I hope you watched the ultra-marathon tennis battle last Sunday night. Seven minutes short of six hours, Novak Djokovic won for the seventh consecutive time against Rafael Nadal. “7th time unlucky?” I asked two days ago. What a premonition. What a Gladiator-like battle. Here are seven points….
1) AGGRESSOR WINS. One of my dad Bunny’s favorite lines is this: “Play to win and don’t play not to lose.” True. For most of the match, Rafa was too defensive. He’d stay five meters off the baseline. He counterpunched. His shots landed short, midcourt. Novak would pound on them and run Rafa left to right like his dog from Serbia. To win, Rafa has to stay closer to the baseline and take risks. This is his only option against Novak. In sports—like in business—those who take risks, win. The bigger the risk, the larger the reward. Novak is the master risk-taker.
2) TRIVALRY. I’m talking about Novak-Rafa-Roger. Here are interesting stats: Between Rafa and Roger, it’s the Spaniard who dominates. Their record is 18-9 (8-2 in majors). It’s lopsided. But, between Rafa and Novak, it’s the opposite. Excluding their earlier contests, it’s been 7-0 since last year. So, Roger loses to Rafa who loses to Novak. (We’ll include Murray in the picture once Lendl aids him in winning a GS title.) Why does Rafa dominate Roger while being dominated by Novak? Here’s why: Roger’s single-handed backhand is his weakness. Rafa pounds on that side. But against Novak? His two-fisted backhand is, like Agassi’s, the best. Novak drills it crosscourt; he smothers it down-the-line. Novak’s forehand is even deadlier. Either wing, Rafa suffers.
3) EMOTIONS. This is what makes tennis so enjoyable to watch. It’s one on one. Unlike football or basketball when the focus is on 10 or 22 players, with tennis, it’s just two. And what facial expressions they display. Rafa winces. Rafa pumps his fists seven times after winning Set 4. Novak falls to the ground. Novak’s eyes turn smaller, a sure sign of extreme fatigue. Their personalities and feelings are in full display. No other sport shows mannerisms (“kuot sa lubot”) and expressions (Novak’s sign of the cross) like tennis.
4) MENTAL. Sport is physical yet it’s won by the mind. The toughest of all competitors, Nadal, was en route to winning his 11th Grand Slam title. He led 4-2 in the fifth set and had an easy backhand down-the-line. He missed. He missed the chance the avenge Novak. What guts the Serbian has. He limped. He collapsed. His knees wobbled. A jab by Jun Intor would have KO’ed him. But, no. Djokovic’s mind would not allow his body to collapse. What courage. To defeat Nadal mentally is Novak’s greatest strength.
5) MEN’S RIGHTS. We’ve all heard of Women’s Rights. I’m making up a new term. You see, the prize money of the champions of both sexes are the same. The winner each gets 2.3 million Australian dollars. In pesos, that’s P105,000,000. But here’s the interesting part. While the men’s final took 5 hours and 53 minutes, the women only took 82 minutes. This means that Novak was paid P297,450 per minute while Azarenka was paid a whopping P1.28 million per minute on court!
6) DAVIS CUP. Remember our two Davis Cup hostings last year at Lapu-Lapu City? In the first one last March 2011, it was the Phils. vs. Japan. The head of the ITF delegation who arrived to preside over the ‘Battle of Mactan?’ His name is Wayne McEwen. Well, this guy is Graeme Mackinnon’s country-mate and he was one of the top officials running the Australian Open. It was Councilor Harry Radaza, in a text message last Sunday, who informed me that McEwen was in center-stage. True enough, in the Awarding Ceremony, McEwen stood alongside Nadal/Djokovic. Nice guy, this Wayne, when we spent some time with him here in Cebu.
7) HIGH-DEFINITION. I’m talking about cable TV. I watched from the room of Charlie, my brother, and he subscribed to SkyCable’s HD channels. What a sight! On Channel 136 (ESPN HD), it’s as if you’re right there in the Rod Laver Arena.
