French Open 2018

Nadal’s 11th French Open: At Roland Garros, he’s both the irresistible force and immovable object

The world No 1 wasn’t as good on clay in 2018 as he was in 2017, but he was still better than everyone else.

Rafael Nadal was not as good on clay in 2018 as he was in 2017.

In 2017, he had won his tenth title at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros, as well as the Madrid Masters. In fact, he lost only one match, to Dominic Thiem at Rome.

In 2018, he won his 11th title at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros, as well as the Rome Masters, but dropped a total of three sets. He lost only one match, to Dominic Thiem at Madrid.

The score line of the 2017 French Open quarters, semi and final read: walkover win Pablo Carreno Busta, beat Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, beat Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1

The score line of the 2018 French Open quarters, semi and final read: beat Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, beat Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, beat Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

In 2017, he played the North American hard-court swing in February and March. In 2018, he hadn’t played a match since retiring from his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic.

Bottom-line: By the standards he set in 2017, Nadal wasn’t as good on clay this year.

And yet, Nadal conquered Undecima – his 11 French Open title on Sunday, with a straight sets win over the only player who could potentially challenge him on clay.

The final score read a little better than Wawrinka’s demolition last year, but the effect was the same despite the Austrian seventh seed fighting with everything he had. He threw good balls and the kitchen sink at Nadal. But the world No 1 parried them all, and would have actually volleyed and won the point, even if a sink was thrown at him.

For such is the force of nature when Nadal plays on clay. He defended all his points from last year’s phenomenal clay season and created new records - First man to win 11th title at the same Slam and third player to reach $100 million in prize money after Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

And this irresistible force is multiplied when he plays on terre battue. No science can explain it but perhaps math can: 86 wins and only two losses. 11 titles in 14 years, with an injury withdrawal. No one else has won the event more than once since he won it as a debutant in 2005. Only three other people have even won it, and only one of them – Novak Djokovic – has actually beaten him there. (Although he lost the year he beat Nadal)

Graphic by Anand Katakam.
Graphic by Anand Katakam.

At this point, Nadal is competing with himself at the French Open. He is both the irresistible force and immovable object. The other 127 competitors are fighting for a place in the final and the chance to lose to the best on the surface. That is a different kind of pressure altogether.

He has won the Grand Slam as a teen, in his 20s and now twice in his 30s. His dominance has coincided with the peak of two of the greatest players the sport has seen. Yet Roger Federer’s peak and Djokovic’s monster season in 2011 could not stop Nadal.

Nadal is like some glitch in a video game that you can’t solve or the Kobayashi Maru. Every time you come across him on Roland Garros, you have to die. And beating Nadal in French Open finals is like living on Mars: it is theoretically possible, but humankind just does not possess the tools or skills yet.

Not so smooth sailing

This French Open, we have actually seen Nadal struggle at times.

In the very first round, he was troubled by lucky loser Simone Bolelli who went 0-3 up in the third set, after dropping the first two and forced the Spaniard to save four break points in the eighth game before saving four set points. He eventually clinched the rain-interrupted match 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11-9), not the kind of start we have seen him enjoy.

Last year, the most games anyone won against him was eight – Robin Haase in the second round. This year, that record was already gone. He needed another tiebreak against Maximilian Marterer, and actually dropped a set in the rain-troubled quarters.

In the final, he played the one challenger he could have had on clay. Tennis fans anticipated a contest, which against Nadal would mean not a straight-sets win. Thiem was not the only one to have beaten him on clay, he had done it twice in two years. He had then got the better of Alexander Zverev, the other player who could potentially trouble Nadal as he did in the final at Rome.

Thiem tried but had no Plan B

And the Austrian did show some spark, after Nadal went 2-0 up winning eight out of the first nine points, by getting a break back and attacking Nadal’s backhand. That he had to pull out all stops to hold the fourth game, is another story. He tried everything – an ace, a 222 kph serve, a wicked wide shot – but it only showed the chinks in his own game as he committed a double fault and fell prey to a flat Nadal backhand. The next hold for him was even tougher, as an umpire line call meant he had to serve again after thinking he had held, and the game then went on for 11 minutes and he had to save break points, again.

But this was the most competitive set, as Thiem rushed to the net, altered his return position, played smart from the middle of the court, volleyed and even got Nadal’s applause. But serving to stay in the set, Thiem made the fatal mistake of dropping his intensity a little and losing energy – understandable after the grueling holds – and Nadal pounced on the error-strewn display to break and clinch the set.

The second set saw another early break as Thiem continued to struggle with his first serve and Nadal used his topspin forehand to force more errors and go 2-0 up. The Austrian seventh seed then began to take the ball early and started getting into rallies, but a cool and collected Nadal didn’t drop his serve and served out the set. Numbers will show that the younger man had more winners and a better first serve in the second set, but it just wasn’t enough.

Nadal got the early break in the third as well, after Thiem saved four break points in the very first game. By now the 24-year-old was blindly punching and grinding to stay afloat, but it was already too late. The tactic that Bollelli, Schwartzman and he himself had used to trouble Nadal before – attack till you can’t anymore – didn’t work out and Thiem had no Plan B.

Even injury couldn’t stop Nadal. He took a medical time out at 30-0 up in the third set but returned to not only win the point rushing to net, but held for 3-2 with a cramping hand and nine fingers. Even after a trainer break at changeover, Thiem couldn’t stretch Nadal and it was soon over despite the Austrian saving three championship points.

Nadal gave a very interesting quote about how he still feels the pressure of winning on the Parisian clay – because he is a “human person.” It is hard to believe he is only human when he plays like that. But he still celebrates every win with the same fervor – the lawnmower when he reached the final, the pumped up arms when he won the title, the spontaneous bursting into tears when he held the trophy.

Nadal is someone who bites trophies, not cry with them. But it showed what No 11 meant and why it mattered so much even though he had 10 before. Nadal wasn’t as good on clay in 2018, but he was still better than everyone else and battled through the rare moments when he wasn’t.

Corrections:-

  • An earlier version of this article mistakenly mentions thatIn 2017, [Nadal] had won his tenth title at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros, as well as the Madrid Masters, without dropping a set.” Nadal had dropped a set each against Kyle Edmund in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters 2017 and against Fabio Fognini in the second round of 2017 Madrid Masters.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.