June 11, 2017
Rafael Nadal sank onto his back, caking his sweat-soaked shirt with the Roland Garros clay he loves so dearly.
He had suppressed the dangerous brilliance of Stan Wawrinka with a Yoda-like will-power, removing all the strength and self-belief from his adversary until the 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 score-line made his task in this landmark final sound even simpler than it was.
Nadal had called upon a relentless force until “La Decima” was finally his, and now he hid face in his towel and wept…human after all.
Seconds later he said: ‘I cannot describe the emotions and the adrenalin this place makes me feel.’
He didn’t need to. We saw the effect of the adrenalin, the crunching forehands, one superhuman effort from the extreme corner of the court bulleting over the net at 99mph.
Wawrinka, who thought he had already struck the winner with a typically explosive backhand, applauded, hand on racquet.
The Swiss tried everything. He played from deep behind the baseline, he charged at the net, he broke one racquet over his knee and almost smashed the replacement on his head. These outpourings were all to no avail in the end.
Whatever Stan tried, he clearly lacked the one key ingredient to make this a contest – self-belief.
Nadal looked like some kind of superhero wrought of iron, even before the match began. It was probably the most powerful demonstration of single-minded determination, a refusal to doubt himself or be denied, that modern sport has ever seen.
Never before has Nadal won a Grand Slam so convincingly or hit the ball so hard. He is not just back to his best; Rafa is now better than we have ever seen him before.
So it seems harsh to say that the French Open final was an anti-climax due to its one-sided nature. If one player is so dominant, you simply have to admire the perfect execution of his plan.
It’s also worth remembering that here was a tennis Hercules whose strength had previously all but deserted him, to the extent that experts such as tennis legend John McEnroe were openly doubting whether he would ever win a Grand Slam again. Injuries and a crisis of confidence had almost finished him.
But in this incredible year of 2017, Nadal has all his strength back, mental and physical, as does the man who beat him in the Australian Open final – Roger Federer.
What a titanic struggle there will be if the two Grand Slam winners so far this year clash once more at Wimbledon 2017!
Nadal won’t have it so easy at Wimbledon, where it looks as though all our tennis dreams will come true this year by perfect coincidence.
Women’s tennis has a new star, as we pointed out even before the women’s final in Paris. Jelena Ostapenko, only just out of her teens, combined stunning power and precision timing to come back against Simona Halep in a way that even we didn’t think would be possible against such a seasoned professional.
By the time she secured the women’s title 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, having fought back from breaks down in the second and third sets too, Ostapenko had left Roland Garros open-mouthed in admiration for her precocious brilliance.
And here’s the good news for Wimbledon fans: Ostapenko loves the place! She won Junior Wimbledon in 2014 and said after her French Open triumph: ‘Grass is one of my favourite surfaces and I’m looking forward to winning Wimbledon. I probably want to win all the Slams.’
But it’s a mouth-watering prospect to think that Ostapenko and her 76 mph forehand will be blasting out at the All England Club in just a few weeks’ time.
Add Nadal, Federer and Murray to Ostapenko and throw in many more genuine contenders. There will probably never have been a Wimbledon quite like it, as we savour our favourite players in superb form and relish every moment.
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