Jul 7, 2008

Matchless for Life

I wanted to call last night's match gazookilaciplyditabinctionatious. I don't know what it means, but _you_ tell me if you have one legal word that can do justice to what we say yesterday, spread over eight hours. However, our vocabulary has been further graced: joining Federer-esque (adj. "carrying out something with exquisite finesse and supreme elegance") is Nadal-esque (adj. "unreasonably relentless")

Tennis needs draws. The first time I felt this sentiment strongly was in the Hamburg Masters last May, watching two men drill holes in each other, only to keep coming back for more. If yesterday's Wimbledon Gentlemen's Singles Championship Final (this is one occasion when you deserve to call it by the full name) had been a boxing match, one would have had to invoke the Geneva Convention. My head's as dizzy as it was at 2 am earlier today.

I suppose it's fair reaction to what was easily the best tennis match I have ever seen. In fact, I will go so far as to say that it was the best single sporting encounter I have ever witnessed in my life. One reason why was that there was no finite boundary, no final whistle, no ships to catch. This could have gone on for ever. It seemed we would be there until Tuesday, at 50-50 in the final set. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would have been squatting exhaustedly on the by now completely bald turf, serving underarm and breaking each other's serve just by the other making four double faults per game. If we didn't have draws, we'd all still be there.

Coming back from my little flight of absurd fancy, one would agree that if it came to a final coin toss of a point, Nadal deserved it. He broke Federer four times in the match, while the 2003-2007 champion broke the Spaniard just once. If there had been a last set tie-breaker, he might've prevailed. We need draws. I can't be pacing and bouncing up and down at 1:30 am again.

The parallels with 1981 were so striking that I half expected to wake up to Federer retiring. Whew. He's still got a lot to achieve, especially powered by that keen sense of history. Roy Emerson's 14 is easily within reach, even if not Sampras' Seven. It's easy to see this as a signal of Federer's descendancy - it may be so, but not by much. The man made two Slam Finals this year, and is playing (along with his vanquisher) at a plane that we're lucky to be able to witness, leave alone comprehend. Centre Court seemed to surreally expand in width and length each time one of the finalists wanted it to, a combination of intense will-power and a never-before display of skills providing the ductile force.

What does this mean for men's tennis and Roger's place in the scheme of things? Perhaps more interesting will be how Rafa deals with finally being at the summit (ATP rankings be damned)? I'm too scared to speculate. What we have in front of us is almost ethereal, and perhaps the spell is in danger of being broken by mundane meditation. Let's dwell on some of the geometry-defying angles, the gravity-embarassing retrievals, the traitorous net cords, the Riemannian down-the-lines, the passes of the seasons. My one line summary of the match: Federer had to keep coming back, while Nadal never left. That was the crucial difference. The good news is that surely we'll never be tormented like this next year. The bad news is pretty much the same: that nothing we ever see will be like this.

Perhaps in the year 2020, the BCCI will have, in its latest acquisition, have taken over both the ATP and AELTC. In its first order of business, it will display an uncharacteristic and rare sagacity and overturn the result of this match to a draw (a annual tradition that began in 2008). Do you have any challenges left to that?

BVHK is much more in control of his emotions in his reaction.


Unknown said...

:O You were up till 2AM!

Surely, it was the most thrilling match, I too ever witnessed. (No 3 dots after witnessed :P)

Unknown said...

Saurabh: yes, I was up till that much. It was that good :-) And thanks for being dotless (or shall we say 'pointless'? ;-))

Anonymous said...

If you get a chance, take a look at Younes El Aynaoui & Andy Roddick 's 83 game epic. It was played in Australian open 2003. Roddick & Younes both had been playing 4-5 set matches for last few times before this one. They this happened. I remember reading newspaper like TOI & Sakal who printing 2 pages one for the match and other abt Younes.

- Anon

daemon said...

Got to see the match between the two rain beaks. So, I saw the best part of the match. After watching Nadal play in previous matches, I had predicted a comfortable Nadal win. Federer surprised me. Federer will never win French Open against Nadal. Its very difficult if he will wiin again here in Wimbledon against Nadal. Why? Because Federer doesn't practice enough. He doesn't bring his best game with him to every match. He just does what is required. This is very unlike Nadal who plays every point to the best of his ability. Thats why he always has his best game to his beck and call. Federer doesn't. True, I rooted for Federer. But the true champion won. And so he shall remian. One final point. This not a decline of Federer. This is the ssame level at which he has played for years. Its just only now he is up against a genuine contender. I only hope this revives Federer to scale greater heights. If he has it in him, he will realize that there is no such thing as "my part of the season".

