- Claydal — another part to this rough-draft of the “meditation” of said player’s sculpture that graces the lawns of our imagined Tuileries Garden-like oasis of tennis greatness
- The Barcelona Final
How about this for the past, present and future of Rafael Nadal: tomorrow’s final, where the #1 seed takes on 19 year-old and #44 in the world Stefanos Tsitsipas, is being played on a court officially named Pista Rafa Nadal. He’s dominated this tournament so thoroughly, he’s aiming for his 11th Barcelona title tomorrow, that they went ahead and gave him center court. It’s his. Literally.
His career unequivocally revolves around clay, emerging from the red dust clouds of clay back in the early breaths of the century, establishing historical marks throughout his career on this surface, and eventually getting his own court at one of his conquered venues, which fittingly will embrace him tomorrow and perhaps one or two more times as he eventually retreats from the sport, still able to make his case probably here and there, on clay.
After his SF win today over Goffin, “The Spaniard [. . .] extended his clay-court winning streak to 18, claiming 44 straight sets on the surface” (ATP). Tomorrow’s coronation will be both fitting and anti-climactic as he simply remains utterly unchallenged on clay.
As for the Belgian, he got things going by breaking Nadal and consolidating to lead the first set momentarily 2-0, but he was broken twice and lost the opener 4-6. He’d had enough, so Nadal gave him a bagel in the second and sent him on his way.
The bit that I watched saw Goffin wisely trying to stretch the Spaniard into that ad court, stretching his FH out wide to open the court, but Nadal not only, of course, found these shots, but was consistently able to hit that FH DLT or CC with impressive pace and accuracy; Goffin often just watched. Some of this was vintage Rafa.
As we know, you’re not going to beat Nadal on clay straight-up, and you certainly aren’t going to have much of a chance if he gets mad. If you have the guts to take a service game from him, or simply hold your own for stretches, you might upset him, which means you will have to deal with el toro. Today’s match was a classic in form Nadal where he gets a little push-back, senses a little threat and proceeds to run his opponent off the court, fearing for their lives.
His clay prowess is legendary and as I argue it defines his legacy.
Again, he has a clay center court named after him and more clay titles than seems really very reasonable or conceivable.
I wrote a few days ago what I’m sure many see as a preposterous suggestion that clay may be Nadal’s weakness.
The obvious point I’m making here regards the overwhelming role the surface plays in his dominance, in his tennis legacy.
I made a reference in a more recent post to what amounts to a simple truth about humanity — Nadal is a good example of this in terms of his tennis legacy:
you are what you are.
That seems pretty vague, perhaps too general for much use. Yet I think it works perfectly in describing Nadal.
He emerged as a clay court specialist, has created an unbelievably decorated career of massive accomplishment, collecting among his many titles two Wimbledons, three U.S. Opens and an Australian Open. He’s one of the greats in the sport, undoubtedly.
But it’s so fitting that he returns to his favorite surface and dominates, because that’s who he is. This surface literally defines his tennis and his greatness. No question.
Admittedly, the 2017 U.S. Open could not have come at a better time for Nadal. This established his rise to #1 in 2017-18 and gave him a critical third U.S. Open, which arguably is the greatest true test of tennis, given the tradition, the courts and the time of year, as players are fatiguing from months and months of brutal competition.
But the narrative returns to clay. He retires from the WTF, the AO, and doesn’t even play IW or MI.
The writing is on the wall. Of course he has these points to defend, anyways, to keep his top ranking, but this is his time of year, his surface and this is where he’s most comfortable.
Both Nadal and Federer are certainly benefiting from injuries to other top players like Andy, Novak and Stan, but no one knows if these opponents would even be able to stop Fedal. Both Federer and Nadal have added these large signature wins over the last couple of seasons (with still so much to play this year). Again, we’re in legacy country here. Sure the ATP is being dominated by Fedal, but there’s a second, higher-level mathematics getting calculated.
