The French Open provided what it promised: the two best tennis players in the world skidding around on mushed-up brick. Some of you may have an aversion to watching tennis for whatever reason. Even more of you may be unwilling/unable to rouse yourself awake at 9am on a Sunday. Don’t sleep on tennis. It’s a great game to watch, especially hung over. Maybe it’s because they force the crowd to be quiet. Maybe it’s because of soothing, rhythmic grunting. Maybe it’s because the dulcet tones of Bud Collins are like Advil and a bloody mary without the stomach irritation. Either way, it’s a great game and this was a great match and a perfect way to kick off a long day of lying in bed and watching sports.
This match was a study in contrasts. As clichéd as that sounds, it’s hella apt. You have Roger Federer, the demure, beheadbanded, Swiss Morrissey vs. Rafael Nadal, the wild eyed, scruffy, Mallorcan man-child in Laura Petrie pants. Nadal, despite being ranked #2 in the world behind Federer, was the favorite in the match, having yet to lose in the French Open, ever. It’s been widely documented that Nadal is undefeated at Roland Garros, and the French Open is the only major tournament Federer has never won.
It looks like these facts were all too apparent to Roger.
He played scared at times. He made uncharacteristic unforced errors. He seemed to be battling Nadal as well as his own French Open demons. During one telling Nadal 2nd serve – which, according to conventional wisdom, is going to have a little less horseradish than the 1st serve – he backpedaled instead of charging in. One can only assume this was out of fear, fear of an opponent he knows owns that surface and that tournament. Though Roger cannot be blamed for his trepidation. Nadal must be an imposing force to anyone across the net from him at the French. Looking like Mowgli from the Jungle Book with a Wet Seal wardrobe, opponents have to admire the strength of his couture convictions to adhere to such tragically European fashion choices.
That and he navigates the clay surface with such quickness that it’s almost unfair. Clay is supposed to bog speedy players down and shorten the points. Yet whenever Federer attempted drop shots, Rafael was able to catch up with them with surprising ease. Nadal has a mysterious immunity to the trappings and limitations of the clay court. He once had a gaudy 81-match win streak on the red dirt, and can now take his place among French Open clay masters like Swedish heart-thrÖb BjÖrn Borg and Australia’s Ken Rosewall, who isn’t all that attractive.
Federer may very well be “the best player ever to play the game,” but until he can solve Nadal and the French, there will remain an asterisk next to his name.