By Bill Simons
In Paris, they say that the hardest thing to do in tennis is beat Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros. In London, tennis folk claim the toughest feat in the game is to win the French Open and Wimbledon back to back—of late, only Roger Federer (in 2009) and Nadal (in 2008 and 2010) have done it.
And from Reno to Rishikesh, many claim that lightning just doesn’t strike the same place twice.
There was no way that the less-than-distinguished Czech Lukas Rosol could again take down the best player in the world, Nadal, a second time. Then again, Rafa’s last few Wimbledons have been misfires. Since 2011, he hasn’t gotten past the second round. Besides the marathon physical demands, winning the French Open is also an emotional drain, and it cuts down on your prep time for grass.
Plus, this year, the draw was most unfriendly. Yes, Rafa’s great Roland Garros nemesis Robin Soderling has long been sidelined. Belgium’s Steve Darcis, who shocked Nadal last year, didn’t make it out of qualifying. And incredibly, Rosol, the man who beat Rafa in five sets in 2012 to score what many call the greatest shock upset in Wimbledon history, would once again be Nadal’s second-round foe.
But don’t worry, lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.
For a while, though, it looked like it might. Once again, Rosol came out on a mission, playing with all-out aggression, sealing his service games with aces. At 4-4 in the first, he rocketed a pair of quick-strike forehand winners to put Nadal at 0-30, and after rallying to deuce, Nadal netted two forehands. A few minutes laters, just like in his first-round match, Nadal was down a set.
At 2-all in the second, when the Czech challenger again broke Nadal, this time to love, it looked like history might repeat itself, with the outcome even harsher for Rafa. He was now down a set and a break against someone who’d beaten him before on the same court, and it was hard not to think of his woeful recent record on grass: going into today, he’d lost four of his last seven matches on the surface. But Rafa fought to break back to 4-all, and the set went to tiebreak. When Rosol nailed another ace for a set point at 6-5, Nadal—starting to find his rhythm on serve—fought back with a blazing forehand, forcing Rosol to serve to stay in the set. Under pressure for the first time, Rosol blinked: double fault.
It was just one point, but right there, the difference between Nadal, the 14-time Slam champ, and Rosol—who’d just broken a five-match losing streak at majors—became obvious. Suddenly, Nadal-Rosol stopped looking like a heavyweight bout, and more like a second-round match between a two-time Wimbledon winner and a player who’d only won two grass matches in a row twice in his career.
Simply put, Rafa began to roll—collecting strings of service games at love—and Rosol began to roll over.
“When I am playing the match today, I am not thinking about the match two years ago,” Rafa said after his 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-4 victory. “I am thinking what I have to do to win the next point in this match.
What happened happened. That’s it. We already congratulate him for what happened two years ago.
Today is another history, another story. I needed to find the solution. Finally, I did. That’s the most important thing.”
THERE’S A KIND OF HUSH ALL OVER WIMBLEDON: While a handful of seeds have toppled at the All-England Club, there have yet to be any earth-shattering upsets.
AMERICA WATCH: John Isner is the only American man still in the draw. But that is better then last year, when no American man got beyond the second round. American women Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Lauren Davis and Vicky Duval are all still in the tourney.
YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN BRITAIN WHEN… Broadcasters refer to the Prime Minister’s press secretary as a spin doctor… The TV in the media cafeteria features Question Time, the high-octane, sarcastic-to-the-max debate in the House of Commons that is dominated by hilarious “gotcha” questions … Tennis is not only broadcast extensively on the radio, one commentator even uses the word perspicacity (which basically means shrewdness) … Predicting that an upcoming match will be a blow-out, the broadcaster says, “I do believe it will be a one-way traffic.”
SO, WHAT MAKES WIMBLEDON DIFFERENT? Each day, young workers zealously polish the brass door handles in the media center.
SIGN OF THE MONTH: Christopher Clarey reported from the World Cup that a cadre of British fans in Brazil had a sign that read something like this:
Air flight to Brazil—2000 pounds.
Enjoying the ambiance—2000 pounds
Accomodations—2000 pounds –
Arriving after England was eliminated—Priceless.
EUPHEMISM OF THE CENTURY: When asked about playing against Serena, Maria Sharapova said, “I haven’t had the best results against her.” You could say so. She’s lost the last 15 matches she’s played against Williams.
SOCK IT TO HIM: British tennis folk love to play around with Jack Sock‘s name. When Jack called for a trainer, one broadcaster said he was “one sick Sock.” As Sock was struggling, another noted that his nickname was J-Sizzle, then added, “Right now, he is not exactly a sizzling Sock.” An observation that he’s a good doubles player, inspired the old chestnut, “Socks always come in pairs.”
A RARE SIGHT: The usually oh-so-well-balanced Roger Federer falling awkwardly in a heap on Wimbledon’s supposedly Federer-friendly grass.
FEEL-GOOD MOMENT OF THE DAY: Veteran British doubles player Ross Hutchins, who overcame a long battle with cancer, is back playing doubles.
NICK NICKS A RECORD: Australian wild card Nick Kyrgios saved a record-tying nine match points to defeat No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet 3-6 6-7(4) 6-4 7-5 10-8.
ANOTHER MARATHON MARK FOR THE MARATHON MAN: John Isner won the first set tiebreak 19-17 against Jarkko Nieminen. It was the second-longest men’s singles tiebreak in Wimbledon history. In the first round in 1973, Björn Borg won a 20-18 tiebreak against Premjit Lall.
MULLER ON ONE SCREEN, MULLER ON THE OTHER: In the press room’s TV monitors, reporters saw images of Gilles Muller playing Roger Federer on Centre Court and Germany’s soccer star Gerd Müller playing America in Brazil.
FREE-FLOATING SOCCER COMMENTARIES FROM DEEP WITHIN THE WIMBLEDON PRESS ROOM:
—”Stop whining and start playing.”
—”That was an actively horrible shot.”
—”I’d watch soccer more if there were more shots of the fans in the stands.”
SUCH AN OMEN: Federer beat Gilles Muller for the third time at Wimbledon. The previous two times he defeated the big-serving player from Luxembourg, he went on to win the title.