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.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more but I just hope that Robin Soderling really puts Raffa to the test on Sunday, particularly bearing in mind what the former did to the latter last year ... but, of course, Raffa's knees appear to be in fine fettle now!

  2. No. Come on, this is the only time of year we get to see Rafa be so perfectly ferocious. Enjoy it. You can watch him be 'tested' at the US Open, where he will be dangerous and ridiculously good, but not this kind of brilliant.

  3. I totally agree, Rafa is just too good on clay...

    However, I do think Soderling has got a real chance against Nadal come Sunday. He's beaten him before, and he can do it again.

    In fact, I know this sounds beyond crazy, but I think Soderling is going to pull off the upset.

  4. Well, I disagree. This Roland Garros has been so easy a draw for Rafa that I can't tell where he is at. And he even got nervous at the end of the semi while serving it out. (BTW, I like Rafa so no one jump on me.) Last year everyone talked about his knees because he talked about it. He was running around without wincing through the first 3 rounds. Many players say that when there is that adrenaline and you are winning, you don't feel the pain as much. It is funny how people take outside injuries (sprains, breaks, tendinitis etc) as real but don't acknowledge other problems, say mono which saps all your strength. No one was harping on the fact that maybe Fed lost so bad at 08 RG and lost 08 Wimby because he was still recuperating. BUT INJURIES ARE PART OF THE GAME. (just emphasis not yelling w regards to capital letters.) So actually we shouldn't be talking about any of it. You play who is on the other side of the net. You are not responsible for what is going on with the other guy.
    So after getting off track I refer back to my original statement about not knowing how Rafa will fare if pushed because of his easy draw. All I hope for is that whoever wins, it is a competitive, more than 3 set match. Rafa is the best clay court player but he didn't play between AO and IW and never hit the finals so it left him time to rest. I hope he keeps this up so we can see him for a long time. It is nice to respect and appreciate a lot of players and just enjoy the tennis.

  5. Sunny: Maybe you are right (regarding the draw) - but maybe Rafa is so tough that guys like Bellucci and Almagro get marginalized against him?

    Sometimes it's hard to tell, the way that Fed and Rafa can cruise past players that everyone thinks are coming of age.

    But Sunday will be a real test for Rafa, given that Soderling followed up on his win at RG last year with a 6-4, 6-4 trouncing in London at the WTF's, I think that Rafa is going to be hell bent on proving that Chatrier is his house (and that Sod doesn't have his number).

    Can he do it? Sure he can. But I definitely think Sod has a good chance in this thing.

    Tyler: I have trouble predicting this one. I can see it happening both ways. I just hope that it's even after 2 sets, and better yet, even after 4.

    Anonymous: you're right. I'm watching a Rafa-Melzer replay right now. Rafa is a revolution all by himself. I just want him to drop a first set every now and then so it can be really interesting!

  6. "... a big fat fly trying to land on a fresh plate of pasta with sauce."

    Funny you should use this fly comparison. Did you know that there was a real fly involved in the Nadal-Melzer match, causing Nadal to double fault and get broken while serving for the match?

    Check out the stellar camerawork capturing this:

  7. Rafa is the King of Clay and that remains a big truth. When he's playing, it seems all the power, spins and forehand drives are all in one box. In clay, Rafa is two-level-up against the bests in ATP.

    The way I see it, it is not entirely about how Rafa plays but how Rafa thinks and feels while on the court. He believes he can fight and win every point in every game and that makes Rafa a living tennis legend, especially in clay.


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