Monday Wrap: Monster Mash
We use the word “monster” a lot in tennis. When Satan snapped Federer’s finals streak at the Australian Open 4 years ago, Federer referred to the “monster” he created through his own dominance. As Nadal became increasingly unprecedented in his clay court dominance over the years, I’ve referred to him at times as the Clay Monster. We talk about the demons and monsters in players’ heads, the rivals they just can’t beat, losing streaks gone on for too long, the crushing weight of nationalistic expectations …
The truth is: there are monsters in all of our heads – dancing the Monster Mash on our graves, scattering salt over our wounds, forcing us to fight back, or be left cowering in their shadows. And in a sunny Mediterranean principality yesterday, Rafael Nadal fought and laid to rest a few monsters hovering above him so far this year – the 10 month title drought, and the 7 match losing streak against Satan.
The match itself was hardly the classic to be expected from the top 2 seeds in the men’s game. Djokovic looked like he could barely close out a door, let alone a point. When a 6-3 set between the Rafole ends in under an hour, you know one of them hasn’t got his heart in it. With Novak making far more errors than usual, Nadal was able to dictate the majority of points, trample all over his imaginary monster and snuff out its life. And damn, it felt goooood.
Genetics, it’s a funny business. Would any one care to explain how Grace Kelly is even related thaaaat?
In all fairness, Djoko was probably still mopey over the recent death of his grandfather. And understandably so – he displayed a level of professionalism and sense of responsibility unexpected of him this week in continuing to play Monte Carlo despite the tragedy. I give credit where it’s due.
Q. After you lost the first set 6 3, normally you are a fighter, second set you were down 4 0, didn’t seem that there was a way to change the game.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, it’s a strange feeling really. What can I say? You know, I never been caught up in this kind of emotional situation before. I’m just happy to reach the finals really under the circumstances. It’s been a very difficult week for me to go through mentally. I won three matches since the news that I got. I mean, I think I did pretty well. Obviously today I faced a better player. I didn’t have enough to win against him. That’s all I can say really. I just hope to have enough time now to regroup and to rest and to recharge the batteries and move on.
But the significance of the match was purely one way – Djokovic might dismiss his loss as a result of grief, for Nadal, an 8th title Monte Carlo was crucial, en par with Federer’s Bercy victory last year. It slays some serious monsters on multiple fronts, stops the title drought bleed, and gives him a slight boost heading into the rest of the clay season proper – not that he needed a boost.
Q. In what time during the final did you feel you were going to be the winner?
RAFAEL NADAL: With the 5 1, 40 15. That’s the feeling. But when you lose seven times, when you are in Australia have 4 2, 30 15, easy backhand down the line, that stays in your mind, no? So to break this confrontation about the seven loses, you have to be very focused all the time, no?
Even with the 5 1, before the game, I didn’t know if I going to win. I know I am in a very good position to win, but always with the humble, with the calm that everything can happen.
The last line cracked me up no end. I can just imagine Rafa mumbling it: “always with da humble, with da colm …”
That’s 8 Monte Carlo titles for Nadal – almost a decade of dominance on one of the most beautiful centre courts in the world. The demoting of Monte Carlo as an optional “Masters” a few years ago probably made that dominance easier, but it is nonetheless an mindboggling achievement. I wonder if he’ll make it 10 one day.