Another One Bites The Dust
21-years-old. 21-0 in Paris. For all the anticipation of Raja's history-in-the-making, Rafael Nadal is making his own mark. No one in the Open Era has ever won 21 consecutive matches in their Slam event debut. No one. That to me is a record that is equally as impressive, if not more so, than most Slam singles titles won in the men's game.
Winning a title, any title, much less a Slam, is hard enough. Defending that title is even harder. Defending that title twice even moreso. Never losing a match in 21 matches at a debut Slam event? Priceless.
Even though he didn't play well, he played well when it mattered and walks away with a piece of history that might not ever be shared. By anybody.
I Love Guga (to the tune of "I Love Paris")
Of all the current or former Roland Garros champions that I've seen, on either tour, Gustavo Kuerten had the most beautiful game on the terre battue. Of course, I've only seen clips of Suzanne Lenglen who was beyond balletic, so the song goes, but I've seen Guga in his entirety in Paris.
It was great to see him again today presenting the trophies. Oh, how I wish he had another championship Roland Garros run in him. The sport would be the better for it.
Another Sad Love Song
Karen is right (see comments to this entry). I feel for Roger Federer. This was his chance. Raja walked into Roland Garros with confidence. The confidence of having finally defeated Rafa on clay. The confidence of having been there, done that, already. The confidence of having cracked the Nadal code. The confidence of his own mind, unfettered by any coach being around to muff up his tournament. The confidence of having escaped a semifinal he almost had no right to win. The confidence of facing a player playing no where near his best.
I feel for him. I know what it's like to excel at almost everything you take on. Except that one thing. I was a good student in high school. Got lots of A's. Physics, chemistry, Latin, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, Internatial Baccaluareate this, Advanced Placement that.... I excelled. But whenever calculus was presented to me, I'd shrivel like dried fruit and cower in a corner until it passed. I couldn't conquer calculus. Parabolas made me hazy. And I dreamed of being an engineer.
Paris is Raja's parabola. I'm beginning to believe he couldn't conquer Paris even if someone other than Rafa stood across the net in a final. He earned 17 break points. Seventeen. Yet, the Swiss meastro only broke once. Despite an uncharacterstic amount of short balls off Rafa's forehand side. (Unless, of course, you factor in Hamburg.)
But Raja couldn't do anything about them for the better part of three sets. He shriveled like dried fruit back on the baseline and waited for Paris to pass.
This was his chance. Perhaps his only chance. And he couldn't capitalize. He dreams of a Grand Slam.
I feel for him. I do.
But I feel more for the pundits who seem even sadder than Raja. Oh how they wanted to proclaim Raja the GOAT. John McEnroe and Mary Carillo grew silent after Rafa broke in the fourth set. Although, to be fair to Mary, she hasn't really been proclaiming Raja the greatest of anything of late. But JMac was audibly undone.
I continue to wonder if it's ever dawned on him, or many others like him, that their proclamations have harmed the very man they want to see make a particular kind of history.
Oh, well. Unless you're Rafa, his family, and/or his fans, today was just another sad love song rocking your brain like crazy.
Wimbledon is right around the corner.
In the meanwhile, enjoy the AP article that made the CNN.com headline (brought to you by SI.com).
And here's Raja's post-match interview if you're interested.