THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Invincible Rafa: Losing only counts if you're Roger
When Roger Federer, winner of five straight Wimbledon titles, lost to Rafael Nadal on center court last year, it took about two minutes for the world to have him dead and buried. No matter that Federer was still recuperating from mononucleosis and had no energy. The number-one seed was finished, washed up, annihilated; Federer was history.
Funny how what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander.
Evidently, Sunday, May 31 should mean less than nothing to Rafael Nadal. His defeat in the fourth round of the French Open is a bit of spilt milk, nothing more. The Guardian summed up reaction to the loss in a June 1 headline: "Spain puts Nadal loss down to bad day at the office."
When Federer won only four games against Nadal in last year's French Open, ESPN branded it a "humiliation." As a matter of fact, the sporting news giant claims that in the last 15 months, Federer has been a "marked man."
No matter that the loss to Nadal was Federer's third consecutive appearance in the finals at Roland Garros. No matter that just months later Federer became the only man in tennis history to have five consecutive wins at both Wimbledon and the US Open. (Did I mention he reached the fourth round without dropping a set?)
ESPN isn't the only media outlet to brand Federer a has-been. In August of last year, the UK's Telegraph claimed that loss of the number-one ranking had marked Federer's "psychological [and] emotional end," even if he regained it. If popular opinion and sports writers are to be believed, losing on one's favored surface, in a tournament one has dominated for years, immediately emits the stench of death.
If one is Roger Federer, that is.
Nadal's Madrid Open loss didn't even warrant a chorus of que sera, sera. His loss in straight sets to Federer was hardly a blip on the radar, much less a signal to the buzzards to start circling. I'm confused. The tournament was in Nadal's home country, on clay courts, and the loss was to his bitter rival. One would think the death knell would be heard around the world, but were you even aware of it? I'd bet money you weren't.
And what of Nadal's latest escapade? I didn't realize a fourth round loss in any grand slam tournament was negligible, never mind when it's a loss to 23rd seed Robin Soderling in a tournament the Spaniard has won four consecutive years. Far from being the first nail in Nadal's coffin, this year's French Open loss has signaled nothing more than an early vacation for the number-one seed.
Nadal's loss was chalked up to "windy conditions" (lawntennis.org), "an off day" (Reuters), his "collared shirts" (CNBC), "a tough weekend" (National Post). And if these excuses weren't enough, the New York Magazine loves Nadal so much that the writers are willing to take his loss on their own shoulders.
"Did We Jinx Rafa?" reads their June 1 headline. The magazine believes its 2008 Nadal lovefest led directly to his 2009 problems. Since claiming Nadal was the "future" of tennis while Federer was the past, the Spaniard seems to be in a bit of trouble.
But that's okay. In last Monday's article, New York Magazine printed only what everyone else is trying to verbalize. "We're not counting the 22-year-old Nadal out— that would be ludicrous."
After all, they print, "He did crush Federer so badly at the Australian Open that he made the man cry." At least Nadal didn't cry after he lost to Soderling. Not that we could see, anyway. Nadal was on a plane back to Mallorca faster than Andy Roddick's serve.
So, if anything, Nadal's French Open loss is just a tribute to his being human after all. How wonderful to realize he's not perfect! That makes him so much more loveable, doesn't it? And clearly a much better tennis player, too. A loss like can only make a champion indomitable, right?
Roger Federer excluded, of course.