Jordan Thompson has experienced the familiar Rafael Nadal death grip in his Roland Garros torture chamber – and it left the Australian the very picture of frustration, despair and anger.
The feeling of helplessness at playing the greatest clay-courter of all-time in his own Court Philippe Chatrier lair was painfully obvious on Monday as the 13-times champion blew the Sydneysider away 6-2 6-2 6-2 in their first-round clash.
‘Tommo’ is the world No.82, a top professional, and tried his heart out – yet this very public flogging was clearly too much to take as he chuntered, raged and glared through an experience that looked for all the world like he was visiting a sadistic dentist.
After being broken yet again to go down 5-2 in the second set, Thompson, on the point of boiling over, smashed the ball in fury so high it actually cleared the stadium, shocking a ball girl nearby who had to cower.
It earned him a code violation for ball abuse from the umpire and he got away with not receiving another one for a screamed expletive uttered after a bad bounce just compounded the hiding he was taking.
At one point after he couldn’t retrieve a dazzling half-volley which Nadal somehow miraculously dug out from the baseline, Thompson just leant onto the net and languished there with head hung over the net for what seemed an eternity.
On another occasion, getting distracted by something at the back of the court, he could be heard moaning to the umpire: “I need all the help I can get … it’s a joke!”
By the third set, while still trying demonically to stay with Nadal, he chucked his racquet down into the clay in disgust after another tracer flew by him.
It felt like an awfully long time since he had been actually leading the match.
Yet on the very first point of the match, Thompson had unleashed a remarkable running forehand winner that had Nadal groping for thin air before going on to hold serve.
So, yes, he’ll one day be able to tell his grandkids he was once beating the greatest on his home court – if only for one game.
And then he’ll tell them what happened when the king woke up. About the undimmed ferocity of Nadal’s forehand and the shotgun-crack of 27 winners that roared past him.
If there was anything wrong with Nadal’s left foot, you could never have guessed it. In his 18th first-round match at Roland Garros, he improved his unreal record to 54 sets won to just three lost, and was, as so often, quite, quite brilliant.
So Thompson, who played as well as he could have hoped, really didn’t need to berate himself. He’d just gone where so many victims before him had fallen after two hours of pain in Rafa’s realm.