The Swiss lost to the Spaniard who’ll face the Serb who defeated the Scot. Confusing? That’s the “4S” (iPhone 4S, if you were to ask my daughter Jana) who comprised the men’s semifinalists of the Australian Open.
The Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, bested his lifelong nemesis, the Swiss maestro, Roger Federer. In tonight’s final, he’ll face the Serb, Novak Djokovic. Those three form a “Trivalry.” The man Novak defeated in the semis? The Scot, Andy Murray, who almost won the nearly-five-hour-long contest last Friday.
What happened to R & R? Rafa mentally beats Roger. The analysis is as simple as that. It’s like a Pacquiao facing a Mexican; an Anderson Silva encounter; a Tiger Woods leading on Sunday. Deep down inside, these guys know they’ll win.
It’s the same with Rafa. When he meets eyeball to eyeball with Roger, his confidence level is immeasurable. I’m reading his autobiography, “Rafa,” and—like the book as on TV—there are few athletes EVER who are as dogged and relentless and tenacious as Rafa. The only chance Roger has? When it’s a best-of-three match. In a prolonged five sets setting, Nadal will break you down.
Murray v. Djokovic? That wasn’t tennis; it was an ultramarathon. Sayang. I had wished for Andy to win his first Grand Slam title this month. Instead, he’s become a perennial groomsman. Always at the altar of victory, only to watch the other claim the trophy/bride.
The world No.1? Steve Tignor, one of my favorite writers, said in the other day’s “Some Pain, Some Gain,” column:
“As for Murray’s opponent, can we start calling Novak Djokovic the Benjamin Button of tennis? He starts matches as if he’s just finished playing five hard sets. He breathes deeply on the first changeover. He shuffles off court in the middle of the second set and sits down in an open-mouthed daze, as if he might not be able to answer the bell. Come the three-hour mark, though, the man suddenly has some spring in his step—he’s rounding into shape. After four hours, he’s sliding and grunting at full stretch, flipping up a perfect defensive lob, and then tearing toward the net to smack a forehand winner to break serve. He might as well be starting the match right then and there.”
He reminds me of Lance Armstrong. While climbing the torturous Pyrenees or Alps during the Tour de France, the American would often look depleted. But, it was just “acting.” When overconfidence would creep in, he’d unleash a pedal of fury that would spray dust on the face of Jan Ullrich.
In describing the Novak-Andy epic, Jon Wertheim of SI.com explains: “This was less a tennis match than an endurance contest on opposite sides of a net, two supremely fit athletes depleting their reserves of energy — and then somehow surging and re-surging. Like Mr. T. in Rocky III, before the match, Murray’s coach, Ivan Lendl, offered a one-word prediction for the evening: pain. He got that right. After so many 40-ball rallies, so much scrambling and bending and locomoting, both players became the embodiments of attrition.”
The question is: Can Novak recover, with one day’s rest compared to 48 hours for Rafa, to be 100 percent ready for today’s grand finale?
“I will try to get as much sleep and recovery program underway and hope for the best,” said Djokovic. “I think that’s going to be crucial for me to recover and to be able to perform my best, because Rafa is fit. He’s been playing well. He had an extra day. He definitely wants to win this title.”
True. Not only does Rafa want his 11th major title—he wants to defeat the man who embarrassed him six times last year. Rafa lost to Novak six times in 2011—all in finals; twice on Rafa’s “I’m-supposed-to-be-unbeatable” surface of clay; once in Wimbledon and another at the US Open.
We know who the crowd will cheer for tonight. RAFA! chants will reverberate around Melbourne. Nothing against the equally-nice-guy Novak, but Rafa’s just a super humble and likeable fellow. Plus, that unyielding and Spanish-bullheaded perseverance.
Watch the Australian Open final this 4:30 P.M. on Star Sports/ESPN.
The last time Mr. Federer met Mr. Nadal in Melbourne was in 2009. “God, it’s killing me,” Federer said after losing 9-7 in the fifth set Final, tears of pain rolling down his chiseled cheeks.
