2007 French Open Finals

23:20 Tue 12 Jun 2007. Updated: 03:21 13 Jun 2007
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I found both the French Open finals this year somewhat disappointing. Henin’s win was clearly deserved, but Ivanovic could definitely have played better. As for the highly-anticipated Federer-Nadal final, I thought it was quite a letdown.

I don’t want to take away from Nadal’s achievement, which is extremely impressive—he has never lost at Roland Garros, having won it the year he entered and having never stopped winning after that. Nadal is one of the best clay-court players I’ve seen He’s extremely strong, extremely fast, never gives up on a point, and has a tremendous will to win.

However, I really think that Federer is one of the best players ever. The range of skills he has is unbelievable, and he’s also able to use that range to tremendous effect, as it’s complemented by a razor-sharp mental game. If you put Nadal and Federer on a clay court and had them both play their best, then I think it would be an epic five-setter, but I happen to think that Federer would win.

The problem is that tennis is an intensely psychological game, and so it would be difficult to get both players to play at their best. Wonderful when it happens, but sadly rare. And on Sunday, Federer clearly wasn’t playing his best.

His first-serve percentage in the first set was 33. He missed a lot of easy sitters, and often these were shots that would probably have put points away. He couldn’t simply raise his game to take the big points as he did throughout the tournament against other players, because Nadal is too good for that, but his best game was extremely effective. It just didn’t show up too often. And that’s not just because of Nadal’s gameplay. Federer simply couldn’t seem to take it to him, couldn’t get past him psychologically.

I wasn’t that surprised, as Federer’s earlier matches featured him mostly on autopilot. He lost an entire set to Tommy Robredo by basically falling asleep for twenty minutes. But against lesser opponents, he could sleepwalk his way through most of the match, raise his game briefly, and then go back to sleepwalking mode. And still win comfortably. In the final, he needed to sustain a higher level for longer, and couldn’t do it. Nadal, on the other hand, while also winning comfortably, appeared to be more in his game. He appeared to be stretching himself and increasing the level of his play on a sustained basis, rather than just doing enough to win.

Federer had ten(!) break points in the first set and didn’t take any of them. Nadal saved a lot of those through his own excellent play, but there were also a bunch that Federer just threw away. One game in particular, at 3-3 in the first set, featured many break points for Federer, and when he couldn’t convert any of them, his play suffered badly in his next service game and Nadal won it, clinching the set soon thereafter.

Federer took the second, but then started giving up points again. Overall, he converted 1/17 break points, letting a shocking 16 go unconverted.

Watching the match was like watching Federer try to remember how to sustain a high level of tennis against a demanding opponent, trying to rediscover the trick to it. At times he’d show flashes of it, and that would be devastatingly good. But then he’d fall off, by quite a margin, and either give Nadal easy balls to win off of, or just hit errors. It was sad to see that, rather than him playing at a high level and forcing Nadal to match it in order to survive. It was more like the reverse, with Federer not managing to play well for long at a time, and hence not surviving.

I assume it’s just the clay, and that once back on the grass or hard courts Federer will reassert his absolute domination. But you never know, this might be a chink in his armor.

It speaks volumes about just how good he is that anything but winning Wimbledon (and the US Open) this year would be considered a huge upset.

I hope he gets past it next year. I’d like to see him win the Grand Slam; he really is amazingly good, and his winning the Grand Slam would be fitting somehow.

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