It's that time of year again, when we re-crown Rafael Nadal's king of clay, and the Golden State Warriors the kings of the NBA. After 11 titles in 14 years for Rafa at Roland Garros, and three titles in four years for the Warriors, their dominations of May and June have come to seem as immutable as the return of warmer weather and longer days in spring.
But There is another phenomenon that has become almost routine: Casting doubt on whether these two champions can win again
Each year, as Nadal makes his annual romp through Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, tennis fans search for any signs or weakness or decline in his clay game; The same goes for the Warriors as they hit through the laughter stages of another endless NBA regular season.
A tweaked hamstring, a locker-room dispute, a surprising loss, and off game from Steph Curry: any one of these events is enough to generate rampant speculation in the media, and hope around the rest of the league, that the Dubs are finally slipping.Now, when Rafa inevitably wins Roland Garros, and the Warriors inevitably roll through the NBA finals, we all agree again that they're unbeatable.
As pointless and silly as this process may sound, it's not all that surprising. Everyone, even Nadal and the Warriors, occasionally — Rafa is 87-2, not 89-0, in Paris, and the Warriors were ambushed by LeBron James in seven games in the 201
What 's interesting, though, which group of observers is more likely to promote the possibility of an upset, and which group is more likely to scoff at that skepticism and back Rafa and the Warriors no matter what.
I'll start with the Warriors, and with what ESPN pundit and NBA insider expert Michael Wilbon has said during their run through this year's playoffs. It is not his assessment of the Warriors themselves that has been off; he has generally backed them to win the title, with the usual, necessary caveats. It's what Wilbon has said about their last two opponents, the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers, who turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. He praised the talent and determination of each of those teams, criticizing those who thought they were second-tier, and claimed they had an opportunity to pull off and upset. He also wondered how far the Warriors could go without one of their two best players, Kevin Durant. Wilbon wasn't wrong to make any of those observations. The Rockets have two of the league's best players, James Harden and Chris Paul, and the Blazers' top duo, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, looked like killers in the early rounds of the playoffs. But we have not yet been a team, neither is the Warriors, who have been every bit as good as Durant. In his absence, his traditional leading men, Curry and Klay Thompson, were free to shoot at will again, and they ran away from the Rockets in six games and the Blazers in four. The Blazers led by 17 in the second half or one game, by 18 in the second half of another, and 17 in the second half of a third game. Each time, the Warriors mounted a furious, and seemingly effortless, rally to win, and completed a four-game sweep.
I've been watching the same teams, and the same playoffs as Wilbon, without any of his behind- the scenes information or deep knowledge of the league and its players. But from the start of the series, I thought the Blazers had no chance whatsoever, and that the Warriors would win in the way they did: at raising their level just when they needed to raise it.
It wasn't hard to predict. This is how the Warriors have performed in the playoffs since winning their first championship in 2015 — they bend, but they don't break. Like other teams accustomed to dominating, the warriors can only rouse themselves to win when the threat of losing becomes too real to ignore. In 2016, they came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals; in 2018, they came back from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Rockets in the same round. (In the Warriors' one defeat, in 2016, it was the Cavaliers who came back from a 3-1 deficit and caught them at the wire.) There was no reason to think the Warriors wouldn't find a way to win again in 2019. In that sense, the casual fans who, like me, roll their eyes to other teams and assume the warriors will win every time more likely to be right than the knowledgeable pundit who pays his due respects to every team.
Looking back at the most impressive wins and closest calls of Rafael Nadal's 11 French Open title runs.
When it comes to Nadal, though, the roles are reversed, and I'm in Wilbon's position; One of the people who follows every tournament and every player. Every spring, rather than simply saying "Rafa Rafa the trophy at Roland Garros," I look for players who might, just might, be able to beat him. Fabio Fognini knocked him out of Monte Carlo; Dominic Thiem out-played him over two sets in Barcelona; Stefanos Tsitsipas did the same over three sets in Madrid. With the release of three consecutive semifinals, we could at least entertain the notion that he might lose at Roland Garros as well, right? Thiem has been Nadal's undergraduate in Paris for years; it wasn't too much to believe that he could finally take the stage from him, right? Novak Djokovic dismantled Rafa in the Australian Open final; it was too much to believe that he might beat him in the French Open final, too. Right?
As some of us spent April and May weighing all of the contenders' chances at Roland Garros, there is an equally loud chorus of fans who just rolled their eyes and said, "Rafa's always the favorite at the French," and left it at that, the same way I got to the Rockets and the Blazers and said, "Wake me when the Warriors actually lose." Now that Roland Garros has started, those skeptical tennis fans look like they're going to be right again. Last weekend, Nadal beat Tsitsipas and Djokovic to win his ninth title in Rome. Thiem? He went out early, on a side court, to Fernando Verdasco. Fognini? He's faded back to the pack. In other words, Nadal is the favorite to win the French again.
On Monday in Paris, Nadal won his first-round match in three routine sets. On Thursday, the Warriors will be heavy favorites when they start their fifth straight NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, a franchise that has never made it that far. Yes, it's possible that Rafa and Golden State will lose. After all, nobody can win them all. Right?
The beauty of Nadal and the Warriors in springtime is the way they seemingly ironclad law of sports. If you say, "No, they can actually win them all," you're probably going to be right.