What do Rafael Nadal, Susan Boyle and LeBron James have in common? Plenty. They’re world-wide stars known all across the planet. They hail from different countries, namely, Spain, Scotland and the U.S.A. But more than that, these three share a common bond: Forty eight hours ago, they lost.
They weren’t supposed to. Nadal had not been clobbered in Roland Garros ever since he swung his Babolat there. Susan Boyle, whose YouTube videos have been accessed 100 million times, was sure to win Britain’s Got Talent and meet the Queen. And Mr. James, the one who led his Cleveland Cavaliers to an 8-0 playoff start—was not supposed to be trounced.
Yet, all within 24 hours, first, Susan Boyle when I watched CNN early last Sunday morning, then LBJ as we all saw Dwight Howard pump 40 points in the Orlando Magic win before Sunday noon, and, last Sunday night from 8:30 p.m. until midnight, we all witnessed the dirtying of Nadal’s socks.
Morning. Noon. Night. How good a coincidence was that? And now, the headline news reverberate…. “The King of Clay Is Trashed!” “King James Is Ambushed!” and “The Queen of BGT Is Rebuffed!”
With Rafa, wasn’t that inevitable and imminent? After winning 31 straight matches at the French Open, wasn’t a 32nd consecutive victory an impossibility? Of course. But nobody saw it happening two nights ago to a man whom Nadal had just beaten, in Rome, 6-1, 6-0. In fact, on my part, what’s funny was last Saturday, the day before Robin Soderling won the biggest match of his life, I was at the Shangri-La in Mactan talking to his fellow Swede: the sports director of the 5-star resort, Mr. Jesper Strom. When I mentioned to Jesper that, in the next match, Nadal was playing his countryman, he laughed. “It’s a sure straight sets win for Rafa,” we both concluded.
Jesper, whose fellow Swedes include Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander, needs to put more confidence in his countryman.
For what a shocker! My analysis of the match? Nadal did not play his 100 percent best. That was evident in several missed easy returns. But the bigger truth was this: Soderling played perfect. The only way to beat Rafa on clay is to be overly-aggressive. To target the lines. Attack and shoot for winners—and the Swede accomplished that. But what’s most amazing was how he maintained that level from start to finish. Plenty of ATP players can achieve such high levels for one or two sets. Soderling hit 61 winners (28 more than Nadal) and his play never deteriorated in 3.5 hours.
Which makes Robin S. The Second Happiest Person On Earth. The most ecstatic? Roger Federer. Consider that, at 13 Grand Slam titles, RF is one major trophy away from matching Pete Sampras. More than that, he has never won on the Parisian clay. Imagine, come Sunday, Roger winning Slam No. 14? At the French Open?
Federer, today, is The Greatest Clay Court Player Never To Have Won Roland Garros. If he wins on June 7, the last nine words of the prior sentence will be deleted. What’s left will be this accolade: Roger Federer, The Greatest.
How about LeBron? I’m sure he’s hurting. His body is sore but his mind is even more labored and bitter. For 2009, alongside his MVP, was to have been His Year. Funny, right? This game of sports? How, if you had asked experts, who, between LBJ or KB23, would most-likely reach the finals, the unanimous choice would be Mr. Cavalier. But that’s sports. That’s why the ball is round. Any bounce can happen.
Ms. Boyle? As of 7:36 last night, minutes before sending this column to Editor Mike, she was rushed to the hospital after undergoing an incredible amount of stress. Said Prime Minister Gordon Brown, “I hope Susan Boyle is OK because she is a really, really nice person.”
She will, no doubt, recover. She’ll record an album that will sell millions and will, one day, meet the Queen. Same with Rafa. He’ll win in Paris next year. And LeBron, for sure, will soon wear that precious NBA ring. But, for now, the fans who wanted to see something different—a new face, an upset, a new winner—got what they wanted: Diversity.