King of Clay

Tennis – French Open – Roland Garros, Paris, France – October 11, 2020 Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the French Open final against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

One is the “King of Clay” and the other is termed simply, “King James.” Last week, Rafael Nadal and LeBron James trounced their assailants. 

For the 34-year-old Spaniard, the hippodrome was in Paris and the tournament was the French Open. The doubters were plenty. They said Nadal was sluggish and rusty. The week before, in the only event that he joined since March, Nadal lost to a player that he had never lost to before: Diego Schwartzman. In that loss, the 5-foot-7 Argentine drubbed and clobbered the Spaniard.

Nadal, never mind if he won the Roland Garros trophy a mind-boggling 12 times, was not the favorite to win in Paris.

Standing in his way in the final was a player that he had lost to 14 of the last 18 times that they played. 

Novak Djokovic was undefeated this 2020. Well, the record stated “37-1” but that single blemish was not because he lost in the normal sense; he got disqualified for hitting a linesperson in the U.S. Open. The Serb, 33, possessed the game to outplay Rafa. As he uncorks his two-fisted backhand, the ball would zip past Rafa in a cross-court exchange. Novak’s forehand would force Rafa to play defense as he’d whack that Wilson ball down-the-line.

At the 2020 Australian Open, the rivals played in the finals. Novak bulldozed his way to trounce the embarrassed Rafa, who won a mere eight games.

Would Paris be a repeat of Melbourne?

Goran Ivanisevic, who’s part of Novak’s coaching staff, said this before the final: “Nadal has no chance in these conditions, on this clay and with Novak, who has got into his head.”

Est-ce vrai? (Is this true?) The Djokovic-Nadal final seven days ago was like a heavyweight championship fight. Pundits termed it as the most consequential bout between the two. We expected a five-setter that would exceed 309 minutes. We expected sweat to ooze and drench Nadal’s light blue Nike; for winners to zip past Djokovic’s Head Graphene 360+. We expected Nadal to pulverize “le terre battue” (red clay) and Djokovic to dribble a dozen times before serving a 190-kph serve to outwit and vanquish his tormentor.

We saw the opposite. Instead of a shootout, where one rifles an ace and the other wallops a smash, we saw a demolition job.

First set, six-love. Second set, six-two.

I have watched hundreds of Nadal matches — including, in person, his 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal win — and I must conclude that those were two of his most confident and dominant sets.

He zoomed to retrieve a Novak drop shot. He hustled and charged at every short ball. He backpedaled to strike an inside-out forehand with 4,291 topspin revolutions. He accelerated while Novak looked despondent and morose.

In the 3rd set, we envisioned a further drubbing when Nadal broke to lead, 3-2. But the warrior in Djokovic arose to resurrect his game. It was soon extinguished. The final score: 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

Less than 12 hours later, after the King of Clay demonstrated his supremacy in Paris, it was the triumph in Orlando of another King: LeBron James. (To be continued.)

Hollywood Ending

From the King of Clay to King James: Unbeknonwst to either legend, less than 12 hours after Rafael Nadal won the French Open trophy, it was the turn of LeBron James to win the NBA title for the L.A. Lakers.

From Paris to Orlando, from the small yellow fluffy Wilson ball to the Spalding orange leather ball (coincidentlly, by the 2021 season, the NBA will also be using Wilson), it was a championship trophy from the King to the King.

Tennis and Basketball are opposites. One is one-on-one (without a coach) and the other is five-on-one with Frank Vogel and Fil-Am Erik Spoelstra sitting beside their players. 

On Sunday night, Rafael Nadal stood victorious. By Sunday night in the U.S., LeBron James did the same.

For the team representing Hollywood, what a real life 2020 that will rival a reel movie. The shocking death of Kobe Bryant last January 26 — the day after LeBron overtook him in the NBA all-time scoring list — plus the COVID-19 pandemic which has plunged the world into a tailspin, this meant that the Hollywood ending would have to be the victory of the Lakers.

The LeBron-Anthony Davis duo is the 3rd outstanding combination for the Lakers. First was Kareem-Magic then Shaq-Kobe.  

A year older than Rafa at 35 years old, LeBron James has been vindicated. A loser at the MVP awards, he claimed his own Finals MVP plum. Although regarded as No. 2 in the GOAT rankings to His Airness Michael Jordan, it’s LBJ who has more records than MJ. One statistic is the all-time playoff points. LeBron is top-ranked with 7,491 points vs. the second-ranked Jordan with 5,987.

For Lakers fans (including myself), this playoff season in the bubble felt like Christmas. It was a joyous and jubilant period. After the Bucks lost in the East and the shocking loss of the Clippers, there was no denying the Hollywood ending for the Lakers.

LeBron was unstoppable. When he 

Vindicated. Defense. Block. Intercept. Thwart. Stonewall. Charge. Close out. 

Bulldoze. Hustle. Force. Charge. Dart. excuse. Ooze. zip. Fly. dribble. Zoom. hotfoot. Accelerate. Propel. Motivate. Compel. Coerce. Animate. Clobber. Trounce. Outplay. Whomp. Whack. Pulverize. 

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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