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June 10, 2013

By Tom Hopke, Featured Columnists and the Editors of MangoBoss













As you walk the leafy grounds of Parc des Princes bordering Stade
Roland Garros, you can almost hear the whispers of history. These
grounds have seen many extraordinary champions --the legendary
Swede Bjorn Borg--who made a habit of winning the French Open then
crossing the channel two weeks later and winning Wimbledon also
comes to mind. I recall watching Borg on televisions during those years
before I could even dream of attending the French Open in person.
How powerful and precise Borg was, how indifferent to the pressure.

When Borg passed from the stage of tennis at age 26, I remember
thinking, "there he goes, we'll never see another one like him".  

I was wrong. Watching Rafael Nadal, the 27 year-old Spaniard from the
island of Mallorca, move with power and grace  through this year's
French Open confirms to even the most die-hard Borg fans that even
the Great Swede has now been transcended.  The new God of Clay is
Rafael Nadal.

We can now say, with assurance again, that once he is gone from our
view, there truly never will be another like him.

First, the data. Rafael Nadal crushed his countryman David Ferrer in
straight sets, 6-3, 6-2 , 6-3 to claim the 2013 men's single
championship. He already has won more French Open championships
than any other man. The next closest champion is the Great Borg who
has won the French Open title 6 times.  With this 8th victory in France,
Nadal becomes the only human in history to win one of the grand slam
events (French Open, Wimbledom, US Open, Australian Open) 8 times.


By the way, some will say that the semifinal against Djokovic was the
true final of this year's French Open. They will point to the 4 hour 5
setter and declare it as an epic contest, one for the ages, etc.  I
disagree. I was there.  Nadal won the first set, which Djokovic
contested well, 6-4. Djokovic, buoyed by his victory over Nadal in the
Monte Carlo warm-up and still believing he could back up his pre-match
boast almost guaranteeing a victory over Nadal, bounced back to win
the contested second set 6-3.

But the third set, as Shakespeare might say, was the rub.  Nadal took
the match by the throat and squeezed.  Whipping his signature bolero
arched topspin forehand, he played with Djokovic, sending him left,
then right, commanding him to go wherever he wanted, robbing him of
the will to run.  Watching it unfold was like seeing a man drown.
Djokovic looked as helpless as a grown man can look, exposed, naked,
helpless.  Nadal beat  him down, broke him ruthlessly to go up 2-0,
then 3-0, then 4-0.  It was a rout. It was painful to watch. In fact, at
one point, he was leading 5-0 and Djokovic was a shattered man, on
the verge of a humiliating bagel.

Those who know tennis know what they saw that 3rd set. That 3rd set
was the whole match. For once you've been robbed of your dignity the
way that Djokovic was, there is no coming back. Yes, he made an effort
in the 4th set and even eeked out the set, barely, 7-6, but the
humiliation of that 3rd set will live in tennis history. That third set, in a
nutshell,  is the reason that Nadal is the unparalleled master of clay.

Nadal is ever the shark. He lives in deep waters.  Those who swim best
in shallow waters ---Djokovic and others --- can sometimes mount a
challenge in the early sets. But in a five setter, in the relentless,
draining pressures of the deep waters of the 3rd, 4th and 5th sets, only
Nadal will ultimately survive. He lures the would-be pretenders out
farther, farther, into the deep waters, where he knows that eventually,
they will drown themselves.



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