliding demanded. Early in her career, she never imagined she could put together the seven tough matches required of champions at Roland Garros.
And yet, one decade ago, she defeated Italian Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2 to win her first French Open title. Along with her three previous major triumphs – 2004 Wimbledon, 2006 US Open, 2008 Australian Open – she became only the 10th woman to capture the rare career Grand Slam.
In an irony not lost on Sharapova; she won a second French Open title two years later, beating Simona Halep in a match that ran more than three hours. This, on the surface she once thought to be her worst. Note, her career winning percentages: hard court (.777), grass (.794) – and clay (.815).
So many great players have fallen one particular title short of that personal Slam, among them: Justine Henin, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis. Lindsay Davenport – joined by Pete Sampras and Boris Becker – missed out on the matched set by failing to win at Roland Garros.
The 10th anniversary of Sharapova’s breakthrough is a good time to remind those armchair skeptics that it’s way too early in the curve to start passing definitive judgments on some of today’s young players who already have had success on hard courts
Naomi Osaka won her first major, the 2018 US Open, at the age of 20. Now 24, she’s won four majors, all of them on hard courts. Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez played last year’s US Open final, but clay remains something beyond their immediate grasp.
Mastering the cloying clay in Paris and the slippery slope of Wimbledon’s immaculate grass courts requires a certain diversity of game and the ability to adapt to drastically different conditions. Serena Williams is the only active woman with a personal Grand Slam, and she’s done it three times over. Angelique Kerber has won three different majors, but lacks the French Open on her resume; she made the quarterfinals there twice, in 2012 and 2018. Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza have both captured Roland Garros and Wimbledon but have yet to win a hard-court major.
It’s been a small sample this year for our young triumvirate. Osaka is 1-1 on clay for 2022, following last year’s 2-3 record. Raducanu, this year playing her first clay matches at the level, is an encouraging 5-4. Fernandez went 2-2 in Madrid and Rome. Raducanu and Fernandez are just kids in the sandbox, relatively speaking, trying to figure it out.
“I have definitely learnt that I can kind of adapt to this surface much faster than I probably thought and about how to stay in the point,” Raducanu said Friday during Media Day at Roland Garros. “I think my movement on defense has also improved a bit.
“When to play with spin and when to actually hit it hard. You don’t have to always just grind it out. Sometimes you can put your hard-court game on a clay court, as well. It’s just finding the balance. I think that clay definitely teaches you that.”
The first thing they must master, according to 18-time major champion Martina Navratilova, is their movement. Sliding in the dirt, it turns out, is an acquired skill.
“Unless you grew up on the stuff, it’s hard to gain that footing,” Navratilova said. “You become vulnerable easier on clay, like if you get pushed wide – unless you really know how to slide – you don’t recover after the shot as well. And it shows up more, not covering the court as well, with the big hitters, because you can’t make up for it as much.”
Like Navratilova, Pam Shriver, a tennis analyst for ESPN and Tennis Channel, grew up playing a lot on clay but discovered it didn’t suit her big game.
“Eventually, I would just settle in and think, `You know what, I can just play my same game, but I just have to do it just a little bit better,’” Shriver said.” If it’s a play that works on a faster surface, I just need to do it with a little more conviction. A slightly better angle, a slightly better serve.
“These days, there’s not as much difference in the surfaces. Players can bring their same game to all three surfaces and just make their little adjustments here and there.”
Ultimately, it all goes back to the example of Sharapova. Toward the end of her career, clay became her most consistent surface. As Shriver noted, look at what Sharapova did – study it – and it could happen to you.
“Clay at the beginning kind of was like written off, ‘Oh, it’s a clay court, just have a go,'” Raducanu said. “But now I really believe that I can be good and faster than I thought it would be.”
With insight from Navratilova and Shriver, who won 20 Grand Slam doubles titles together from 1981-89, including a calendar-year Grand Slam in 1984, a brief examination of how Raducanu, Fernandez and Osaka could make some headway on clay this year at Roland Garros:
French Open seed: No.12
Career records: Hard court:11-9 (.550), Clay: 5-4 (.556), Grass: 3-2 (.600)
Total: 19-15 (.559)
Navratilova: “Raducanu can generate pace and redirects pretty well. But on clay she has to do a lot more. It’s harder to find the openings, so you have to hit more shots and pick your spot.”
Shriver: “I feel like on the footwork side, I think Raducanu has some potential on clay because it’s a little more precise than the other two.”
