Are you all ready to move-on to grass? Wasn’t the French terre battue quite the scintillating high none the less? Let’s not get too used to these sorts of fireworks; let’s truly appreciate what is going on here. How long can these “farewell tours” last, after all?
The continuation of this story starring Fedal and their seige of the ATP tour continues to boggle the tennis imagination: their assault on the supposed top of the tour and the lost generation, which we can only hope doesn’t extend to nextGen, as these poor teenagers, like their slightly older siblings, have to be still staggering from the highs and hangovers of Melbourne and Paris.
Seeing these two elder statesman dominate like this is at first brilliant; their tennis styles and qualities are historical, perhaps the best the sport has seen. Any doubt of this, including the consideration of other players into this specific wing of our tennis pantheon, seems to have been eclipsed by the reemergence of the Fedal comet, which was first seen in 2006-7. Hell, it’s 2017!
My playful “#2017Fedal” still stands, of course, but it’s significance has to be more closely examined, especially in light of this past couple of weeks. To the point: RG 2017 brought the tennis planet again to a searing celebratory high; but perhaps this is a cause for concern about the rest of the ATP (the history and future of the game). It’s almost embarrassing, referring specifically to what happened in Paris last week.
In other words, this is my now more thoughtful and honest takeaway from the French Open: what the fuck was that?
Seriously, what was that?
We were certainly caught-up in the matches, the different narratives (Thiem, Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka), the main one being La Decima, and you and I know exactly what happened: each and every narrative was obliterated by Nadal’s conquest. What I mean by “obliterated” concerns the realization that no one, in no conceivable way, stood a chance against the 31 year-old.
What’s your take on Thiem now? Ha ha. What about Djokovic? Maybe a different surface, pal. The rest of the tour and tennis universe have returned to the worship of the Spanish clay immortal. This 2017 clay campaign seemed destined, appropriate and truly historical. This is a fair assessment. But by the conclusion of RG, everyone is trying to stay upright: Nadal has confirmed his position to challenge Wimbledon, the rest of the calendar and finish the year #1.
You and I might be quick to point to surface and style elements that complicate the above statement, but the sea change that Melbourne foreshadowed is pounding the shores of our beloved sport. We owe it ourselves to put this year into more perspective.
At least that’s what I’m going to (continue to) do.
Nadal’s run in Paris was, as we know, as dominant as he’s ever been. The only more dominant run at Roland Garros is, still, Borg’s run in 1978. Nadal lost 35 games at this year’s French whereas Borg conceded only 27 that year. Go look at the scorelines of Borg’s matches. The American Roscoe Tanner was responsible for 12 of those 27 games in the 4R. The rest of the contests are cute little baskets of bagels and breadsticks, your typical impeccable French bakery products.
(Interesting reminder of the ever-so-flawed GOAT debate: the Swedish former no.1 retired when he was 26 years-old, despite accomplishing so much — 11 majors; and more to the point, there are some of his seemingly ancient records that even the great Nadal can’t quite eclipse.)
The Spaniard’s tennis couldn’t be touched last week. Nadal’s SF and F were the real eye-openers, as his draw was fairly (or unfairly) barren. Thiem and Wawrinka were both embarrassed; or, to be fair, made exempt from any embarrassment by how dominant was Nadal. How can you blame or hold at all responsible these players in light of this absolute peak Nadal?
Truly stunning stuff. He didn’t miss. His ground strokes were nearly unreturnable; forget his ability to retrieve or his enhanced serve (Moya’s influence seems effective); his defense was offensive. These matches weren’t even worth watching there was so little competitive balance. I was the one a bit embarrassed. Seriously.
I guess what’s so insane is the actual level of Nadal’s French Open tennis. Again, this tournament was a continuation of 2017Fedal, where two greats met in the AO final, and again in the Miami final (Roger dominated the early HC like Nadal dominated the clay). We coined #2107Fedal then, so to our credit, the theme was indeed a real development of the sport. This read on the tennis coincided with the read on Djokollapse. We made sense of this all winter and spring.
Consequently, we were reading the result of Roland Garros back in January – March.
But I have to admit that this French Open, in the end, is just bizarre. Although I just explained how we weren’t that surprised by the Nadal run in Paris, the level at which it occurred, especially in the final two matches, caught-us off-guard a bit. Of course, this was La Decima: he’s owned the venue, loves that court, the history, his success, etc. Should we be surprised by his French dominance?
We return to the discussion of confidence. Nadal has his confidence (and health) back; with the Spaniard, health has been a real issue throughout his career, partly from that style of tennis. Taking the time-off in 2016 (he’s taken time-off throughout his career) seems to have helped him get right. But I have a hard time reconciling the Nadal form of 2015 and 2016 with this past couple of weeks. It’s so so different.
