By Sandra Harwitt
Someone should get a hold of Leonardo Mayer and give him a good talking to. I mean really Leonardo, to have the nerve of taking Rafael Nadal to 7-5 in a set in your three-set, third-round loss the other day. No one does that to The King of Clay — The King of Roland Garros. Instead of the royal wave, Rafa should’ve given you the royal kick in the arse for that unwise maneuver, Leo, but he’s too polite and to do so would not be in the Handbook of Royal Protocol & Etiquette.
I suppose Leonardo would like a medal for the achievement of winning five games against the Spanish conquistador. After all, no one else that Nadal’s faced this French Open en route to the quarterfinals has had that kind of temerity. Not Robby Ginepri in the first round, who went down 6-0, 6-3, 6-0. Not Dominic Thiem, who fell 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in the second round. Not Mayer, who said good-bye after a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 loss in the third round. And definitely not the Serb Dusan Lajovic, departing after an easy 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 loss.
You just don’t show up the king, unless you’re someone at least close to equal stature — a prince, a duke, a baron at the very least.
Let’s face it. We don’t call Rafa the best on clay — eventually maybe the best ever – without good reason. (Apologies to Roger Federer fans for not giving advance warning that you needed to close your eyes on that last line).
“I’m happy with the way that I played,” said Nadal. Royals tend to measure their word usage, you know.
On some things, Rafa seems confused. One of those things is the topic regarding the above information and whether winning easily and quickly through to the latter stages of a Grand Slam, or facing a tenacious test, is the better road to go down.
“You never know what’s better, but in theory, the theory says that it’s better [to] win like this than win longer matches,” Nadal said. “But you never know what’s the best thing for what’s going on. I’m happy to be in quarterfinal, is a positive result for me.” Hmmm — I know that Royal Handbook cautions humbleness, but when you’ve won every Roland Garros since you first arrived here in 2005 but the 2009 edition, a quarterfinal showing just isn’t all that positive unless you see it as being three matches away from a record ninth French Open trophy.
For the most part, Nadal was most effusive on Monday when he spoke of the announcement back home in Spain that King Juan Carlos is abdicating after 39 years on the throne in favor of his only son, Crown Prince Felipe. It turned into one of those moments where one king bestows compliments on another — it’s a royal privilege I would imagine. Wanting to make sure he said everything absolutely perfectly he responded in his native Spanish with this the resulting English translation.
“Okay, well, we were very surprised with this announcement that the King was abdicating in Spain,” said Nadal, looking serious. “The only thing I can do is to thank His Majesty, the King, for everything he did all along these years. He was a wonderful person, a great representative of our country everywhere in the world, and Spain should thank him for everything he did during his reign. I just want to thank him for everything he did for my country. More personally speaking, I had the great opportunity of meeting him on quite a few occasions. On a personal note, he was always very nice to me, very warm. He made me feel very comfortable each time we met. So I feel honored. I had the opportunity of meeting him, and I wish him the best for the future, for whatever he decides to do for the future. I think you can’t ask more for a person who has done so much for us.”
So what do two kings discuss when they get together. Apparently, that’s privileged information that stays between kings – it says so in that Handbook of Royal Protocol & Etiquette, I’m sure.
“As I said before in my previous answer, I don’t think I can share with you any personal anecdotes, because these are personal anecdotes, and with someone like the king of Spain,” said Nadal, smiling. “But when I get a message from the king when I play a tournament, it’s a huge pleasure for me feeling supported by the leader of our country, and as I said before, a king who was so much admired everywhere in the world. Well, it was an honor for me to share some moments with him, to have an opportunity to talk to him, and I hope this will continue to be the case, even if he’s no longer the king as of today. But to me, he was somebody I really liked. He was very close to me. Over the last few years our relationship developed, and I always wanted to thank him for the kindness he showed.”
Less than one week out of the Roland Garros final and here’s where we stand. We know that one Spanish king is gone and another is now holding court. And we know that when it comes to tennis, the King of Clay is hoping against hopes to keep his Roland Garros throne in order.