By Art Stevens
Sunday, June 10, 2012. Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France. The French Open Championship Finals. Rafael Nadal (last year’s French Open winner,) vs. Novak Hjokovic. Could anyone beat Nadal in four consecutive grand-slam finals? Good question, but in my mind, an even better one would be: As great as Hjokovic is (and he is), can anyone beat Rafael Nadal on clay? I personally don’t think so, but then I’ve been wrong many times.
Strange beginnings. Do you believe Djokovic breaking Nadal twice in three services? Yes, that’s strange. But stranger still is Nadal doing the same in his first three. At this point, they are on serve; then in the ninth game, Djokovic, missing the lines on several of his drives, and Nadal finally breaking him again with a gorgeous, backhand drop-shot from the service line and going on to win the first set 6-4.
The second set starts the same way, with Nadal breaking Hjokovic in the first game and then taking the second. At this point, both men are hitting really well, but Hjokovic is making the errors. Hjokovic holds on to win game three, then with the help of three of the most beautifully executed lobs you will ever see, which you don’t see very often against Nadal, Hjokovic breaks back once again and leads at 3-2. 3-3, then after still another break, Nadal goes up 4-3. It’s now raining and getting a little slippery. Nadal holds serve to go up 5-3 when the rain stops play. The rain delay was about a half hour. When they returned, Nadal, still again, breaks Hjokovic to take the set at 6-3.
Another Nadal break in the second game of the third set, but you just know that Hjokovic is too good a player and too much of a competitor to go down this easily. More breaks, and before you know it, Novak is serving for the third set at 5-2. He goes on to hold his serve to win the third set 6-2, and now trails in the match at one set to two. This, my friends, is the first set that Nadal has lost this year. Amazing.
Fourth Set, 15-15. A monster rally, with both men hitting tremendous ground strokes that went on for 44 shots, and ended with Novak hitting a clean, hard winner to take the point, and then the game, to again break Rafael and go up 1-0. Then 2-0, holding his serve in the second game. If you were to tell me Nadal would lose eight straight points on clay, I would have told you you’re crazy, but he just did it. He does come back to hold his serve, to take the third game and trails 1-2. The rain then reappears, and play is once again stopped.
It’s now been about an hour since I completed the last paragraph. The match has officially been postponed. It is scheduled to be finished tomorrow morning at 4am, PST. It now stands at Djokovic 4 3 6 2
Nodal 6 6 2 1