Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Rafael Nadal: “The Score is True”

I sometimes feel Rafa’s English is the perfect vehicle to understand and rationalise the types of beatdowns, “severe results” (as one journo put it), we saw last night.

Sure, there’ll be plenty of tracts trying so desperately to replicate the sense of ecstasy evoked by Foster-Wallace’s infamous essay on Fed as a religious experience; and whilst that might still feel relevant to some, I’ve always found it far more interesting (and moving) to consider the essence of that sublimity together with more deeper questions such as the nature of loss – and how that in turn might playfully shape the forces that underpin their rivalry.

There's plenty of innocent jokes on the adorable (or at least affable) nature of Rafa’s English, but it also seems custom built to cut through much of the bullshit that is so prevalent at times like these, and to set out the truth before you with not so much as a hint of drama or embellishment.

”The Score is True”
is both an abstract and absolute truth. At once, so pithy, so very urgent, you can almost see it being used as the title of a polemical op-ed, a life-affirming poem about war, the satirically coloured memoirs of a sporting journo, or a historical biopic that wins the Palm d’Or. You might even get away with it in a frothy high school romance. Universal truths tend to translate well that way.


The same can be said of much of his unassuming and somewhat curt reflections in the rest of the presser which resist overanalysis and seem, almost, to embody truths greater than those contained in either the scoreline or the sport itself.

Even the "True” from within “thats’s the true” seems to evoke a bigger and more significant vision of reality than that suggested by any mere “truth” (lower case).

The truth (lower case) is, I didn't want to see either Rafa OR Fed routed in this way, but, really, when was this ever about what any one of us wanted? The peculiar charm of competition is that you simply don't know how any single match will play out on any given day however celebrated the competitors or their rivalry.

And results like these often add hidden layers of texture, meaning, structure and narrative to rivalries that more even matches are often completely devoid of, however well fought. THAT'S the TRUE.

Rafa says he "didn't play badly". He really didn't.


He might perhaps have served better and gained the resulting free points he alludes to in the presser. "I didn't as usual" - the barbed self-flagellation is wholly intentional (also one of the best moments in the presser) but is also put out there as a matter of record: Rafa's simply not serving nearly as well as he was last year.

But other than that? Fed's level was just as "special" as Rafa says it was - bordering almost on the type of sinister necromancy found in his dismissal of Roddick at the Aussie Open in 2007 - a match in which the very contours of the court appeared to warp and reshape themselves around both the essential certainty and trajectory of his winners.

In some ways, we shouldn't be surprised with the uncompromising clarity of Rafa's thoughts - pressers are mostly given within minutes of the last ball being struck; but try, in any case, to imagine the frighteningly solitary moments he endured in that arena (particularly in the second set) with his most respected and most potent adversary impressing the abstract truth of his supremacy upon him, blow-by-(non-abstract)blow - blows Rafa was mostly powerless to fend off.

If being savaged that way leads to certain crystallised convictions on where his game stands in relation to Federer's on this or any other surface, it shouldn't surprise us in the least.

There really is no substitute for watching the elite operating unfettered in their element and preferably on their favourite surfaces – nor a more convincing proof of its essential truth.

Once Rafa was broken in set one (it was surprisingly even to that point, though I doubt most will remember that)  Fed ran away with it in exactly the same way that Rafa did in RG 2008.

I'm sure many thought I was a buzzkill for making that comparison on twitter in the minutes that followed Fed's victory yesterday - the very same comparison was made by both in their respective pressers. There's an abstract and maybe even a moral equivalence underpinning BOTH those beatdowns – one you choose to ignore at your peril. THAT'S THE TRUE.

More to the point, when the elite do break free that way, the unilateral lockdown they impose is usually as certain and as fatal as time itself.  Federer's rhythms are, of course, all his own - he sometimes even breaks free of the limits imposed by those. And yes that does qualify as a quasi-religious experience. THAT'S THE TRUE.

Like he said in his presser, Fed's been on the receiving end of those lockdowns too. There's an equivalence there of empathy as well as supremacy. Perhaps as a result of this equivalence, both their answers can appear unduly curt – the type of thing Fed’s accused of arrogance for, but in reality no different to the shoulder-shrugging and wincing that formed the mainstay of Rafa’s presser.


Both proceed from a heightened sense of awareness that remains irradicably intolerant of bullshit. An awareness of their rivalry, their strengths AND limitations – limitations that, as Rafa put it, simply “weren’t there” for Fed yesterday.


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