Nadal's 'impossible' achievement and other U.S. Open musings
Some of the greatest players never adjusted, if they even bothered to try.
Part of Nadal's triumph was the residue of his desire, perhaps matched only by Connors' in the game's modern history. (How about a mythical duel between those two, each in his prime, on the New York stage?) But Nadal crafted some major adjustments to acquit himself so magnificently in New York. He made huge improvements in his serve, tinkered with his groundstrokes, basically forgot everything that ever helped him on clay. Just as he became a champion at Wimbledon -- a downright laughable notion at the beginning of his career -- Nadal willed his way to a U.S. Open title, through belief and a fierce work ethic on the practice courts.
To see him collapse in ecstasy at the finish, then sink to his knees moments later in appreciation of the crowd's long ovation, was one of the sport's most moving spectacles of recent years. He's such a kind, decent man off the court, and so genuinely humble in assessing his place in the pantheon. In some ways he's still the shy, almost childlike figure we saw when he first joined the tour. I can't imagine anyone in tennis feeling resentment or disdain over his epic victory. And few can even comprehend his becoming the first player since
We'll set aside his place in history for another discussion, but this I submit: Nadal has a way of snapping a radically cross-court forehand -- in a sprint, at full extension -- in a manner seldom (if ever) seen. And in the long history of two-handed backhands, no player ever generated as much cross-court velocity as Nadal when he's on the run and not fully balanced. He seems to save these shots for the most crucial moments (lest his wrists go limp from fatigue), and they invariably point directly to the final outcome.
Wrapping up the Open on other fronts:
A point away from taking a 4-3 lead in the fifth set, Federer botched an inside-out forehand with Djokovic (after an astounding get) almost completely off the court. He managed to hold, but he cracked three badly misfired forehands when Djokovic broke for 6-5, and he committed four more forehand errors in the final game, including the clincher.
That's just bizarre. So is the fact that after blowing match points in high-profile hardcourt losses to Berdych (Miami) and
"One point," said Federer. "One point away from me being there. I'll never know how it would have gone."
Seasoned television analysts rationalized the move. From the standpoint of local news and syndicated programming, CBS couldn't ask its countless local affiliates to stick with the tennis. After all,
I'm picturing, too, a good number of fans who work night shifts. Setting their DVR systems for not only the allotted CBS time slot, but for two or three hours afterward (in case of a rain delay), they figured they had it made. Get home around midnight, cue up the tape, best of all worlds. Imagine their rage when they learned it was shuffled off to some other network.
Clijsters' finest moment: Looking to cash in a break point at 4-all in the third set, Clijsters measured two crucial elements -- a stiff wind in her face and
Nobody was more disappointed in Venus' performance than her father, Richard, who sternly downplayed the conditions. "The wind had nothing to do with it," he told
Zvonareva lost that point, and as CBS came back from a commercial break, we saw extensive footage of Zvonareva's titanic emotional collapse during last year's fourth-round loss to
Playing Djokovic with a spot in the semifinals on the line, Monfils was in reasonably good position to crush a baseline forehand when he inexplicably leaped in the air and tried to hit the ball between his legs. The shot sank horribly into the lower part of the net as people tried to grasp what they'd witnessed. A bit later, on the retreat from net to baseline, Monfils once again took to the skies when he was in fine position to strike a wrap-around forehand across his body. Airborne, for no good reason, he hit the ball about six miles long. Don't take this as an accusation, but Monfils lent the impression of a man playing high.
What it all means, for those planning on attending the Open next year: Don't miss your chance to watch the action on Louis Armstrong or the Grandstand. That's where coolness lives.