The eternal beauty of watching sports is, it throws a surprise at you, when you least expect it. Just like when India beat the West Indies in world cup final after being bundled out for 183 runs or when one man army the likes of a Richards or Kapil or a Ben Stokes decide to beat eleven member opposition team all by themselves.
The greatest Tennis rivalries are all built on a possibility that either player can win. Borg Vs McEnroe or Sampras Vs Agassi or Federer Vs Nadal or Djokovic Vs Nadal. But then, the last two rivalries will have an exception that Federer Vs Nadal or Djokovic Vs Nadal except in French open.
No one in their right mind, even the die-hardest fan (is there a superlative for die-hard fan?) would have expected Djokovic to win against Nadal last night, after Djoko lost the first two games of the match, from an advantageous position. In the first game he had couple of break points and in the second game, he was serving 40-15 before losing both the games and lost the first set 6-0. I switched off my PC (I was watching the live streaming), posted a message to my nephew, Adarsh saying, this is the end of the match and went to sleep. Normally in a situation like this, I would toss and turn in the bed, wondering ‘what if my favourite player makes a come back? Am I going to miss one of the most entertaining match?’ I entertained no such thoughts yesterday. You don’t make a comeback against the king/emperor/sultan of French Clay Court Rafael Nadal, not even in dreams and certainly not after losing the first set six – love.
Statistics may not give a complete picture of how Nadal has been ruling the French open since he was a teenager. Much water has flown down the Seine river since then. We all have finished school or college, entered workforce, changed careers, America has gone from Democrats to Republicans back Demo back to repub and so on. The one constant thing amongst all the changes was, Nadal will come to Paris every year, beat everyone to pulp, take the cup, pose with his trademark smile with a quirk and go back only to return the following year and repeat the process all over. The only constant thing we have seen in our lives is the queen meeting the visiting US Presidents since the fifties. Biden would be probably the fourteenth president, same number of titles Nadal has won in French Open.
I am waiting for Mohan Ram to come to office to give a commentary of how the match went yesterday. I don’t know of anyone else in my circle who would have watched except Naga. Even Adarsh gave up. The couple of highlights I watched in the morning showed how Nadal was playing some of the most incredible shots he normally plays in French open. So much chance for an upset, which of course did happen.
Of all the other ones (McEnroe, Agassi, and Nadal), I compare with my favorites (Borg, Sampras and Federer/Djoko), Nadal gives the least chance to dislike him. With McEnroe one could come up with an argument that he was brash and not a true role model, and with Agassi you could say he was more ‘show off’ than a player (not true), and his incredible service returns that just fell one millimeter inside the baseline, was more luck than precision hitting (exaggeration). There are no such arguments (even as flimsy as the one mentioned above) with Nadal. He behaves immaculately on and off the court, plays like a true champion, is friendly with other greats of the sport, always says nice things about others and plays incredible tennis. The only fault, if at all, you want to say something about the rival of your hero, is he takes forever to serve and by the time the other player gets tired of waiting and loses the point. Silly of course, he is allowed as much time to serve as everyone else. But he is the opposite of one of my all time favourite, Goran Ivanisevic, who just took the ball, threw it up and hit it as it came down. I think, on an average, Goran would have served for the entire set, by the time Nadal finished serving for one game.
Other than that, you can’t find even a flimsy excuse to dislike Nadal, who is indeed a true champion.
I always thought Djoko had a better chance to beat Nadal on clay, remember the only time Federer won French open championship was, when he did not face Nadal in the tournament. Unlike Federer who played like a deer caught in headlights or Selladurai meeting Mike Grundy when playing Nadal, Djoko definitely played Nadal better, his overall record against Nadal is better than that of FedEx. But then he lost to Nadal in French open few years back and I assumed that till Nadal retires from Tennis, there isn’t going to be a new champion in French open.
Well Djoko has a chance now, or for that matter, Stefanos Tsitsipas who can become a new champion.
Mohan sent me a message saying it’s not over until the game is over or It ain’t over till the fat lady sings and we should have watched the match, the greatest match played, in many years on clay. But then, who would have thought, that man Djoko, would rewrite history or a new chapter of it, past midnight when India went to sleep?
A glimpse of what we (most of us) missed yesterday.