So there we all were, seated in Court Philippe Chatrier, already in a mild state of alert. Would David Ferrer figure out a way to mount a real challenge to Rafael Nadal, after losing to him 16 consecutive times on clay? Would the overcast sky have mercy on the afternoon and keep the rain to itself? Would Nadal be penalized yet again for the duration of his baseball-pitch-signal service-line ritual? The concern about Ferrer was answered decisively enough when he managed to break Nadal early in the first set only to lose his advantage and then the set. It was more of the same in the second. But Ferrer is a fighter, and in the fifth game he fought. The result was a splendid 29-stroke rally that ended with Nadal being drawn to the net and hitting a winner and the crowd erupting with cheers.
This is important to mention for two reasons. The first is that it was a spectacular and aggressive point. It ended with both men moaning and grunting as if every shot were a 400-pound bench press. When it was over, Ferrer did some pacing at the back of the court, then stood at the service line to receive from Nadal. He was still panting. Nadal performed his ball-bouncing, pants-tugging, brow-wiping ritual with no apparent loss of breath. The other reason to mention that point is that it was all downhill from there. Ferrer put his next return into the net and proceeded to lose the next four points.
But with Nadal serving for the set, a noise arose from the tippy-top of the stadium. Two banners, in blue, white, and red, were being waved, one in French, the other in English. Without looking up, it was natural to assume that these were just fans who'd missed the deadline for shutting up before a player serves. But their shouts of protest complemented their banners: "Help! France tramples on children's rights." They were young, well-dressed (scarves, leather jackets, nice glasses), and went on for an uncomfortably long time. Before security could get to them, some spectators had taken it upon themselves to try to quell the noise — one going so far as to snatch one of the banners and toss it over the stadium wall in a comical fit of aggravation.
Two of the protesters were escorted out to the sound of jeers. Amazingly, their mates took their seats, endured some minor harassment from their neighbors, and watched as play resumed. It's inconceivable that, after disrupting the world's biggest clay-court tennis tournament with a political protest, they could sit there and continue to be spectators. But that's just what they did. Ferrer failed to hold his serve. Shortly thereafter, there was another shout, this time from behind the players' chairs, and onto the court leaped a shirtless man (torse nu in French) with a lit flare, a white plastic mask, and the words "kids right" Sharpied, wrong, across his abdomen.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on over the weekend.
In their first duel of the Olympics, Ryan Lochte dominated Michael Phelps to take gold in the 400-meter individual medley. "Sure, Ryan swam well," said an irritated Phelps, defending his legacy, "but has he ever mated with a dolphin? Because I have. I mated with a damn dolphin, and she came on to me."
Heading into the basketball competition of these Olympics, there are several teams that are a threat to medal, and maybe even contend with Team USA. As the Games ramp up, we’ll be providing looks at the strengths, weaknesses, and chances of these possible contenders.
Much like Spain, France features a team full of NBA pros and familiar names. Although they lost to Spain in the finals of EuroBasket last season, France had a fantastic run in that tournament that allowed them to qualify for these Olympic Games, where they should be a threat to win another medal.
Former France national team manager Raymond Domenech believes in things that you and I do not. Using astrology to help pick his team, for one. But here's one thing Domenech believes that seems to be right on: Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Samir Nasri are not good enough for France. When Domenech was manager of the France national team, he resisted cries to include these young players, who were the core of France’s under-17 European Championship squad in 2004. And when the French players revolted and refused to practice at the last World Cup, it seemed a blessing in disguise that they were not there. Heading into Euro 2012, the feeling was that under new manager Laurent Blanc, Nasri, Ben Arfa, and Benzema were finally going to get a chance to strut their stuff. When the tournament ended for France with consecutive 2-0 defeats to Spain and Sweden, and a solitary goal between the trio of Benzema, Ben Arfa, and Nasri, the knives were out after yet another debacle, and it is now hard to escape the feeling that French football is in a state of terminal decline and the current crop of players won’t be the ones to stop it.
How They Got Here: Portugal pulled off the unlikely feat — or what seemed an unlikely feat before the tournament — of making it out of Group B, the Group of Death. After a fairly close loss to Germany, 1-0, Paulo Bento's side got a game-winning goal against Denmark from little-known Silvestre Varela and a world-beating performance from Cristiano Ronaldo in a 2-1 win against the Dutch.
The Czechs got their pants pulled down by Russia in one of the most one-sided losses of the tournament so far (4-1, on the opening day of Euro 2012). Since then, they've taken their chances very well (basically the key to winning tournament games). Their opening goal against Greece was like watching CCTV footage of a mugging.
"Il y aura au moins un Francaise en finale NBA puisque la finale de la conference Est opposera le Boston de Mickael Pietrus au Miami de Ronny Turiaf. Il y en aura pour-etre trois puisque le vainquerur de cette confrontation pourrait y retrouver les San Antonio Spurs de Tony Parker et Boris Diaw qui afrontent Oklahoma en finale de la conference Ouest."
I won't bore you with a full translation, but according to Liberation, the left-leaning local newspaper responsible for the news brief above, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant are mere afterthoughts in the Conference Finals. The real action involves the four French players, who have combined to average 32.2 points per game — take out Parker and it's 13.2 — just a smidge above what LeBron (29.3 ppg) has done on his own. The only other rightfully myopic view could belong to University of Kansas fans, who have three teams remaining with former players. Go get ‘em, Cole!