Monday, June 6, 2011

Once Again For 10: Rafa at the French Open, Championship Match - Nadal is Victorious!

(Rafa, Rafa! Ganador! Besame mucho, Por Favor!)

This will put a smile on my face and a song in my heart for the rest of the summer! Our Hero is once again Our Champion. Rafael Nadal won his 10th Grand Slam Championship by once again winning The French Open, as the title of my blog series for this year's tournament has indicated would be the case. I'm so happy for him! Several friends congratulated me on his victory yesterday, as if in some small way I too had won, which I find both hilarious and delightful. Hooray for me! I acked the right horse!

The Championship Match turned out to be well-deserving of its title as it was an exceptional fight between Nadal and his great rival Roger Federer. It was their closest match ever here, with Nadal winning 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1. Nadal's insane record at Roland Garros now stands at 45-1, and his record against Greatest of All Time Federer now improves to 17-8 , with Nadal holding a 6-2 record against him in Grand Slam finals. I don't say GOAT with Fed sarcastically. His accomplishments and consistency throughout his career speak for themselves. It's still too soon to say how the complete careers of Fed and Rafa will match up against each other, but clearly even the most passionate Federer fan would have to concede that when it comes to their head-to-head rivalry, Nadal is top dog.

Two examples of how impressive both these guys are as competitors: it amazes me that Rafa won the first set 7-5 and that Fed won the third set by the same score. Rafa was down 2-5 and had set point against him on his own serve in the first set, and Federer was playing so well. Still, somehow Nadal managed to win the next 5 games to take the set back. I did not think it was possible even as I was watching it happen. For each of those 5 games I thought. "he's too far behind to do it. Nadal will need to find a new gear to top Fed in the second set." But he came back and won it!

It left Fed totally deflated to start the second set, having been so close and worked so hard and have nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. But Fed did get his head back in the match and the second set was even closer than the first, though it still went to Nadal. And then even when he was down in the third and could've packed it in and lost in a respectable 3-set effort, he dug deep and came back and took it 7-5.
It shows the kind of competitor and a champion Fed is. But after Rafa fought him off in the beginning of the 4th, it was time to accept reality. There just wasn't enough left in the tank to take get the upper hand on Nadal for three whole sets. Still it was a really well-executed match by both guys. Their matches are always great to watch. And they are so gracious and awesome with each other and with the crowd once the match is over. Really classy guys. Such great ambassadors for their sport.

Turning away from the guys for a moment, I'd like to give a shout out to Li Na, for being the first Chinese player - man or woman - to win a Grand Slam title when she beat Francesca Schiavone on Saturday. That was another well-fought highly entertaining match. I've liked Li Na for a while and I'm very happy that late in her career at 29, she is able to enjoy this kind of success. Brava!

Also a shout to
Bjorn Fratangelo (love the name!) who became the first American since John McEnroe way back in '77 to win the French Open junior title. He did so by defeating Dominic Thiem of Austria 3-6, 6-3, 8-6 on Sunday. Hooray for American success on clay! Here's wishing him lots more success in the future.

Looking ahead, winning the French Open should take a huge weight off Nadal's shoulders as he goes into the short grass court season and then the longer American Summer Hardcourt Series. He gave up a little ground to Novak earlier in the clay season, and that took a toll on his mental edge. Getting the Big Prize in Roland Garros should restore a lot of his confidence. It seems likely that Nadal will cede the No. 1 ranking at some point this summer, as he's only ahead of Novak right now by 45 points (!!!) but there's still a lot of tennis to be played this year (because the season goes on FOREVER) and we'll see who's still at the top a couple months from now. Vamos, Rafa! Congrats on another fantastic tournament!

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