Lost in Translation
Posted 6/11/2006 @ 3:11 PM
The match that nobody dared believe we could get turned out to be the kind of match nobody expected we would see: it was bizarre, ragged, baffling and unsatisfying – Hey, what was it that some comment posters said after yesterday’s woman’s final? Get this garbage out of here and bring in The Men?
It was a match that left Rafael Nadal Kool-Aid drinkers deliriously happy (doesn’t every match Rafa win do that?), Roger Federer KADs disconsolate and in contemplation of flinging themselves into the Seine, and Tennis: The Game KADS scratching their heads, wondering how it could all go so wrong. So horribly wrong. The entire face of world tennis got plastered with that look you last saw on your single, slightly overweight sister-in-law’s face when she opened up that Christmas present that you thought would be a fun, family, in-joke, and she saw that it was a Gut-Be-Gone.
Oh, well, You can lead a tennis player to clay but you can’t make him rally. Or something like that. We got a nice preview of where this was all going when Nadal, wheeling away from the coin toss and obligatory photo, bolted for his baseline and tripped over his own foot, almost doing a face plant and taking out a divot bigger than any of the craters that would be left by his forehands.
I’m still trying to make sense of all this, but I have to confess that I thought this all was fun, in a warped kind of way. Here’s a stadium full of tennis fans at a Grand Slam final, repeatedly turning toward each other after a Nadal forehand rocket to the cheap seats, or a pigeon-seeking Federer backhand, and saying, “Wow, like what's up with that?"
I shaved my chest for this?
Sometimes, though, it’s great for tennis to throw up something utterly inexplicable. It’s good for the soul. It’s a good reminder for us not to get too complacent and take those occasional works of art that the game throws up for granted (Rome final, anyone?). Look at it this way: It didn’t go 32-30 in the fifth. You still have something to live for. These two a champions turned chumps for the day are still young.
Maybe it’s all a sign from above. You should all be reading. You should all be reading Moby Dick. Actually, if you’ve never read Moby Dick, don’t bother; you just saw it, and if you did read it you know what I mean: It wasn’t good, but it sure went slow.
But, our little TennisWorld community always looks on the bright side of things, and always finds intriguing, contemplation-worthy elements in every match. They existed in this one, too, so let’s run through it.
Nadal was bad, off-the-charts bad; he was so nervous that I feared he was going to run to the north end of the court and shout up to the player's guest box, “Hey Tony, run and get me a Depends!”
But even then, there were brilliant moments, as there would be throughout this match; seven or nine-stroke rallies ending with a really deft, acutely angled inside-out forehand from The Mighty Fed, or an on-the-run, two-handed passing-shot blast – a chip shot out of the red clay, really – from Dirty Boy Rafa. Does anyone get more - and more sweetly - out of the inside-out forehand than Federer, and is there a better thread-the-needle backhand (in desperate situations) than Nadal’s?
In the second set, it was as if Rafa said, “Okay, Prada boy, here’s the shoe, now you wear it!”
In the second game (Nadal having won the first) TMF led 40-love but would find a way to lose what was the first of the two most important games of the match – and, inarguably, the first of two hugely important games in which he led, 40-0 but couldn’t close it out. (The other one occurred with Nadal serving at 1-2 early in the third.
Nadal addressed each of these junctures in his presser. Of that break early in the second, he said:
After, maybe he has the control of the game, but he give me a good chance, no, because he had 1 0 for me in the second, but 40 Love for him, and he is playing better than me, no? I feel nervous. I don't feel very good the legs for the nervous.
After, he have three consecutive mistakes no, two consecutive mistakes. I play one good point and I can do the break. When I have the break in the second set, 2 0, I improve in my confidence, no, because I was thinking, Now is my chance. I was playing very bad, but now I need to take my opportunity.
Federer’s own comment on that game were revealing, and brimming with the kind of melancholy, coulda, woulda, shoulda tristesse that you expect out of, oh, Edith Piaf, not The Mighty Federer:
I definitely felt, you know, that second set was a big turning point. If just there I can keep up with him and then, you know, put him really under big pressure, maybe lead two sets to Love, then obviously it's very different. But I think just giving away the second set like this, I think that was maybe the key.
