A post about the news today might make it look like I see this is a staggering development at the 2016 FO, an event that changes the course of the tournament.
That’s not really the case with why I’m writing this post, nor do I think it really changes the course of the tournament much at all. Djokovic proved last year at RG and even in Rome two weeks ago that he can handle the king on his clay. Djokovic has certainly had the upper hand on Nadal; these stats have been thrown around a lot lately.
We saw Nadal probably surviving his quarter (if healthy) and playing Djokovic in that top SF. But most of us assumed Djokovic would win that match. . .Unless more French Open demons were to descend upon the clay, that day, and ruin the Serb’s march towards history. Even I, the grand Nadal skeptic, wanted to see that SF given both men’s histories at this championship.
This is similar to seeing the Warriors defend their home court last night to force a game six back in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have pretty much dominated the series, but we want to see that match-up either way. We’re competition junkies. Nadal v Djokovic SF at the FO would be a nice appetizer, or entrée, depending on what transpires in the bottom half.
But we are without this SF match-up. This has more macro consequences on the sport than, perhaps, the 2016 draw – though Nadal upsetting Djokovic in that SF would have been a possibility.
I have been calling Federer’s play for the past year plus his farewell tour (if you’ve been reading, even 2015 was dubbed said tour). No, he is/was not at his peak. That’s ignorant. Likewise, Nadal has stunk-up the court for really all of 2015 and even parts of 2016. Sure, he has found his form, but we have to qualify this statement and remember we’re on clay, which really is an idiosyncratic surface, and happens to suit the greatest clay court specialist of all-time.
Meaning today’s news of Nadal pulling-out of the French is not necessarily going to be felt much in the actual tennis, but symbolically this is part of a profound sequence of events, felt more historically. We are watching a major play-out without Rafa or Roger – a terrifying glimpse of the future.
Several times in the past year, especially while Rafa was playing very poorly, I asked who is a legitimate challenge to Djokovic at this point? Granted, the Serb has re-entered the atmosphere some, but there is no one, really, who has that same championship mettle as a younger and healthier Roger or Rafa.
Revisiting the 2015 FO final was a study, as I explained, in Stan’s great form and solid strategy, but also Novak’s pattern of not seizing the moment, which has followed him some throughout his career.
We want Stan and/or Andy to develop good enough form here to create a great final (or whoever comes out of that bottom half). Chances are we should be satisfied.
But do not miss the point here, May 27 2016: Djokovic is all alone on this tour.
For Djokovic and his fans’ sake, grab this year’s La Coupe des Mousquetaires and go about the rest of your amazing 2016. You have the fortune of being young and healthy enough to bridge this most recent golden age with whatever you want to call this next era.
But make no mistake: the absence of Nadal and Federer puts a whole new (and not so rich) tint on this tennis tournament and the near future.
As critical as I am of Nadal, I am truly saddened about today’s news. As one astute fan has said, these absences “should be treated as a warning.”
Tennis players and eras have their own character, their own definitions of greatness and tragedy. It’s best to see the sport as an evolving narrative, a great story full of significant players (and coaches), championships, developments and interpretations.
The 2016 French Open, more symbolically now for sure, is Novak’s to lose. Good luck consolidating this break (in the draw), Mr. Djokovic.
One has to see, too, this move from the tennis gods as tempting the fates of this player and this championship.