[warning: this is long!]
I think I always knew it was going to be a Nadal-Djokovic final. Maybe it’s my 6th sense or the belief that things always have to be done the hard way. I had been so incredibly lucky the whole trip that I was wondering if a happy ending was too much to hope for. However in my heart I had faith in Rafa and knew he had it in him to get this win against his toughest opponent yet. After all it’s RG we’re talking about.
Djokovic’s form has not been as impressive as last year but we know how much he wants his own history made and the fact that he came through tough matches could only fuel him. After he beat Federer on Friday, I was getting nervous. I didn’t know how I could survive the next two days, and little did I know that it was actually going to be three days of tension and anxiety! On Saturday I went to Sharapova’s final and caught Rafa’s practice session. It was a pretty relaxed one with a long serve practice so I also relaxed a bit. Tio Miguel Angel was there too. It always touches me knowing how much his extended family loves and supports him. Later I saw Maria completing her career slam. She’s my WTA fave although I don’t watch much. I was touched by her celebration and the ceremony, which only added to my anxiety knowing how much I wanted it for Rafa too.
Sunday. D-day. Rafa came out firing and secured a double break, only to be levelled back. I was focusing on the match, cheering loud and fighting the crowd and the weather. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots and lots of Rafa fans in the stadium, but the nasty ones were always the loudest. A lot was going on during those hours. Looking back I might not have been as nervous as I would be if watching on TV. There was too much distraction.
There were three players in the final, the weather being one. On Sunday they were playing in consistent rain for two hours. I already complained about the decisions RG made – scheduling it so late at 3pm giving themselves no buffer, while forecast said rain would start around then and it did! I was also bewildered they didn’t cover the court during the first rain delay. It was clear the court was getting soaked! They resumed play but rain never stopped. So you could totally see court conditions were deteriorating, along with Rafa’s play.
As it was clear that the poor conditions were affecting Rafa (and in no way players should play in these conditions), I was hoping play would not resume when they had to break for the second time. This ruined many fans’ plans as many were leaving the next day. What a pity it was for them! I was luckily not affected, but the fact that Rafa was down a break in the fourth set was enough to send me into despair. It was the most bizarre day with plenty of drama on all fronts.
I went back to the apartment trying to prepare myself for the next day. Slept little and there was even a split second of doubt – that perhaps it’d be best if I didn’t go at all. However I immediately banished this whisper from the devil. Of course I couldn’t be that cowardly! On Monday I was with more colm. Prepared for the worst but most importantly I hoped and believed. Off to RG I went.
Everyone said the best possible scenario was for Rafa to break immediately back to get even in the set. And he did. I can’t describe what a relief that was but that didn’t mean I could relax. I was tense and nervous throughout, cheering and fighting the crowd again. It was only when I got home to watch the highlights that I realised how tight the 4th set was. My memory of it was a total blur. I blocked everything out and my sole existence was to cheer for Rafa on every point. When there was a short rain delay after it’d been drizzling for a while, I was despondent. Then they resumed and the sun came out. I felt a surge of hope but didn’t dare to dwell. The last few games could’ve gone either way but it was down to Rafa’s determination that he held serves and finally got the MP. And he only needed one, as Djokovic double faulted. Rafa dropped to the ground. I jumped and yelled and squealed. A crazy woman. I didn’t take any pictures prior to this point, but after MP I tried to capture the moment. I took a video of Rafa’s climb to his box. It was shaky because I was shaking. I made sure I didn’t make a sound as I knew it would be recorded. But in my video I heard myself squeal. I think that’s what you call out of control.
I saw Maria’s ceremony the day before but Rafa’s was of course more emotional for me. Even from afar I could tell this meant so much to him. His celebration with his people told us that. I stayed in the stadium until Rafa had left the court. That took him a long time as he had to do many interviews, pose with trophy, linesmen and ball kids, and sign a million stuff. He simply knew what to do. He went to the podium and bit the ear of the trophy, and turned 360 degrees for everyone to see. And he knew how to pose with it. Put it on his thigh, cradle it, hold it high. (It was only later that I found out he bumped the trophy into his face) If that was seventh heaven, I had just been carried there from purgatory. I don’t know how to describe the joy. Joy for Rafa and joy for myself for being there, grateful and content with life.
