BY ALEX P. VIDAL
LAKE FOREST, California — The elements of drama were present: a grim face of defeat and images of agony and conquest!
Reminiscence of Viktor Korchnoi grimacing in total disbelief as he yielded an important match to Anatoli Karpov in the 1978 duel for world chess supremacy in Baguio City; Mary Decker writhing in pain and crashing in the oval after being bumped by Zola Budd in the 3,000-meter final during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; Alberto Contador winning Stage 15 of the 2009 Tour de France by soloing to the finish line more than a minute ahead of most of his closest GC competitors, and in so doing took the general classification leader’s yellow jersey, to name only a few.
After failing to convert a set point while Rafael Nadal was serving at 2-5 in the first set, frustrations and anguish were written all over the face of Roger Federer.
It was obvious Federer’s quality of play fluctuated dramatically as the championship duel zoomed into its climax. And so was his facial expression.
The amazing Spaniard had conquered the Swiss four times before at Roland Garros. The French Open final on June 5 was Federer’s fifth collapse against Nadal in clay court.
“It’s an honor to say that I won as many French Opens as Borg,” beamed Nadal after walking away with a 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 win. “It’s extra-ordinary. There is a lot of emotion, but the real satisfaction comes from all the work you do before you get there. There were difficult moments and some very good moments.”
The 2011 French Open title was Nadal’s sixth, equalling Bjorn Borg’s record registered 30 years ago.
Federer though remains the boss in Grand Slam singles titles with 16 as against 25-year-old Nadal’s 10. The youngest man to win his 10th was still Borg at 24.
The 29-year-old Federer said, “Obviously, I’m not the one who’s playing with smaller margins, so obviously I’m always going to go through a bit more ups and downs. Whereas Rafa is content doing the one thing the entire time.
“So it’s always me who’s going to dictate play and decide how the outcome is going to be. If I play well, I will most likely win in the score or beat him. If I’m not playing so well, that’s when he wins.”
According to Paris-based tennis reporter Christopher Clarey, both Nadal and Borg, who won his titles in Paris between 1974 and 1981, were at their most dominant at Roland Garros.
“Nadal and Borg lost to just one man here: Borg to the Italian Adriano Panatta (twice); Nadal to the Swedish slugger Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009,” Clarey wrote in the June 6 issue of The New York Times.
“But Borg and Nadal have more in common than such numbers. They were both long-haired teen idols who maintained career-long connections to their early coaches (Borg had Lennart Bergelin, Nadal has his uncle Toni).
“They each redefined the forehand with their technique and topspin. They were the best movers on clay of their generations and possessed fine two-handed backhands, underrated touch, superb endurance and an ability to block out the distractions and momentum shifts and focus, again and again, on the challenge at hand.”