Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lonely Wind Cries 'Rafa'

Bad start to the morning, ladies and gents. I woke up at 6:10 and decided to forsake the last half hour of sleep in the hope that I could catch the end of the Nadal-Murray quarterfinal from Australia. I turned the volume low on the tv, and the match must have started late, because it was only the third set. But Rafa was down two sets to love, serving at 0-1.

On the first point I watched, Murray won a baseline rally with a crosscourt backhand. Rafa followed with a winner of his own, a forehand up the line. But he planted his right leg hard before unleashing his whip-like stroke, and before the ball had even hit the back wall on the far court, he was trotting off. Medical timeout, right knee. The bane of his young existence. The source of chronic tendonitis and probably some other secret maladies. Murray jogged in place to stay fresh while Rafa sat with the trainer, worried. When he returned, he glanced to Uncle Toni in the stands, who also seemed anxious. They shrugged at each other.

Murray broke for a crucial edge, but Rafa fought back to force two break points on the Scot's serve. Again, he showed himself to be a man who never quits. Ever. Even if he's going to lose, he guts it out. Last year, in the French, he had nothing in the tank against Soderling. His knees were killing him. He'd never lost at Roland Garros before, but things were falling apart against the Swede. Still, Rafa ground it out until the end and went down with dignity. He never quits. But when Murray saved his service game with a couple well-timed aces, Nadal quit.

Unthinkable, and very sad. Predictably, Nadal approached the net with an apology for the victor. As if quitting because of an injury somehow went against the nobility of the game, as if it took away from Murray's win. It didn't; Murray had outplayed Rafa from the beginning, though he had to survive an early break and a second set breaker. But toughness and competition mean everything to Rafa, so it was only natural to apologize when he denied his opponent the victorious moment.

It raises, or rather re-raises, a major question about Nadal's longevity. Last year at this tournament, he won an impossible 5-set final against Federer, capping a stretch of three major victories in the last four, and a US Open semifinal appearance to boot. He was #1 in the world, finally overcoming the world's greatest player. But the disastrous French came next, and he had to withdraw from Wimbledon because of the knees, and he lost the long-sought top ranking. Another US Open semi-final salvaged his season, but ever since falling to Soderling, he's consistently come up begging against the world's top players; the likes of Murray, Federer, Djokovic, et al.

Are we seeing the end of a tennis legend at the young age of 23? Is there any hope for those faulty knees? Can he play a reduced schedule and maintain top form? What's the solution?

The press caught up with Murray after the match, and asked him about Rafa. "I have always looked up to him. He’s my favourite player and I am gutted for him."

Me too.

*On to happier news. How good is the ESPN World Cup commercial? I mean, Jesus, I'm generally not one to praise a promo, but they really knocked it out of the park. The music, especially, is just awesome. This might be the best theme song of all time. Dead serious. Sadly, I'm searching like crazy online, and it appears I'm not the only one. Queries abound, but ESPN has done a good job making sure it's nowhere to be found. Which seems stupid, since they should want any kind of publicity, but oh well. If anyone can find it, please let me know.

Instead, I'll post an old classic that always give me goosebumps.

A thousand and one rants and slogans don't prick my patriotic side one bit, but that shit makes me want to drape myself in an American flag and go around the world fighting communists. And it's not an exaggeration; the team really has to go through hell to qualify for the World Cup. The most recent example was the game we lost in Mexico, when Landon Donavan went over to take a corner kick and was showered with about thirty beer cups (along with the liquid contents) and other miscellaneous objects.

Slow night for sports. Duke puts the perfection proclamation to the test tomorrow, but the only thing to look forward to tonight is a potential Kentucky loss. I'm already really sick of Wildcat nation shouting about a perfect season. Wake up, folks. You beat UNC by two points at home. You squeaked by UConn (3 points) and Stanford (OT) on neutral courts. You're not that good. Some crappy SEC team will beat you on the road. And even if they don't, you're in for a rude awakening come tourney time. See you in hell. Here's how you'll know when you arrive: the devils are all blue.

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