I was pleased that the US Open Men’s Tennis Final was played on Monday allowing Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic a deserved day of rest in preparation for this climactic match in this year’s tournament. Yet, I was practically spitting blood when I heard that the start time would be 4 pm.
Since I am a working stiff making ends meet in a get-rich-slow job, I still had to put in another 90 minutes at the grind before quitting time, and I had to invest another half hour in the commute home from TriBeCa to the Upper West Side. I considered begging my boss, Elsbeth, to let me exit early, but she would ask:
Me: I’m dying to watch the US Open Men’s Final.
Elsbeth: You’re into golf now? [snarky] That’s a new development.
Elsbeth is not a sports fan, and for the record, I loathe golf. Masochist that I am, I decide it would be best to avoid conflict with my superior about my urgency to kneel at the altar of bouncing balls and swinging rackets. Therefore, I stick out the workday, a day I spend adhered to my desk crunching numbers with glazed eyeballs. I encounter one Elsbethian interruption:
Elsbeth: How do you spell Agnes?
When I am sprung at 5:30 I am aware that my beloved Rafa has lost the first set to Djokovic 6-2. I could not have rocket-launched myself faster out the door than if my Jack Purcell badminton shoes were manufactured by NASA. Emitting a trail of smoke all the way to the Chambers Street subway station, I deftly side-step two waist-high demon seeds pummeling each other with balloon bats but that maneuver makes me bounce off their mother’s heavily cushioned left hip. Fortunately, she is immune to hyperactivity and the resulting G-force allows me to sail down the station’s staircase at warp-speed — just as an uptown express train arrives. I emerge from the 72nd Street subway station at 5:51 where I’m greeted with a text from my buddy, Coco:
Coco’s text: Nadal needs to focus on his game not his wedgie.
My text back: Maybe u should b his coach.
Coco’s text: Or at least take him shopping for briefs that fit.
When I reach my sanctum sanctorum, Nadal is trailing in the second set 4-3. No sooner do I settle down than Rafa breaks Djokovic and the score is tied 4-4. Yet, before I can emit a sigh of relief, Djokovic breaks back, the sixth time he’s broken Rafa thus far in the match.
As Djokovic serves for the second set Rafa looks discombobulated. Djokovic wins the set 6-4. I stare at my TV in disbelief.
In the third set, Rafa seems to have rediscovered his game. The points are long and the shot-making extraordinary. Nadal fights back hard and breaks Djokovic’s serve at love. The score is 4-3 Nadal. Yet, Djokovic, who’s possibly playing the best tennis of his life, elevates his game, too. Following a multi-stroke rally where Nadal brilliantly saves at least four Djokovic winners, Djokovic wins the game, looks towards his box with his family and friends and spreads his arms in a gesture of relief or maybe it’s winged victory.
Nadal might be thinking what I’m thinking (but in Spanish):
Me: Djokovic looks invincible! What do I have to do to beat this guy?
Rafa does exactly what he has to do, he gets the game to reach a tie-break, he never falls behind, and he finally wins a set. Hola!
I want to pray to someone that this match will go the five set distance and Rafa’s game will continue to improve but I’m an atheist. Who do I pray to? My long-dead mother, who, even if I had fallen down a well she’d shout at me:
My Dead Mom: God helps those that help themselves.
Count her out.
What about my favorite Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, conveniently in this instance, also both dead? I’d feel like such a jerk asking them for a favor that has nothing to do with world peace or the sitar.
Franz Kafka has always been one of my favorite writers.
A voice in my head that sounds exactly like Coco’s shrieks:
Coco: Franz Kafka, who’s been dead what, 85 years, that wrote that weird story about the giant waterbug I was forced to read in high school? Really? Why the hell don’t you pray to someone practical like Arthur Ashe?
Imaginary Coco is right! I should pray to Arthur Ashe. Right now, Djokovic and Rafa are beating each other to a near-pulp in a stadium named in his honor! Just as suddenly, I come to my senses and wonder why would a legendary sportsman take sides? Arthur Ashe, who was integrity incarnate, would never do that. I quit my pursuit of channeling divine intervention in Rafa’s behalf.
After winning his first game in the fourth set and leading Nadal 1-0, Djokovic is granted a medical time out to have his sore lower back massaged. When they resume play, Djokovic breaks Nadal. Then he proceeds to win his serve and Nadal sinks into a very deep 3-0 hole that he is incapable of escaping.
Barely fifteen minutes later, Djokovic decisively wins the set and the match at 6-2, 6-4, 7-6, 6-1. It was not the outcome I wanted, but the guy that played better deserved the victory.
As dismayed as I was, Rafa, as always, was gracious in defeat. I text Coco:
My text: I love Rafa, class act.
Coco’s text: Ass picking and all.
That’s the real Coco.