Spaniards on the court, Spanish whispers in the stands, tennis the way it should be played.
PARIS — Rafael was down 1-5 in the third set and it occurred to me he was feeling the effects of the marathon against John Isner in the first match of his campaign for a sixth championship in the Internationaux de France, the French Open tennis tournament which is held at the Roland-Garros site on Paris’s west side. A young compatriot, Pablo Andujar, who is from Valencia, was playing a brilliant tactical game after losing the first two sets. There was something almost Roger Federer-like in the precision of his sliced drops and his high-velocity passes. Nadal was not chasing them down, either, which gave rise to my notion that Mr. Pleszczynski was right when he wired me — okay, e-mailed — to watch for just this angle.
To be strictly accurate, Pablo Andujar is a few months older than Nadal, who is going on 25, but he is slighter — at six-one Rafa is no John Isner, but he is no 98-pound weakling, either — if muscular and more handsome if you like the Adonis type. Nadal is your man if you like the Bogart off-handsome handsome type, particularly with fierce piercing fanatical eyes.
At 1-5 in the third set, his eyes were blazing. Sitting just behind the service line in the packed Suzanne Lenglen stadium, a gem where even from the stands you feel close to the court because you are, I thought, he is either going to concede the set and fight like hell in the fourth, or he is going to start fighting now.
Then it hit me: If your game plan is to fight like hell, why wait for a new set? If one way or another you mean to win the next six games, you might as well begin right away. That was also when I noticed his eyes. You could see them when he turned from the baseline to grab his towel and ask for balls. The player serving is always picking among the balls available from the ball-boys (or girls), finding the least-used ones. A fresh supply is used after about a set (9 games).
Creo, I whispered to the person next to me, es el fin para Pablo… I meant it looks like curtains for Pablo, but I could not remember the Spanish word for curtains. (I know, cortinas, but it’s too late and anyway they do not use this expression.)
The reason I whispered is that the etiquette on these courts is strict: during play, you shut up. Conversations flare up during changes of sides, and there is total silence the rest of the time. Etiquette had been breached repeatedly, however, because the crowd was overwhelmingly Iberian for this Spanish drama, without partisanship. They were howling encouragement to both, going gaga over great shots and long rallies.
The only other reason I whispered is that due to certain events that have taken place in New York but which have got the French obsessed with s-x and proper behavior between m-n and w-m-n, I have totally frozen my habitually chivalresque style, to the point I dasn’t even offer a lady my seat on the subway — always crowded on the way back from the stadium — and resist the temptation to stop in the corner bar in the neighborhood because it is always full of young things in tight sweaters or half open shirts over jeans that I cannot figure out how they got into them.
But this person took the seat immediately adjacent to mine before the match began and said Hi. Actually: “Hola” — this tipped me off that it was a Spanish person. Garrulous, at every break she was yakkety yakking about this and that and what fun to be in Paris and where am I from and am I a tennis pro. In normal times I would have known how to rise to the occasion, but I froze.
However, I steered the conversation toward sober topics, history, Francisco Franco, the dark years of dictatorship. Make her think I am totally out of it — most Spaniards probably do not even know there was a dictatorship. Mistake: the granddaughter of Basque Republicans, she knew that stuff by heart, grew up with all the passionate memories.
“Terrible tragedy,” I muttered between sets. “Well, in the new Spain, it’s great, you have young men like Pablo and Rafa, competing in this friendly — and lucrative — way. And in Viscaya you can speak Basque.” (Which was forbidden under Franco.)
“New Spain, pff,” she said heatedly. “We could use some order.”
Lately there have been massive demonstrations in downtown squares in many Spanish cities. Supposedly inspired by the Arab spring, the demonstrators demand “dignity” — and jobs. Unemployment among under-30s, I gather, is over 30 percent. Something is not right in sunny Spain. The German government dreads it may go the way of Greece. Spain’s Socialist government, trying to introduce austerity programs, lost local elections last week, and it seems unlikely they can turn the situation around in time to prevent the Partito Popular, the conservatives, from winning the national elections next year.
None of this has anything to do with tennis, of course. However, she was a keen observer, for someone, as she told me, who never played the game. When Andujar surged ahead in the third set, she correctly noticed the effectiveness of his slices and drops, the precision of his cross-court forehands, the dexterity of his movements.
“The caudillo,” she whispered, “was a dictator.
But he was a Spanish caudillo, not a fascist or a
I was astonished. This from a Basque?
“And he protected Jews.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?