Rafa Nadal has done what has never been done before in men’s tennis and probably would never be done again, winning a Grand Slam for the 10th time. He is now a clear 2nd on the all time list with 15 Grand Slam titles. Nadal has won the French Open without dropping a set thrice now (2008, 2010, 2017), but his victory yesterday ranks best amongst the three. His previous best was dropping 41 games en route to the title, this year he dropped just 35 (3 short of the Bjorn Borg’s record set in 1978). Stan Wawrinka had never lost a Grand Slam final before yesterday and reached the finals in fine form. But, Nadal made a mockery of every strategy that Wawrinka could come up with. Nadal seemed so fluent, so clinical the entire time that for the first time his shots and precision were more talked about than his raw athleticism and fighting skills. 1-4 in the second set, when Wawrinka was serving at 40-15, Nadal came up with a shot so alive, framed in a way so vascular that it could bleed if you cut it. Maybe, Wawrinka’s tiring five-setter against Andy Murray could be a reason why Wawrinka’s shots lacked the usual jolt. But then, it did not seem as if that was the only reason for his loss. For the first time in a Grand Slam final he was left clueless. It was like he ended up studying Chemistry for a Psychology exam, in which case the professor had to win.
Every year after the French Open, we speculate whether the French Open champion would be able to complete the Channel Slam (French Open-Wimbledon), which is considered to be one of the toughest feats in tennis given the contrasting surfaces between the two tournaments. However, the current French Open champion has achieved this feat twice already (08,10), and maybe this could be another feather in his already feathery 2017-cap.
Last year, Novak Djokovic left Paris holding all four Grand Slam titles while this year he left having lost all four. While Federer and Nadal might make winning seem like a cake-walk, it actually is anything but that. Staying at No.1 is far tougher that becoming No. 1. Andy Murray was the biggest threat to Djokovic when he was the top player, and now Rafa Nadal is the biggest threat to Andy. The way Nadal has been playing this year, placing himself in the later stages of every tournament he plays, he could very well displace Andy by the end of the year. While most of Andy’s ranking points came in the latter half of 2016, Rafa missed most of the latter half of 2016. So, when Andy would be busy defending his points, anything and everything Rafa earns would just be an addition to his tally. Nadal started the year with 9 titles at three different tournaments and he has successfully completed his La Decima treble. Federer has had an amazing year too, winning the Australian Open and then two ATP Masters. But, he seems to be taking things a lot easier than he usually does and is not really pushing hard for the rankings. His focus is on winning major tournaments and remaining fit. So, even though Federer might come back to win Wimbledon and Cincinnati maybe, I still feel Nadal is a better contender for the No. 1 spot than Federer.
If the last 13 years of the French Open were to be analysed from an Economics point of view, I’d say ‘Every year at the French Open, ceteris paribus, we have a different runner-up.’ I think the distinction of ‘the Open era’ should be done away with and the tennis timeline should be talked about in terms of ‘Before Fedal’ and ‘Anno Domini’ (BF/AD). Before 1998, tennis used to be so different with less viewership and way lesser charisma (no offense to Agassi). But, the impact that these two players have had and they are not done yet, has been immense and impregnable. Together they are the best ambassadors of the sport. We are just blessed to have witnessed their grandeur.
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