Sunday, June 10, 2007

Game,Set,Match-The final showdown

I had never doubted it. But the presence of superstars like Thierry Henry, Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce and others simply confirmed it. It was the French Open final and it was a mouth-watering showdown. For Federer, it would be the path to ultimate glory. Many people accept that Federer is the greatest tennis player ever produced but the French territory was still to be conquered. Only two male players have completed the career Grand Slam, the conquest of English, US, French and Australian territories. And according to my ill-fed mind only one woman player in recent memory has completed a golden slam in the Open era, Andre Agassi’s better half. Till date the incredible clay had been a red signal for Federer who had to look for green signal at the Wimbledon to reclaim his might. And so for Federer, Gaul had to be won. For Nadal, who is proclaimed as the king of clay it was also an incredible moment, albeit a lesser one. It would complete a hattrick of the French Open which again is a rarity. On the previous day a thin woman who had recently divorced her husband, suffered an emotional breakdown, had showed us how to do it. The greatest thing about any sport is that champions produce an incredible amount of motivation among the lesser known folks, some of whom might just produce an article on magazines and newspapers like this one. In the hundred year history of the French Open the first and second best players have met only five times. And regardless of who won and who lost it was going to be a historical occasion.
Some of tennis enthusiasts, both Federer and Rafa fans, had been waiting for this occasion with a bated breath. Both of them had won their places in the finals after the gruelling schedules and unbearable heat and the situation was worthy of celebration. The match started with a lot of expectations. The crowd were overwhelmingly in favour of Federer and as one commentator noted, it was only in Australian Open that one gets to see such a nationalistic fervour. I agree that the Swiss champion with a cheesy elegance and confident precision is a fluent French speaker but Nadal too is not a stranger to France. He is a next door neighbour to the French like Federer. He comes from the land of bull-fighting and tomato splashing and a place where manhood is held dear by all men. Clay is like a second home to him where, like a true-blue Spaniard, he loves to get dirty. And like Spaniard he shows every bit of passion.
The match started and the French predictably came wearing fashion on their sleeves. You just have to be at the French Open to know why Paris is called the city of fashion. The women had a perfect make-up and even the female chair umpire looked like a former fitness model. The match started. Even after being top ranked for three years continuously Federer looked nervous. I am a Federer fan and my only solace was that three weeks ago Nadal had been beaten by Federer on the clay surface of Hamburg Masters. But Federer floundered on his break points. Not once, but twice. His first serve conversion was a pathetic 25% which was a third of Nadal’s. And despite his typical brilliance and elegance he failed to convert his chances. Nadal got his opportunity and made the best of it. He won the first set. Not everything was lost for me. I still wanted the city of fashion to be conquered by an elegant Swiss. “The two would be a great combination. He knows German too and half a century a German had conquered Paris. He is one of the most hated figures in the history of mankind, the father of Holocaust.” In the second set Federer changed his strategy and started attacking Nadal by coming to the net. The commentators complimented it and the points followed. For me, a tennis match is like a beam-balance. The more number of points you win, the heavier your stakes become. But it is like a constantly moving balance. If you ever lose your concentration and fail to gather points you end up being lighter and are ultimately off-loaded by your heavier opponent. Meanwhile, the cameraman tried to be creative. He superimposed faces and even tried to produce an image of the magnificent clay on the glass of a photographer’s camera. His camera kept focussing on Federer’s long-time girlfriend. I must admit that I had been watching her all these years and it seemed that all of his boyfriend’s match winning trophies had headed straight to her stomach. She is a former tennis player who now works as Federer’s accountant. The typical French ‘couture’ had touched her too and she looked good. Federer won the second set and he had to fight really hard for it.” Good”, I thought,” An hour and forty six minutes later the match was now even. Federer can now win” When you win the first set the confidence that pumps the adrenalin just shows and Nadal had started trying to be bold but after the second set it was even-Stevens. “How was I to know that the real brilliance would come just now!” By the time I figured it out Nadal was ahead by 4-1 in the third set. It was as if Federer had given up on winning the third set and was concentrating on the fourth.” Might be a strategy”, I thought,” Why waste energy when you are destined to lose in a set?” So he was not afraid to take risks.The linesman and the wrong calls of the umpire kept becoming worse as time went by."Gosh",I thought,"The French are so lousy.They make such late calls." But it was not just a figment of my imagination.I had facts to back it up.The French are notoriously slow.They were the last to give equal prize money to both genders and unlike Australian Open which proudly displays technologies like Hawk-Eye or closed roof play the French had nothing to show."No wonder that the French clay court is also the slowest among the four Grand slams".In the fourth set Federer tried hard with all his brilliance but it was as if all his much talked about serves, slices, drop-shots, accuracy had deserted him. I wished for once that Federer would be a Nadal and Nadal would be a nobody. I must admit that after Shahrukh Khan I had seen another bundle of raw energy. The Oxford could well define a term ‘Nadal’. The commentators described him as a warrior and I thought that I had found a weakness in Federer as far as energy levels go. By the time the fourth set was over Federer was looking for a greener pasture which was an English Channel away. “So what if he did not win the French Open.” He must have thought like me that he could not have everything. He is not God. Perhaps something that has taken us sixteen years to realise about another star called Sachin in this one-dimensional country of ours. A small consolation lay in the fact that apart from Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver most of the great players don’t have French Open in the résumé. But the French Open was a journey of discovery for me .I had been partial to Federer since the time I set my eyes on him four years ago. Now I have discovered Nadal. He might just be a clay court wonder but he too like Federer is no God.