French Open seed: No. 17
Career records: Hard court: 39-23 (.629), Clay: 7-8 (.467), Grass: 1-2 (.333)
Navratilova: “Leylah doesn’t have the big weapons of, say, an Osaka. Those weapons can get you out of trouble on clay. Movement, like with Halep, will have to be her calling card.”
Shriver: “Hitting topspin and creating margin, I think is a Fernandez strength. And also being left-handed – the good lefty forehand over the top, gets up high. I like her using that in a positive way on clay.”
French Open: Unseeded
Career records: Hard court: 134-57 (.702), Clay: 21-17 (.553), Grass: 11-9 (.550)
Total: 166-83 (.667)
Navratilova: “For Osaka, her big shots don’t pay off as well on clay. So she has to hit more balls, and her play is still pretty risky. Eventually, I think Osaka can succeed on clay because of the weapons she has. Sharapova was a bigger hitter, and it worked for her. It can be done. It just takes a while. You just need to put in the miles.”
Shriver: “On clay, Osaka’s footwork is not as comfortable. Osaka’s a little bit older  so she’s had a longer time to develop some scar tissue about the surface, an unease. Like Sharapova, she can realize if you’re a little bit slower, clay actually helps you.”
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Novak Djokovic’s family are big Venus Williams fans as tennis legends share sweet moment at Wimbledon
Novak Djokovic’s family might be related to one tennis legend, but they all had eyes for another as Venus Williams graced Wimbledon on Tuesday.
The stars shared a sweet moment as Venus met Novak’s wife Jelena and his young children Tara and Stefan at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon.
They enjoyed some well-earned down time, and were spotted laughing together before Venus posed for a photo with Novak and his family.
The kids appeared to be collecting autographs, as both held a notebook and pen, with Stefan also wearing a heavily-signed T-shirt – and we’re sure Venus is a very coveted addition!
Venus 42, previously said that she is not playing at Wimbledon this year, insisting she’s only there to support her sister Serena, 40.
‘I hope that Serena playing Wimbledon will help you with your Williams fix,’ she added.
However, that seems to have changed as she’s now set for a last-minute Wimbledon appearance after requesting a wildcard to play alongside Great Britain’s Jamie Murray in the mixed doubles.
The former world No. 1 in both women’s singles and doubles could now be set to line-up next to Jamie – who won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 2007 and 2017 – as he looks to get his men’s doubles campaign underway tomorrow alongside Brazil’s Bruno Soares.
It would not be the first time one of the Murray brothers will have teamed up with one of the Williams sisters, with Andy and Serena teaming up back in 2019.
Novak, meanwhile, has had a tough start to the competition, admitting his first round win on day one of the competition was ‘difficult’.
The reigning Wimbledon champion beat Kwon Soon-woo to advance to the next round of the championships but it was far from a routine victory for the Serbian.
‘Credit to Kwon for playing some really high-quality tennis, he definitely deserves an applause,’ he said after the match.
‘Starting the tournament, I didn’t have any lead-up or preparation tournaments prior to this so you’re always going to feel a bit less comfortable than you would like, particularly if you’re playing against someone as talented as Kwon who stays close to the line and hits really clean.
‘It was difficult to go through him, so I had to figure out a way to get in control, it wasn’t easy.’
Elsewhere at Wimbledon, Brits have been rooting for stars including Emma Raducanu, who was forced to shelter from the rain on Wimbledon’s first day.
Four Days That Changed Golf
Perhaps the most important thing to remember on the 25th anniversary of Tiger Woods’s seismic victory at the 1997 Masters, the first of his 15 major championships, is that almost no one saw it coming.
Yes, Woods, then 21, had won three PGA Tour events, and there was avid interest in his first major as a professional. But one year earlier, as an amateur, he had missed the Masters cut. In 1995, he tied for 41st. It was accepted wisdom that grasping the intricate nuances of Augusta National Golf Club would take years. Woods, it was said repeatedly by the tour’s elders, would have to wait.
“That’s how I felt,” Paul Azinger, a 14-year tour veteran in 1997 and the winner of the 1993 P.G.A. Championship, said in an interview last month. “It’s harder than it looks.”
Azinger felt differently after he was paired with Woods in the second round. For the first time, he watched Woods hit a ball with a driver. Azinger, now 62, had never seen a golf shot hang in the air for so long as it rocketed away from the tee.