Anonymous said...

great final. great champion. great runner-up. all thats fine. but why have the wimbledon courts been made slower. it is almost like clay-lite or diet-clay, dammit. yes, we all hated the ivanisevic-clones(note: not goran himself, who was deliciously lovable but his clones) who used to bang-bang-bang-game-set-match out opponents in the 90's at wimbledon but to go to the other extreme? Dammit, we dont want to see baseline rallies at wimbledon - one french open is enough.

I dont think Nadal will win in the 90's and early 2000's wimbledon courts against Federer. Not whining but putting things in perspective - because this win will lead people to shower undeserved encomimums on Nadal that he won on 'clay and grass, what a great champion'. Truth is he won on clay and clay-lite which is a decent achievement but lets stop there - I hope nobody goes into 'clay and grass' champion cliches for nadal.

Unknown said...

anon: thanks. I don't remember the match (my loss, surely). It was a time that I had lost interest in tennis.

daemon: interesting point. you're saying Federer never reaches out of his (admittedly large) comfort zone? I suppose Nadal had all the incentive and the drive given what was ahead of him to keep improving. Fed never really had to. But the transformation may have begun, judging by how he dug out the 3rd and 4th sets.

rajk: be it so. but like agassi showed in those years, it should be possible to take grass by other means. I'm not going to grudge Nadal this win - the surface, in its evolution, is the same. And he did win Queens. The balls have got slower, but that's the modern trend. Maybe he'd have adapted to the 90s game - too much speculation here.

Anonymous said...

quaint raman: it is also speculation that he would have adapted to the 90's game. I am not saying he didnt deserve this trophy. I am just saying that dont extrapolate into "federer won only on grass, nadal won on both grass and clay hence he is a greater champion". Believe me, we will have enough nut cases doing it soon enough.

Harish Kumar said...

The Centre Court on the second Sunday has always got so bald that many people considered the surface on that day to be slower than the red clay of Paris!
I don't think saying that Federer doesn't practice enough is being fair to him. Its not as if he just turns up and plays those great shots.
JR - it may have seemed to us that he didn't have enough motivation to stretch, for all these years but if he didn't have the motivation to stretch himself, he would have been a Safin Part deux. Just because he is being nice and doesn't show lot of emotion on court and manages to smile and show some grace in defeat doesn't mean he didn't want it enough.
And winning on clay AND 'clay-lite' - if it had been that easy, Federer would have done it many times over by now,no?

daemon said...

HK - When I say practice, I mean it in terms of playing your best game against the best opposition when really required. That he couldn't play his best game, this much Federer himself acknowledged after the match. Case in point is his backhand in this match. It seemed to desert him for most part between the rain breaks. But we did see a scorching one ON championship point in the fourth set tie-break. As per Nadal's admission, he had deliberately placed the ball to Federer's backhand as he was missing a lot on backhand. So, had his backhand working fine, he would have won, I suppose. But he couldn't summon it. He is a great player. But most of his titles have come in an era when tennis has been uncharacteristically devoid of rivalries. I, myself, am a Federer fan since he came into prominence. But I have increasing realized that people often overlook the beauty of Nadal's game. How many times does he seem to miss these days? He also plays almost as great shots as Federer hits, only with seemingly less error percentage. But nobody seems to be raving about his shots. Does Federer's elegant personality translate to his shots being noticed as more graceful/beautiful? Does Nadal's battler reputation take the sheen off the beauty of his shots? We will have to make up our own minds. To me it certainly seems to be the case. Anyways, I must point out that I am only a grudging Nadal fan.

Anonymous said...

harish, my dear fellow, no it is not that easy that Fed could have done it. Only Nadal can easily win in Clay and Clay-lite. Fed can win in Grass and Grass-lite. If they make Roland Garros as Grass-lite, then Fed has a bright chance. Even otherwise he has a bright chance now also to witn the FO. So, yes, no inferiority complex as a Fed fan here, mind you.

To explicitly state the sub-texts:
1. It is not easy to win in Clay and Clay lite. If so, Kuerten could have done it. Bruguera could have done it. So, Nadal is far greater than any other French Open champion of the past.
2. Having said that, my only point is it is too early to anoint Nadal as an all-time great.Like, nadal will break Sampras' record, laver's record, borg's record blah-blah. I wont even place him above Agassi yet.
3. Just because he has won 4 FO and One Wimbledon(on clay-lite), Nadal doesnt become greater than Federer. He may become in the future but many nut-cases have already started bragging about Nadal winning in Clay and Grass therefore he is better than Fed.
Just the same way Agassi cant be considered better than Sampras jsut because he won both FO and W, it is the same case here. So, my post is not for you but the nut cases I mentioned