Tonight, R & R square off again. Few rivalries, of any game or form of entertainment, have rivaled the one between the Spaniard and the Swiss. Tonight, I think Roger will win. Much as the record speaks otherwise (it’s 17-9, in favor of Nadal), the Federer Express has been in full-throttle, steamrolling past del Potro (4, 3 and 2) and everybody else who faces him across the Australian net.
The Melbourne courts are fast, speedier than the red-clay favored by Nadal. This quick-bounce court will be an ace for Roger’s 133-mph pinpoint serves.
But this is the intriguing part of the R & R combat. Mentally, it seems as if Rafa owns Roger. Rafa’s forehand to Roger’s backhand—that’s one of the worst one-two punches that overwhelms Roger. Also, if Roger loses, that means Rafa has won twice as many matches, head-to-head (18 vs. 9). How can RF lay claim to the “I’m The Greatest” sovereignty title when Rafa clobbers him?
Still, that’s all history. Tonight will be historic. Roger in 4.
But, wait. Lest we think that tonight’s the finale, it’s only half of it. The main Gladiator-like ending is still this Sunday. Looming at the opposite end?
Djokovic or Murray. Among these Fantastic Four characters, Roger has won 16 majors, Rafa owns 10 and Novak has four, including three from 2011. Andy The Scot? He has none. Luoya sad uy. That’s why I’m cheering for him. (He beat Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori, who was supposed to come to Cebu in last year’s Davis Cup tie.) And, though a boring and lifeless counterpuncher, I hope by week’s end Murray will dye his hair red and wear a tattoo, “The 2012 Wizard of Oz.”
Among the women, who doesn’t like Maria Sharapova? I know Michael Jerome Limpag LOVES her. Here’s looking ahead to a Kim Clijsters vs. Maria final on Saturday.
If you follow men’s tennis, you usually belong to either of two factions: Team Federer or Camp Nadal. Well, not this 2011. This year was solely dominated by Novak Djokovic.
He won 92 percent of all matches played (70 of 76). He earned a record-breaking $12.6 million in prize money. Out of the four Grand Slam trophies, he lifted three: Wimbledon and the Opens in America and Australia. In the first half of 2011, he was unbeaten in 43 consecutive matches.
And, in the best statistic that I researched, against Rafa and Roger, he was 10-1. Against the Spaniard, he won six of six. Of R & R, Djokovic said: “They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years. They have won most of the majors we are playing. So sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the latter stages of a Grand Slam. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most.”
What change paved the way for the 24-year-old Novak to annihilate his two rivals and emerge as No.1? His mind.
“It’s a process of learning, a process of developing and improving as a tennis player and just finding the way to mentally overcome those pressures you have,” he said. “I always believed that I had the quality to beat those two guys.”
Novak is scary because he has no fear of the top players. In the most memorable shot of the season, he was down two match points to Roger Federer at the U.S. Open and, instead of playing if safe, he drilled one forehand return-of-serve for a smashing winner. He beat the Swiss. He beat the Spaniard. He won New York.
“I had an unbelievable year,” said Novak. “Nothing can really ruin that. I will always remember this year as the best of my life.”
As to the question whether he can repeat one of the greatest years in tennis history, he says: “This year’s success gives me a reason to believe that I can win again. Why not? I think it doesn’t make any sense to be anything other than optimistic. I need to believe in my qualities and my abilities and I need to believe that I can repeat the success.” That’s the mentality of a champ.
The experts, what do they say? Bruce Jenkins of Sports Illustrated: “I can’t see him repeating such a surreal winning percentage, but it’s entirely possible that he could win three majors again.
Jon Wortheim, my favorite tennis writer, comments: “Barring injury, which, granted is no small conditional — there’s little to suggest he can’t sustain this level of excellence. His game translates to all surfaces. If one component of his game fails him, he has plenty of other weapons at his disposal. His fitness, once so shaky, has, with great abruptness, become an asset. He’s younger than the players who pose the biggest threat and, right now anyway, he is swelling with confidence.”