“I can still see that white ball framed against the dark trees in the distance, then the blue sky and then the green fairway — it was a bullet that seemed to never stop,” Azinger, now an NBC golf analyst, said.
The four days of the 1997 Masters would turn out to be a profound experience for those of us fortunate to be on the grounds at Augusta National, and for 44 million people who watched on television. It set records and broke cultural ground, as Woods became the first nonwhite athlete to win golf’s most tradition-bound event. It permanently reshaped almost every aspect of the game, how it would be broadcast and who might watch, and it was the first globally prominent chapter in the life of a young Black man with a catchy nickname who would soon become one of the most famous and most popular people in the world.
Although many remember vividly the moment that Woods won — the 4-foot putt and his full-body fist pump — not everyone recalls that his week began inauspiciously.
The First Round
During his first nine holes on Thursday, Woods very nearly played his way out of the tournament. He shot a four-over-par 40 with four bogeys and no birdies. I realized it was possible for him to win, but it seemed unlikely. It was Augusta National. It takes time. Almost every enduring, top golfer from the last 60 years — Palmer, Nicklaus, Faldo, etc. — did not win the tournament until his fourth try. Most won in their fifth or sixth. And they weren’t 21, either.
But when Woods then shot 30 on the back nine — and was calm in the news conference afterward, as if he had expected it — that’s when I knew he would be contending on Sunday.
NICK FALDO (defending Masters champion, paired in the first round with Woods) We both made a mess on the front nine; just knocking it all over the place. I had won six majors so maybe people gave me a little slack, but for Tiger, I’m sure a lot of people were probably thinking, “Well, he’s still a little in over his head, isn’t he?”
TOM KITE (finished second) The Tiger curiosity was very high so I have no doubt a lot of guys in the field heard about that opening 40.
TOMMY BENNETT (one of many Black caddies picked by the club from the nearby Sand Hills neighborhood) Somebody told me Tiger shot 40, and I said, “Doesn’t matter, man, he’s not worried.” That kid was raised to be fearless. When I caddied for him in ’95 [at the Masters] he only put three balls in his bag and told me he wouldn’t need any more. And he didn’t. I knew he’d come back.
FALDO Tiger birdied the 10th and chipped in for birdie on the 12th hole. That shot was basically the beginning of the rest of his career.
JEFF SLUMAN (tied for seventh) The chip from behind the 12th green was incredibly difficult. Everybody watching was saying, “He’s got to be careful not to pitch that back into Rae’s Creek and make double bogey.” And bang! He puts it in the hole. Are you kidding?
FALDO The crowds around us started getting bigger and bigger and louder and louder. He seemed to feed off that. It was the beginning of Tiger mania, right? I looked around and realized that this is really something to remember.
Woods would birdie the par-5 13th and eagle the par-5 15th — for the tournament he would be 13 under on the par 5s — then added another birdie on the 17th hole. He finished at two-under-par 70, one of only seven golfers in the field of 86 to break par that day. Woods celebrated by heading to the drive-through of the Arby’s on Washington Road just beyond the club’s ornate front gate. He had two of his Stanford college buddies in the car. After they wolfed down roast beef sandwiches at the house rented with Woods’s parents, Earl and Kultida, they played basketball in the driveway and table tennis in the basement.
The Second Round
KITE The conditions had been so hard the first day — windy with very firm greens — you bet 70 was a good score. People noticed.
AZINGER I suddenly realized how many people were following us and how much pressure he was already under.
LEE WESTWOOD (playing in his first Masters) It was obvious how strong he was mentally, and his age did not matter.
AZINGER We get to the 13th hole on the back nine and he’s now four under par for the tournament, which is not too shabby. Then Tiger goes eagle-birdie-birdie on 13, 14 and 15.
JIM NANTZ (longtime CBS Masters host) Tiger made the putt for eagle on 13 and I looked at my watch thinking this might be a historic moment. I said, “Let the record show that a little after 5:30 on this Friday, April the 11th, Tiger takes the lead for the very first time at the Masters.”
AZINGER Tiger was hitting a wedge or 9-iron to the greens on the back nine par 5s while some guys were hitting 3-woods there. Tiger looked like he wasn’t more than 155 pounds and his swing was so fierce I worried for his back even then, but my goodness, every shot had such integrity. As pros, we know it when we see it.