And this is where we circle back around a bit on Claydal, how as much as he dominates the clay, this imbalance can be treated as a bit of a condition. His dominance is conditional. He’s a clay court specialist.
You are what you are.
Such a statement is a kind of definition of character that can really only be made at the end of a life. Granted, we are not in the end-times of Nadalism — no one is dying here — but we can most certainly see the final words getting scripted on several legacies as these men reach their 30s and beyond.
What’s Federer’s legacy? How has this latest stretch of a couple of years clarified that narrative? What about Djokovic? Is there something pattern-like or typical in his latest struggles that, rather than suggesting some kind of shocking turn or change, consolidate a character argument, a legacy?
I say absolutely. In fact, this is, as we said earlier, a truth about humanity. People are who they are.
Many are simply baffled by his dominance on clay. They ask why can’t other professional tennis players even challenge him on clay (he hasn’t lost a set in, what seems, 200 years), but do so on other surfaces? The gap, to be fair, is incredibly wide. On clay he’s a different player all together.
So, as Nadal continues to eat his way towards an eleventh French Open title, he emphatically evidences his status as primarily a clay court specialist, which I think one can take as a slight, or a criticism. That’s what I was referring to, with regards to a “weakness.”
Remember the other aphorism? Our strengths are our weaknesses.
But to be clear, as I criticize, I celebrate. To conclude, as Nadal’s greatness does transcend clay, he is, in the end, a clay court specialist. This spring, like 2017, reinforces this theory with clarity.
The Barcelona Final
You can see we willed this final between Nadal and Tsitsipas. Staying-up all last night meditating on Claydal and sipping tsipouro into hallucinations, let’s see if we can get this one right, as well.
Nadal will win and win easily if he simply overwhelms the teenager, breaking serve early and giving the kid zero room to breathe. This could very well be the case. Your classic veteran great against a kid in his first final, on a court named after the veteran great, who is on another historical run, sitting atop the sport and collecting titles, these days, practically every week.
There is seemingly no chance for young Stefanos.
There are a few things I’m taking into consideration, however, why I really wanted to see this final and, hence, willed it to happen 🙂
One common description of the lost generation, or any of those mid-20s players who have been around for 5-10 years, but have done very little as the tennis has been dominated by the big 4 or 5, is soft or impotent or scared or meek.
We love David Goffin’s tennis, but he, like a Dimitrov, or any of several of those players we might put in that category, will not be seen really challenging (consistently) or standing-up to these bigger tennis personalities and games. Today’s scoreline is a perfect example.
How about Nishikori in Monte Carlo. He had a break, like Goffin, but proceeded to get run-over. I almost said in a Barcelona preview that I never wrote, as a side-note, that Nishikori would withdraw from the tournament. He actually did. These guys are just not built like the legends. Which seems pretty bizarre, to be honest.
Others have noticed that this new crop of players, perhaps starting with Zverev, Thiem, Shapovalov, Chung, et al. has a bit more bravado. The players I listed, and there are others like them, swing big, take big chances, don’t seem to give much of a shit about who is on the other side of the net. One announcer even pointed-out that when the match gets tighter, the points bigger, these guys will often swing harder!
I concur with these observations.
Tsitsipas has this same kind give-zero-shits tennis that pushes this kind of agenda.
Carreno Busta is not exactly a clay court virtuoso, but he’s a grinder, a guy who can get to many balls and play a consistent shot from both sides.
Like he did against another base-liner, the Greek teen played big ground strokes from both sides, the one-hander holding-up CC and DTL, the FH really effective to both corners — and he often comes to net with decent skills and clear purpose. He’s serving and volleying on occasion. This more attacking style, more fluent style is fun and dangerous.
This kid’s panache could make tomorrow’s final a bit of a contest. Let’s not forget his serve. At 6’3″, he’s showing an ability to really put guys on their heals. That’s when you see him coming to net and adding to this pressure. He could be a handful.
Granted, and again, Nadal 99.9% chance claims #11 and continues to defend #1.
But at least we have a new face and a new game with which to enjoy tomorrow’s festivities.