A Monumental Accomplishment

French Open, Final

(3) Nadal d. (4) Ferrer, 6/3 6/2 6/3

Rafael Nadal has defeated David Ferrer in straight sets in the French Open final, thus becoming the first man in the history of tennis to win the same Major tournament eight times. That he has done this from only nine attempts tells you all you need to know about the extent of his sustained dominance at this event, and on this surface, and further suggests that the tally won’t stop at eight. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images EuropeAfterwards, cradling the Coupe de Mousquetaires while the martial strains of the Marcha Real wafted through the stadium, Nadal’s face reflected a profound and easy satisfaction. One might hazard a guess at what he was feeling right at that moment, but very few men or women must know for sure.

Before we could arrive at this moment, however, there was a final to be contested. Thankfully, this final ended up being a tightly fought affair, with players splitting sets, before the final set escalated through a sequence of tense holds. Triumph for the younger player came seemingly from nowhere, at 7/5. It was very exciting. The upshot is that Matthew Ebden is now the Nottingham Challenger champion, having narrowly edged out Benjamin Becker. A short time later there was another final played in Paris, though that one proved rather less memorable. The three sets might have had their kinks, but they always straightened out at the end, and Nadal, as expected, never looked qualified to lose.

The degree of satisfaction one experiences upon essaying a correct prediction correlates closely to its degree of difficulty. Days of smugness can be achieved by forecasting an outrageous event, such as a stock market crash or a quarterfinal run by Tommy Robredo. At the other end of the scale, there’s little to crow about when one correctly anticipates that the latest Vin Diesel film will lack adequate character development or that Nadal will handily defeat Ferrer in the final of the French Open. I’d suggested that the final would for Nadal be the equivalent of the Tour de France winner’s procession through the final stage. I was pleased enough with the analogy, though I hardly believed the sentiment behind it to be unique.

About the match itself, there’s depressingly little to say. My post on the semifinal was the longest I’ve ever penned, stretching to over two thousand words, and inviting a charge of prolixity against which I have no defence, except that I felt like there was a lot to say. This post won’t run anywhere near as long, although I’d like to head off any idea that this reflects dismissively on Nadal’s achievement. The size of the monument doesn’t need to match the monumentality of the event. (Cynical readers will note that I’ve just padded out this post by another hundred or so words. They’re not wrong, but even small monuments deserve a plinth.)

It says a lot that the liveliest moments in the final occurred during its interruptions, several times by protesters and once by rain. The protesters, we’re told, were passionately opposed to gay marriage, and had thus adopted the predictably trite path of championing children’s rights: ‘Won’t somebody please think of the kids?’ What they thought invading centre court with a lit flare would achieve that a public suicide in Notre Dame hadn’t is open for debate. In any case, security hustled him from the court with an alacrity that put even Wimbledon’s ground crew to shame. (It was asserted by some that had this occurred in New York, the fellow would have been dealt with more severely, presumably by being extraordinarily rendered to a secret facility, and there forced to endure Rob Schneider films with his eyelids taped open. Others suggested that had Serena Williams being playing she would have dealt with him herself.) Thus distracted, Nadal took the following point with a savage forehand winner. Forget the kids, wouldn’t someone please think of Ferrer?

By contrast, the rain interruption lacked any overt political motive, though it did expertly match the mood of the final, which had been a nerve-ridden, dreary affair even before the clay thickened into mud. Rather too much is made of Nadal’s distaste for such conditions – that perennial urge to erect new obstacles for him to overcome – with an implication that other players somehow thrive in them. Djokovic happened to cope with the rain better in last year’s final, but that hardly makes him an exponent of wet-weather tennis. The world number one has repeatedly demonstrated a capacity to elevate his level in any conditions, and I think people have too readily ascribed it all to the weather (rather like the role of the roof closure in last year’s Wimbledon final). Nadal is still a great clay court player even in the wet. He’s not as good as he is when it’s dry and hot, but he’s still leagues better than Ferrer. He hit nearly three dozen winners.

All the same, Ferrer had proved himself leagues better than anyone he faced en route to the final, a task he accomplished without dropping a set. For his runner-up troubles, he will return to the number four ranking, while Nadal, having won, drops back to number five. This is counter-intuitive, admittedly, though it’s explained by the fact that Nadal has ‘merely’ defended his title from last year, while Ferrer has improved on last year’s semifinal (in every way: in last year’s loss he managed just five game, while today he won eight). This, coupled with the way the All England Club determines its seedings, means that Nadal will be seeded fifth at Wimbledon in a few weeks. Some question whether this is fair. The answer is that missing half a season with injury has repercussions for one’s ranking. No doubt Nadal will return to the top four after Wimbledon. Plenty of people will be outraged on his behalf before then, especially if he’s drawn in a half with Federer and Djokovic.

Upon breaking for the last time – Ferrer’s final serve was a double fault – then comfortably serving out the title, the King of Clay collapsed briefly onto his back, before rising and jogging forward to receive his compatriot’s expressions of fealty. It was, understandably, a more muted moment than last year’s victory, though I don’t doubt it felt just as satisfying for the victor, and far less disappointing for the loser. Last year Djokovic’s campaign had concluded with a double fault and a dejected stumble towards the net. Ferrer appeared far more sanguine. I can’t imagine the older Spaniard had entered the match harbouring a realistic belief in victory. Even if he had, the last set had provided forty-two minutes in which to divest himself of such fancies.

Ferrer was characteristically gracious later on the rapidly deployed podium, praising Nadal in a ceremony enhanced by the unexplained presence of Usain Bolt and only slightly marred by the fact that he’d already said all of it to Cedric Pioline just minutes before. In fact the entire affair was very civilised, not to say stately, the way a procession should be. Nadal was as gracious in his response, delivering his speech with the consummate ease wrought by long experience. He’s been here many times before, more than any other man in history.

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