Yesterday saw one of the greatest upsets in tennis history, certainly since (Andy Murray’s defeated opponent) Ivo Karlovic blasted Lleyton Hewitt into submission in 2003.
I know this is a rugby blog, but bear with me if you will, but there is a point here.
That point is this: Rafael Nadal has been in many recent years the All Blacks of tennis. Under most conditions unbeatable. Unbelievably focused, ruthless and clinical against weaker opponents. He hadn’t lost before the third round of a Grand Slam in 7 years.
Lukas Rosol had lost in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying at every attempt. Queens this month was, apparently, the first tournament in which he had won any matches on grass.
And yet last night despite everything seemingly arrayed against him, the Czech ranked 100th in the world went out last night and played as pure and inspired a game of tennis as you will ever see. Every chance he got, he took. Every opening, however small, that Nadal presented, he fired a ball through. Yes he made some mistakes, but not at key points. His stats for the match were not markedly better than Rafa’s in many areas. But he kept a metaphorical foot on Nadal’s throat with his play and his attitude so that a comeback was bubbling as a possibility, but never an eventuality.
Nadal likes it slow, so Rosol made it fast. Nadal likes long rallies, so Rosol kept it short with a blistering array of groundstrokes that had the centre court crowd baying in part glee, part disbelief. The only way was to front up to Nadal, and beat him with what felt like a perfect game. Standing off and hoping for a mistake wasn’t going to work.
In November, Scotland will face the All Blacks at Murrayfield, and although the IRB rankings only go up to 96 (Finland, since you ask), the task facing Scotland – who have never beaten New Zealand – is seemingly as insurmountable. But even the greats have their off days, and you have to be completely ready to pounce, to take that one chance for glory that might never be offered to you again. To hit every ruck, every gap perfectly and take not one step backward. To believe that for the next 80 minutes, or 5 sets, you are actually not the underdog, but the equal of your opponent, with nothing to lose and everything to win.
So perhaps I’ll sleep a little easier at the prospect of the All Blacks coming to visit Murrayfield where before I have been fairly sceptical on the matter. Scotland are creeping up the rankings and should return in November with a measure of confidence and so, I will try to also.
Because tonight a virtual unknown from Brno in the Czech Republic did what, in sport, was unthinkable. But not undreamable – and it was magnificent to watch.
Rugby, tennis, cycling, high-board diving, football, whatever your sport.
That is why we play, and that is why we watch it.