JUSTIN LEONARD (1997 British Open champion) We were trying to beat this guy, but I knew I couldn’t drive it as far, I didn’t hit my irons as well, I didn’t have his short game and I didn’t putt as well. You knew you were going to be able to watch history, but you weren’t going to be making any history yourself.
At the midpoint of the tournament, Colin Montgomerie, a sometimes crusty Scot who at 33 had competed in 22 majors and finished in the top 10 five times, trailed Woods by three strokes. In a packed news conference after the second round, Montgomerie said of Woods, “The pressure is mounting, and I have a lot more experience in major championships than he has.”
The Third Round
Before Woods’s third round on Saturday began — he was in the final grouping, the prime TV spot, with Montgomerie — Butch Harmon, Woods’s coach, put his arm around his pupil and said, “Let’s go show Colin Montgomerie who you really are.”
Woods responded, “Oh, don’t worry.”
LEONARD I would have said the same thing as Colin. As professional golfers you have to try to draw on experience if you have it, and Colin had the experience — with some success. But at the end of the day it didn’t matter at all.
Woods, in a 2007 interview on the 10th anniversary of his 1997 victory, said: “Colin’s comment did motivate me. Maybe if he had already won a major I might have let it go, but since he had not, I figured we were pretty even going into that round.”
BERNHARD LANGER (1985 and 1993 Masters champion) I had played in Thailand with Tiger when he was an amateur and it was clear as day that this was going to be a different kind of rookie on tour. In the third round Saturday he shot 65, right? Seven birdies? It doesn’t sound like he was very nervous to me.
SLUMAN He wasn’t afraid of anything. The bigger the stage the better for him. I made a comment when I was in pretty good position on the leaderboard that maybe all the guys on tour should take up a collection and offer to send him to grad school or something.
MONTGOMERIE (after he shot 74 to Woods’s bogey-free 65) All I have to say is one brief comment today. There’s no chance humanly possible that Tiger is going to lose this tournament. No way.
When a reporter recalled that Greg Norman in 1996 had lost a six-stroke, final-round lead to Faldo, Montgomerie snorted: “Faldo’s not lying second, for a start. And Greg Norman’s not Tiger Woods.”
As they had since the tournament started, Woods and his college buddies went to Arby’s. Then they played basketball and table tennis.
The Final Round
Late the next morning, Woods donned what would become his trademark Sunday colors: a blood red sweater and black pants. Before he left for the course, Woods ascended the stairs and entered the bedroom of his father, Earl, who had recently undergone surgery for his ailing heart.
“Son,” Earl said when he saw Tiger, “this is probably going to be one of the toughest rounds you’ve ever had to play in your life.”
The day carried a weight, and when Woods arrived at the course, a visitor found him. It was Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play the Masters, in 1975. Elder got a speeding ticket on the drive to Augusta. An honorary starter at the 2021 Masters seven months before he died, Elder told reporters in 1997: “Nothing was going to stop me from getting here. I made history here, and I came here today to see more history made. After today, no one will turn their head when a Black man walks to the first tee.”
Henry Ashley, the headwaiter at Augusta National and one of about 20 Black club employees who lined the plantation-style clubhouse balcony to catch a glimpse of Woods on the first tee, told The Greensboro News and Record: “Tiger’s the man, period. He’s your man; he’s my man.”
After Woods thundered a tee shot toward the first fairway, the congregation of club employees remained on the balcony to watch him walk onto the course. As Woods disappeared over a distant hill, the employees, one by one, turned and walked through a single thin door frame to continue their clubhouse duties.
LANGER I don’t know all about American history. But there were a lot of scenes like that in 1997. You know, seeing Tiger win the Masters, I think, in effect, said, “You can do what I’m doing.” I’m convinced it had an impact on future generations that were not white.
COSTANTINO ROCCA (accompanied Woods on Sunday) The mood was festive, like a celebration or a big party. I’m not sure the crowd even knew there was a little Italian guy playing with him. The atmosphere was powerful.
KITE Because the final round of the Masters has seen many historic collapses, nobody was conceding Tiger the title — even if he would have had to collapse like crazy to be caught. But there was still a wait-and-see attitude.
ROCCA I did cut his lead by a stroke after the first seven holes when Tiger made a couple bogeys. Then he hit his tee shot on No. 8 into the trees and I thought maybe there’s some chance. What if I make birdie and he makes double bogey? Instead, I made par and he made birdie.
KITE It was case closed.
SLUMAN From there, a coronation.
