The Striking Similarities Between The UEFA Champions League Final and The French Open Final
For the people who follow tennis and football closely, the 2 mega events in the past month threw up two magnificent matches, ones that we will remember for a lifetime. However, both the matches had a marked consistency about them, which I will try and discuss in this post.
The Coupe des Clubs Champions Europeens and the Coupe des Mousquetaires are amongst the most coveted trophies in their fields, and in a way symbolize what sport stands for (If you didn’t get that, those are the names of the respective trophies of the UEFA Champions League in football, and the French Open Grand slam in Tennis). The Champions League final invariably pits the best teams on the planet against each other, after a journey lasting the entire season, marked with forays into the arenas of the opponents, a test of their character away from the comfort of their home stadia.
It is quite rightly said that there is no harder tournament to win than the French Open, given the nature of the surface, which makes it impossible to close out matches riding on just a serve, or by collecting cheap points. However this year, the similarities were a little more than usual as we look back on these 2 evenings which made sport proud.
In the Champions league, the top two clubs (going by the last 5 years, and by UEFA rankings) made it to the final. It was perhaps fitting that the grand prize was to be fought by the two clubs looked up to by all the others today. United were not at their best during the year and would have been scoffed at during the start of the campaign if anyone said they would have a crack at the showpiece event at Wembley, come May. The same 2 sides had contested the trophy in the past as well, with Barcelona having come up trumps that time round. Given that result, the manner of the defeat and the pyschological edge that came with it, Barcelona came in to the match as favorites.
Pretty similar was the French Open campaign, with the two players who dominated the sport for the past 5 years coming together to give us a mouthwatering final. And yes, one of them, Roger Federer was not in the best of form through the season, and was nowhere close to favourite to reach the final. Not to mention, Rafa and Roger were contesting their 4th final in Roland Garros. Taking into account the past results, Rafa entered the final a firm favorite. The similarities don’t end here.
United were quick off the blocks and meant business. There was something about them in the way the pressed for the ball, looking doubly determined to banish the ghosts of that earlier meeting. For about 10 minutes, Barcelona couldn’t string 3 passes together and United were in the ascendancy. Slowly, Barcelona grew into the game, and built their confidence. United looked a little hesitant to continue their high pressing game, and in that moment the game was lost. Barcelona suddenly looked the team which had taken apart their opponents through the course of the season. When Pedro slotted the ball home, after a killer through ball from Xavi, the end looked near, and nobody gave United a chance. Hang on will you?
Quite the same script followed in the French Open too. Roger in an attempt to not make it a boxing match, went for his winners early. He served well, returned even better, and kept the rallies short. The looping and vicious Nadal forehand was nowhere to be seen, and for the first 7 games, he dominated a mere 4-5 points. Federer meant business, and by the looks of it, wasn’t going to be denied this time round. Yet, firmly in the driving seat, he hesitated for a mere 3 points which gave the momentum back to his nemesis. Nadal gleefully accepted the gifts with both hands, quite literally by hitting some gorgeous double handed-backhands and followed it with his killer running forehand pass to go a set up. The end was near, or so we thought.
Quite against the run of play, Rooney conjured up a brilliant move and teamed up with Giggs to square the game, with a delighful finish. Game on!!
In Paris, with all hope lost, Federer managed to win the 3rd set, and looked good doing it. Suddenly the crowd were back in it, and Nadal looked a bit weary. Federer had a chance.
And when it was needed most, United faltered. Having been lucky to survive the Barca onslaught, when they required to stay in the game, they switched off and conceded. Although there were still 30mins to play, we knew that Barca had now won it. We actually knew it the moment that first goal went in, this was just the confirmation of the same.
Federer was lucky to have got a second bite at the cherry after having been 2 sets and a break down. Usually, Nadal is not in such a charitable mood. Yet, when he required it most, his serve faltered, Nadal broke serve in the 4th, and with it went all hope of a Federer comeback. We knew the result the moment Nadal won the first set, didn’t we? Yet, the confirmation came with this break in the 4th. Deja Vu, isn’t it?
We have much to learn from both these performances. In both cases, the Spaniards, Barcelona and Nadal transformed themselves when they sensed hesitant opposition. And boy, did they do it well. They stuck to their guns, and when the going got tough they clawed themselves out of the mire. We learnt that having a game plan is great, to execute it is another matter altogether, as the likes of United and Federer found out. Most importantly, we learnt that there is no subsitute for self-belief, which was evident in the philosophy Barcelona didn’t detour from. They simply did what they did best, and started passing it around. Nadal, at 2-5 down, believed that the first set wasn’t yet beyond him, and there lay the foundations for their success. Quite simply put, bloody brilliant!! I certainly hope we see the best of these tremendous athletes for many more years to come.