That's right. Let me be the first to loudly proclaim that Rafa doesn't have what it takes to win all four tennis majors in the same calendar year.
Here is it, time for the opening of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open 1000, the last ATP tournament before the French Open, just about one-quarter of the way through the season. (And, by the way, just a few days before the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown. But more about racing later.)
Of the majors this year, Rafa has already won the AO (Australian Open). And, oh, I am confident that Rafa will win the FO this year (French Open). AND at this point in time I would like to openly declare that Rafa will not win all four this year.
Rafa, if you read this article: You can't do it.
No man has done it since Rod Laver (who accomplished this feat twice!), and in Laver's day the Grand Slam was only contested on two different surfaces—not effectively four different surfaces as it is today (the AO and USO are both contested on hard courts, but the actual synthetic surface for each of these are quite different, and not just in terms of color).
It goes without saying that to win the Grand Slam, you have to have the game on all of the surfaces. Many of our tennis greats, including Sampras, Federer, McEnroe, Borg, none of them had the game on all of the surfaces, to complete the Grand Slam. Though it should be mentioned that Andre Agassi had the Golden Slam—the career Grand Slam (on three surfaces) and Olympic gold metal, making him arguably the Greatest of All Time.
Winning all four will take heart and courage, determination and finesse. It will take stamina, awesome tennis talent, and just a little bit of luck. Even Rafa doesn't think he can do it. He's told the media that it is pretty unrealistic to think that he could ever accomplish that trick.
This is the guy who told the media that it would be unrealistic to expect that he could come back from a marathon 5.25 hour match against Verdasco in the AO and successfully face Federer in the final. He said, "I'll do my best and we will see." But the final was billed as a pretty impossible task for Rafa and a shoe-in for Roger.
Heck, the "Legends" were all out for the trophy ceremony, expecting to crown Roger and congratulate him for meeting the record for majors (14, currently held by Pete Sampras). Roger himself didn't expect to go five sets and lose. "The history books are before me," Roger said in his pre-match interview, and "I never should have been in that fifth set," in post-match discussions.
This is the guy who stoically put aside an unconverted match point in the 2008 Wimbledon final, and served last throughout the deciding 5th set, until he came up with more match points in the end. This feat is widely regarded as a nearly impossible task, one that many players fail to stand up to.
This is the guy who won an Olympic Gold metal! Very few top male tennis players have won an Olympic Gold metal, it is not a straightforward accomplishment for those at the top because of the way the seeds are filled, etc. Rafa scoffed at the idea that he would be a top contender at the end of the week (and so did everybody else). He was tired from a long summer of tennis, and the weariness was evident in Cincinnati, where he lost spectacularly to Novak Djokovic a couple of weeks before.
Rafa is a man who seems to enjoy mountains to climb. Rafa was ranked No.2 in the world for nearly three years, all that time watching Roger Federer
perform acts of tennis greatness. Yet in all that time, Rafa established a
winning record against Roger, a record that went Rafa's way from their very first match.
Their second match, the final in Miami, played out much the same way as the 2008 Wimbledon final, with Rafa in the lead for two sets, and Roger clawing back. In the 2005 match, 18-year old Rafa faded with weariness in the fifth set, and Roger pulled that one out. But typically, when faced with the challenge of tennis greatness that is Roger Federer, Rafa rises to the occasion.
In fact, I would say that Rafa relishes those opportunities when he is the underdog. All those times against Roger, Rafa was the anomaly, the fly in the ointment of Roger's greatness, the annoying, fist-pumping, Vamos-shouting, pirate-wearing, dirt-ball specializing, kid with the ugly-swing-that-couldn't-possibly-work-all-the-time-because-the-technique-was-all-wrong.
Rafa seems to perform his best, most miraculous tennis when expectations are low. In fact, telling him he can't be expected to do something is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
It seems to be different if expectations are that Rafa "probably" can't do it. Like at the 2008 USO, nobody really thought he would win, and he didn't either. Too tired, etc. But "not expected to win" is different from being told that "you can't win." That you don't have what it takes. That you can't pace yourself appropriately, that you can't manage your schedule and your tennis effort in order to make it through that last critical major. It's kind of like going up against the greatest in history, no?
When a horse is going for that Triple Crown, and all the specialists on that surface, be it mile and a half, or mile and a quarter, are all gunning for him, the horse is dependent upon the jockey/trainer to pace himself through the 5 weeks of time, and other things that it takes, to beat back the challengers (including the course).
A quick diversion: in addition to being the longest dirt course in the United States, the Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown, is a very sandy track. hey call it The Lung Buster. You can't just show up and win the Belmont Stakes, as if it is just like the Kentucky Derby! You have to be prepared for that course. I'll never forget, as long as I live, Smarty Jones going for the Triple Crown in the 2004 Belmont Stakes, being challenged in the last quarter mile by a mile-and-a-half specialist.
You could almost see him saying "what do I have to do to pull this out!" We haven't had a Triple Crown winner in 30 years. Gee, almost the same amount of time since the last male winner of the tennis Grand Slam!
With Rafa, you can't tell him what to do (nor would I even try). But I can say something to the man who likes a challenge, and that is...you've said that you can't do it, and I totally agree with you. You can't do it. Nope. You don't have it. You're always tired at the end of the year, and you know what? It's always going to be that way! Do we think you can do what other great men in tennis have not been able to do? Of course not! (Even though the women seem to be able to do it...)
So, here's to a great season, and no more Amazing Disasters (ADs). Here's to you as the world's No. 1. Here's to the AO, IW, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Rome. Here's to the fantastic tennis that we saw in the semi-final, and final of Monte Carlo, and final of Rome. And Rafa, if you read this article: You Can't Do It!