A feeling of despair generally gets to me as the US Open draws to a close in September. Granted, there are a whole slew of tiny opens - Qatar, Shanghai, and god knows where else. But big deal, almost always the draw does not contain everyone, you wanna see, since if Roger plays at Shanghai, Rafa plays elsewhere and the classic wars are absent. So, when January slinks in, and everyone starts going towards the great Australian summer, in spite of a nip in the night air in the northern hemisphere where I live, I get a thrill waking up early in the morning, or staying up late to see the big matches that draw out not just talent, but unadulterated beauty.
Ok, now, for today's match, I am left truly speechless. The match was expected to be a thriller, and it was. Look at the scores - 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2. The first set was close. Second, and fourth seemed to look like Rafa backed down on the steam and by set 5, Federer seemed to have let his fears and insecurities get the better of him! For me, I look at this match from 2 perspectives. One, a surface that has favored no one in particular, although it has been more hostile towards Nadal than to Federer, was tamed by Nadal. Second, Nadal had a tough match in his QF and SF matches. Gilles Simon, although wrapped up in 3 sets was a tough guy. Each point was scored with a fight. Compatriot Verdasco, however, gave Nadal a run for his money, with a five setter, that lasted 5 hours 14 minutes. And then Nadal lasted (strongly) 5 sets spanning 4 hrs 23 minutes, against Federer. What does this guy have for lunch? Is he Samson? To have strength in his hair???????? His strength, stamina and speed is phenomenal. Even Martina Navaratilova, at the start of the match mentioned that the tough semi final, may actually wear Nadal down. The heat wave this year actually made matters worse. Federer had it easy in his QF against Delpo (as some refer to Juan Martin Del Porto) and even the SF was a match that had to be played just because it was part of Federer's draw. Plus all his matches were at night, as against Nadal's matches in the sweltering heat of day. So, Nadal's victory was truly a win against all odds. Federer's tears during the presentation ceremony, looked really 'un-championish' and at first, I broke into a guffaw when I saw Federer cry! Granted, a record - equalling 14th Slam win was cruelly snatched away from Federer. But in terms of strength, strategy and sheer endurance, Nadal won hands down. Sleeves included! And when a 13 time Grand Slam Champion, stands next to you and cries on account of his loss, what can you say except - "Sorry for today. I know how you're feeling right now. It's really tough. But remember you are a great champion, you are one of the best in history and you're going to improve the 14 of Sampras."
Ferrero, Safin, Hewitt, came and went as easily as they came. And suddenly, when Hewitt was dethroned by a certain Roger Federer, who they described as having the most graceful tennis technique, we thought that he too may fade away. Nadal, when he broke into the scene was feted as the clay God. Then he started playing well in other surfaces, although making rather early exits on all surfaces other than clay. And then he started giving Lord Fedex some serious competition. We saw another Agassi - Sampras era in the making, after having been deprived of some classic tennis action for so long. Then last year, with Wimbledon, Nadal conquered grass. I was ecstatic, as were a whole slew of fans worldwide. The Olympic Gold was his first major hard court win. But that time, many were quick to say that the Fedex era was far from over, and that prediction came true, since Federer was quick to win US Open 08.
And so, last year, though high for Nadal, with 2 Grand Slam wins, an Olympic Gold, and the year ending on number 1, also saw Federer win US Open, and the Olympic doubles. Mixed year indeed. So, technically, no one was a favorite in the opening season of 09. But when suddenly defending champion Novak Djokovic, as usual, pulled out and Roddick, though in sterling form was minced by Federer, the scene narrowed down again to Rafa and Roger. And I must say these 2 never disappoint.
Looking ahead, we have the French Open, and again it will be a match of wits, another dream, another duel, and no matter who else may play in the draw, we, as tennis fans, can rest assured that we will have a tennis treat for sure.