Tuesday, 26 June 2012

In Seventh Heaven

[The two finalists at the French Open 2012, Nole with the runners-up plate and Rafa with the trophy he nearly owns.]
And history is created! Rafael 'Rafa' Nadal pipped Novak 'Nole' Djokovic two Sundays prior, to capture his seventh French Open crown, and in the process providing decisive evidence to settle the question of who is the greatest clay-courter of all time, him of Björn Borg.  As I had mentioned in an older post, that after capturing the title at Monte Carlo by beating Nole after 7 straight losses in finals, Rafa surely had gotten a bit of his confidence back, and beating Nole again in the Rome final further boosted it. At the start of the French Open, his favourite tournament where he has achieved tremendous success, it looked like he was back to his usual invincible and destructive form, storming through the draw, dropping no set en route to the final and thrashing some of the best claycourters, his own countrymen, Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer, like one does flies with a swatter. His shoes, the left one with '6' emblazoned, for the six titles he has won there, and the right one with his stylized bull, he seemed to make his intentions clear. In the final, waiting for him was Nole, who in contrast, had to work really hard to get there, having two tough five-setters in the fourth set (he was down 2 sets to 0) and quarters, but surprisingly beating Federer rather comfortably in the semis. It was the first time in the men's game that two same opponents contested the finals at four consecutive Grand Slams. Nole was bidding to win his fourth consecutive Grand Slam, to become only the third man to hold all four of them at the same time, just like Rafa was bidding to do at the Australian Open in 2011. However, he was denied.

[Nadal ready to charge and batter the ball. Again he opts for bright fluorescent colours that many would shy away from wearing, although he carries it off really well; just love his shoes.]
It would have been amazing to see Nole get that record and join the elite club of Don Budge and Rod Laver, but being a die-hard Nadal fan, I wished for something different. Right from the start of the match, Nadal looked like the better player, serving better and bigger, hitting massive forehands and defending his territory and crown with increased tenacity. He was playing from god knows how many feet behind the baseline, yet would make it to the net to return a delicate drop-shot played by the Serb. His body language was far more positive, and the pressure of the fourth consecutive Grand Slam on the Serb was pretty evident. However, he too played some classy shots and did not shy away from taking risks and providing entertainment to the delight of the French crowd, after all everyone wants their money's worth. There were a lot of break of serves in the match but, Nadal always seemed to get the break and then hold his own when it mattered the most, him winning the first two sets. In the second set when Nole let Rafa break his serve to lead 4-3, he got so angry he smashed his racquet into the chair which had Perrier written on it, much to the joy of the crowd. Wonder if Perrier can sue him for that!

With Nole looking agitated and Rafa going from strength to strength it looked like the match would be a short one, and for a third time Rafa would win the title without losing a set. However, when he was leading 2-0 in the third, Nole found that extra something and raced away with the 6 games in that set, and the first 2 of the fourth set as well, much to my shock and amazement. It seemed as if Rafa wasn't doing much! There had already been a rain delay before and another one came in at 2-1 in Nole's favour in the fourth set, but not before the best rally ever that I had seen, a 44 point gem, where at multiple stages you thought that it is going to end now, oh there is no way he can return that ball, how did he fetch that... ultimately Nole winning it. The second rain delay forced the final to be continued on Monday. That was disappointing, because we had all gathered at my friend's place and it was getting really late, close to midnight, and we didn't wanna impose, for it was a big group of people, nor did we want to miss even a minute of the match should it start. We all left his place after waiting for quite some time, after we made him promise he would update all of us if the match started again and we still hadn't reached our respective houses. With the kind of money these tournaments generate, why can't they put a decent roof up, at least on the main show courts, to avoid such delays and disruptions, especially when they know how whimsical their weather is?

[An emotional Nadal breaking into tears after winning a historic seventh French crown. Wow, those are some washboard abs!
That was the lovely watch that got stolen. Inspector Jacques Clouseau, where are thee when thy country needs thee the most?]
Luckily, it didn't start that day. On Monday, it seemed like the new day had helped Rafa regain his composure which he had lost briefly for a set. He exploded from the get go and after a couple of ups and downs, finally claimed the set 7-5 and with it the title. Rafa got emotional after the win, breaking into tears and then jumping into the crowd to greet and hug his family and friends - coach and uncle Toni Nadal, his father Sebastián Nadal, his girlfriend Maria Francisca Perello (Xisca), and his friend, compatriot  and Los Angeles Lakers player Pau Gasol, with whom he had a touching moment, and others. He, with the trophy by his side, even posed with a whole bunch of them, for who gets to that elusive seven!  Nole spoke a large portion of his speech in French. Nadal followed suit, giving his entire speech in French for the first time, which pleased the crowd, but maybe not that much, for his watch was stolen; luckily it was recovered later. The French have a reputation for being rude, although I have never encountered that in France, but thieves! And that too in under the watchful eyes of hundreds of spectators and cameras, that takes guts and audacity! Maybe a job for Inspector Jacques Clouseau. This was Rafa's seventh title, helping him edge past the Swede Björn Borg's six. Nadal now is the only player to win the French Open seven times, and shares the record for winning any major that many times with Pete Sampras, who won an equal number of Wimbledons. With Rafa being only 26 years old, and at least half a decade of tennis left in him, it looks like he may win a whole bunch of other majors. The title boosted his Major wins to eleven, putting him in fourth place on the all-time list, tying him with Borg and Laver. Rafa is also the only player to win three different tournaments more than seven times, after winning the Monte Carlo title and the Barcelona title earlier this year for a record eighth and seventh time respectively. No one has even won two tournaments seven times. Such is his genius and dominance!

[Nadal biting the trophy in his typical trophy. No one has bitten La Coupe des Mousquetaires more than him.]
With Wimbledon already under way, and as I has stated in my previous post, that this being an Olympic year, I hope Rafa regains his Wimbledon title and defends the Olympic Gold, after all that is a title whose points you enjoy for four whole years. Federer's love for the grass courts at Wimbledon is no secret, and with age not on his side (this will most probably be his last Olympics), he will be pushing harder than ever to win the one thing that has eluded his glorious career, a Singles Gold Medal. The ex-Federer fan in me wants him to win Wimbledon so that he can equal Pete Sampras' record for seven titles and also for the number of weeks spent as World Number 1. Federer is at 285 weeks, and just one short of equalling Sampras' record. I just want him to get that, so as to put an end to the debate as to who is a better player, him or Sampras, for Federer is undoubtedly the greatest the game has seen, given that he won all majors, even the French Open once and finished as runners-up on four occasions, while Sampras could only manage to reach the semis, that too, just once. Let Federer beat Sampras' records, and Rafa is most certainly going to get there. He won't get the number of weeks at the top record, but he will easily end up with the most Majors. Hope the Wimbledon and Olympics have plenty of amazing tennis.
[Rafa posing with his prized 'possession'. Is it just me, or does he look like a lot like the pictures of Jesus Christ with his long flowing hair?]

[Cheers to Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi for capturing the French Open Mixed Doubles crown; left on her own, Sania could have never even won any Major, and finally Hesh breaks the jinx of not winning a Mixed Open crown with the same partner again.]

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