(With apologies to John Lennon and this lady. And the usual warning: if you don’t follow tennis, skip this post)
Most news reports and analyses of the Australian Open men's final seem to have missed this, so here goes: All hail Rafa Nadal, the only male tennis player ever to hold Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces at the same time! No one has done this before – not even the great Rod Laver who won all four Slams in a calendar year twice, back in the days when they were played on only two surfaces. How strange to think that Nadal was until very recently disparaged as a clay-court specialist who “couldn’t play” on hard-courts. (Actually, this allegation was ridiculous even back in 2005 – check Nadal’s record on the surface and compare it with that of the “hard-court specialists” like Andy Roddick, James Blake etc – but that never stopped people from making it.)
It’s been hugely rewarding being a Nadal fan over the past year, even better in some ways than being a Sachin fan in 1998. When he was thrashed by Davydenko in the Miami Masters final last April, I wondered if he would ever win another title, and whether the recurring blowouts in hard-court finals might eventually affect his clay-court game as well. But he went from strength to strength as the year progressed, and it was almost too good to believe for a paranoid fan. When he played Djokovic for the number two ranking in Hamburg, I thought it was the beginning of the end – that Rafa’s three-year stint at the number 2 spot would end not with him taking over as number one but with slipping down the rankings, never to go back up. That fear seems almost laughable now.
Very pleased by his performance in the Aus Open final, which I never thought he could win after his 5-hour semi (and this despite having been repeatedly surprised by him over the last year). Also very sorry for Federer – more sorry than I could have imagined being when he last broke down at an Australian Open ceremony three years ago, in very different circumstances (a post about that here).
I still think Roger will break Sampras’s record of 14 Slams, and maybe even get one or two beyond that, but it’s going to be tougher than anyone could have foreseen a year ago. Most of the reports right now are about him – quite understandably, given all the expectations – but I wish more of them had mentioned the uniqueness of Nadal’s three-surface achievement. The announcers at the trophy ceremony really should have brought it up, but it was obvious that they had all expected the story of the night to be Roger’s record-equaling title – hence the line-up of past greats. Pity, but then being the underdog has always served Rafa well.
[Some related posts: the human Federer; mixed singles; in praise of Rafa; how to make men’s tennis less predictable; and perceptions]