By STEVE SUSI
One Great Season
With apologies to the sterling standard set by One Great Season and its savvy audience — the tennis world's second major kicked off Sunday and I'm just submitting this piece — here's a super-quick look at what we can look forward to on the men's side in the brick dust this coming fortnight. (Check back Monday for my thoughts on the ladies):
A huge victory can already be counted by the American men, as lo and behold we have a whopping three Americans populating the draw (two of whom had to qualify no less). I type this with as much sarcasm as I do wistfulness, as the Stars and Stripes were as dominant at Roland Garros, admittedly our weakest surface, as any other nation during my entire youth. Now, alas, with Title IX having thoroughly guillotined boys' junior tennis in this country, we're left clinging to the hope that even one of our men will see the second week.
Save for, say, the rapture occurring in the 16th Arrondissement, who most certainly will see the latter half of the draw are the usual suspects of Rafael Nadal (Spain), Roger Federer (Switzerland) and Novak Djokovic (Serbia).
It's practically impossible to bet against Rafa, who's coming in 15-0 this season on the red stuff, claiming titles at Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid — the last of which saw him take down the ATP's top-ranked Federer in a fantastic 6-4, 7-6 (5) fisticuff. Federer's backhand is on fire, however, and if anyone knows how to push Rafa wide and stretch a match out against the fiery, athletic Mallorcan, it's Fed.
To make matters more challenging for the field, Nadal has transformed his serve to a considerably more offensive weapon. He's moved much closer to the center and is dictating the point straight away, then standing tighter to the baseline instead of six or seven feet back as he did even as recently as last year, hitting loopier ground strokes and allowing his opponent some semblance of a rhythm. This has been extremely effective in shortening rallies; quicker points mean short matches; short matches mean more time to rest; more time to rest means, well, you get the idea.
Additionally, he's switched strings from an obsolete, 15-year-old model to a modern, 17-gauge Babolat string for even more power. Perhaps the only thing that might interrupt his dominance is the $425,000 Richard Mille watch he's debuting this week in Paris. As a two-handed backhander myself, I know how hard that can be on wrist flexibility. Something tells me he's tested it.
Anyway, here's my extremely bold prediction: Rafael loses. Wait, I'm not finished — he loses one set in the entire tournament, to Federer, in the final, on the way to his fifth Coupe des Mousquetaires.
In 1989, Steve earned High School Tennis All-America honors. Since then, his life's gone straight downhill. Today, he is founder and chief creative officer of New York branding consultancy Brand Spanking New York. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter — he's at @BrandSpankingNY.