Earlier today, Rafael Nadal, the uncrowned King of Roland Garros, was pushed to 5 sets in his first round match by American, John Isner. Nadal has won the French in five of his six appearances at the Grand Slam Event. He has turned Roland Garros into his 2nd home. Court Philippe Chatrier has become his playground of sorts. They may as well give Nadal a throne to sit on during changeovers.
In his quest toward tying Bjorn Borg for the most French Open titles ever at six, he was pushed to the brink in his first round match. Surprising yes. Shocking? No. The French Open, year in and year out, is the most unpredictable of the year’s 4 Grand Slam Tournaments for a reason. Clay court tennis is grueling. It is highly unpredictable. And it is highly entertaining.
Longer rallies. Greater use of finesse shots. More frequent drop shots. Less one and done points (aces). You have to love it. Power tennis has become a defining feature of the men’s game. But at Roland Garros, tennis goes back to its roots of longer rallies, and many times, longer matches. It is a fitness exhibition every May/June in Paris. Clay court tennis neutralizes the powerful racket technologies that lead to blistering serves and outrageous forehands that make long, sustained points a rarity.
Now, many are acting shocked that Nadal, the one who many have proclaimed as “invincible” on the clay, could struggle to defeat lowly American John Isner. Well I hate to say it, Isner is not so lowly. He is actually a very dangerous player who has exhibited phenomenal potential during his 5 year professional career. Not only did Isner lead his college team, the Georgia Bulldogs to a 2007 National Title, but he has also reached the top 20 in the world. In addition, he was the victor in the longest match in tennis history when he defeated Nicolas Mahut in the first round of the 2010 Championships at Wimbledon 70 to 68 in the 5th set. The man has big match experience without question.
Today’s Nadal match was a prime example of how the French Open is the tennis version of March Madness. There are obviously some key disparities, but work with me considering we are looking at two entirely different sports. Both tournaments are generally extremely unpredictable, especially in the first few rounds. In addition, people fall in love with the underdog every year. Last year Tomas Berdych (though he was upset today in this year’s tourney) on the Men’s side, and Francesca Schiavone on the women’s side were the Butler Bulldogs of Roland Garros. Lastly, both tournaments are all about surviving and conquering. There are no style points. It is all about grinding it out and living to see another day.
Today Rafael Nadal survived and conquered a tough opponent who was on his game. But make no mistake, anything can happen at Roland Garros. It is “May Madness” in the Tennis World.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.