Sunday, June 10, 2007

Nadal Turns Roland Garros Into The 21 Club

Located at 21 West 52nd Street, the 21 Club is a venerable restaurant in Manhattan. Like New York City, Paris boasts great plenty of great restaurants and hosts a Grand Slam tennis tournament. Thanks to French Open champion Rafael Nadal, the City of Lights had its own 21 Club on Sunday: Roland Garros Stadium.

In winning his third consecutive title, the 21-year-old Nadal moved to 21-0 lifetime at the French Open. While Nadal is only halfway to Bjorn Borg’s six singles championships at Roland Garros, the Spaniard is clearly the greatest clay court player in the 21st century. He’s even one better than “The Greatest” himself. Nadal is 21-0 on the Paris clay, whereas Muhammad Ali was 20-0 as Cassius Clay. The women’s side also had a three-peat thanks to Justine Henin, whose first of four overall French titles had come at age 21.

Nadal’s triumph provided more frustration for Roger Federer, who 21 days earlier had finally beaten his rival on clay. That victory was in Germany, where this week’s G-8 summit brought numerous 21-gun salutes. Since capturing his first Grand Slam singles title as a 21-year-old, Federer has won at least three championships each at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. However, he has yet to break through in Paris. Federer’s buddy Tiger Woods also won his first major as a 21-year-old, but he had no trouble completing the career Grand Slam. Perhaps it’s fortunate for Tiger that none of the golf majors are played on clay.

The smart money was on Nadal in Las Vegas, where 21 is always a good number. Anyone at least the age of 21 could celebrate a winning bet with a glass of champagne. They could also toast the 21st amendment, which repealed prohibition. One group of Americans who did not toast Nadal was the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who resent the extension of undefeated streaks.

As a star who enjoys being in France, Nadal has much in common with Johnny Depp, who broke onto the scene in 21 Jump Street. Depp is also in the limelight these days, thanks to Jack Sparrow. The role brought him a 2003 Oscar nomination, just as 21 Grams did for Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro. However, Depp is not the greatest Pirate of all time – that honor goes to #21 Roberto Clemente.

Next year, Nadal will go for his fourth championship at Roland Garros. Tim Duncan is well on his way to his fourth NBA title, excelling as #21 for the San Antonio Spurs. After two wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers, few observers expect there to be a game 7 on June 21. Duncan is getting a huge assist from Tony Parker, so like Nadal he’s at his best with French people around him.

The next challenge for Nadal is to triumph at Wimbledon, owned by Federer the past four years. Like Nadal, #21 LaDainian Tomlinson has yet to win a championship on grass. Tomlinson hopes to change that next February. If he does, he’ll accomplish what another LT did 21 years earlier in Super Bowl XXI.

In the meantime, Nadal can savor Sunday’s victory at the 21 Club. Unlike Federer, he has little chance to come close to 21 Grand Slam singles titles in his career. However, once he retires, perhaps he can join some other entertainers who were on top this weekend. He’d be a great addition to the cast of Ocean’s 21.