By Sandra Harwitt
It was a cry fest when all was said and done at the French Open on Sunday.
Nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 seed, was in tears, not believing he won again. Throughout the entire trophy presentation, and the playing of the Spanish national anthem, he kept wiping away the tears on his sweat jacket sleeve.
“It’s the most important thing to win Roland Garros,” Nadal said. “It’s the most important tournament on clay in the world and the most important tournament of the year for me.
And two-time French Open finalist Novak Djokovic, the second seed, yet to secure a French win, which is the last of the four majors missing from his trophy collection, shed tears of sorrow. And then he cried again when overwhelmed by a standing ovation from the crowd during the award ceremony.
“It was fantastic,” said Djokovic, of the crowd treating him to rousing applause. “In the end of the day, you have to put things in perspective and see where I come from and what kind of life I have. It’s a blessing.”
At first the match started out shaky for Nadal, but the earth eventually ilted back onto its axis and it was as it always tends to be in this era: a Nadal kind of day. And when asked to sum up the occasion, which enables the Spaniard to claim the right of being the first man in history to win five straight French Open titles, he did so in a word: “Unforgettable.”
The other day I wrote that Rafael Nadal need only be Rafael Nadal to win this French Open title and enhance his record wins here to nine victories. For a while there — to be exact, for one hour, 45 minutes — it was a bit worrying that Rafa missed my coaching message. He was doing everything possible to look like a beaten man.
“I felt the match was more in his hands than my hands at the beginning,” Nadal said.
During those first two sets, Nadal was often listless. And even worse than not having energy it was concerning he had no answers for the aggressive and precise play of Djokovic. By the time it was 6-3, and Nadal had surrendered a 4-2 lead in the second set, many were of the mindset that Djokovic was on the verge of winning his seventh career Grand Slam — and first French Open – title.
Yours truly was starting to feel silly having written on Friday that just because Djokovic beat Nadal in the recent Rome final on clay we should all remember that Rome is Rome and Roland Garros is Roland Garros, and Rafa doesn’t lose in Paris. Hey — the stats pretty much hold that theory up as Nadal is now 66-1 at the French Open lifetime with his only loss coming to Robin Soderling in the round-of-16 in 2009. And it’s worth noting that Nadal’s never lost the first two sets in a match at Roland Garros.
But then it was 6-5 for Nadal with Djokovic serving in the second set. Djokovic wins the first point, but double faults on the second point, He follows with a forehand approach error to 15-30, an inside-out forehand crosscourt sailed way long for 15-40 and facing a set point. Nadal saw the opportunity and pounced with a forehand winner and just like that Nadal was back to being the King of Clay.
“It was very important for me to win that second set,” Nadal said. “If I didn’t I don’t know if I would have this trophy with me right now.”
“I tried to do my best,” said Djokovic, who previously had a 35-0 record in finals played when winning the first set. “My best wasn’t as the best against him in Rome a couple weeks ago. But, you know, it’s how it is. He was the better player in the crucial moments.”
In the third set, it was a break of serve at 30-40 in the second game — Djokovic netted a backhand volley — and the next thing you know it was 3-0 Rafa, 4-1 Rafa, 5-2 Rafa, and 6-2 Rafa ahead by two sets to one.
It was a hot and humid day and the weather always favored Nadal — he’s from Mallorca and he grew up liking the heat.
At one point early on in that third set, Djokovic nearly fell over trying to sit down during a changeover. And then at a later point he vomited on the court.
But Djokovic never gave up. Even when trailing 4-2 in the fourth set, Djokovic rallied to break right back in the next game. But with Nadal at 5-4 and Djokovic serving, the match was about to conclude. Djokovic won the first two points, but then Nadal started to slide his way past Djokovic. It was 30-40, match point to Nadal. Djokovic missed the first serve and then double faulted. [A DOUBLE FAULT TO THE FAN WHO SHOUTED OUT BETWEEN THE TWO SERVES WHICH HAD TO HAVE RATTLED DJOKOVIC].
As quick as you could say “Rafa,” Nadal was on his knees, then on his feet raising his arms in victory, and then hoisting himself into the stands to celebrate his win with Uncle Toni and the rest of the family and team.
After the win, Nadal talked about this victory being the necessary salve to his Australian Open final loss to Stan Wawrinka, a match in which he hurt his back and still feels some of that pain.
But those around the game weren’t thinking back to Australia; they were thinking to the remarkable feat that Nadal had achieved on a Sunday afternoon in Paris.
Mats Wilander, a three-time French Open champion, doing commentary for Eurosport, made the pronouncement that he can’t imagine anyone ever winning nine French Opens again. He’ll probably have to change that to 10 next year, if you know what I mean.
And well-known coach Darren Cahill put out the following tweet minutes after Nadal won: “If beating Nadal @rolandgarros is not the most mentally & physically difficult thing to do in sport, then I’m not sure what is. A true great.”
Djokovic certainly understood what Cahill was saying as he couldn’t deny that playing Nadal at Roland Garros is a very different sensation in which one feels like the opponent already has a huge advantage.
“Yes, that’s how it feels on the court,” when asked if Nadal has a superiority here in Paris. “Obviously his records speak for themselves, He has won this tournament now nine times. It’s very impressive what he’s playing on this court.”
And this loss leaves Djokovic right where he was last year, wondering how he let matches slip out of his grasp. If we all remember, in last year’s Nadal-Djokovic semifinal, the Serbian had a 4-2 lead in the fifth set and let the advantage go. Boris Becker was brought on board this year to help Djokovic with the mental aspect of winning these kind of matches when he has the edge, but the Becker strategy definitely fell short today.
So just for the sake of clean up, let’s put it all into perspective. Nadal is now level with Pete Sampras’ 14 Grand Slam titles and only three away from equalling Roger Federer’s record 17 Grand Slam titles, not to mention four away from surpassing the fabulous Fed’s record if he doesn’t ever win another major. And guess what, that’s quite doable for the 28-year-old Nadal.
Yes, there is the issue of Nadal’s fragility — the knees, the back, they tend to ache. But the man has been a genius at peaking at the right time.
Nadal’s on a 35-match winning streak at the French Open and be assured as nice as he was to Novak, telling him he deserves to win this title and is sure he will one day, he didn’t mean he thinks he should win it on his watch. So it’s hard to imagine that even now — just about an hour after his winning the 2014 French Open trophy — that Nadal isn’t already preparing to return in 2015 with plans of winning seven matches in a row for a record 10th Roland Garros trophy.
And when former player-TV commentator Barbara Schett asked if there was room for this 2014 French Open trophy back home, Nadal laughingly said, “We will find room, not to worry.” But when she suggested he might have to build out to accommodate all the trophies he discounted the notion, saying, “I live with my parents.”
And he’s a good boy, too.