ANDY. Looking ahead to 2012, I’d like to see Andy Murray finally win a major. A Grand Slam runner-up three times, it’s hard to see him not winning that major trophy. The perfect place for him to triumph? Wimbledon. Then, months after, with the Olympics still to be played at Wimbledon, he repeats as the Olympic gold medalist. If his fellow Scot Rory McIlroy can do it for golf, why can’t he follow with tennis?
RAFA? While losing six of six to Novak (all in the finals, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) were painful, the medicine that erased the hurt was winning the Davis Cup for Spain a few weeks back.
ROGER. Already 30 years old, he had the best finish this year, winning three straight indoor events, including a 6-3, 6-0 embarrassment of Rafa in London. Not bad for the daddy of twins Myla Rose and Charlene Riva.
HONG KONG—The headline news here yesterday, in The Standard’s back sports page, proclaims it clear and loud: “DJOKOVIC REIGNS.” In an all-green Wimbledon backdrop photo, Novak Djokovic thumps his right fist on his left chest, opening his mouth to a scream, clasping his Head racquet with the other hand, as if to shout, “I AM NUMBER ONE!”
Novak “The Djoker,” is, no joke, the world’s best. In a span of 72 hours, he clinched the No. 1 world ranking and, two nights ago in London, his first ever All-England Club trophy.
“It’s the best day of my life,” said Novak. To win undefeated in seven matches spanning two weeks in the oldest and most exalted of all the tennis tournaments, it ought to be the best. Wimbledon is the best. Novak is the best.
Djokovic did it by dismantling and mutilating the usually-unconquerable Rafael Nadal. In the first two sets, which Novak won, 6-4, 6-1, his game was as polished as Jason Terry’s three-pointers. Novak hardly missed. He retrieved unretrievable shots. He drop-volleyed. He was, as sports writers would term it, “in the zone.” His game flowed. He was inspired. And, buoyed by the new No. 1 ranking, mentally, he could not be defeated.
He was not. Except the third set. He had a momentary lapse of focus. And, when the Spaniard won that stretch, 6-1, weren’t the members of the “Rafa We Love You Forever Fans Club” relieved? They must have thought… if Rafa can only get the fourth set… we’ll score a come-from-behind victory.
Novak didn’t allow it. Oddly, except for that third set, it was Rafa, the 10-time Grand Slam champion, who was nervous at critical points of the match. At 4-5 in the first set, anxiety crept into the left-hander’s fingers. Same with the latter stages of the fourth set when he made plenty of un-Rafa-like mistakes.
The happiest bunch today? With Rafa’s loss? Yes, of course, the Djokovic fans—though they still number in the thousands. But, by the tens of millions, the happiest are the Roger Federer devotees, for though their man was halted in the Quarterfinals, at least his arch-rival was terminated, too. (Here in Hong Kong, I watched, while sipping Heinekin beer and munching on pizza, in a bar. In another of those Oh-no-not-again moments, my hotel room didn’t have Star Sports. The lady bartender who watched while I sat on the bar stool? Of course, she’s a Roger fan.)
Who is this new Manny Pacquiao of tennis? “I started in the mountains,” said Novak, 24, of his early days when he first held a tennis racquet at age four. “Started in a very small place, and then I continued in Belgrade, practicing tennis—that wasn’t really popular at the time. We were going through some difficult periods—you know, our country had wars and stuff. So it wasn’t easy to hold that desire and really believe in yourself. But I always did, and the people close to me did.”
(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Belief. Yes. Self-belief. In anything and everything in life, this is what matters the most. To you. To me. To all things that we do. If we possess this six-letter word, “belief,” then we can achieve everything and anything we aspire for. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or believe you can’t, you are right.”
