Friday, June 4, 2010
Rafa: More Dominance, Less Drama
Rafa has lost two sets in 21 matches this spring
To witness a player like Spain's Rafael Nadal when he is in top form is practically a religious experience for tennis fans. Unlike a lot of other sports, say American football or ice hockey, many tennis fans play the sport regularly, and the experience of being on court gives them an idea of just how magnificently the world's top players are performing.
Simply put, watching the tennis professionals of the modern era is like watching aliens from another planet - it is humbling to watch, but also proof that a divine level of tennis prowess exists.
It has always been breathtaking to see a top professional patrol the clay court, mixing deft slides, big loopy spins, and wide court-opening angles that you don't see on grass or cement.
Then there is Rafa, patrolling the Roland Garros clay, which is beyond breathtaking.
The recently turned 24-year-old Spaniard has been pretty much destroyed, deconstructed, and defused every player he's faced this year on clay. Spaniards have always been clay aficionados - but Rafa has taken that stereotype and brought it to an entirely different stratosphere.
In 21 matches, starting with his Monte Carlo title defense, Rafa has only dropped 2 sets. He's like an ornery pit-bull who has just been handed one of those chew toys that quacks like a duck. For a few minutes it is very entertaining to watch the lustful dog get to work on destroying the thing. Then, in a flash, it is over before it began. Not only is the duck not squeaking anymore, but you have to pull the toy away from the drooling pit-bull before he swallows the whole thing and gets it lodged in his stomach.
Rafa's matches, while brilliant, ferocious, astounding, awe-inspiring, and mind-bogglingly impressive, are starting to remind me of this pit-bull scenario.
It is rare to see Nadal tested at Roland Garros. And by tested I am referring to facing a break point while up a break - not the types of down two-sets-and-a-break tests that his peers are regularly enduring in Paris. He has become the ultimate front runner, and typically he has all but squashed his opponent's hopes of pulling the unthinkable upset before the culmination of the first set.
Time and time again, a heralded player steps up to take a shot at the indomitable Spaniard, and time and time again he's swatted away as if he was a big fat fly trying to land on a fresh plate of pasta with sauce.
Thump! He's gone.
And all you hear is Vamos! as the crowd rises to its feet, much earlier than they had expected.
While I don't want to belittle what is so obviously a miracle the likes of which tennis has never seen (eat your heart out, Borg) and will likely never see again, I do constantly find myself frustrated that none of Rafa's so-called competition can do anything to keep him from ripping their hearts out by the end of the first set.
Does anyone else feel this way?
I do not want to be labeled as a man who doesn't appreciate what Rafa does. Refer back two paragraphs to see that I've called him a miracle - it's just that the miracle has been getting a tad bit predictable and a tad bit boring of late. He's got the rest of the men's field in his mouth and the ATP bosses are imploring him not to swallow them.
We always talk about the greatest player of all time. Federer's name usually gets associated with the term. But for my money, the greatest player of all time is Rafael Nadal on clay. There has never been and probably never will be a level of tennis that is so close to perfection.
I just wish that his matches weren't all over before they began.
Posted by Chris Oddo at 10:29 AM