One year ago (okay, one year ago tomorrow – allow me some poetic license), Rafa became the 2008 Wimbledon champion in a match that had many of us glued to our TV sets for hours on end. Sadly, this year, Rafa didn’t get a chance to defend that title. Some people have said that it’s too painful or too boring to watch Wimbledon 2009. I have to admit, I’m not one of those people. Yes, I really wish he could have been there and think that the tournament would have been much more exciting thanks to his presence, but I’ve enjoyed some good tennis and fun matches in the past two weeks.
I’ve also heard people say that they wanted to re-watch the 2008 final, but that doing so would make them too sad and that baffles me. I don’t understand how watching that glorious match could cause any Rafa fan to be sad. Fed fans, sure. Rafa fans? I don’t get it.
Yes, Rafa didn’t get an opportunity to be the 2009 champion, but nothing can take away the fact that he is the 2008 Wimbledon champion. Nothing can take away the knowledge that he can blow a two sets to love lead against the #1 player in the world and still come back and win. Nothing can take away the feeling that winning that match gave him. And for us, nothing can take away our memories of that tension-filled day. How impressed were you during those first two sets? How much did you pace during the rain delay? How far did your heart sink when the tide turned in the third set? How much further did it sink during that tie breaker in the 4th? Did it cause you to lose faith? Did it cause you to turn the TV off because you couldn’t stand the tension anymore? Or did you, faith a little shaky, spend that last rain delay pacing around and thinking, “it’s still possible, isn’t it?” And how much did your blood pressure go up with each and every service hold in that 5th set? Did you keep looking at the clock and staring at your TV set trying to figure out how dark it actually was on court? Did you think they were ever going to be able to finish that night?
When the match was finally over, how much relief and joy did you feel? And then did you wonder where the hell the day had gone? The match didn’t take that long, did it? Did you keep watching the footage of Rafa celebrating with his family over and over again? Watch him stare at the trophy mesmerized by it? Listen to his shaky and full of emotion interviews? Try to fathom what he must be feeling?
When asked what he remembered most from that match, Rafa responded:
“I only remember this.” And here he does something unexpected: He closes his eyes and opens his mouth wide in a silent scream of exhilaration, then tosses his head and arms back against the cushions of the couch, re-creating the moment in which he lay on the court, victorious and exhausted.
Do you think that’s changed for him now? I certainly hope not and I certainly hope it hasn’t changed for us. So, I’m going to ask you to relive a little bit of that match…including some painful parts in that 4th set tiebreaker. Why? The pain of that tiebreaker makes the victory that much more amazing. It also sends a message to every opponent Rafa faces from here on out. They know that he’s not a guy who’s going to “go away” no matter how hard they try to make him and no matter how much is riding on the match.
A few bits from the 4th set tiebreaker:
1. Rafa is serving at 5-2 – the match and the championship are on his racket. And…he serves a very nervy double fault and looks up at his box like, “man, I fucked that up didn’t I?” I love that look he gives them – total sheepishness. I love the wry smile on his dad’s face just before he “keeps things positive” and starts to clap.
2. It’s 5-6. Rafa is serving with a set point against him. Mom and Dad do the positive thing and try to encourage him. Toni gulps and we gulp along with him. Rafa looks serious and determined…and faults. He serves again and 17 strokes later, Federer sends a ball wide to put them at 6-6.
3. Now it’s 7-7 and Federer is serving. On the full stretch, Rafa hits an amazing forehand down the line to get the mini-break. Papa Nadal almost can’t take it anymore.
4. Rafa’s serving at 8-8. Federer manages to take control of the point by running Rafa far wide and he earns himself another set point.
5. Federer wins the 4th set.
Those last two games:
By this point, I really thought my heart was going to explode. When Rafa got that break I just kept chanting, “please, don’t let him get too nervous again, please.” I admit to not being too encouraged when it looked like he was unable to drink without dribbling water all over himself. I kept wondering how the loved ones for both players were still alive and hadn’t keeled over. Hell, I kept wondering the same thing about the players.
I cannot imagine the feelings and thoughts flowing through Rafa’s mind and body as he fell to the grass upon winning. He had achieved a childhood dream and done it in just about the most dramatic fashion possible.
And there was much rejoicing:
It’s wonderful that Rafa wanted to share the win with his family, but I admit that I worried about him falling when he was climbing around on the roof! Federer’s father standing there applauding and then turning to get the Nadal family’s attention once he realized what Rafa was doing was so touching. He must have been feeling for his son something awful and yet, he stood there and applauded and helped the Nadals with their celebration. And then Rafa takes things one step farther and goes strolling across the roof to get to the royal box! I was laughing and thinking, “Only Rafa.”
Can you imagine going through a day like he had and then having to try and think in a foreign language and express impossible to express feelings to a world-wide crowd? I can’t. And do to so while also being freaking adorable? Impossible.
And lastly, I love how Rafa shakes off McEnroe trying to bring up the 4th set tiebreak choke. No way was he going there. He was enjoying his victory and refusing to look at the negative. And you know, that’s the bottom line and why watching this shouldn’t make you sad.