Afterwards I went to catch up with Emilie and Mathilde, my twitter buddies. We waited at the player exit hoping Rafa might come out that way. We had so much fun just reliving the moment and making fun of haters (yes now we could laugh). We saw Toni leave but were told to go before we could see Rafa because they were closing the grounds. We didn’t want to be locked in until RG 2013 so we exited. Many people were still waiting outside where his car would leave.
Emilie later saw a tweet from a journo saying Rafa would take trophy pix in Paris on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background. When we arrived a handful of fans and photographers were there, along with some tourists. There was even a couple having their wedding photos taken. I wonder if they later found Rafa in their background! Anyway, Rafa came, along with his team and family. The shoot was quick, like 10 minutes, with Rafa coming and going like a whirlwind. There were many photographers doing their job so I tried to stay out of the way and stood back on a raised platform for a better view. A photographer was next to me. I took a few pix and he said my hand blocked him, so I stopped. Then I looked over to my right and saw Maymo doing the same thing. And the photographer told him the same thing. Obviously he didn’t know Maymo was the official Team Nadal photographer ;) At that point I really wanted to say thanks to Maymo for taking care of Rafa. But I’m a shy person when it comes to things like that so I didn’t. Useless.
After they left, we stayed on for a bit. I, the tourist, began taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the metro, the pretty clouds and everything under the sun. Then suddenly Emilie said “he’s still here”. I turned around and saw Rafa. Apparently he returned after the crowd had cleared so he could pose with his family/team. Emilie thought it was a good moment to ask for a pic as there weren’t many people. I hesitated (shyness took hold again) but after I took a pic for her and Rafa, she asked for me too although I was ready to say something, if only he could hear me. So I had my pic taken with Rafa too. Afterwards we saw Team Nadal took some happy pix, and then Rafa also took pix with the photographers, who were simply delighted. I wonder if we will ever see that team photo. There were quite a few photographers so it didn’t seem to be just for their own private collection. Giddily we watched them on the side while still coming to grips with what had just happened. We couldn’t believe it.
So that ended my RG12 adventure. It was perfect and I was lucky many times over. However, the most important thing is to see Rafa win that trophy. The other experiences are a huge bonus but if I ever had to choose, I’d be just as happy simply to be there to witness the win. I chose a very emotional year to come and it could’ve gone terribly wrong. I thank heavens and Rafa for giving me these special memories. Will cherish them for a long long time.
Rafa was put on Suzanne Lenglen twice this year. This created a huge ticketing scramble for fans with Chatrier tickets. Anyway, they had their reasons to put him there and we had our reasons to complain, but luckily again, in the end I managed to see both matches. I actually liked the court because it’s smaller and we were closer to the action, and the tickets were cheaper! There is not a bad seat in that court. My seats were superb and I enjoyed both matches very much. Rafa owns that court as well so I was just as happy to be there.
The RG crowd
Rafa and RG. It’s complicated. In my opinion he is popular there judging by the size of the crowd in his practice sessions, and the excitement of kids in his presence. At matches there were many Rafans but also too many nasty ones who riled me up. One of them was belting out praises to Djokovic in Spanish, and another kept yelling motivational advice to him taken from A Quote A Day. Some didn’t respect etiquette and talked during points as if they’re commentators or linesmen, and hissed and booed at the slightest chance. They gave off a medieval, mob-like vibe.
Overall I didn’t feel overwhelming hostility towards Rafa as I had prepared myself for. But that could also be because he was winning. I have a feeling that it’d take a near upset to tip them completely over, which I was feeling a bit in the latter stage of the final.
My RG buddies
Fellow Rafans always make tennis so much more enjoyable and I was able to get to several of the practice sessions because of them. It’s been such a pleasure and privilege to share these special moments with Emilie, Adeline, Mathilde, Liz, Quynh and hubby, Christina, Teresa and her mum, and the ladies from Vamosbrigade who came to the first rounds. Hope to see them all again soon!
