French Open supplies memories aplenty

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Serena Williams pounded some of the hardest women's serves ever, including a 128-mph ace on the last point of her match; Rafael Nadal tried something a little more unconventional against Novak Djokovic.

PARIS -- Of the many museums in Paris, one of my favorites is the lesser publicized Musée Marmottan Monet, which is devoted to the great Impressionist, Claude Monet. Or at least, it was one of my favorites.

I eagerly visited the museum before Sunday's men's final only to discover it has been remodeled and not in a good way. A huge share of the Monet paintings are gone (or in storage) and the ones that remain hang in a very cluttered and far-too-small room. Worse, the gallery does not allow visitors ample space to back away and view the paintings from a distance.

This is a shame because Monet's brushstrokes come vibrantly alive from a distance. As the character Cher says in the movie "Clueless," another girl "is a total Monet," meaning she looks better from a distance than up-close.

Actually, the best way to look back at many things is from a figurative distance. As athletes say so often after a big competition, they won't able to really appreciate what they did (or didn't do) until later, perhaps much later -- weeks, months or even years later.

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Bothered by a bad back, Venus Williams fought valiantly but lost on the first day, prompting an inevitable question.

As I wrote at the beginning of the tournament, this was the first Grand Slam I have covered. And now that the tournament is over, it's time to reflect from a distance on what I experienced.

Here are the impressions I will take away.

Venus Williams, her once powerful serve restricted by a bad back, battling to the last in the fading twilight of her first day loss to Urszula Radwanska. Venus is one of the greatest players in tennis history, but as she clawed and fought, it was difficult not to wonder whether the sun was setting on her career as well. Asked whether it might be her last match at Roland Garros, she simply said she would let people know if it was.

"For me, I would never give up," she said. "Obviously, at some point everyone has to retire, but I have to give myself a chance to continue working on feeling better. I wouldn't give up just because it's difficult."

Meeting Martina Navratilova. I interviewed her to get her take on the loud gay marriage protests in Paris (this was before the protestor with the flare during Sunday's final). Her remarks on gay marriage were interesting -- "I always say, where is the harm and how does it affect you whether my partner has a penis or not?'' -- but I also enjoyed listening to her describe her hilarious cameo appearance on the comedy, "Portlandia" this winter.

Martina said most of the scene was ad-libbed, which, given her performance is almost as impressive as her 18 Grand Slam titles. Seriously, it ranks among the best movie/TV scenes ever by an athlete.

Rafael Nadal returning a shot between his legs while racing away from the net during Friday's semifinal against Novak Djokovic. Players attempt such shots from time to time, but rarely does it work. It did this time, and against the world's No. 1. No wonder he never loses here.

Roger Federer answering questions in three languages. I've covered baseball for many years and the postgame clubhouse situation can sometimes be frustrating. Baseball players fail more than they succeed, so they understandably grow tired of reporters' questioning. They sometimes duck reporters, even after big games. When they do speak, it usually is in a crush of reporters surrounding their lockers and jockeying for space.

This is not the case in tennis, where players come to the interview rooms if requested, win or lose. Most speak English in addition to their native language. And Federer answers questions in English, French and German. Perhaps the only baseball player who answers questions in so many languages is Manny Ramirez -- Spanish, English and whatever it is they speak on MannyWorld.

Returning to my hotel at the end of each day by walking past Piscine Molitor to Rue Molitor, and then following it to the Molitor metro stop. Paul Molitor is one my favorite baseball players I ever covered, and thus, that made it easy to find my way. On the other hand, having covered Jim Lefebvre did not help me the day I rented a bike, cycled to Roland Garros, got lost and wound up repeatedly riding up and down Boulevard Lefebvre.

Serena completing her championship match by smashing an ace past Maria Sharapova at 128 miles per hour, believed to be the third-fastest serve in women's tennis history. She is 31 years old but at the peak of her career. And I saw her, along with Nadal, Federer, Dojokovic and so many others. I am lucky.

I will have to check my luggage on the flight home, however. I am taking home more memories from my first Grand Slam than I can ever fit in my carry-on.

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