Everybody knows playing Rafa on clay is like going into a meat grinder. He is capable of wearing a player down, chewing him up and spitting him out with his signature brand of tennis. This is why Rafael Nadal is imminently watchable; watching him play tennis on clay (and any other surface) is like watching Beyonce on stage. He sheds the skin of a shy, soft-spoken Mallorcan and steps out in battle mode, utilizing that wicked, looping forehand and unrelenting athleticism to grind his opponents into the dust. Rafa is also capable of chasing almost everything down, and able to change from defense into offense in the blink of an eye. More than his forehand, more than his legs, he also has a will of iron, seemingly unable to just give a single point up, even if it’s the first point in the first match of a throwaway ATP event. To see Rafa at work is to see a fearsome gladiator with a racquet for a broadsword; he isn’t referred to as the Raging Bull for nothing. He has owned everyone at Roland Garros nine times.
Enter Stan. Long under the great shadow cast by Roger Federer, he’s clawed his way into the light with his own brand of violent, no-holds-barred tennis, hitting his way to three Grand Slam titles, making him the only men’s player to date never to lose a Grand Slam final he’s been in. Like Rafa, his athleticism is fearsome – Stan can go toe to toe with the fittest players of the day, sometimes outlasting them. And when he unleashes the blazing backhand he is known for, the reason he’s called the Stanimal is suddenly quite clear. On a good day, with a clear mind and his confidence high, the only sane thing to do is to steer clear of Stanislas Wawrinka and the cannonballs blasting off his racquet.
Raging Bull vs. The Stanimal. Forehand vs. Backhand. Will Rafa prevail and get La Decima? Will Stan triumph and change the men’s tennis conversation from Big Four to Big Five? Either way, it’s going to be a bruising Sunday morning on the red clay. I’m off to find a pub with great wings and a giant monitor.
Read the preview over on Rolandgarros.com