When I turned on my television set, ready to watch the Rome Masters tennis final, I got a very strong sense of déjà vu. I found myself thinking, “Are you sure you haven’t seen this somewhere before, Frankie? Have you somehow managed to travel back in time?”
Well, the answer to that is a resounding, “No!” Unfortunately, I have not yet worked out the complexities of time travel.
What I was witnessing was a replay of the Monte Carlo tennis final, only this time it was a few weeks later in Rome. Here was another Masters 1000 series final featuring the same two players on the same surface: the red stuff.
There was even the same pair of Prussian blue shoes present.
In fact, both players were wearing the same outfits. Novak Djokovic was sporting the Prussian blue T-shirt and shoes combination that seems to have brought him some success of late. Rafael Nadal sadly had not decided to make a return to the pirate look—opting instead for a T-shirt with sleeves.
All I can say is that I hope those boys have someone washing their outfits for them on a regular basis, or at least own a significant number of the same T-shirts. If not, they may risk driving the spectators from the court; those shirts probably don’t smell too pleasant after all those gruelling matches they’ve been playing.
Anyway, I appear to be going off on a tangent. What I am trying to say is that this matchup was becoming all too familiar to me. Even the outcome of the match was the same: the “King of Clay” (and just about everything else these days) managed to sink his teeth into another trophy after beating the "Djoker" 7-6, 6-2.
Instead of reading this article, readers may just wish to dig out the match reports on the final in Monte Carlo. The story has the same ending, after all. However, for those of you who wish to continue to read the ramblings of this tennis obsessive, here is a quick recap of the match in Rome from my perspective.
As the two gladiators walked out into their own special kind of amphitheatre, I was busy deciding whom to support. After some contemplation I decided that my allegiance would lie with "Nole."
Looking at the trophy, I thought to myself, “Rafa has enough of these babies already!”
I just wish to add that it took a large dose of moral courage to plump for Nole; the player who had defeated my all-time tennis favourite just the day before. Had Nole won, he would have also prevented Andrew Murray from taking the No. 3 ranking in men’s tennis. Being a Brit, this is something I have been waiting for. So it was no easy decision, as you can see.
However, I wanted to see someone other than Rafa take a clay title, and with the tennis he has been playing of late, I felt that Nole deserved it.
(I apologise to those readers who feel that I may have jinxed the match through my decision to support Nole. I have no idea why the player I support never seems to win, but I believe that the blame cannot be entirely placed on me.)
The first set was a delight to behold. Both players served up some mighty tennis. Powerful ground strokes were being traded from the baseline along with some nifty passing shots. Gasps of “ooh” and “aah” could be heard from the crowd.
However, as the business end of the first set neared it looked like Nole was in trouble. Rafa broke him to go up 5-4.
“It’s all over now,” I thought to myself as Rafa took his spot to serve out the first set. Fortunately, I was wrong, and there was plenty more thrilling tennis to come in the first set.
Digging deep, Nole put up a fight to break back and equalize the score to five games all. This was exciting stuff. It got even better when, thereafter, neither man was able to hold serve; the set had to be decided by a tiebreaker.
Unlike in Monte Carlo, Rafa was not prepared to give away a set. He promptly won the tiebreaker.
Other highlights in the first set included Nole’s feeble attempts at breaking his racket. With the tension mounting, and the frustration of several missed opportunities clearly written all over his face, it was not entirely unexpected. However, it was quite comical that Nole did not seem to get so much as a dent in his racket after two attempts. The guy needs some serious lessons in the art of racket smashing from Marat Safin and Fernando Gonzalez. Even Federer could give him a few tips.
The second set was a different story altogether. It seemed to be over before it had even begun. Both players held their service games to begin, and the match was still pretty tight.
However, as soon as Rafa managed to convert a break point to go up 4-2 in the second set, an air of inevitability set in. When Nole attempted (and failed) a drop shot in the next game, his desperation began to show.
Although Nole put up a good fight in the first set, Rafa broke his serve and his will in the second set. It was not long before Rafa was serving for his fourth Rome title.
Another day and another Masters title can be added to the list of Nadal’s unbelievable accomplishments. He is now one ahead of Federer’s total of 14 and not far behind the all-time leader, Andre Agassi, who has 17.
The question now is: “Can anyone stop this man on clay?”
The simple answer seems to be: “No.”
Rafa has now won two consecutive Masters 1000 series titles on clay, with a title in Barcelona sandwiched in-between. Are we sure he is human?
Perhaps someone from another planet can beat him, but no one from Earth seems likely to do so in the near future.
Update: Fellow Brits will be pleased to know that our man will now be moving up to the third spot in the world of men’s tennis. Yipee! Now we just have to wait for him to get a Slam title this year.