Monday, June 11, 2012
One for the ages...
There were times yesterday when it looked like it might not happen. But this afternoon in Paris, Rafael Nadal won an historic seventh French Open men's singles title, breaking Bjorn Borg's stranglehold on the record.
When the men's final started yesterday, Nadal jumped out to an early 3-0 lead over World #1 Novak Djokovic. Yet Djokovic, who had beaten Nadal in the three previous Grand Slam finals and was seeking to become the first man since Rod Laver to win four consecutive Grand Slam championships, was able to up his play whenever the hole he was digging for himself got too deep. Even as Nadal took a two set lead, his victory never quite seemed certain. Despite some brilliant rallies and strategic points, Nadal's performance during the final was far from the crushing blows he had visited upon his previous opponents.
The rain began a game or two before Nadal served for the second set. Play was delayed approximately 30 minutes, Nadal won the second set, and then a wholly different Djokovic emerged. He dominated the third set, winning 6-2, and was up a break in the fourth set when the rain resumed again, and the match was called for the day. Fans watching at Roland Garros and on television across the world all wondered the same thingwould we witness one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history, even better than Djokovic's comeback from two sets down in last year's US Open semifinals?
Within a few moments of the match's resumption today, the answer to that question was evident. Nadal quickly broke Djokovic back to even the set, and then stayed with him until the 12th game of the fourth set, when Djokovic double faulted at match point to hand Nadal the victory. Nadal fell to his knees, embraced Djokovic, and then climbed into the crowd to hug his family. This win was his 11th Grand Slam title, bringing him to fourth on the all-time wins list, just five titles less than Roger Federer.
I'm a huge fan of Nadal's athleticism, his heart, and his affable sportsmanship, so I was thrilled with the the way the championship turned out, although I would have been excited to see Djokovic take his place in history. While Nadal's domination has been most evident on clay, he still has won four other Grand Slam championships, and I believe he has a few more to come.
I look forward to this rivalry playing itself out over the years, as when both players are at their peak, they push each other to true greatness. Felicidades, Rafa!!