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Why the French Open meant so much to Kiki Bertens

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2016 Roland Garros award show (2:37)

Greg Garber and Johnette Howard share their thoughts on players that deserve awards for their performances throughout the course of the French Open. (2:37)

One of the elements that makes a Grand Slam so much grander than any other grade of tennis tournament is the sheer sprawl of the event. Two-hundred-fifty-six singles players fight it out in a compressed two-week time frame, just one man and one woman left standing when the smoke clears.

That means there are 254 casualties and numerous storylines overtaken and trampled by events. But it's always worth highlighting some of the narratives that dried up -- or that were overshadowed. Here are five from the French Open:

1. Kiki Bertens qualifies for the Olympics

This was a fortnight to remember for the 24-year-old Dutch pro. She knocked off No. 3 seed and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in the first round. Before Bertens was done, the No. 58 ranked player also took out No. 15 Madison Keys and No. 8 Timea Bacsinszky. The latter win landed Bertens in the semifinals, where top-seeded Serena Williams finally halted her run.

But the best win of them all? It was Bertens' emotionally supercharged, supremely critical third-round win against No. 29 seed Daria Kasatkina. It was crucial because the Dutch Olympic Committee has a special requirement for eligibility into the Rio games, even for players who qualify on ranking: They must make the fourth round of a Grand Slam event to be on the team.

With eligibility deadlines looming, the French Open was Bertens' last chance to meet that fourth-round mandate. She miraculously got past Kerber, then hard-hitting Italian Camila Giorgi. Her battle with Kasatkina lasted deep into the evening before Bertens clinched the win -- and a place on the Dutch Olympic squad -- in a 10-8 third-set thriller.

2. Thiem in a generation of his own

With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both out of action, there was sure to be a surprise guest in the semifinals, even if top seeds Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka performed up to snuff.

Would it be Kei Nishikori? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga? Tomas Berdych? Perhaps, true to ATP hopes, one of those heavily promoted "NextGen" youngsters, like Nick Kyrgios or even Alexander Zverev?

Nope, it was Dominic Thiem of Austria who earned the coveted place. Thiem is just 22, a few months too old to be included in that "NextGen" campaign (bet the ATP is re-thinking that decision). He arrived at Roland Garros as the No. 13 seed but with more clay-court wins (20) than anyone this year. He already has six career ATP titles -- five more than Kygrios.

Thiem had a challenging draw, which included a third-round bout against the promising German Zverev. Thiem lost the first set, then gave Zverev just nine games the rest of the way. He also eliminated No. 12 David Goffin, who's always a tough out. Djokovic finally reminded Thiem to respect his elders in the semis.

3. There is joy in mudville

Record rains threatened some of France's most cherished monuments and artifacts. They turned the red clay courts at Roland Garros into pits suitable for mud wrestling. But something wonderful happened for the French to offset all the misery and gloom: Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic won the doubles title. It was the first doubles championship for an all-French women's team since 1971.

To make it sweeter, the pair have been friends since childhood. Garcia is 22, Mladenovic just 23. They certainly deserved to win. They powered through the clay-court season, losing but one match (a quarterfinal in Rome) as they won three titles en route to Roland Garros. Garcia and Mladenovic twice knocked out the heavily hyped No. 2 ranked "Santina" doubles team consisting of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza. In the Roland Garros final, Garcia and Mladenovic defeated the veteran Russian team of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

"We are winning Roland Garros on the central court," Mladenovic said in their postmatch press conference. "Crowded with people. We have the impression that people are singing the National Anthem, Le Marseillaise. They were saying, "Caro ... KiKi." And [to win it] 6-4 in the third set, it's loads of emotions frankly."

4. Best of the big servers

Among all the men renowned for bringing serious thunder, No. 15 John Isner fared the best. With a little better luck, he might have done even greater damage and turned in his best French Open yet.

Ivo Karlovic, age 37, was the second-oldest man in the tournament (only qualifier Radek Stepanek was older and by just two months). He was seeded No. 27, and he captivated the crowd in the first week with his ace-making prowess. Karlovic whacked 31 aces in his first-round win and 41 in the thrilling Round 2 five-set triumph over Australian wild card Jordan Thompson.

But "Dr. Ivo" misfired in the third round when he faced Andy Murray. Karlovic hit just 14 aces and went down quietly, winning just 11 games.

Milos Raonic, the No. 8 seed and most successful of the scorching servers, was upset in the fourth round by Albert Ramos-Vinolas. While Isner also went out at that stage, he lost to eventual runner-up Murray.

Isner, seeded No. 15, had chances in the first-set tiebreaker but lost it 11-9. Murray was able to breath more easily thereafter and won in straights.

In his four matches, Isner fired 110 aces.

5. Triple-digit sensations

Shelby Rogers, a 23-year-old American ranked No. 108, was the sensation of Roland Garros until she lost to eventual champion Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals. Rogers was only the fourth woman ranked outside the top 100 to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event in the past two decades.

Tsvetana Pironkova missed out on her chance to be one of that elite company at Wimbledon in 2010, when she became a Wimbledon semifinalist despite a low ranking of No. 82. She made the cut this year, entering the French Open at No. 102, leaving it only after marching in lockstep with Rogers into the quarters.

Pironkova's run began with a win over former French Open finalist and No. 16 seed Sara Errani. She also demolished No. 19 seed Sloane Stephens and wrestled a three-setter way from No. 2 seed Agnieszka Rawanska. That put Pironkova in the quarterfinals, where she capitulated to former French Open finalist Samantha Stosur.