If nothing else, the weekend's French Open men's and women's finals proved how much tennis is about the mind as much as the body. That proof was enlightening in the case of Roger Federer and rather disheartening in the case of Dinara Safina.
I'd been rooting heavily for Safina, who's gagged away her previous Grand Slam final at the Australian in January against Serena Williams. Safina had obviously put in a lot of hard and heavy work to get her body and mind both into shape, and she destroyed her first few opponents in Paris without mercy. What made me think, though, that she would win the whole thing was her victory over Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, when she was flat-out outplayed for a set-and-a-half before she dug down and pulled out the victory.
I didn't expect -- and neither did Safina, I'd imagine -- that lovable headcase Svetlana Kuznetsova would slay her own mental demons by taking out Serena Williams in the quarters. Kuznetsova played rock-solid tennis almost from the start of Saturday's final -- almost, since she dropped her opening service game, only to immediately break back. Safina wasn't playing horribly, at first, but it seemed that as it slowly dawned on her that she couldn't play at the level she would need to beat Kuznetsova, the iron will she'd worked so hard to forge began to melt and the second set degenerated into the mental-breakdown, mis-matched final we see in far too many Grand Slam finals. Really, with a handful of notable exceptions, all the great women's matches these days seem to take place in the quarters and semis.
Nothing should be taken away from Kuznetsova, who's long been a favorite of mine, and who seems to be a class act all the way. As sad as it was to see Safina meltdown, it was exhilirating to see Kuznetsova overcome her own demons between the ears -- and it should give Safina some hope for future finals (and I expect she'll have more than a few) by example that those demons can be dealth with.
On the men's side, there's not really much to say other than to be rather in awe once more of Roger Federer, who grabbed his personal holy grail at the French. For the past few months, he had seemed to be cracking under pressure himself -- that he held up under the pressure of being the unexpected favorite to win after Rafael Nadal's exit was impressive, as was his ability to re-focus after being accosted by a crazy man who ran on the court. It's sadly amazing that in the sport where Monica Seles was stabbed by a fan anyone should be able to get within a few feet of a player during a match, much less actually lay hands on a player as this idiot did with Federer. I imagine Roland Garros will be reviewing their security systems and contracts for next year. But given that it could have been an irrational game-changing incident, it was impressive that Federer kept himself together and focused. His victory was a lovely thing to see.
One last thing: Robin Soderling, slayer of Nadal and sacrifical lamb for Federer, has a reputation as a bit of an asshole, but his funny, self-deprecating, yet-still-self-confident speech to the crowd after Sunday's match may have gone a long way toward improving that rep. I wonder if that will be the case as we move into Wimbledon.