(You can view Natalie’s photos in her twitter stream - miri.)
My RG debut
[warning: this is long!]
In the grandest scheme of things, tennis is just a game and Rafa winning 7 Roland Garros titles was never going to be like finding a cure to cancer or ending famines. However, I live in a relatively peaceful world with mundane, minor concerns, being able to witness in person my hero making tennis his7ory is enough to fill me with such joy and hope that I feel the world is now a better place.
My trip to RG12 is perfect. It’s exceeded expectation in every way. The stars have aligned. I kept wondering what I need to do to “pay” for it, or maybe I already did by enduring a nasty cold for 2 months. Anyway, I decided last year I was going to RG in 2012, the first slam that drew me to tennis as a teenager. The drama started in February when I tried to buy tickets from the FFT. I originally wanted to get a 2nd week pass that would include possibly R4 to final tickets to Chatrier. But the pass was sold out after I cyber-queued for 2 hours. In a frenzy I got the 1st week pass and tickets to the women’s and men’s finals. So that’s how I ended up being in Paris for the entirety of the tournament. My first stroke of luck: I didn’t get the second week pass. I “had to” go to the first week as well.
A lot of tennis had happened before May. The fact that Rafa was able to defeat Djokovic in two clay finals eased my mind, and I was able to depart for Paris in good spirits. My only worry was my sinuses exploding in the air. But that didn’t happen so I was already grateful!
My tennis action started on the first Sunday. My first memories were Rafa practice and crowds and more crowds. RG didn’t release practice schedules so I had to find him or rely on friends. I was lucky to stumble on it that day because I saw a side court that was filled to the brim and there was a buzz. Meanwhile a twitter friend who was inside also texted me to confirm it. I ended up watching behind the fence. The hitting partner was Robin Haase. My vantage point was great because Rafa was sliding and hitting just a few feet from me. The forehands were scary in that proximity. At one point Haase’s ball burst through the edge of the fence and ended up in my hands. I was looking down and suddenly I had a ball. I must’ve looked silly astonished but anyway I passed it back. Rafa said sorry. It wasn’t his fault.
After these two weeks I truly understand the need for RG to expand. There wasn’t enough space to rest or do anything. Lines were long. And while I had access to a main court and outside courts, it was a bit impossible to get into the outside courts in the first week, as you would easily need to queue for an hour and that interfered with my main court schedule. Perhaps that’s a slam problem but it’s the first time I’ve been in one in the first week, so it’s a little regret that I didn’t get to see as many matches as I thought I would.
Back to Rafa tennis. I was at all of his matches! It still sounds incredible even now. They were pretty straightforward. So straightforward that he didn’t lose a set going into the final. He hardly ever got broken, maybe just once or twice pre-final! So the first six matches were quite frazzle free (saving all the frazzling for the final!). I did feel a tad nervous before the Almagro and Ferrer matches just because they’re such good players. Istomin gave Rafa a good match in my opinion although the score line did not reflect it. And I was sorry to witness Pico’s demolition. He tried very hard but it was mission impossible. Throughout these matches Rafa’s form was never in doubt. RG simply suits him. Maybe it’s the venue or the clay or the air or the feng shui. He’s the master of that house.
I was able to get to a few Rafa practice sessions thanks to my twitter buddies. They’re always enjoyable because of the smaller court. You never tire of his ferocious forehands zooming through the air. Sometimes he was stretching his junior hitting partners thin just after 10 minutes. Poor lads were out of breath just returning his shots. But I’m sure despite sore bodies the next day, these youngsters would treasure the opportunity forever. In the first week practice sometimes took place in an outside tennis club in the adjacent woods because RG courts were too busy. A few of us made the trek there specially on Rafa’s birthday hoping to catch him on the big day. We did see him but could only watch from outside the fence and he was a bit far. Our adventure in the woods also included a lion-like dog and tales of the Montreal killer who had been spotted hiding in there. So this is our background story of Rafa’s birthday practice.
