As of Monday morning, 10 men have a chance to ruin next Sunday morning. They also have a boatload of gall.
They retain the possibility, while not the likelihood, of derailing something so damned intriguing that it would end up having a lot of trouble matching the pre-match intrigue. We all love sports events that end up having a lot of trouble matching the pre-match intrigue. It's how we spend a good chunk of our lives, just chattering about them beforehand, even if they often do turn out all Seattle-43-Denver-8. That's OK; the beforehand part is fun.
Among 12 men left from the original 128 in the draw, these 10 prospective jerks -- three from Spain, one each from Serbia, Canada, France, South Africa, Great Britain, the Czech Republic and Latvia -- potentially could derail a towering French Open final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. They could prevent the matchup of the year on June 8, a matchup Wimbledon and the U.S. Open would be hopeless to equal.
We should not wish them food poisoning, as that's mean, but we should wish them defeat. May all of them lose and enjoy their payouts. At least Roger Federer already had the good graces to step aside, but then, he has a long history of good graces. You know we're talking about something enticing when we ever want Roger Federer to get out of the way.
Nadal-Djokovic would make Sunday morning must-watch TV instead of must-sort-of-pay-fleeting-attention-while-doing-something-else TV. The reasons for this do pile up. When the least compelling reason is the rematch factor from a mind-blowing Roland Garros semifinal in 2013, the futuristic, 55-game clash of humongous hearts that Nadal won 9-7 in the fifth, you know you have a heap of good reasons. When the second-least is somebody (Nadal) pursuing a ninth title at one Grand Slam (extending a record there) and potentially improving his won-lost at the French to 66-1, another significance must be very significant.
That significance would be Djokovic and his pursuit of the complete dinner set of Grand Slams, and the meaning would multiply if he were to do it by going through Nadal and relegating Nadal to a puny 65-2. It's Djokovic's bid to finish waiting for a whole year and then lurching one bit further from the 2013 semifinal where he led 2-0 in the fifth and lost serve in the 4-3 game with its various goblins.
He's already one of the great players ever, so by Sunday he could become one of the greater players ever. His bid for the full four gets less noise than other such bids, and insufficient noise relative to the specialness of the feat, but that's understandable. The demanding full-four club has been just about hoarding new members lately.
Fifteen years ago on that June 6 then, when Andre Agassi trailed Andrei Medvedev 1-6, 2-6 in the French final, Agassi seemed primed to miss out on a very rare chance. A win could have made him only the second man in the Open Era, and the first in 30 years, to withstand the brutal obstacle course to all four Grand Slam trophies in one lifetime.
When Agassi rebounded to win 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, that was landmark, a feat that had eluded Pete Sampras (all but the French), Ivan Lendl (all but Wimbledon), Stefan Edberg (all but the French), Boris Becker (all but the French), Ken Rosewall (all but Wimbledon), Jimmy Connors (all but the French), Bjorn Borg (two of the four), John McEnroe (two of the four) and Jim Courier (two of the four).
From 30 years, the next gap dwindled to 10, when Federer joined Laver and Agassi at the 2009 French, then the next gap lasted only 15 months, when Nadal made it four (and made it four) at the 2010 U.S. Open. Now we're talking about three guys doing it within five years, as if it's something reasonably attainable when, of course, it's not.
Instead, it's a reflection of the caliber of an era we could never extol enough. It has had its Federer-Nadal, with 11 Grand Slam matches and a 2008 Wimbledon final that surpassed all reasonable expectations of excellence; its Nadal-Djokovic, with 11 Grand Slam matches and a 2012 Australian final that surpassed all reasonable expectations of excellence; and its Federer-Djokovic, with 11 Grand Slam matches and its heady stash of amazing semifinals.
These three near-cartoon presences, with Andy Murray mixed in here and there and there and there and there, have delighted any eyeballs that bothered to look. Two of the three should meet amid gigantic promise next Sunday afternoon in Paris, Sunday morning in New York. If they don't, we'll all know whom to blame.