Tennis Elbow: Lucky number 7
June 11, 2012 · Print This Article
Welcome to Tennis Elbow, a new column that will look back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon looks at an epic, but frustrating, men’s French Open final.
Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six…
At Roland Garros this year, Rafael Nadal had the number ‘6’ etched on the back of his shoes–six, of course, being the number of Roland Garros titles he had captured to this point in his career.
No more. On Monday, after rain had suspended and postponed the men’s French Open final, Nadal won his record 7th Roland Garros title. He defeated Novak Djokovic in a four-set battle that was, if not pretty, at least rich in history by a score of 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.
Tennis is such a beautiful sport even when it’s ugly–this is a good thing, because the match was plenty ugly. Let’s start with the weather, cloudy with rain that rarely stopped and even forced three delays. Frankly, the rain compromised what could have been an absolute classic, but complaining about this really doesn’t get you anywhere. And regardless of well Nadal and Djokovic played under difficult conditions, this match was a classic.
The stakes were high for both Nadal and Djokovic entering this final because both had a shot at history.
For Djokovic, the current alpha dog on the ATP World Tour, a win would have completed his assault on the men’s tour. Beating Nadal in Nadal’s own backyard, on court Philippe-Chatrier, would have given Djokovic the upper hand on every surface in what has become the sport’s best rivalry. Most of all, this would have completed not only the career but also the calendar year Grand Slam–a win would have made Djokovic the defending champion of the four most recent major tournaments. This feat hasn’t happened since Rod Laver’s stellar 1969 season.
For this, you can thank King Rafa, who has twice spoiled Roger Federer’s attempt at winning a fourth straight Grand Slam tournament–Roland-Garros, always–in 2006 and 2007. Entering the final against Djokovic, the Spaniard had a chance to become the greatest clay-court champion ever with his 7th Roland Garros title, putting him one clear of Bjorn Borg. Mission accomplished. With the win, Nadal is now an astonishing 52-1 at the French Open with the lone loss coming in 2009 against Robin Soderling when he probably wasn’t at full strength.
Above all, this is what made this year’s French Open final so beautiful–that there was so much riding on the outcome of one match. Much like the weather, the play on the dirt was messy and inconsistent, and too often the moments of brilliance were overshadowed by ineptitude. There was absolutely no way that Nadal and Djokovic could have matched the timeless 2012 Australian Open final, and all of us knew it deep down–but still, we hoped that they would have.
The loss will sting Djokovic, who had a chance to write his own place in history. Winning four Grand Slam tournaments in a row is something that not even Nadal or Federer have done, and would have assured him his proper place in history. Once his career is over, it will be interesting to see how kind history is to him because the Serb has been going up against two of the greatest in King Roger and King Rafa. Will Djokovic be little more than a footnote to the Federer and Nadal era? Let’s hope that he is, and this starts with Wimbledon.
That Nadal won a seventh French Open title, an 11th Grand Slam tournament over all, in this era against players like Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, two all-time greats, is incredible. He might not be the greatest clay court player of all time–it’s tough to be definitive these days–but he just very well might be. That enough is astounding.
And you know what? It’s time for King Rafa to get a new pair of shoes.
by: Charles Blouin-Gascon