(You can view Natalie’s photos in her twitter stream - miri.)
Rafa’s match against Lacko is the third match schedule on Centre Court on Thursday. Play starts at noon local time.
Rafa does social media:
Tweets about Rafa:
Yesterday, there was an interview with Rafa and Toni in L’Equipe magazine - print edition only. @mysoulblog posted translations of bits of the article and has allowed me to share them here:
Q: “7th RG title, one more than Borg. Has Rafael become the God of clay” ? Tio answers: “The God ? God is up above, if only He exists”.
Toni: “People seem to forget history a bit too fast. Yet, it’s quite easy to remember w/ the help of Internet. I lived throughout the age of Borg. When I watched Borg on TV, I was always telling myself it was impossible to beat him. When I watch my nephew, I always think it’s possible, but again, it might be because of the position I’m in (laughing) ! What’s sure is that it is really tough to win nowadays, more than ever. Rafael played 16 GS finals, 5 vs Djokovic, 8 vs Federer, one vs Berdych, who was ranked #6, one vs Söderling who was ranked #7. The only final he played vs a not really high ranked player, it was here against Puerta. Nowadays, the best players are always there. Don’t know if they are better players than the ones of the past, but what I know is that they never miss finals. Too bad ! We’re unlucky (laugh)”
then Rafa continues: “I think I am very lucky to be part of this generation. I have great rivals who make me play great matches. I loved the Wimbledon 2008 final vs Federer. Loved the one at AO this year vs Novak. I lossed it, I suffered, but it was beautiful. Now, I’m not the right person to say if I’m the best clay court player in the history. I don’t know. If we only judge by the results, they tend to say I am. But you know, comparisons… it’s incidental. What matters, it’s not to have won a 7th RG title. It’s to have won RG, period ! Second title, 5th, 7th, it’s not what matters.”
Q to Rafa: “We’ve seen you were really, really moved today. Would you say it’s your strongest victory here ? The toughest as well ?”
Rafa answers: “I had already played finals vs world #1. The 2006 final vs Roger was difficult. My first vs Puerta ? Difficult too…vs Puerta, difficult too as he almost pushed me to 5th set. In 2010, mentally, vs Söderling, it was tough… Last year vs Federer it was complicated because I had lost in Madrid and Rome vs Djokovic. It would take some time to analyze all that. My clay season this year has been wonderful. I won MC, Barcelona and Rome w/o dropping a set. I made it to the RG final w/o dropping a set. This year, I was playing better than in 2010, and probably better than in 2008. And then came this final. Difficult, very, very difficult”
Rafa about the RG final (interview conducted Monday afternoon): “I was so nervous this morning…”
Tio Toni continues: “this morning (Monday) when Rafael arrived at the stadium, he wasn’t feeling good at all. In the locker room, one hour before match restart, Rafael was extremely nervous. His face was dull. We had to talk. A lot. When we left the locker room, I told Carlos (Costa): we can’t win this. It’s impossible. But Rafael hugely surprised me. He entered the court and started playing very well immediately. On Sunday, his serve was not good. But now, it was excellent. He was moving fast, his forehand was a killer shot. Incredible”
Q: “Rafael, how was your night for you to arrive at the stadium in this state” ?
Rafa answers: “I had a troubled night (laugh). I went back to the hotel and I was tensed. Didn’t wanna watch the news on TV…I didn’t wanna watch the news on TV cause I didn’t wanna see images of my match (laugh). So, around midnight, I watched episodes of Dragon Ball. It’s my fave anime. I have seen all episodes at least 3 times. I have seen all Dragon Ball episodes at least 3 times, but I keep on watching…
Tio Toni “Rafael didn’t have a good night, but it’s normal. He was leading match 6/4 6/3 2/0. The RG title was very close. He was leading 6/4 6/3 2/0 and suddenly everything changed. Me, personally in RG, I never sleep well. RG are the 2 weeks in the year during which I have the worst nights. Here, it’s the only tourney where losing is horrible for us. The only night where I sleep tight during RG is the last one, after we won. So tonight, it might be OK (laugh)”.
