What’s more unfathomable? The fact that Rafael Nadal has now won nine French Opens? Or the fact that next year he will seek his 10th French Open title?
However one wants to look at it, that Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in four sets in Sunday’s men’s final is perhaps just as remarkable given the recent history between the two. Djokovic had won their last four meetings including in Rome a few weeks ago. Nadal entered Paris struggling. Djokovic was the pick of many to win. Yet once again, Djokovic was unable to answer the sport’s ultimate question — “Can you defeat Rafael Nadal in a best of five match at Roland Garros?”
The match as a whole was good, not great. Certainly it had some dramatic moments, especially at the end of the second and fourth sets. While Djokovic struggled to play his best, so did Nadal. At times, they each struck jaw dropping shots. Other times, it felt like they could barely swing their racquets. The weight of the occasion and all that was on the line – including the No. 1 ranking — felt palpable even if you were watching on television. The court conditions were lighter, but wow, was it ever “heavy” out there.
Did Djokovic perhaps want too much the one major title that has eluded him? While he certainly could have, and maybe should have, won that second set, he appeared to let himself get distracted while serving for a second set tiebreak. Yes, the crowd was unruly at times, boisterous at times too. But Djokovic should have found a way to stay focused at that critical stage. It was surprising seeing him falter then.
Djokovic redeemed himself by breaking Nadal back midway through the fourth set. But by then both men labored for their shots. Somehow, Nadal found a way to force a match point. Once again Djokovic, after serving a fault on his first serve, got distracted by someone shouting in the crowd. He served a double fault – an unfortunate end to a Grand Slam final. Nadal fell to his knees in relief, in exhaustion, and in celebration of his 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory. Would a fifth set have been compelling to watch? Probably not.
Once again, Nadal is the champion of Paris. Once again, Djokovic is left to wonder what might have been. The great Bjorn Borg, who handed out the trophies, gave each man a brief hug in comfort and commiseration. Perhaps, in some small way, he did that for the many fans out there to let both men know that their efforts in winning, and, in coming up just short, were awe-inspiring, appreciated and admired.
Nadal’s quest for a 10th, yes, 10th French Open will start in May next year. Djokovic, and his quest for that one, but very special, first Roland Garros title, will also. Who’s to say both won’t be staring down each other at the end of that quest on yet another second Sunday in Paris?
Unfathomable? Not at all.