Rafa gesturing to the umpire about the ball should have been a premonition. The last time he complained about balls was at the US Open few years back and Toni gave him an earful afterwards.
Nothing felt right since this morning. Like waking up at the wrong side of the bed. I was on the right , my usual side it's just that the other side is empty for the first time in seven days.
We were on a honeymoon - that's what I think it would feel like if we ever have one. It's always like that after being away from each other during the off season. Except for the few days we went diving in the Maldives , we hardly had time together. I have disappeared from the face earth, which has gotten easier through the years, while he faced endless press, now more than ever since he became number one.
Ever since new year's eve we have been together. Last night we had both decided to spend it apart. We both had easy wins the previous day. We had our lapses, Rafa early on his second set, I had twenty nine unforced errors. We try to be good to each other like that, each giving the other space when one needs it. I needed space most of the time than Rafa does.
Watching the match at the locker room, I wanted to come out like the other players did to watch the match in person. They were quite excited that the current number one is getting the beating. Meanwhile I was trying not to shout at Rafa on the television screen.
I thought at first it was the telecast feed, he's moving almost a millisecond slower than usual. Not running after balls like he normally does. It's almost a flashback to our 2006 French Open first set, he told me months after he felt his legs was heavy at that time but in between set he startled me shouting VAMOS! and thereafter started to whip me in the games as if the first set didn't happen.
I shouted inwardly Allez! willing him to move, to beat Monfils like he did me. He has brought himself out of deeper holes than this.
Monfils was on fire. I have always admired he's game. On playstation tennis nights which is not as often as our football nights, I love playing as Rafa against Monfils and myself, while Rafa plays as me against the two Andy's. Sometimes we play against each other as each other. I smiled, remembering.
My smile was quickly wiped off when I saw the change. I've seen this a hundred times across the net on my opponents, when they give up. The slight slump of shoulders. Defeat written across their features. I've never seen him show his frustration overtly. My heart was in my throat, when I thought he was gonna throw his racket for the first time. I was relieved when he didn't it wouldn't be right, not when Uncle Toni is not here to witness it. Plus it's not my Rafa.
I composed myself as best I could before stepping out of the room, that's when I saw him. It's the same look in the eyes and purse of the lips. The signal that we say to each other I'm okay, go win. But he's body language is different. You too, I tried to say with a look as we pass each other, him to decompress and face the media, while I step on to center court.
He was still on my mind as I hit a few practice shots, on court. It felt comfortable the first few games. I tried to concentrate on my game. I have to win this.
I thought of how well he is doing in his doubles and thats when I found myself facing, 2/5 down on a tie break. I couldn't let this happen. I dug into my years of experience and multiple tie breaks. I promised him I would win this and I did.
I hurriedly tried to do signatures and picture taking courtside. I scanned the crowd for Mirka, she knows me so well and she knew what I wanted to know. The look on her face and brief nod tells me Rafa's game is not done and it's not looking good.
As much as I wanted to watch the remainder of his game. I have obligations to fullfill.
There was of course questions about Monfils and Rafa's games. I answer them. Then I find myself saying "There are many young guys out there who want to win against the big chaps. They are just waiting to get any of us the moment we have a bad day on court" It was a bad day, I have had a couple of those. Then I heard myself adding " "I used to worry.. at the start of my career. But I no longer worry now." I worry about something else. Someone else.
And that's when it hit me. The burden of being number one, especially in the beginning. Rafa and I never really talk about it, when we are together. There's just a lot more better things to do and talk about. As the post conference come to close, I resolved to do something about it.
He should be done with his post conference by now. We never really have rules for this time outs. I deliberated on going down to his room. I didn't have to decide, as he came up to my room. He didn't want to talk, not now. So I give him time, because he asked and he seldoms does. He came because he wanted to be with me. We do have nights like this, when we just want to be together, no sex, just to be close to each other.
Tennis is what bonded us, what brought us together. Not tonight. Tomorrow, we'll have the conversation about it.
Tonight it's just Rafa and I.