Today’s recommended reading:
Nadal vs. Djokovic: Here We Are Again, My Friend – by Brian Phillips (Grantland.com)
No, this isn’t recommended reading, it’s required reading. If you haven’t read it already – go off. Be gone with you. Read it. We’ll wait until you get back. *whistles*
The cruelest thing about this glutted golden age of men’s tennis is that it keeps producing astonishing matches, matches that actually expand your idea of what sport can be, and someone has to lose all of them.
Depends on your definition of lose, I guess. I know someone walked off with a title, bigger trophy and more money, but I don’t think either player was a loser on Sunday.
Nadal, though? He plays like he’s fighting giants. It’s not just the sneer, or the muscles, or the hair, or that forehand — you know, the one where he swoops the racket all the way around his head like he’s whipping the team pulling his chariot. It’s also that frantic tenacity that used to drive me so nuts. Federer seems devastated when he loses but he also seems to sense losses coming and accept them before they arrive. When Nadal falls behind, he turns the match into life and death. He gets mad. He hesitates less. He hits the ball harder. He doesn’t look sad or scared. He looks defiant, and he plays like he’s possessed.
There was more than one time during that final where Rafa had the look of a madman in his eye. I remember seeing him turning to get a ball from a ball kid to serve (he wasn’t rude or anything) and his eyes were wide and full of crazy. It frightened me and thrilled me at the same time.
Of course, the terrible thing about tennis, as opposed to mere epic warfare, is that you have to do it again next week. Ultimately, I think what’s clued me in to Nadal’s greatness is that, ever since Djokovic’s rise, he plays this way and still loses.
Or he plays this way, loses and still comes back for more.
You spend years in the shadow of your rival. You never stop working or believing. Finally it all comes together: you surpass him. For a year, maybe two, you win everything. You turn the game upside down, and your bottomless reserve of will makes you seem unstoppable. All the records are going to fall.7 Then, more or less suddenly, a guy you used to beat comfortably surpasses you. Long before your reign was supposed to end, you find yourself overshadowed again. You lose five straight, six straight, seven straight to the new champion, all in finals, three of them in majors. You’re 25, in what should be the peak of your prime as an athlete, and you’re right back where you started. It turns out that your relentlessness isn’t an unstoppable force. But — precisely because you have it — you keep going as if it is.
It’s madness. Bless him.
- A new Q&A for El Mundo (mangle). He was young and short when he gave his first autograph? Heh.
- Punto de inflexión by Carlos Moya (mangle)
- Seems like it’s time to pass out report cards: Tignor’s marks; C-Note’s grades.
- 50 thoughts from wild Aussie Open – by Jon Wertheim (si.com)
- Tennis’s Golden Age? – by Reeves Wiedeman (The New Yorker)
- The great debate (psssst: Wimbledon 2008 final)
- Why Tennis Rules the Earth – from the Wall Street Journal
- Nadal busca un ‘sparring’ sacador (mangle) – what Rafa will be up to in February
Tweets about Rafa:
- Atch did my job for me: Rafa, a Champion in Victory and Defeat.