There was a time when I found the French Open tennis tournament a really dull spectacle. Lots of Southern Europeans (or Swedes) pattering around through the dirt and looping enormously high shots back and forth at each other so that the net became an irrelevance. Points that lasted millennia. Whole days lost to it monotonous routines. Occasionally you'd almost believe that the volley had been outlawed from the game. What with that and French television's relentless search for an artsy-fartsy cut-away of a ball bouncing on a surface the colour of an Geordie lass's Saturday-night skin, or a sweat-band brushed across a lank-haired pate, and the whole thing made me yearn for the football season to hurtle back into view as soon as possible.
Of course nowadays a serve-and-volleyer on any surface is eyed with suspicion, as if the poor thing has been swept up in a trawler-net like one of them fishes we thought were extinct. But baseline rallies have also become much more compulsive - extraordinary slugfests punctuated by startling angles and brutal hitting.
There's no doubt that they wouldn't have managed this sort of stuff in the days of wooden racquets and no sitting down between points. With these new bats I swear you could hit a serve around a street corner with no great difficulty.
Nevertheless it's hard to believe that we have ever witnessed tennis of the sort of standard offered up by the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and, increasingly rarely, Federer. Of course clay is as natural a playground for Nadal as it was for Demi Moore in Ghost. There is something about that topspin forehand of his that makes you wonder whether it could remove your head with one swipe, like a grizzly bear's forepaw.
After outlasting Jockey-Itch in the latest chapter of a series of quite ludicrously long matches between the big four (yes, Murray does count), he then took on Ferrer in the final. Ferrer has lots of qualities to admire: speed, stamina, fitness. But not power. Like Dido's voice, the harder he pushed it, the weedier he looked. It began to look like Nadal was playing against a child-sized version of himself. Rafa Max v Rafa Lite.
Ferrer talked afterwards about how he needed to be more aggressive on court when he played the Majorcan marvel but frankly it wouldn't have made much of a difference had he secreted a Kalashnikov down his pants, Rara would still have been pleased to see him. This latest triumph, achieved after eight months out with a very nasty injury, is enough to officially crown Nadal as not so much the King of Clay as its Eternal Emperor.
There's a facile argument going round that Rafa can now claim to be better than Federer. On clay, yes. But not everywhere, and to be fair Federer is not the power he was. But he is utterly phenomenal - and a nice man too, bless 'im.
The day before, a woman who can fairly lay claim to be the finest sportswoman in the world right now won her second French Open title. Serena Williams is a curious cove, isn't she? No matter how complimentary and polite she is in post-match interviews there's a radiant arrogance to her that underpins everything.
I don't know about you but I don't consider that a bad thing. She's won 16 titles now and she too has overcome injury and personal sadness to get there. You might say there's a lack of subtlety to her game. There's often the insinuation that she lacks femininity - you know, like that lezza Navratilova did. Take Sharapova's comment on the Serena serve: "I think if I was built like Serena, I hope I'd be able to hit a big serve like
that, too." Hard not to hear a 'miaow' in there, eh?
I'd simply respond by saying that if Maria could actually get here second serves in occasionally it might just even things up a little. (Nails in, girlfriend!)
The fact is that Serena Williams, like Navratilova before her, is an utterly fantastic tennis player. Really bloody wonderful. I'm aghast that she doesn't quite get the credit it deserves, except from John McEnroe who is relentlessly positive about her.
It all sets up Wimbledon rather nicely. No one's going to beat Serena there either, but in the men's... well you know the lad Muzza. Remember him? Well, he's got a chance this year. A big chance. Just hope and pray he's not in the same half as Nadal. Or Djokovic. Or both.
On a different note, Stuart Pearce has been lamenting the absentees from his labouring England Under-21 squad and you can't help but sympathise. England have always treated the under-21's as a stepping stone to the full squad. It's not the real thing. Never mind that you'll have young lads playing tournament football - probably against players that they'll be playing at senior level for years to come.
Pearce is right to be frustrated. He's wrong to persist with tired old methods of playing football that make Hodgson's Dark Ages look like a halcyon day of summer. But, just for once, it'd be nice if we tried to win one of these gongs. Like Germany did, when that Meszut Ozil ran the show. Mind you, look what happened to him, eh?