Despite fans' doubts and fears going in, the 2017 French Open turned out to be a riveting, satisfying spectacle. While Rafael Nadal was the overwhelming favorite, few would have picked Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko to win the title. Here are some takeaways from Roland Garros:
All it takes is good storylines -- and great tennis
Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia took their French countrymen on a thrilling ride. Steve Johnson played on, despite being wracked by emotions in the wake of the unexpected death of his coach and father, Steve Sr. Andre Agassi popped up to coach Novak Djokovic. Jelena Ostapenko matured before our eyes. Nadal reasserted his King of Clay credentials. Lucky loser Ons Jabeur from Tunisia became the first Arab woman to reach the third round in Grand Slam history ... and so on.
Tennis-wise, 16 of the 31 women's singles matches starting in the third round went to three sets (oddly, the men produced a dearth of nip-and-tuck matches). That includes six of the eight WTA quarterfinals. The two semis and final were compelling, high-quality matches also decided in three sets. This was perhaps the most competitive women's tournament in the Open era.
The spectacle of the chair umpire and one or both players peering at a mark on the clay, arguing about the mark's dimensions or location, is part of the clay court tradition. But it also leads to episodes like the ones that led to a critical service break for Mladenovic at 3-all in the third set of her match with 21-year-old American Jennifer Brady.
Then, and at another key moment at 7-all, Mladenovic disputed a line call and squabbled for a long time with chair umpire Julie Kjendlie. Both times the player was wrong, and Hawkeye (used by television, but not the tournament) proved it. Kjendlie made a big mistake allowing Mladenovic to continue bickering for no reason, as Brady stood idly at the far end, her momentum broken.
Line-call controversies are an ongoing problem at Roland Garros. True, Hawkeye is said to be not as accurate on clay as on hard court. But it's definitely consistent. If everyone agreed to abide by it, a certain amount of stress -- and gamesmanship -- would be eliminated.
A new (younger) order is emerging in the WTA
The finalists at Roland Garros were 20-year-old Ostapenko and 25-year-old Simona Halep. Maria Sharapova, who's 30, may eventually power her way back into the elite ranks of the WTA, but let's face it, the WTA landscape is changing dramatically. Both Halep and her semifinal opponent, Karolina Pliskova, also 25, had a shot at taking over the No. 1 ranking when they met in the semis.
Venus Williams is nearly 37 and still playing very well (she lost in the fourth round), but she and Serena are aging out. Kerber is closing in on 30, but has looked burned out. Once reliable top-10 staples like Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwańska, Sam Stosur and Jelena Jankovic also are losing, or have lost, their places to a fleet of 25-and-under players perfectly represented by the likes of Ostapenko and the most successful WTA player going into Roland Garros, 22-year-old Elina Svitolina.
Anything goes from here on in for the ATP
Like the WTA, the ATP is also on the brink of a generational transformation. But it has also witnessed the incredible resurgence of two of the game's greatest-ever players, veterans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Halfway through the Grand Slam menu, it's clear that a year that was supposed to be about the Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic rivalry took a left turn and spawned a host of unexpected plot lines.
Words to live -- or laugh -- by
"Last week I won my first-ever clay tournament [in Lyon]. And today I lost at the French Open. It's the paradox of tennis." -- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seeded No. 12, showing his philosophical French side after losing in the first round to Renzo Olivo, a 25-year-old who was playing in just his third major and his first French Open.
"Well, when I win, I represent the Arab world. When I lose, I try to be just Ons Jabeur." -- Ons Jabeur, a Tunisian Muslim who received special permission to take a two-week break from Ramadan so she can meet the demands of competing at Roland-Garros. She was the first lucky loser to get to the third round of the women's draw at Roland-Garros in more than two decades.
"When I'm back home I don't really train that much on clay because it makes my cars dirty, too." -- Nick Kyrgios, who went on another racket-smashing rampage after losing in the second round to Kevin Anderson.
The U.S. continues to spin its wheels
Once again, most players from the U.S. made progress incrementally, if at all. Jack Sock, seeded No. 14, and Madison Keys, the No. 12 seed in the women's draw, won one match between them: Key's first-rounder.
The men didn't fare as well. No. 21 seed John Isner and No. 25 seed Johnson were the lone Americans in the third round. Johnson's two wins, crafted under emotional duress as he struggled to deal with the death of his father, were a great effort that grabbed headlines. Youngster Frances Tiafoe and 27-year-old Donald Young put in valiant first-round efforts against tough opponents but lost to Fabio Fognini and David Ferrer respectively.
Good sportsmanship and fake air kisses
There were truly touching, even transcendent moments and images created at this tournament: Juan Martin del Potro comforted his opponent Nicolas Almagro, arm slung over his shoulder, for long minutes after Almagro fell to the court with a knee injury, then had to default.
Dominic Thiem took some extra time at the net to extend his condolences to Johnson after ending his tournament in the third round. Boris Becker, who left Novak Djokovic's team last December, stole into the player box to bid best wishes and shake hands with Agassi, Djokovic's new coach (and Becker's former rival).
Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet, both French, met in the quarterfinals. The festive occasion was marred only by the fact that, because of a Fed Cup disagreement, the women were not on speaking terms. But when Garcia went to the net after winning, she spontaneously leaned over and gave Cornet an unplanned and unexpected air kiss, as is the custom among friendly women.
"It was the coldest kiss I had in my life, but it was a kiss," Cornet later told reporters. "I liked it. I mean, it was good to finish on this note."