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Rafa Bids Adieu to the French Open

Rafa Bids Adieu to the French Open

I had the privilege of watching Rafa Nadal play Alexander Zverev at Roland Garros. This was a bucket list item for me. I was lucky enough to see Roger Federer play on the hallowed grounds of his home away from home, Wimbledon, but I had never been able to catch Rafa at his kingdom, Roland Garros. I was very close to making that happen previously. Ten years ago I attended a session at Roland Garros with the expectation of seeing Nadal play but he was inexplicably assigned to Court Suzanne Lenglen instead of the larger center court, Philippe Chatrier.

My wife and I planned a trip to Paris last year in the hopes of seeing Rafa in what we knew could be his last match at the French Open. We planned to be on site one day and had to be sure to pick the right session. Our research revealed that Rafa preferred to play the first Monday of the tournament in the day session. We secured day session tickets for Monday, May 27th, well in advance of the tournament and hoped for the best. It was not clear if Rafa would even be healthy enough to play at Roland Garros. He ultimately announced he would play to our great joy and relief.

Last week, the proposed schedule was released for the tournament and it appeared that Rafa was set to play on the first day of the first round, Sunday, May 26th. Epic fail! Again! Disappointment turned to joy when it was reported that Rafa had asked the French Tennis Federation if the match could be moved to Monday during the day session and they agreed. Bingo! Game on!

YouTube: Roland-Garros

It is hard to describe the feeling in the crowd as we anticipated the start of the match. The enthusiasm and buzz was incredible! When Rafa was announced and took the court, the fans went crazy. Tennis fans knew that Rafa had a very hard road ahead of him to get out of this first round match against the 4th seed, Alexander Zverev. The crowd was determined to pull him through.

The last time Zverev faced Rafa at the French Open, the German had suffered a terrible ankle injury. Since that time he had returned to form and would be a very tough out. The crowd was very vocal in its support for Rafa and all credit to Zverev as he was never rattled. He took the first set over Rafa 6-3 but Rafa battled into a tiebreaker in the second set only to fall in that set as well. After Rafa went down by two sets, he continued to fight but while his desire and heart were intact, his game was just not where it needed to be to beat Zverev. Zverev won the third set 6-3 and was gracious in his brief post match comments complementing Rafa’s legacy at Roland Garros.

After a rousing ovation from all assembled, Rafa, was effusive in his praise for Zverev and was noncommittal about whether this was his last French Open appearance. He left the door slightly ajar but one sensed that it was probable that this was his final French Open match. Rafa said that he looked forward to returning to Roland Garros for the Olympics. He also plans to play at the Laver Cup which could serve as the formal venue for his retirement just like his friend and fellow tennis legend, Roger Federer. There’s even speculation that they could play doubles together. Wouldn’t that be great way to end his Hall of Fame career?

However and whenever Rafa decides to retire is his choice alone and he should go out on his terms when he is ready. He has a great family, a thriving tennis academy and a superb charitable organization that will surely keep him busy after his playing days are over.

I will never forget this wonderful day that I was privileged to share with my wife and Rafa fans around the globe.

Vamos Rafa!

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Adam Ross is a contributing writer for Florida Tennis. He is a volunteer for the USTA Florida and the Vice-President of the Tennis Collectors of America/TCA. He welcomes your questions and comments at Photos: Adam Ross. 

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