Thursday, June 10, 2010

The King of Clay Reclaims His Crown and Court!!

(Rafa back at the top. Where he belongs!)

So while in Paris, I got to go to Roland Garros during the men's final. It was a very fun experience. I didn't have a ticket into the main stadium. But watching from the grounds was a treat in itself. I've never gotten to see Rafa play live, although I've watched him practice at the US Open twice, and I wonder how I would conduct myself if I was actually in the stadium watching it happen. :) I think I'd be one of those people the Chair Umpire regularly told "quiet, please." Maybe I'd make myself a cape out of the Spanish flag. It wouldn't surprise me.

Anyway, I watched in the tented lounge area right next to Court Felipe Chatrier. There were two groups. spread out in this area. On one side there were the gravely serious and quiet Rafa fans, low-grunting at any point that Rafa didn't win and clapping loudly every time he won a game or a long rally. On the other side it was the (at least slightly drunken) vocal crowd who cheered every great play by Rafa and dismissed every lucky shot by Soderling. I sat with the super serious kids. I was very intense about the match.

As you may know, since it's been a couple days now, Rafa beat Soderling soundly with a score of 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. It was about as clean as I'd hoped it would be. I was hoping Rafa would finish him off in 2:30 (so I'd have my evening free to explore more of Paris) and he actually claimed victory a little early. in two hours and 18 minutes. He's so good. Always thinking of my schedule!

This marks Rafa's 7th Grand Slam Championship and his 5th title in Roland Garros. With the win, he replaced Roger Federer as World No. 1 in the rankings. Federer falls from the top spot one week short of besting Pete Sampras's career record as No. 1. It will be hard for Federer to take back the top spot over the summer, considering that Rafa didn't play at all last year during this time. This means he doesn't have any ranking points to defend for a while and every tournament he plays for the next couple months will help pad his lead.

Rafa played remarkable tennis, and for once, the Roland Garros crowd was firmly in his corner. My friend at work tried to explain to me when I told him about it, that the French generally don't get along with the Spanish, which is why it might be hard for them to fully embrace Rafa. Ay, Europeans! Soderling had a group of supporters in the stadium but around the grounds it was all Rafa all the time. Soderling couldn't even get polite applause from the crowd outside the stadium. I attribute that to Soderling not being a very popular personality on the tour (he and Djokovic are both top players who don't really inspire a lot of international fandom) but also because he knocked out Federer in the quarterfinals. The French simply adore Federer and were probably looking to Rafa to extract some revenge on their behalf. Whatever the reasoning, it was nice to feel the crowd really getting behind Rafa as he quickly took control of the match and never looked back.

Following the joy of the win, Rafa sat in his courtside chair and had a long hard cry into his hands. You could just see the waves of emotion pouring out of him. All the relief, the elation, the banishing of doubts - it's been such an insane year for Nadal. At the French Open last year, he was No. 1 in the world. Then he lost to Soderling in the fourth round (on the day I went skydiving!). His knees were injured and he couldn't defend his Wimbledon title or play for most of the summer. Federer took over as No. 1 again. Nadal then had to deal with some unfortunate family issues that affected his game mentally. Then he injured himself again at the US Open. Then he had to retire in the quarterfinals during the defense of his Australian Open title. It was eleven months that Nadal didn't win a single tournament after being on top of the game.

Today, he looks healthier and more threatening than ever! This clay season, he became the only man to ever have a ‘Clay Grand Slam’ - winning all three clay Masters Series and Roland Garros - and being 22-0 on clay this season. He is now 203-16 in his career on clay and a staggering 176-6 since 2005!! If he can maintain his health and conditioning over the next few years he'll continue to dominate in unbelievable fashion. I would love to watch that for the next six or seven years.

So congrats again to Rafa on achieving this remarkable turnaround of fortune from last year. It would not be possible without having such fierce inner-strength and determination to be his best. I have such incredible respect for him. I look forward to following his path through the Wimbledon draw in the end of June and I hope he can take a bite out of the championship trophy there as well. Vamos!

(Me on the grounds of Roland Garros. Wimbledon and Aussie Open - you're next on my list!!)


lisa said...

hey there! i think i discovered your blog through una's (the queen of sass) blog, and i thought you might find it amusing that i officially subscribed to your blog as an assignment for one of my library and information science classes.

but i'm mainly writing to say that i'm insanely jealous that you were at the french open during the men's final!! i'm obsessed with tennis, and it's my dream to go to all of the grand slams (i've been to the grounds of wimbledon, but not during the actual tournament). it must have been amazing to be there.

anyway, i really enjoy your blog--and i love the title. :)

SuperOTM said...

aww, thanks! The trip to Paris made it hard to blog for the first half of June, but I'll be more active now that I'm back in the swing of things. Roland Garros is very nice and easy to get to on the metro if you're staying in Paris. The grounds are not as big and flashy as Flushing Meadows at the US Open, but it was a treat to be there.

Best, Owen