After being broken in that second game, TMF would melt into the slough of despond, immediately and almost irretrievably. My match notes say: This match reminds me of two guys who woke up in the dark in the same room and are taking turns fumbling around, looking for the light switch. . .
Those of you who are perverse enough to have read along so far are my kind of folks, so you’ll know what I mean when I say that at this point, I thought, Cool. Each guy has played a set of anti-tennis and gotten the demons out of his system. So it’s like, okay, I’ve got an idea! Let’s pretend it’s a best-of-three final and see if we can provide these patient people with their money’s worth.
Oddly enough, I also felt at that point that Federer may have effectively (and unconsciously) set the tone of the match, and that it would work in his favor. For this was largely a match of slam-bang tennis, full of errors and some winners interspersed with explosive, ever-so-seductive moments of glory that you just won't get out of a Ljubicic in a million years.
Here’s an intriguing comment from TMF’s presser, supporting this theory:
. . .I was hoping to come in more often. But somehow, you know maybe it was the heat. I don't know. We both tried to cut down on the points, in the first two sets especially, that never we really got the good sort of rhythm going from the baseline. That only really started towards the third and fourth set.
Still, much like Federer blew a critical 40-love advantage in the two-set prelude, he blew one in to launch the last three sets. The handwriting was on the wall, and writ large, too. Nadal also thought his recovery from 1-2, 0-40 down in the third was noteworthy, saying:
Yeah, is very important moment, no? Maybe in the second set, when 2 0, is important moment with the break of 2 0. And the second is this one, no, 2 1, Love 40? I play three good points. I have little bit good luck with one forehand of Roger, go out like this.
But after this moment, I improve a lot in my game, I think, no? Is my opinion. After this moment, I play better with my serve. I play more aggressive. And he feel little bit more nervous. So after this moment, I play my best tennis, no?
The upshot, though, was that this was neither a track meet nor a marathon, both of which would have favored Nadal. And, as your own eyes saw, Nadal was the one who ended up playing the role scripted for Federer. He won big points with a serve that hit like a bullet, sending up a red puff of smoke; he took the game to TMF, forcing the action, a few times even coming forward to volley.
At the same time, Federer played against type and gave an Oscar-worthy performance as the Evil Counterpuncher, in a film that might have been entitled, Wake Me When It’s Over. By the middle of the fourth set, though, he had been forced to hit so many high backhands off Nadal’s high-bouncing forehand, both feet leaving the ground, that he looked worn out. He showed a brief flurry of life when he broke Nadal to level the match at 5-5 in the fourth, but the themes of the day returned to haunt the tiebreaker and the match ended on a note of anticlimax.
Here are the more intriguing stats:
Nadal’s first serve percentage, at 76, was 16 points higher than Federer’s. Federer had only 10 more winners than Nadal (35 to 25), but he had almost twice as many unforced errors, 51 to 28. It sounds right, but then my stat sheet also says nobody hit a service returner. . .
This kind of screw-up isn’t unusual here at Roland Garros, where translations can be very loose and asking things like why all the English transcripts aren’t posted on the website have a way of morphing into immutable ones, like, What is the meaning of life? Or, How come the game always goes to 14 deuces when I’m waiting in the tunnel to get in?
In fact, you may have caught a major faux pas during the presentation ceremony, when a French official mistranslated Nadal’s comments for the the crowd – elicting a shower of boos and catcalls.
In essence, DBR said, “Roger is the toughest guy I play, the best I lose to, even on clay.” The translator tightened and brightened this up, saying, “Roger’s the toughest guy out there except on clay, where I rock the world!” Or something like that. The crowd went nuts, and after the match the translator ran down to the locker room to apologize to Nadal, while Nadal's people were looking for Federer's people to apologize and see if their boy wanted to do lunch with their boy.
It wasn’t the only thing that got lost in translation on this zany day at Roland Garros. Federer vs. Nadal in the Roland Garros final. It sounded too good to be true. That's just how it turned out.