Et voila. RN winning RG has become as inevitable as death and taxes. Or, to be a tad more romantic, as inevitable as the blossoming of the jacaranda trees.
The final actually unfolded in two parts this time. The first, played at the unearthly hour of 3.50AM in blustery winds that swirled gusts of cinematic red dust into the players' eyes, was the richer of the two. For what could surpass Nadal vs. Federer? As it turned out, nothing. I was soon roused out of my bleariness by Rafa whipping the ball through the gale-force winds, thwarting the Great Vampire at every turn. (Later, Fed would admit that his aim during the match became to simply 'avoid looking ridiculous out there.')
And with that, the record stands. The mighty Federer, Greatest of All Time Except Against Nadal. The GOAT (EAN) if you will. Not that he sank without a trace. The straight-sets score didn't reflect his wily tactics and amazing finesse. It's just that in the end there was no answer to be found for the hellacious neon-green beast facing him across the net.
With that done, Dominic Thiem (who for some unknown reason has become Baby Dominic in my mind) set up another encounter with the Fearsome One for Sunday, having vanquished a grumpy, whining Djokovic in a two-day duel. A repeat of 2018, where he seemed happy enough to be thrashed in three. This year was a different story. Despite his extreme fatigue, Thiem was soaring on the adrenaline of the very young. His mindset, always steely, also has toughened further. He has a few more titles to his credit including a clay-court defeat of Rafa himself. Plus, never let it be said that Baby Dominic lacks self-belief.
And indeed in the first two sets we had a contest on our hands. Again Rafa insisted on getting me out of (an admittedly overly blanketed) bed at the witching hour of SIX AM ON A SUNDAY. Still, I persevered there on the couch, guzzling coffee, popping almonds while wondering why my stomach was making strange growling sounds. You see, the first two sets, while Rafa was clearly in charge, offered a real prospect of some strange outcome resulting...because Rafa actually lost the second.
A few minutes later, my doubts were laid to rest because the score read 4-0, Nadal. Poor Baby Dominic had pushed the wrong buttons. ("Rafa stepped on me," he said bluntly later in his presser.) The fourth read 5-0 before it went to 5-1 and then suddenly, 6-1. And with that, Rafa fell on his back, sprang up, pulled his theatrically clay-encrusted shirt up to his face and proceeded to sob wildly into it. He sobs only when he wins.
To follow the progression, one might think 2020 will bring Thiem vs. Nadal with Thiem taking two sets. The following year...who knows?
But for now let the record show, Exhibit 1: One Coupe de Mousquetaires, bearing teeth-marks of one Rafael Nadal, June 2019. (To be filed with other 11 exhibits, ditto.)