It begins in the mind. Tennis, you think, is physical? Like boxing? True, these sports are brothers—they are a handful of games that are one-on-one, mano-a-mano. And, true, a muscular Nadal flexes his biceps to win points. Tennis, like boxing, is physical.
But it’s more mental. Take Pacquiao. It’s his mind that defeats the Mexicans. The same with Novak. Beginning late last year when he won for Serbia the Davis Cup crown, that win changed his outlook. I AM THE CHAMPION. I CAN BEAT R + R.
And, yes, has he beaten the Roger-Rafa combination, these two who’ve combined to corner that No. 1 ranking since 2004. Yes, in one of those hard-to-believe sports statistics, for the past 7.5 years, only Nadal and Federer have been tennis’ No. 1.
July 4, 2011. Independence Day. A new No. 1. The serving Serb is an ace.
Why is tennis often referred to as “lawn tennis?” That’s because, back in the 19th Century, when the modern game originated, tennis was played on a lawn. Yes, a patch of green field that’s covered with grass.
Tennis started in the United Kingdom. Just like golf. And, just like golf, whose oldest major championship is “The Open,” in tennis, it’s the same: the oldest tournament in the world is found in England. It’s the tennis version of The British Open: Wimbledon.
It began 125 years ago. Imagine that longevity? But the best part about “The Championships” (as organizers want their event called) is not only Wimbledon’s survival and resilience after World Wars I and II—but more so its tradition.
Grass. Unlike all the other tennis contests on Planet Earth, with surfaces that range from hard-court to red clay to indoor carpet, Wimbledon uses the same, old playing field that it’s utilized since 125 years ago.
The surface is alive. Grass grows. They water the court. This happens prior to the two-week-long Wimbledon. And, after Petra Kvitova and Bernard Tomic and Sabine Lisicki trample and pound on the surface, the grass dies.
From green, healthy turf, the grass is massacred and mutates into brown, dead clay. This is Wimbledon. This is what makes the All-England Club exclusive. Its breed. Its antiquity. Its unparalleled class. Its all-white formality.
Two nights ago at Ayala Center, I met two men who’ve been to Wimbledon.
Ramon Saret, my long-time friend from Manila, visited our Queen City for an overnight stop. Mon’s daughter, Jennifer, was ranked among the top two junior tennis players in Asia during the ‘90s. With that lofty ranking, she and her father toured the world—including Wimbledon. In one instance, Mon was dining at the exclusive, for-players-only Dining Hall when two empty seats were soon occupied by familiar names: Boris Becker and Jim Courier. (The two, said Mon, hardly spoke to each other. Puzzled, Mon soon found out why: Boris and Jim were to play each other an hour after that sit-down meal.)
Ernie Delco, a top official of the MCWD, was in London last week. The tennis nut that he is, he queued for two miles before watching Roger Federer in Centre Court.
Both agreed—and had me envious—that Wimbledon stands alone as the most revered of all in tennis.
Which brings me to tonight, 9 P.M., Sunday, July 3. After two weeks of nightly Star Sports shows, starting 8 P.M., we arrive at the conclusion. This is Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It’s the Sunday of the U.S. Open golf in the Congressional Country Club (sadly, a non-Scottish player, unlike Rory McIlroy, will play since Andy Murray lost).
It’s No. 1 versus Numero Uno. Novak Djokovic, beginning tomorrow when the new ATP Rankings are announced, will become the world’s top-ranked player. Rafael Nadal, today’s No. 1, will meet tomorrow’s best in the finals. Isn’t that interesting? A plot and script as good as Steven Spielberg’s?
After six uninterrupted years of all Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, when both won a combined 21 of the last 24 Grand Slam singles titles (an unbelievable statistic!)—we finally have a different finale. I like this ending better. Para lahi na sad.
The Spaniard is targeting his 11th major title. (If he wins, he’ll be just five away from Roger.) He has not lost in Wimbledon since 2007 and, against the Serb (Novak), their record is 16-11 (including 5-0 in Grand Slam events), in favor of Rafa.
