PARIS - It might have been taken as an omen, the way that predicted deluge held off, leaving Court Philippe Chatrier bathed in rich sunlight as the French Open men's final got underway this afternoon, with the brass buttons glistening on jackets of the marching band members, and the court lit up and gone the color of buckskin.
And for a few brief and shining moments there, it appeared that it might happen—really happen. Even the most lugubrious and pessimistic of Roger Federer fans had reason to think that this time it might be different between their high-flying idol, severely kitted-out to look like a human Swiss flag, and the man who has tormented him on this same court so often in the past, Rafael Nadal.
Sure, Nadal owns Federer on clay, and had prevailed all four times they played in this storied old stadium, the grandest cathedral in the kingdom of European tennis. Three of those Roland Garros meetings between Federer and Nadal were finals that helped cement Nadal's status as a historic rival to the greatest of all clay-court players, Bjorn Borg.
But above all, this hope was staked on the basis of that performance Federer put in on that clammy and damp evening two days ago. He knocked Djokovic back on his can where the Serb sat blinking, his 43-match winning streak lying in shards all about him. That was the Federer of yore, the quiet, even-tempered if sometimes tetchy and consumately deadly man whose forehand had the sting of an asp and whose serve had the kick of a mule. Even those who thought he had never gone could not suppress the thought: Maybe he's back!
Yet in the early part of the match it seemed possible if not exactly likely that Federer was about to finish what he started on Friday, about to paint the rest of his masterpiece. He led, 3-0 and 5-2, and Rafa appeared to be on the run.
Hmmmm. That's one way to look at it.
But another way would be to dwell upon the way Nadal charged back to take that set, and immediately broke Federer in the second. The shift of moment was startling, and it pointed toward a few immutable laws that many of us forgot as we tried to grasp those golden moments and find reason to hope in all the hubub about Djokovic, the resurgence of Federer, and the plight of the allegedly emotionally bruised Nadal.
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has had a dominant run lately as he has won seven of the last eight French Open titles. Mary Carrillo thinks we’re in store for a Nadal-Djokovic final.
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