NANTZ I talked briefly to Lee [Elder]. There was emotion in his eyes. And fatigue.
ROCCA (tied for fifth) On the last nine holes, the crowd was getting crazier and crazier, and at one point Tiger turned to me and asked if I was OK. He’s a nice guy, and I was proud of him.
NANTZ I kept thinking about how much this moment meant to so many people. It transcended the sport, and seeing Lee Elder was a visual cue to me.
As Woods, his baggy pants flapping in the wind, sank a last putt to set 20 Masters records, including youngest winner and largest margin of victory (12 strokes), Nantz said, “There it is, a win for the ages.”
Why Stephen Curry will host ESPN’s ESPYS Awards
NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry is hosting the ESPN ESPYS Awards next month, and “never imagined he would “have the privilege of hosting this special event.”
Warriors star Stephen Curry will continue to be in the spotlight as he hosts ESPN’s annual ESPYS awards on July 20 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
The 34-year-old is not only a contender for Best NBA Player, but he’s also a finalist for Best Male Athlete alongside Aaron Rodgers, Shohei Ohtani and Connor McDavid. Curry was also nominated for Best Record-Breaking Performance for overcoming Ray Allen for the most made three-pointers in the history of the NBA.
The ceremony comes a month after Golden State’s seventh NBA championship title, which is also their fourth in eight years.
What are the ESPYS Awards?
The ESPYS Awards, which stand for ‘Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly’, is an accolade to recognize individual and team athletic achievement and sports-related performance during the calendar year before a given annual ceremony.
The awards help raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the charity founded by basketball coach Jim Valvano and ESPN back in 1993. Over the past 29 years, ESPN has helped raise more than $165 million for the foundation.
Who will be honored at the ESPYS Awards 2022?
The nominees for the event have already been announced with the best NBA player including Curry, Nikola Jokić, the Denver Nuggets center, Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers center and the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Dončić.
ESPN Executive Editor-At-Large Rob King explained in a statement why Curry is the chosen presenter this year. “Steph has long been one of the brightest stars in the sports constellation, and we’re thrilled to have him share his passion for sports, his wit and his boundless talent with The ESPYS. Whether shining on the court, engaging with fans on social platforms or demonstrating a commitment to communities through varied philanthropic acts, he’s a singular performer who’ll undoubtedly add luster to our celebration of some of this year’s most compelling moments.”
In addition to the NBA awards, former heavyweight boxing champion and mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko will also be honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Retired Army Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans, who is also an author and athlete, will be honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service presented by MassMutual. And last but not least, the college basketball legend, broadcaster and hall-of-famer Dick Vitale will be honored with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.
Martina Navratilova reacts to Rafael Nadal tying her Wimbledon record
Former nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova congratulated Rafael Nadal on tying her for the most wins at The All England Club. On Tuesday, Nadal started his Wimbledon campaign with a 6-4 6-3 3-6 6-4 victory over Francisco Cerundolo.
Following his latest victory, Nadal now has 306 wins at The All England Club. With that, Nadal is tied on the fourth place with the great Navratilova. Navratilova congratulated Nadal and added the Spaniard will certainly clinch many more wins at Wimbledon.
“Congrats Rafa, and you are not done yet,” Navratilova tweeted.
Congrats Rafa:), and you are not done yet!!!:) https://t.co/uSblCtOX9s
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) June 28, 2022
Nadal survived a tricky opener
Nadal, 36, was playing his first official match on grass since 2019.
Nadal entered the Cerundolo match as the absolute favorite but the Argentine put up a strong resistance and had a shot at sending the match into a fifth set. In the fourth set, Cerundolo had a 4-2 lead before Nadal stormed back to win four games in a row and complete a four-set win.
“It’s not a surface that we play very often, and especially in my case, for different reasons, as I said the past three years I didn’t put any foot on a grass court, so it always takes a while,” Nadal said.
“It was my first match and as I know, every day is a test and today was one of these important tests. I know at the beginning of the tournament especially, under the circumstances that I arrived here, the victory is the most important thing because that gives me the chance to practise tomorrow again and to have another match in two days.
I’m happy for that, without a doubt.” In the Wimbledon second round, Nadal faces Ricardas Berankis. Nadal was projected to meet Sam Querrey in the second round but the 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist suffered a surprise loss to Berankis.
Nadal defeated Berankis earlier this year at the Melbourne Summer Set and now he is the absolute favorite to win again.
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