I’m not sure there is anything unique left to say about Rafael Nadal and his (literally) unparalleled success at the French Open. This is the seventh such title for Nadal, which means that we poor writers have been forced to try to come up with 7 different angles from which to write a “Rafa Nadal won Roland Garros” piece.
The temptation to throw down another entry about his actual game is great. But the truth of the matter is that his clay court game is what it is. There was a time when the mere mention of the 3200 rpms that Nadal puts on the ball would send pundits into paroxysms of delight, complete with swooning and the obligatory John McEnroe comment about the size of Rafa’s “guns” and how big a stud he is.
But at this point television commentators, who are clearly instructed to educate the uninitiated viewer on the fine points of Rafa’s game, can barely contain the yawn that accompanies the relaying of that bit of information, as they dutifully give it in every one of his matches in Paris.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Nadal clay-court game hasn’t changed a great deal in 8 years. Now, before the Nadal fans jump all over me with both feet, let me qualify that. I know he developed a backhand slice out of nothing (though I’d contend that he did that for Wimbledon, not for Paris). And yes, he’s better now than he was in 2004 as, over the years, he has made a concerted (and highly successful) effort to play more aggressively on the dirt. But the essentials from 8 years ago are still the essentials now; it’s just that he’s honed his game with scalpel-like precision.
So instead of talking about what he did with his racket and his feet out there on court, I’m going to examine what he did between his ears.
I don’t mean this as any insult against Roger Federer, who is a fantastic clay court player in his own right, but there was a certain sense of inevitability in his finals with Rafa at the French Open. Those matches unfolded like a play, with the same stage, the same actors and the same script of the Nadal forehand high to the Federer backhand. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed the show, but Macbeth always dies in the end, no matter how many times I see it.
This time, we wondered. We wondered if Nadal could stop the bloodletting in Slam finals (he lost the last 3 to Nole). The Spaniard’s wins in Monte Carlo and more importantly Rome seemed to indicate that he wasn’t as much at Djokovic’s mercy as he’d been in 2011, but there were still seeds of doubt, even though he’d been utterly dominant all tournament long and Djokovic struggled.
As it turned out, Nadal had the answers in the 2-day final. The weather conspired to make proceedings more difficult, but the Spaniard found his footing after dropping 8 consecutive games. And in the end, Djokovic would literally hand over the match with an utterly horrendous double fault on Championship point.
Rafael Nadal is very likely to go down in history as the greatest clay court player that ever lived, and because of that, there is a temptation by pundits to dismiss his wins on the dirt as “expected”. In fact, I have already heard somebody say, “well it IS clay...” as though his clay court accomplishments are greatly diminished based on his own brilliance on the surface.
In my opinion, this way of thinking is a massive mistake. Enjoy the fact that history is being made right in front of your eyes. Enjoy the fact that as a trio, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are unprecedented in terms of consistency and success. Even the Paris crowd had to take the “if you can’t beat him, join him” approach. Hats off, Rafa, Nole and Roger.
Sat 06/07 06:31
Tennistalk says farewell
Thu 06/06 04:05
Novak Djokovic's unsung hero
Tue 21/05 15:52
Another Federer and Nadal match disappoints
Fri 17/05 18:03
Bill Tilden and the effects of moral bankruptcy on a legacy
Tue 19/03 21:01
Professor Federer teaches us a thing or two
Mon 18/03 15:43
Nadal makes the cleverest comeback in tennis history
Fri 01/02 22:00
Nadal's return at Vina del Mar
Thu 15/11 16:54
Federer and company make no room at the top for youth
Tue 11/09 20:24
Murray joins the ranks of Grand Slam elite
Fri 17/08 19:45
There is something about Roger Federer
Mon 13/08 23:05
Tennistalk is in Cincinnati again
Tue 12/06 16:21
The French Open, Nadal's personal playground
Wed 09/05 14:58
Novak Djokovic takes up skating at the Madrid ice rink
Thu 29/03 14:30
Nadal and Spain give French TV a punch in the mouth
|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
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