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Nadal’s reading of the game has only got better

On Sunday, Roland Garros was Nadal’s again. Long live the king. Perhaps they should rename Court Philippe Chatrier after him; he certainly owns it

editorials Updated: Jun 10, 2019 20:22 IST
Hindustan Times
noval djokovic,rafael nadal,sport
The 2019 French Open title was Nadal’s 950th win on tour (behind Federer on 1,207) and his 18th major, behind Federer’s 20(Getty Images)

Spare a thought for Dominic Thiem. He was in the trenches for two days — running from rain, thrusting and parrying against one of the sport’s all-time greats, Novak Djokovic, in a battle that did not seem to end — all for one match. That match finished Saturday afternoon. Thiem had beaten Djokovic! Shortlived joy: Less than 24 hours later, he had to face Rafael Nadal, who had spent his Saturday, presumably, resting by the pool, or in an ice-bath.

Thiem perhaps wished he had remained in the trenches. To face Nadal in Paris! This is the man who had played 11 finals at Roland Garros before this, and had never been beaten. In fact, only two people had managed to beat Nadal at the French Open — Robin Soderling in 2009 (round 4) and Djokovic in 2015 (quarter-finals). In his turn, Nadal had beaten 92 opponents at Roland Garros — yes, 92 — and with a quiet sense of inevitability, Thiem became the 93rd.

On Sunday, Roland Garros was Nadal’s again. Long live the king. Perhaps they should rename Court Philippe Chatrier after him; he certainly owns it. No player has ever won more Grand Slams at the same court as Nadal has playing at the Court Philippe Chatrier; that’s better than Roger Federer’s eight wins at Wimbledon.

Some more numbers: this was Nadal’s 950th win on tour (behind Federer on 1,207) and his 18th major, behind Federer’s 20. But Nadal is not chasing Federer; that whole debate about who’s the Greatest of All Time, the GOAT, that exists only outside of the courts.

“You cannot be thinking ‘one more’ all the time, otherwise you are never happy,” Nadal told the press after his win. “You want more money, a bigger house, a new boat, an even prettier girlfriend! You cannot be happy like that. I don’t like the frustration. You have to thank life for all that it gives you.”

That, coming from one of the fiercest, most relentless competitors in the sport. It’s what defined him, the relentlessness: the scampering chases after balls that are clearly out of reach, the sheer physicality and bravado of his efforts on court. You could feel his suffering, feel his mass of fast-twitch muscles twisting and groaning under the stress of yet another whipped forehand played on the run.

But now, at 33, as his legs have become slower, his power less perceptible, there’s something else that’s revealing itself: his mental agility, his tactical nous, the sheer reading of the game. It has always been there, now it’s simply more apparent. Thiem found out all about it in the final, chasing, on tired legs, one perfectly placed shot after another.

First Published: Jun 10, 2019 20:22 IST