RAFA DEFENDS HIS 2008 TITLE, WINS EASILY

Rafael Nada on centre court

Rafael Nada on Centre Court

LONDON – Federer and Venus got beat.  So did Roddick, Djokovic, Henin and Clijsters.  Wimbledon upsets to be sure, but not the most startling reversals as the aged tennis tournament faded away for another year.

Caught up in the most incredible upset of the fortnight was none other than that veteran performer – Jupiter Pluvius.

Surely you remember the old rascal, the god of rainmaking.  He’s been around forever, and more often than not has played a major role at the Big W.  Appearing frequently, he has upset thousands of tennis devotees, stressed them out, ruined their outings by soaking the place.    For decades Wimbledon has been known as the tropical rain forest of southwest London, dampening those adventurous fans who risked downpours, possible postponements and mildewed clothing. Old Jupiter loved to visit, bringing showers and splatterings.  But something went wrong this year – the year that will be remembered as totally dry for two weeks.  Jupiter Pluvius did not show his drooling face.

I am not kidding.  Rain avoided Wimbledon for the entire tournament.  Not even a gentle sprinkle sneaked into the premises. Why? Maybe Jupiter tired of tennis, or being cursed by patrons of the game.     Whatever kept him away?  All I know is that his absence was a tremendous upset. Amusingly, the retractable roof costing millions to keep Centre Court safe from Pluvius, has been unused.

Meanwhile, a left-handed thief called Rafa Nadal was very much present, working the Centre Court crowd of 14,971, but picking only one pocket.  That belonged to a tall young man from the Czech Republic named Tomas Berdych.

Rafa on Centre Court

Rafa on Centre Court

El Ladron – the thief in his native tongue — was swiping almost every fine shot that Berdych tried to hit past him.  He stole them, turning them into points for himself.  Those points, the framework Rafa’s magnificent afternoon triumph, added up to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 decision, his second Wimbledon prize and frosting on his status as No. 1 in the universe.

He was dancing a fandango on the grass carpet, his footwork with all the twisting and turning, seldom leaving him out of position.  Once there he swatted away with enough spins – slow, fast, slice, topspin — to make a foe dizzy.

Berdych arrived in the final splendidly, marching in the wake of two terrific upsets: Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.  It was an admirable procession – but Rafa rained on that parade with no help needed from Juipiter Pluvius.

In their angled banging from the baseline and the corners, Berdych was looking good until the champ locked up his southpaw serve.  Four break points were all that the Czech was allowed, and El Ladron lifted them.

Berdych was hoping to be the third Czech to conquer Wimbledon, following Jaroslav Drobny in 1954 and Jan Kodes in 1973.  But Rafa had no interest in that country’s history.

Merely 24,  Nadal is making his own. He racked up his eighth major yesterday: five French, two Wimbledons and an Australian.  Does he aspire to surpass Federer’s record 16.  He just shakes his head, and insists that his slumping friend, Federer, isn’t finished.  He scolded Spanish journalists who were “burying Federer,” saying such judgements are premature.  And I believe they are. I am reminded that the great Rod Laver put together his second Grand Slam at age 31 in 1969.

Wonderful architecture near Wimbledon

Wonderful architecture near Wimbledon

Young as he is, Rafa is still hostage to the gimpy knees that kept him from defending his Wimbledon title last year.  “They hurt a little here, but I could run good on them?”

Run good? He sprinted like an Olympian.  Which is very nice for a thief stealing points.  He’s eager to do better at the US Open, the one major where he has annually crashed.

Rafa is a man who believes in taking his time.  You could fall asleep as he gets ready to serve, tweaking himself here and there, and seeming to have caught Djokovic’s Disease, bouncing the ball interminably as though timidly putting the game on hold.

But then – suddenly exploding into action, he’s in roaring once more — like a storm out of the blue.  But storms are that Jupiter Pluvius’s specialty.  Glad he ignored the tournament, leaving Spanish thunder and lightning to Rafa.

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