PARIS — So, does Roger return to his former status as “the greatest player of all time”? Probably, at least with some of his countless idolaters, who took his recent hammerings by Rafa Nadal personally. They suffered. He suffered. The Federer family suffered. But Madrid alleviated some of that suffering.
However, Madrid isn’t Paris. Just as Little Rock isn’t Las Vegas. The difference is that Madrid was a tournament of admitted substance in a nifty new ball park — but Paris is a limited edition, one of the year’s four lalapaloozas, a treasure that dangles temptingly above 256 outstretched male and female hands like the apples of Hesperides. Paris, for Roundhouse Rafa, and Sister Serena is halfway to the grail — the Grand Slam.
Odds are better for Rafa since he has showed he could win Wimbledon, a year ago — but he’s always been a mess at the Meadow’s season-ending U.S. Open. Still, in winning Australia he gave proof that he can win a hard court major.
Serena has won the French — yikes! 7 long years ago — but appears in no condition to do it again this year. (Prognosticators beware: saying one of the sisters won’t win something can leave egg all over one’s face.) But in this case, Serena, well, does appear hobbled. At Key Biscayne she clearly suffered a leg injury while beating Venus in the semi. Serena gamely played the final, losing to Victoria Azarenka, then should have taken time off to recover. But what does she do? She flies to Spain to lose quickly in a minor tourney at Marbella. Why? Can you imagine that a juicy appearance fee was involved? Whatever, she hasn’t won since.
Before the Madrid final, Nadal was virtually conceded the French title. Why would the other 127 guys bother to show up (except for very generous losers’ shares)? The situation changed (maybe) in Spain with Novak Djokovic running Rafa ragged for more than four hours in the semis, holding 3 match points, and Federer actually beating him.
Of course that was best-of-3 sets. Rafa had worked up oceans of sweat in winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Italy in succession, and now has had a week off. Federer got a morale transfusion in his 6-4, 6-4, win, and played smarter. “Yes, I was more offensive,” he says, pleased again with his forehand and serve. His attacking was shrewd and paid off. I think winning the French becomes possible for Roger. Or was he just flogging a dead horse in Madrid? Rafa prefers the courts, balls, atmosphere of this neighborhood where he is 28-0.
Yes, Fed, the Lord of the swings, has reinstated himself as a threat at the only major he has yet to win. But even more so, I feel, is Djokovic. However, picking against Nadal is like wagering that Gibraltar will crumble. The women? It’s a tournament no one can win.