‘To the victor belongs the spoils’, and in three Major finals between the Spanish Matador and the Super Serb ahead of the historic French Open 2012 summit clash, it was Novak Djokovic who was the victor with Rafael Nadal vanquished to be a drooping figure on the sidelines. The spoils had gone to the ‘Djoker’ for three times in a row.
But not at the French Open, not in his own backyard as Rafael Nadal annexed the spoils - a slice of history, redemption and an upper hand in a great rivalry as he stood at top biting the La Coupe des Mousquetaires or The Musketeers` Trophy as a worthy victor for a record seventh time.
Novak Djokovic was the drooping figure on the sidelines as ‘Rafa’ lunged into the crowd, finding his way towards his family and coach Uncle Toni. After the Australian Open final, earlier this year in February, which was an epic six-hour long battle, Djokovic had prevailed and he too had gone to embrace his family. Nadal sat there on the sidelines probably cognizant of the enormity of the duel he had just lost. Similarly, Djokovic after his French Open loss would have been comprehending the colossal feat he might have accomplished if he had won.
History was up for grabs, and seldom does history beckon for both the contenders in a single game. Djokovic in pursuit of Rod Laver’s 1969 record of holding all four Slams at the same time and Nadal stalking his 7th Roland-Garros title to eclipse Björn Borg’s record of 6.
The match as expected turned out to be a cracker. There were no doubts that human abilities would be stretched with these two in the middle, there were no apprehension regarding the ‘unbelievable’ shots that would be on display. Nadal had stormed into the Roland-Garros final in his trademark marauding fashion whereas Djokovic had put in his best Houdini act against Frenchman Tsonga in the quarters before dispatching a rare lacklustre Federer to advance to the final.
The final lived up to the expectations, as did one of the great rivalries of the sport. In any sport, a challenger is as pivotal as a champion. If the champion is able to raise his game at the grandest stage of ‘em all, he is lauded as a ‘true’ victor, and if the challenger overcomes the champion and the grandest stage of ‘em all, he is commended as a ‘worthy’ victor.
Ironically, Rafael Nadal had to be the challenger here against the World No. 1; but at the French Open, Rafa is the ‘King’ and thus the champion. Against Federer during 2006-08 Nadal was the perennial challenger, and when he became the true champion, ‘Nole’ the ‘Djoker’ spread his wings.
Playing in the same era, the triumvirate has now won 28 of the last 29 Majors. These three fed on each other’s success and upped their game in accordance to their rival. If it was not for Nadal, Federer’s dominance would have been unblemished, if not for Federer, Nadal would have been No.1 long time back and if not for Djokovic, the ‘Nadal-Federer’ rivalry would have been celestial.
But instead, because of Nadal, Federer’s dominance was heavenly, because of Federer, Nadal’s No.1 status was phoenix-like and because of Djokovic, ‘Nadal-Federer’ rivalry was transcendental.
And at present, because of the three, the ‘Federer-Nadal-Djokovic’ trivalry is becoming legendary.
‘To the victor belongs the spoils’ - So, is tennis, the true victor or the triumvirate, the worthy victors?