In tennis news, Rafa Nadal took a fall on what he complained was a slippery line on the clay of Center Court at Rome’s Foro Italico. It did not stop him from winning the first set 7-5. He seemed out of sorts and out of gas as Novak Djokovic ran over him in the second set, 6-1, but he charged back in the third set with a fabulous display of shot-making, power, shrewd slices, and service holds to score a solid 6-3 and capture his 10th Internazionali, his fourth in a row.
This is the last big tournament on the Mediterranean clay court calendar, which has brought out a healthy mix of young and veteran winners. Nadal took Barcelona, but youngsters Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev took Monte Carlo and Madrid. Americans did not exactly shine, but Reilly Opelka made it to the semis at Rome, as did Coco Gauff, and they both lost to the eventual winners. Hope springs eternal.
For world No. 1 Djokovic, who has lifted the Rome trophy five times, the key was to get into baseline rallies and work his way into opportunities for big passing winners down the line, and he made several beauts in that manner, sending the white chalk of the lines into the Roman twilight. Judging from what we could see on TV, it was getting chilly in the Foro — built by Benito Mussolini, but I guess we are not supposed to remember that, and anyway he was canceled for good many years ago by Italian anti-fascist (real ones) partisans, in a rather ugly manner. But then he got what he gave, did he not, and it was his idea to get mixed up with those German goons.
But this is tennis, 2021, not Europe in the 1940s, and it was a great show. Earlier in the day the wonderful Iga Swiatek, Poland’s darling teen, demolished the Czech power girl, Karolína Plíšková (“girl” is purely a friendly sports term here, as officially and religiously she is Mrs. Hrdličková). It was an unprecedented final, as best I know — at least I have never heard of a 6-0, 6-0 win in this round, men or women.
Miss Plíšková is a highly ranked power player with precise, fast forehands, and a huge service game, and she is good at the net. Miss Swiatek was just too shrewd, and, I might add even with only the screen evidence (it is very different when you watch up close), she has an extraordinary ability to stay calm under pressure. She did this against an American teen darling, as well — Coco Gauff, in the previous round. Miss Gauff has speed, and she come out with a daring, aggressive game plan. Miss Swiatek has power too, but she knows how to mix it up and repeatedly wrong-foot her opponents or surprise them with a deft change of pace or sliced drop.
Thus, the two defending champions at the French Open will be on their way to Roland-Garros, on the broad avenue named for the American press tycoon Gordon Bennett, with the knowledge they met some of the best in the game and figured out what to do to win. Rafa Nadal is aiming for his 14th, Iga Swiatek her second, French trophy. First-round play begins May 30, and we are not invited — the tournament organizers, who postponed last year’s tournament to September and then held it without spectators, this year are observing the traditional calendar (a week late) but with limited ticket sales and media presence. We regret it, but it is their call, and like the gradual replacement of linesmen (and women) by Hawkeye technology it is not the sort of thing to complain to City Hall about.
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