Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rafa Nadal, Ascendant

A statement of fact, for once and for all: Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay-court tennis player who has ever lived.
I know that sometimes I am prone to hyperbole in my posts, which is borne of both enthusiasm and my fair share of knowledge about the sport of tennis, but the above statement of fact is nothing short of unvarnished, undebatable, empiric truth.
This morning Nadal put on one of the single-most dominant athletic performances I've ever seen, dismantling Roger Federer in the French Open final. The score reflects this; 6-1, 6-3, 6-0, a serious beatdown that is easy to see. But there is a subtext here that you had to witness to understand. Nadal didn't just beat Federer, he took away his belief that he could win.
Nadal's power, pace, spin, and court coverage had Federer totally flummoxed and left him trying all sorts of bizarre drop shots to find any sort of opening, to say nothing of taking away any opportunity for Federer to attack the net. His massive backhand and unstoppable forehand had Federer out of position and totally frustrated all morning. His uncanny movement and relentless aggressiveness shattered any game plan of Federer's, leaving him vulnerable and frustrated.
You might say, having reviewed the match summary, that Federer made an uncharacteristically high number of unforced errors, and therefore couldn't have been playing so well. This would be incorrect, because it was Nadal's shots that simply broke Federer down. He strikes the ball so cleanly and with so much spin, that it is just impossible to handle on clay. Federer's errors started and continued because Nadal drilled topspin upon topspin into his backhand, which crumbled like a house of cards.
Put simply, Nadal took a man who is one of the all-time greats and broke his spirit, which is unbelievable! Now, having packed away his 4th straight French Open title (he's now 28 for 28 at Roland Garros), Nadal heads towards Wimbledon, where it remains to be seen whether the size of his game will be enough to unseat Federer where he is most comfortable, on the grass.
Until then though, we must reflect on what happened this morning in Paris, because this sort of pure domination does not happen often.

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