Q: “Rafa, what happened on Sunday for you to lose 8 games in a row from the 3rd to the 4th set ?”
Rafa answers: “With all this rain, conditions were too unuasual. Balls were heavy, there was no more bounce, the conditions were in favor of Novak, who also started to play extremely well. He wasn’t making anymore mistakes”.
Toni: “Djokovic started to play incredibly well. But it was no surprise. We know him. When he has nothing to lose, he’s even more dangerous. I couldn’t tell Rafael I thought Djokovic was very strong !
Q: “Sunday, in the end, you both seems super pissed”.
Rafael answers: “Conditions were not the one we expect when we play a Grand Slam final. It was better for me to stop, but we needed to stop”
Toni: “I personnaly didn’t understand why the didn’t cover the court during the first suspension. I asked 3 times ! I was told: “it’s nothing, it’s not raining that much”. Oh really ? 30 minutes, it’s not that much ? We’re not supposed to play with balls soaked with water”.
Q: “Does the fact of beating Djokovic again in a Grand Slam final added some emotion to the emotion” ??
Toni: “Rafael knows, I know, the whole team knows: we had lost 3 consecutive GS finals vs Djokovic. Losing a 4th one would have hurt a lot. Losing a 4th would have hurt a lot. Do you imagine what it means, a “losing Grand Slam” ? It’s not pretty. That’s the reason why, emotionally speaking, I hadn’t felt something so strong since Wimbledon 2008. To have won here means that now, the season can’t be bad”.
Q: “Rafael, after losing vs Djokovic at the US Open, you said you knew what to do to defeat him. And you eventually found out…”
Rafa answers: “I said I knew what to do, but that I didn’t know if I was able to do it. But it’s true that since the AO final, I came close. To do so, I had to be more agressive than before”.
Toni: “In Australia, Rafa lost for a little ball which went out. But wait, we also could have lost in 4 sets. After than we defeated him in Monte Carlo and Rome. It was very important because the losses against Djokovic had too much weight in Rafa’s head”.
Q: “Djokovic double-faulted on MP. What does it mean to you ?”
Rafa: “On Sunday, he also double-faulted twice on 2 BPs. He’s been so fantastic to turn matches around those past months. But it can’t always work. For anyone.”
Q: “Forget about being #humble for just a minute and tell us why you are so strong on clay”
Rafa answers: “my game, the way I move. But you know, I also think it’s a mental thing. On clay you have to work a lot, run a lot, suffer a lot. And there’s something else: I’m always so scared of losing everyday, no matter who I’m facing, I’m telling myself I have to go all-out. In the last 7 years, I have not always been good, far from it. But I’ve always been 100%, mentally”.
Q: “At your age, Borg decided to retire. How long do you plan to keep playing tennis ?”
Rafa answers: “It’s impossible to tell ! As long as I feel good physically, as long as I have passion, I’ll come back. When comes the day I don’t feel like improving my game anymore, then it will be the end”.
Q: “Toni, would you have enjoyed watching a Borg vs Rafa match ?” A: “Oh no! I’d rather see Rafa vs the less good player of the draw” ;-)
Rafa and Granollers will play Mertinak/Troicki last on the main court in Halle on Wednesday. They are the 5th match on the schedule with play starting at 11:30am local time.
You can bid to play tennis with Rafa - proceeds will be split between the Forever Dream Foundation and Rafael Nadal Foundation.
Rafa does social media:
Tweets about Rafa:
(I will again be out of pocket most of the day tomorrow, so probably won’t get a doubles match post up on time. It’s going to be a complicated day - mom to the Dr to get her stitches out and hopefully get her test results back, then to hospital to visit her very, very sick friend, and then to meeting with the VP of my department at work. And, at some point, I actually have work to do. Ugh. Thanks for your patience.)
ATP Tribute to Rafa: Rafa’s Roland Garros Record.
Rafa does social media:
Tweets about Rafa:
So many tweets…I lost track and forgot to favorite a lot. Sorry.