3 minute read
Getting ready to face Rafael Nadal in his French Open torture chamber can do things to a player - as Aussie Jordan Thompson may be finding out.
Jordan Thompson raged, chucked his racquet down in disgust, looked as if he might break it over his knee - and then cursed some more.
Er, and this was just in practice.
But then maybe that's what preparing for sport's most daunting examination does to a man's mind.
Getting pummelled by his mate James Duckworth in a French Open training match on Court 4 at Roland Garros was one thing.
But you could almost see Thompson's mind racing towards another date, his first-round session in Rafael Nadal's Court Philippe Chatrier torture chamber on Monday.
It was as if he was trying too hard to get himself into the right mood to fight intensity with intensity. But the more he tried, the more mistakes he made, and the madder he got.
Then there was a lovely little cameo after the two Aussies had finished their sparring on Saturday.
In one direction, Thompson was emerging from the court, steam still billowing out of his ears and his coach advising that this probably wasn't the best time to approach him.
In the other, a sudden high-pitched squeal of excitement on Roland Garros's traditional kids' day as Nadal made a regal procession en route to who knows where.
Rafa fever was all around us and if ever Thompson wanted to be reminded of who he was up against, this was it.
For this is Nadal's dominion, the place where, even if he's not the champion at least for one year, he still boasts what might just be sport's greatest individual record at any single event.
And if there's anything more preposterous than his 13 Roland Garros titles, and record of 105 wins to three defeats, can we offer his record in first-round matches here?
Seventeen played, 17 won. 54 sets played and 51 won. Nadal begins French Opens like a dementor with a sore head.
Last year, Thompson's fellow Sydneysider Alexei Popyrin had the temerity to take him to a third-set tiebreak.
He lost it, of course.
So what possible hope does the world No.82 have?
A serve like John Isner's might help as the American beanpole was the only man to take two sets off Nadal - both in tiebreaks, naturally - in their first-round meeting 12 years ago.
The talk has all been of Nadal's chronic injury but the great man sounded a bit fed up with having to keep answering questions about 'My Left Foot' while protesting that, in truth, he was in similar shape at the Australian Open when he wrote a script fit for the movies with slam title No.21.
So the usual joke applies in Rafa's one-shot saloon.
Thompson, even with a full beard now having sprouted from his famous bandito moustache, has two chances.
Slim and none ... and slim's already moseyed on out of the Bois de Boulogne.