September 14, 2010

The Grandest of Slams

You know what I was doing at twenty-four?

Not winning Majors.

But last night Rafael Nadal made history by becoming the youngest tennis player to ever win the career Grand Slam. And more than that, he won three consecutive titles this year alone -- the first man to do that since Rod Laver claimed all four trophies in 1969. Only six other men have acheived the feat, and they include legends like Fred Perry, Roy Emerson -- who for a long time held the record for most overall Major titles -- and Andre Agassi.

I feel so unaccomplished.

The match itself was pretty good, if not great. Originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, consistent rainfall postponed play until Monday, and a flash thunderstorm halted the action again deep in the second set. Novak Djokovic, who'd exacted the upset of the tournament in the semis, clearly benefitted from from the added day of rest, but he was still a bit sluggish to start. Nadal came out firing and broke the Serb in the first game. Though Nole was able to display spurts of energy and get back on serve, Rafa got the lead again and took the advantage with him into the second.

In that set, though, we got a change in momentum and it was Djokovic who got the first break. It looked like he was shrugging off the fatigue from Saturday and might pull off yet another upset, but a few games later his adrenaline ran out, and Nadal pushed the match to four all, just before the rain came again. About two hours later when play resumed, Nole was rejuvenated and, somewhat against the odds, tied up the set score.

The next two sets were, on paper, all Nadal, but the fight Djokovic put up, even when he had to know the title was out of reach, was inspiring. He fought off ten chances for Rafa to get up a double break in the third set and created some passing shots that rivaled nearly everything his rival did. He cleaned up his service game too, winning seventy-six percent of his first attempts compared to just over half in the opening set and about two-thirds in the second. And again, even when he found himself down two breaks in the fourth, Novak kept up the effort, staying aggressive at the net and firing off just one less winner than the eventual champion.

While most probably thought the outcome was predictable, there sure was enough drama to make it worthy of a championship match. I was relieved to see Djokovic put up a solid fight -- after all, no one wants to win such an honor by default and forever have an asterisk by his name.

As the accomplishment sparks the inevitable "Greatest-of-All-Time" conversation, at least you know it will be a good debate -- for the first time ever two active players hold a career Grand Slam, so from here to retirement every next meeting between already great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer becomes even more meaningful.

So let's get right to it!

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