The odds favor the lefty versus the right-hander, right? Not exactly. Because the last four times they played, including two on clay, Mr. Djokovic has triumphed. Which thickens the plot tonight. Watch it, starting 9 P.M., over Star Sports. (Good news for non-cable TV subscribers: live telecast over local channel IBC.)
So… Today’s No. 1 or tomorrow’s? Rafa in 5.
Roger Federer should have won that first set. He led 5-2. He owned a set point. But, after missing a drop-shot by millimeters, he lost the next five games. Had Roger won that set, we never know…
But now we know. We know that, after the first 63 minutes were his, Rafael Nadal was invincible. He started jumping, lunging, fist-pumping. Vamos! reverberated throughout Stade Roland Garros.
Head-to-head, Rafa has won 17 of the 25 occasions that he and Roger have played. At the French Open, the record is 5-0 (including four in the Finals). On clay, it’s 11-2; hard-court, 4-all; on grass, Roger leads 2-1. And the most telling of all statistics: in Grand Slam finals, Rafa owns a 6-2 winning edge.
It’s obvious that, between the two, Nadal is better. So why, you ask, is Federer universally proclaimed as The Best Ever? All this chatter, of course, is pointless. RF fans will forever defend their man; so will RN devotees. Rafa himself addressed this issue, saying, “When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it’s not very interesting to me. I’m very happy with what I have, with who I am. I’m not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I’m among the best. That’s true. That’s enough for me.” Roger offers his own analysis: “He plays better against the better ones, and that’s what he showed today. He’s a great champion, on clay especially.”
What did we witness last Sunday? I cite 10 thoughts after observing the 10th Slam victory…
One, the Roger v. Rafa Rivalry is one of sport’s most compelling. No other one-two contest (Borg-McEnroe, Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus) can compare. The contrast in personalities. The styles and spins of play. The emotions: cool vs. combative. These are incomparable. And a message to all tennis fans that, should one have the resources, they ought to watch them play “live” before they retire.
Two, on court, if it’s Rafa’s forehand against Roger’s backhand, the outcome is as obvious as Pacquiao-Marquez III. The lefty wins. Roger has to find a way to avoid such ping-pong, cross-court exchanges.
Three, the tenacity of the Spaniard is unfathomable. His doggedness, resolve, and fortitude — more than his whipping forehand topspin or 100-meter-dash speed — gifts him victory. Tennis is mental. He who grits his teeth harder and wants it more pockets the $1.7 million prize money.
Four, defense wins the game. Watch the NBA. Listen to Coach Yayoy Alcoseba and to LeBron James & Co. “Defense is the key to success,” they’ll voice out in unison. Same with tennis. Nadal’s retrieval prowess — his ability to return a shot that, to anybody else on the ATP Tour, would have been a point lost — makes him greater than Bjorn Borg on clay.
Five, Roger is only 29. Which means he’s not 30 – a “psychological barrier” age when tennis pros (who’ve played since six years old) are on decline.
Six, the question is: Can Rafa, now with 10 majors, surpass Roger’s 16? At 25 years old, he’s five years younger. That’s about 20 Grand Slam title opportunities. He can if…
Seven… his body doesn’t complain. No body is subjected to more excruciating torture than Rafa’s 188-lb. frame. He slides, stretches, smashes, swings, sprints… suffers. Injury can derail his pursuit more than Federer Express.
Eight, Rafa can win despite “playing ugly.” Rafa almost lost. In the first round against John Isner, he was down two sets to one. Had he been defeated, that would have ranked as the greatest upset of all time. But he kept afloat. He survived. “The real Rafa is both the Rafa who wins and the Rafa who plays well, and the Rafa who suffers and doesn’t play that well,” said Nadal. “You have to face this situation.”
Nine, had Rafa faced Novak in the finals, he’d have lost. I think so. Roger’s backhand is his weakness. Not Novak. His two-handed shot causes grief to Rafa. That’s what caused defeat to the Mallorcan in the last four Final meetings they had.
