Tennis is a unique sport because once you reach the court you are on your own. While you can see your family and your coach cheering for you and almost within your reach, you are really quite alone in the game, unlike other sports where the players have the company of their teammates, or coaches with whom they discuss strategies during breaks.
So though a tennis player has several fans, he cannot blame anybody else for the errors he makes when on court.
Each and every player hits the court with a single purpose – and that’s to win. But when David Ferrer hit the court to play the French Open final recently, even though he was prepared, mentally and physically, deep within his mind, he knew it was an impossible task. The 31-year-old was up against a man who may become the greatest ever to have played the game and who was seeking his record eighth French Open title. While Ferrer was dreaming to win his maiden Grand Slam title, it was his bad luck that he was seeking to win the ‘French Open’, against ‘The King of Clay’- Rafael Nadal.
It wasn’t that Ferrer came unprepared and it wasn’t that he was short of fans, but everybody who came to watch the Sunday’s final knew the result. People predicted Rafa’s victory in straight sets, and after a very long time, a Grand Slam final turned out to be a one-sided affair as ‘The Final’ ended in the semis when the Spaniard overcame the relentless Novak Djokovic in another five-set thriller. While Djokovic showed immense resilience, once again it was the Nadal forehand that made the difference.
Rafa’s forehand is like the Malinga yorker. The players know it is coming, they think they are ready, but when it does, they are left clueless, helpless as it whistles past them. The only difference being that Malinga’s toe-crushing yorkers have a minimum gap of about one minute while Nadal delivers express forehands with every passing second, giving his opponents no time to breathe. While Djokovic has countered them in the past in several Grand Slam finals, on clay, it is always difficult to battle against Nadal. Even Rafa knows that his opponents are aware of his forehand, which is why he creates impossible angles, with different speed to execute his favourite shot.
Nadal can’t be beaten at physical fitness. He might lose in five sets, but at the end of the match, he makes sure the opponent has suffered some physical pain which will take days to recover from. Ask Novak Djokovic. He has been a part of several thrilling five-setters against the Spaniard and none of them has been a one-sided affair.
While Rafa owns the Roland Garros, this year the tennis fraternity doubted his chances as he was recovering from a knee injury. Many thought he wouldn’t be able to appear at the French Open, and even if he did, the crowd wouldn’t get to see the same Nadal. But with an amazing recovery and some spectacular tennis, Rafa once again won the hearts of his fans and respect from critics.
But what makes him so special and invincible at clay? Some say it is because he gets more time to hit the ball on the red clay.
Yes, Rafa does get some extra time to execute his shots on clay. But isn`t that the same for all the players? The difference remains in the mindset. Rafa can take a rally to a different level within the blink of an eye. While his opponent might be happy watching Rafa defend in a long rally, at the same time he can be startled by a Rafa forehand which makes all the hard work look worthless.
Eight of Nadal’s 12 Grand Slam titles have come at the French Open. His greatness and his place in the tennis history would be measured considering his overall success at all the Grand Slams. But as far as the French Open is concerned, he continues to be the undisputed ‘King of Clay’.