The King or the Challenger

Thiem vs Rafa

I’ve had some trouble writing this blog post, mainly for one reason.  That reason is summed up in a single question?

How do you turn what is practically destined to be a mere formality, into something epic?

Rafael Nadal is a man who has become synonymous with Roland Garros in a way no other man before him ever has.   We mere mortals refer to him as the king of clay.  But ‘king’ almost feels like an insult to what he’s done on this surface.  There have been other kings of the dirt.  Borg and Kuerten come to mind.  The desert has certainly had its fair share of rulers.  However, when you watch Nadal move on this surface, black hair flying in the wake of his speed like a shaman warrior, shots punctuated with a grunt that echoes and reverberates around Philippe Chatrier, and a monstrously revolving ball that snaps down into the court just before shooting clear of the baseline, you do feel like you are watching something mystical play out.  This being is not the king of clay.  He is the clay itself, come to life.  A demon spirit that cannot be defeated.

Rafael Nadal remains undefeated in the semifinals and finals of this tournament.  At this stage of the tournament, he has never lost.  Not even an unstoppable Novak Djokovic, could punch through at the final round of Roland Garros.  To defeat Nadal in the final of Roland Garros is to defy reality.  It is akin to breaking the laws of existence.  It is almost impossible.  I use almost here with a great deal of hesitation, and realization that I have to.  The laws of probability argue against making absolute statements.  There is always an exception to every divine rule.

Could that exception be Dominic Thiem?  For the past two years, the young Austrian has been the singular bleep in an otherwise perfect clay court season for Nadal.  They all come, and they all fall, tournament after tournament.  However, Thiem has always been able to summon one good match against Rafa on clay.  That in itself is an impressive achievement.  The fact remains, he has never been able to summon two – not in the same season.  Can he do it today?

The odds are as slim as an electron’s edge.  But we’ll watch anyway.  Maybe just maybe, the epic fact I’m looking for is Rafael Nadal’s invincibility on this surface.  Not even a worthy heir like Thiem, stands a chance.

Rafa in four sets.

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