The Loop

Monday Superlatives

Rafael Nadal has a great shot to set the grand slam record in Paris...and there won't be many more

May 17, 2021

Roger Federer won his last grand slam, the 2018 Australian Open, at age 36. Only one person in the Open Era had won older, and that came in 1972, when Ken Rosewall won an Australian Open that didn't even feature many of the best players in the world. Federer's win is the most impressive, and it happened because he's one of the best players in the history of the sport and managed to go through an entire career with shockingly few injuries. His play may have dipped here and there, but he was always healthy enough to compete at the highest levels when he came back. Arguably—arguably—that period in his career is over. He should have won another at Wimbledon in 2019, and that remains the one slam he's likeliest to win, but at age 39 there is at least a reasonable certainty that he's won his last slam.

I bring this up because Rafael Nadal is tied with Federer at 20 slams, he's about to turn 35, and he's on the verge of playing at his favorite slam, the French Open. We don't need to rehash his excellence on clay, but we do need to reckon with how things look today. Coming into this past week's Italian Open, the last big clay event before Roland Garros, Rafa's performance has been wavering more than ever before. He lost in the Monte Carlo quarters to Andrey Rublev, barely squeaked by Tsitsipas in the Barcelona final, and fell to Sasha Zverev in the Madrid quarters. In the past, he's been all but untouchable on clay; now, he's losing occasionally, and he's still dealing with a back injury that kept him out of tennis from the Aussie Open to Monte Carlo.

Of course, rumors his demise are exaggerated; in Rome, though he wasn't his usual dominant self, he got some revenge against Zverev and then beat Djokovic in three sets in the final to capture his tenth title. He'll be rolling into Paris with at least two big clay titles. He's got a great shot to capture his 14th French, and 21st slam overall, to take the all-time lead.

Tim Clayton - Corbis

But...how many of these shots does he have left? If Federer was a young 36 when he won in Australia, Rafa is about to be an old 35. In 2019, his uncle and former coach Toni Nadal said he was, "not a tennis player, he’s an injured person who plays tennis." It's something he constantly fights through, and he's at the stage in his life where his skills will begin to decline. His talent and experience means he could win another hardcourt slam like the U.S. Open, but with the younger generation finally rounding into form and Djokovic standing in the way, you wouldn't bet on it. The French Open is his path to 21, and if he doesn't do it this year, he'll have to do what only two people have ever done in the Open Era, which is to win a slam past age 36.

This is the ultimate race against time. It's not quite now or never, but it's close enough that there will be added suspense when he hits Roland-Garros. He's racing to the mountaintop, and he's nearly there, but the clouds of decline are coming down at the same time...the question is, who gets there first?

The Keeper Goal of the Week: Alisson, Liverpool

There is nothing better in soccer—or hockey, for that matter—than a goalkeeper scoring a goal. It's the equivalent of an inside-the-park home run in baseball, in that it's very rare, highly improbable, and gets more exciting as the play goes on. This past weekend, Alisson scored such a goal for Liverpool in the 94th minute to give his team a 2-1 win at the final moment:

That makes him the sixth keeper in the Premier League to score, and you can see the rest in the video below, which includes both genres of keeper goal—the late header of a corner, and the long kick that takes a crazy bounce:

Glorious.

Strikeout King of the Week: Trevor Bauer, Dodgers

Is Trevor Bauer a jerk? That seems to be the Twitter consensus, and Twitter has never been wrong. Jerk or no jerk, watching the man pitch is a treat, especially when he's got his stuff. Saturday night, he had his stuff. Watch him strike out ten batters over seven scoreless innings against the Marlins:

Bauer is rare in that he almost never throws a true changeup, but with a curve and slider like that, why would you want to? This is nasty, nasty stuff, and when you have a cut fastball that practically looks like a screwball it moves so much, you're going to get some Ks..

The "We Will Never Let the Fans Speak Again" Moment of the Week: Nick Castellanos and Some Dude

This was objectively hilarious—Castellanos hit a home run (no word on whether it was a deep drive to left), fist-bumped a fan, and then the TV folks decided it would be fun to interview the fan. Not a bad idea! Quirky, different, creative. Except, uhhh:

Oops!

The fact that Castellanos set this all up knowing what would happen is pretty hysterical, and kudos to the fan for executing under pressure. Now, of course, Castellanos will be fined to the moon and no more fans will be allowed to express their wild opinions on a broadcast. But hey, at least we got the good stuff once!