Here we are again. Roland Garros. What will it dish at NoleFam in 2016? Heartbreak once again or the moment we’ve been hoping would happen for years?
Last year everyone seemed to think it was Nole’s destiny to win Roland Garros after he beat Rafael Nadal. They focused on that one thing, when in reality, there were numerous factors that went against him from the very start of the tournament. Nothing really went his way at all. One thing after another piled on until it was finally too much to overcome. First he got dealt an extremely tough draw getting Rafa in the quarterfinal and Murray in the semifinal. Then the other half played first, putting Nole a day behind. That ended up costing him when he was put in the second semifinal and the Stan/Tsonga semifinal lasted over four hours. Rain was in the forecast, so they had to stop play and finish on Saturday, giving Nole no day off before the final.
In the final, Stan played what he called “the match of his life” against Nole. Stan was crushing the ball off both wings and made some incredible shots. Nole seemed a bit flat to me though. He wasn’t himself with some of the mistakes he was making, particularly towards the end of the match. He should’ve won the fourth set. He raced out to a 3-0 lead. Then at 4-3, he had 40-0 on Stan’s serve. He even had a break point when Stan served for the match. It’s unlike Nole to not convert with so many chances. I believe fatigue played a role in Nole’s performance. Both mentally and physically.
Before the draw this year, there was a lot of fear Rafa may land in Nole’s quarter again. Then with Federer’s withdrawal, Rafa got moved up from #5 seed to #4. This balanced the draw significantly. I’ve thought, in order, the favorites are: Nole, Rafa, Murray, Stan, and Nishikori to win this years’ Roland Garros title. Without Federer’s withdrawal, four of those players could’ve potentially landed on one half. Now we have two on one side and three on the other, so it seems a bit fairer. I really thought though that, for once, Nole would get some luck and Rafa would be on the other half. That wasn’t the case though.
Before the draw, I looked at the potential players Nole could meet in the third round, fourth round, quarterfinal, and semifinal. I was hoping Nole would draw Lucas Pouille in the third round. He drew Federico Delbonis. No harm no foul, really. In the fourth round, I hoped for Roberta Bautista Agut. Check! Quarterfinal, I was hoping for Tomas Berdych. Check! At that point, I couldn’t believe it. The draw was going all according to plan. I took a few moments before I checked who was his potential semifinal matchup was. Pleading for this once for Rafa to be on the other half. Then my heart sunk. It didn’t quite hit as hard as last year though, given it was a round later and how the draw shaped up to the semifinal. What also helps is having beaten Rafa before at Roland Garros. That was a big factor the last few years. That feeling that Rafa is invincible at Roland Garros. Now that Nole’s beat him here, there’s no reason to think he can’t anymore.
One of the reasons I most wanted Rafa on the other half was it would’ve been fitting if their 50th career meeting came in the Roland Garros final. Now that can’t happen either. Honestly though, the biggest reason I hoped for Rafa to be on the other half, was to stop Murray. It’d be difficult to take Murray winning Roland Garros and being one major away from the career slam. Murray has Kei and Stan on his half, but it’s probably unlikely for either to win. Who knows if good Stan will show up and Kei hasn’t won a big match at a major in a while. Murray is the favorite on that half to reach the final. Rafa being on that half would’ve eased my mind.
Last year, everything seemed to go against Nole. This year is already a success because we got some draw luck with Federer withdrawing and the players that are in Nole’s section are who I, and others, would’ve wanted. Unfortunately Nole drew Rafa and his half will play second again this year, making Nole’s first round match likely to take place on Tuesday. But, we seemed to go through everything they could’ve possibly thrown at us last year, so we’re stronger from it and aren’t as scared this time around. Roland Garros has a way of breaking our hearts in new ways each year, so perhaps a new wrinkle will come into play at some stage we haven’t seen before.
I didn’t think about it much after the Australian Open that Nole would be going for, not only the career grand slam, but a true grand slam (winning four in a row). I mean, we just want the career slam. I could care less about winning four straight. Now that it’s here though, I recognize how much it’d mean to win it this time. Rafa and Roger have never won four straight. If Nole were to do it, that’d be a significant unique accomplishment to have on his resume, in comparison to the two others. In my opinion winning Roland Garros this year would be worth three majors. One for winning the major, one for the career slam, and another for winning a fourth straight major. Of course it would only count for one to give Nole twelve career majors, but now there’s no career slam hole on his resume, and he picked up the unique distinction of winning four straight. It’d just make him look even better in the GOAT discussion. Oh, and did I mention Nole will be hitting another milestone mark this week? It’ll be his 200th week holding the #1 ranking. He’s the fifth player in history to hold #1 for 200 weeks. By the end of Roland Garros, he’ll be the fifth player in history to hold #1 for 100 consecutive weeks. The milestones just keep racking up for Nole. Let’s hope by the end of Roland Garros, the ones I first mentioned get added to the list!
Be good to us Roland Garros. Just this once.