By this 52nd post, readers know that Hopelessly Liberal is a chronicle of and guide to survival until the Trump presidency ends. Perhaps, like Nightline, it will continue after the hostages are released. H.L. bears witness to the daily assaults on our decency and Constitution and calls for resistance and preservation of the best in America during this dark age. But each of us needs occasional respite and escape from this war, as we did after 9/11. H.L.’s is tennis. Playing it, watching it played beautifully and debating it with others similarly obsessed. Last week H.L. traveled to Paris and the French Open, contested at Roland Garros next to the Bois de Boulogne. From there this and the next several posts emanate.
This specific escape to Paris and Roland Garros was not necessary to complete the tennis pilgrimage to all four Grand Slam Tournaments. H.L. had done that already by travelling to Melbourne in 2011 for the Aussie Open. The goal this time was to see Rafael Nadal play tennis on a terre battue red clay court. I had been present at upwards of 60 of his matches at many venues, including at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows as he won four of his 17 grand slam trophies. But I had never watched him play on clay other than on TV.
For a tennis enthusiast that is like foregoing the opportunity to see and hear Mozart play piano in Carnegie or more aptly in the Schönbrunn Palace. Now that I’ve experienced it, four times as Nadal slashed his way through the round of 16, quarters, semis and final to his undecima, 11th French Open victory, the experience was different than expected. The tennis, if anything, was better than anticipated, both from Rafa and his opponents. In person, and especially on clay where many points are elongated geometric battles of attrition, the tiny difference between win and lose was more impressive than Rafa’s superiority – though that was evident. Many sets he won by lopsided scores were actually very close, the result of many incredibly close points, often concluded by a brilliant shot from an opponent that missed by a centimeter or one he made by similar margin.
The 2018 Spring lead up to Roland Garros, like many European clay seasons since 2005, was dominated by Nadal. Leading to the false assumption that his victory at Roland Garros would be automatic and easy. Ask Novak Djokovic who similarly dominated the European swing in 2011, 2014 and 2015, but lost R.G. or Nadal who met a similar fate in 2009. The widespread belief that Nadal was a cinch diminished his efforts and those of his incredibly skilled opponents and made the result seem ordained rather than the product of extraordinary skill and perseverance through pain. Even utilizing the apples to oranges TV/live lens, this years’ triumph was clearly much harder for Nadal and for his opponents than 2017.
In one post-match interview when asked about the “ease” of his victory, Nadal said “for you it looks easy, for me very hard.” To H.L. it looked so hard that at times it was painful to watch.
The night before the Juan Martin Del Potro/Marin Cilic quarterfinal I ran into Delpo with his entourage near the Arc de Triomphe. On court he appears to be a Norse God inflicting forehands like lightning bolts. Typically unshaven, the 29 year old looks mid to late thirties. In person, in jeans and with friends, he looked like a teenager out and just excited to be in Paris. The next day (two days before his loss to Nadal) he beat Marin Cilic to replace the Croat as ATP No. 4 and regain his highest ever ranking. He last held that ranking in 2014. A ranking in the top 4 provides much more than status, assuring a player that he won’t have to play a Nadal or Federer until the semis and both only if he reaches the final. Between that April 2014 rank of 4 and Delpo’s 6/11/18 reascendance, he’s had four wrist surgeries at Mayo Clinic and for several years was only able to hit a slice backhand looking like a very good version of one utilized by top club players. With that badly compromised stroke, that all his opponents exploited, Delpo still defeated both Djokovic and Nadal at the 2016 Olympics on his way to a Silver medal and defeated Federer in the U.S. Open quarters last year. He now can “come over” his backhand as well as slice. Watching him dictate play with Nadal in their competitively even first set last Friday was as impressive and moving as anything I experienced in Paris last week, in or out of the tennis stadia. Next up in Post 53 – Serena versus Maria – The Aborted Battle of the Titans.