Ten, I can’t wait for Wimbledon…..
A funny thing happened in this 2011 French Open. Everybody forgot about Roger Federer. All the focus was on Mr. Djokovic. All the talk was on Rafa’s quest for a sixth trophy. Who’s Roger? Is he still alive? In this planet? Playing tennis? Well, he happens to be the only living (and, yes, non-living) male person to have won 16 Grand Slam singles titles. He won on the Parisian red clay in 2009. He won an Olympic doubles gold medal in 2010. He is, almost unanimously, the best hairy, male player who’s gripped a tennis racket.
And, during the past two weeks in Paris, like a stealth bomber that’s hidden from the radar view, he was silent, unseen, moving, targeting, and now, all of a sudden, he’s out in the open, in the Finals, and within sight of the prize.
Less pressure. Compared to Rafa and Novak, the Swiss had it easier. He’s relegated to a world ranking of # 3. That’s a lowly position that RF had not stooped down to since, when, 2002? Yet, all this is working for the good. For Roger’s good. Because elite, world’s-best athletes need an extra boost of motivation to allow them to climb beyond Mount Everest’s peak – and this is it for Roger.
Neglected, ignored and, yes, disregarded as a 30-year-old (in August 8) has-been former-superstar whose star has faded, this abandonment Roger is using to spark himself.
COME ON!!!!!!! I’ve never, in over eight years of observation, seen him pump his fist and shout “Come On!” as many times as now. He’s feeding off this omission by the media — myself included — and using it to power his smash. You think I’m gone? I’ll prove you people wrong! he’s mentally saying.
Did you see his annihilation of Novak? He served 18 aces. He fired his forehand down-the-line. He snapped his backhand cross-court. He gracefully performed drop shots. He attacked. He was unafraid to exchange shot versus shot against the Serb. “I really wanted to make it as physical as possible,” which I was able to make happen,” said Roger.
Because of RF’s win, the happiest man in Paris today is… Rafa… the arch-rival but best friend of Roger (you should see their YouTube video, giggling and joking for endless minutes while filming an advertisement).
Had Djokovic entered the finals, he’d have been world No.1 when the new ATP rankings are released tomorrow, Monday. Roger prevented that. And he did so during Rafa’s 25th birthday last Friday. Best friends help each other. Roger did his part. Will Rafa return the favor, losing to his similar 6-foot-1, Nike-fully-clothed amigo in tonight’s Grand Finale (at 9 P.M., PHL time)?
Ha-ha. It’s like LeBron James asking Nowitzki, “Hey, Dirk, can you pleeeease give me a chance and give me my first NBA ring?” (Dirk’s reply: ‘Bron, me, too. I’ve never won a title!)
And so we’re back to one of the greatest rivalries in history. “I have another opportunity to beat Rafa here and get the Roland Garros title,” said Roger. “I’ve got to play some extraordinarily special tennis. I’m aware of that. But I obviously took a huge step today, and hope I can get everything together for the final.”
My pick? I’ve always attempted to stand on neutral ground when these two play. Roger is an exquisite, Swiss-cool, one-handed-backhand-hitting, effortless, injury-less gentleman. Rafa is animalistic, bull-like, tenacious-beyond-compare, humble yet ferocious. The two — apart from having collected 21 of the last 24 Grand Slam singles titles since 2005 — also share a loftier accolade: they are two of the most courteous, good-mannered role models in entertainment.
So I pick… “R.” Once, in a Casino Español luncheon with Frank Malilong on one side as Rafa’s Cebu-based attorney and Moya Jackson, Chinggay Utzurrum and Michelle So on the opposite end as I’m-In-Love-With-Roger lifetime members, it was a cross-fire worse than Mayweather, Sr. and Freddie Roach.
Seriously, as inspired as Roger is by his twin daughters, I’d pick RN. A winner in 44 out of 45 matches in Roland Garros, he’ll add a sixth crown past 12 midnight tonight. Vamos.