The French Open Men’s Singles 2


Roland Garros
Men’s Singles

There is this unique energy that surrounds each of the Grand Slams for me. The French is the one that is about toughness and grit and heart and fitness. All of the main sources of great competitive energies are in play on the clay. The surface allow players to use their speed and fitness to get to almost every ball. There is just that extra time. We lesser players have that time, too, but we tend to get a little up tight with that moment of choice. Not these pros. They get the time and they know what to do with it. And usually they do it. But the player on the other side has that extra moment too. And they know what to do with it.

So it is the one that can continue to run and run, to get into position one more time, so that they can, one more time, do what they know they need and, usually, can do.

Who does that more and better than Rafa Nadal? That has been the story of the French Open for the last nine years. With the exception of one loss, Nadal has run and run and hit the shots in the court like nobody before. Borg did it too, but not for this long a stretch.

When asked what problem Nadal most presented for Roger Federer on the clay, Paul Annacone said, “relentless optimism and a sense of urgency for each and every point…for the length of the match.” He knows no other way.

Nadal just keeps on coming. Not unlike the Black Knight in the hilarious Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who after having his arms and legs cut off, kept on battling by saying, “”Running away, eh? You cowards! Come back here and take what’s coming to ya! I’ll bite your legs off!”

Last week, in the finals of Rome, with Djokovic demonstrating a level and style on the clay never seen before, I wondered how Nadal could even win a point. It was a beat down, except for one thing. Nadal never stopped. Somehow he was in it right until the end. But that was Djokovic’s day. But it was three sets.

So Rafa is my pick to win the French again. Barring injury, the five set format favors what he brings to each and every match.

But picking the winner of a tournament is not so easy. So here are my other choices.

Novak Djokovic. He really looks like the best player in the World again. He has been the best for the last three years, except for Nadal’s run last year after returning from his six month layoff.

He, too, can run forever. He, too, can hit the shot that is required. He finds spots on the court that seem impossible, especially with the pace with which he punishes the ball.

And he believes. Big time. He may look doubtful every now and then when he has a shaky run of a few points. As he looks pleadingly to his player’s box, it looks like the earlier Djokovic will resurface. The Djokovic who used to unravel. But his brilliance resurfaces with his “who tries to hit a shot like that” mentality. He goes fearlessly bigger, harder, flatter and closer to the line, just when it looks like he is down and out.. He returns to being the player who hit the shot that changed the tennis world, the forehand return when down match point against Federer at the 2011 US Open.

The “I am Novak and I am here to stay” shot.

If, and it is a big if, Novak can maintain the level of offense that he demonstrated in Rome over five sets then he can be the champion.

But Nadal, the Black Knight, will still be there at the end, forcing Novak to continue hitting the shots that nobody hits.

Here is hoping for that final. It has the makings of being another of the greatest matches of all times. The two best, doing what they do best, for hours and hours, turning our Breakfast at Rolland Garros into lunch and more. The length of the match is irrelevant. Rafa will never act tired. Djokovic will. But neither will fold. They will fight for eight hours if they have to.

The rest of the field always have a chance, but only if one of these guys can be taken down in under three hours.

Federer needs a monumental effort, needing to light it up early in points and sustaining it for three sets. If he does, it would likely be the most brilliant performance of offense ever demonstrated.

Ferrer, Murray, Tsonga or Berdych could do it but only if the draw opens up with an early loss by Nadal or Djokovic.

Raonic, quietly, has become a force with his huge serve and relentless offense. But five sets. I don’t think so.

Nishikori, maybe in another year. He has it all, but also has a bad back. You can’t play this tournament if you don’t have the body to go the distance.

So what a great French. So many stories of so many players.

In the end, I hope for the #1 vs. #2 match.

Regardless we will get to see the very best giving everything they have for each and every point.

No other way to play.


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