Shouldn’t I say the same thing about Federer’s win in Melbourne, that it was as bizarre? Besides, he’s actually four years older than Nadal. Shouldn’t his #18 be considered a bit of a surprise, too? Sure. Federer’s run there is for the ages, remarkable, genius. I’ve included Nadal in this run as he’s risen to the challenge, played some inspired tennis, as well.
The French, then, was simply a development of this early run from Nadal; but, I didn’t quite expect the level at which it was played, the juxtaposition of that with his 2015-16, along with his age. You and I even discussed throughout the tournament the prospects of Rafa being challenged. By the eve of the final, most if not all of you had gone belly-up, conceded your man/womanhood.
Here’s why Federer’s 2017 run isn’t that surprising. Just looking at majors, let’s go back to 2014, to see how the Swiss generally played throughout the year:
AO – SF
FO – 4R
WB – F
USO – SF
AO – 3R
FO – QF (to Stan)
WB – F
USO – F
Then Federer was out the rest of the year due to injury, his first extended leave from the tour (missing the FO that year broke his incredible streak of consecutive majors).
Prior to the 2017 Australian Open win, Federer, dating back to 2014 was in the final four 7/10 majors, three finals.
Nadal over the same period:
AO – F
FO – Win
WB – 4R
USO – DNP
AO – QF
FO – QF
WB – 2R
USO – 3R
AO – 1R
FO – 3R and W/O, taking the rest of the year off due to injury.
Prior to the 2017 season, Nadal, dating back to 2014 was in the final four 2/10 majors, but this included a final and a win in 2014. His 2015 and 2016 seasons were pretty bad.
Federer has been consistently good on tour. Some of his “consistency” records are hallowed and, as I have argued pretty thoughtfully, have hurt him as he’s always been “there” and often facing an opponent who happens to be in a rarer peak form. Do the math.
The 2017 AO win is in line with a consistent string of deep draws and near misses from Federer. I think Novak benefitted legacy-wise (listen to the Djokerfans) by facing a 34 year-old Federer, as the Swiss still carried massive appeal/credibility.
Nadal’s career doesn’t arch that way, nor has it really ever. He’s been very up-and-down in form. We know this.
All I’m doing is putting this 2017 French Open awkwardness into perspective. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Nadal’s tennis continues to strike me as a bit odd. And this is not the case with Federer. Do not confuse the two.
We’re also talking about the very popular current topic of tennis slumps. We’re in the midst of Djokovic’s slump.
People are putting that into perspective by comparing his to other players’ slumps.
Federer’s 2013 is his “slump.” His back in 2013 caused him all kinds of trouble. He made a SF in Melbourne that year, but otherwise was pretty much a third or fourth round exit. Otherwise, Federer has been pretty consistent in his dangerous form, though age has certainly been a factor. in 2013, Federer was 31.
Nadal’s most recent “slump” (he has had several), of really half of 2014 -thru 2016 takes place when he’s 28-30 years-old.
Djokovic’s current “slump” occurs in his 29-30 years of age.
Do the math: Djokovic has time to rise, based on the Nadal model. I think they are similar in style, so this might continue to track a kind of similarity. I think Novak does find his form again, but my concern has been time. He is definitely working against the calendar at this point. The comparisons to Agassi and Wawrinka, on the other hand, don’t work. Nor does comparing Djokovic or Nadal to Federer really work. Agassi was practically out of the sport, had a very inconsistent career and Stan is simply the Enigma (late bloomer, rarified form, etc.). Federer has an historical consistency really beyond reach.
Nadal’s form at the French was simply surprising, for me. Is La Decima surprising? Not at all. But the level at which he played, based on his track record is.
Back to confidence: you might want to say this is Nadal at Roland Garros, on the Court Philippe Chatrier, a place that simply inspires a kind of dominance over his opponent that only history can explain (his record a the French is 80-2 and the score lines are graphic).
But it’s been almost three years of ordinary and less-than-ordinary tennis from Nadal.
All this means is that his historical feat of the La Decima, at 31, in the manner with which it was done, is insanely remarkable.
And for the record, I am not surprised, necessarily, by #10. He’d won 9. This isn’t the surprise. Moreover, for me, this doesn’t add much to his clay legacy. His record indicated prior to this that he is the clay GOAT. So #10 doesn’t move that needle.
It’s his championship tennis bedside manner that has many people aghast. Me especially.
Is he the favorite now going into Wimbledon? We will turn our attention to some of that next, have a few things to say about Roger’s “no more breaks” comment (sounds like he’s nervous) and keep pushing for that highest form of commentary ever made. 😀
To be clear, Part II of this post follows later, this evening, Pacific Standard Time.