Nadal Wins 10th Slam/6th French

15:10 Sun 05 Jun 2011
[, ]

For almost an entire set today, it looked as if Rafael Nadal would have considerable difficulty in reining in Roger Federer’s resurgent play. Trailing by a break in the first set, 2–5 down, Nadal faced a break point and an opponent who had hardly put a shot wrong through seven games. On that point, Federer went for a drop shot that landed oh so barely wide, and Nadal survived that set point.

He wouldn’t face another for quite some time, as he reeled off that game and the following four to take the set 7–5.

Nadal responded brilliantly to Federer’s challenge, forcing the world number three to make the extra shot over and over—and winning a substantial number of the points where he did so. As Nadal refused to bend, Federer’s serve suffered, and with that his ability to focus the pressure on Nadal’s service games.

Federer deserves credit for coming back from early breaks in the second and third sets, taking the second to a tiebreak and winning the third, 7–5. But, as is so often the story between these two on clay, Nadal just played the bigger points better. He played better in the tiebreak, winning it fairly easily (Djokovic, if he watched it, must have wondered why Federer didn’t serve that poorly in the two tiebreaks in their match), and he played better when he faced three successive break points in the opening game of the fourth set—saving them all and effectively ending Federer’s chances of bringing the match back under control.

On this surface, in this matchup, Federer is always the one fighting the tide. Nadal is so steady, so relentless, so excellent defensively, and hits his shots with so much margin that Federer cannot engage in “neutral” rallying and hope to win. He has to play aggressive, high-risk tennis. Which, of course, he excels at, but keeping it going for so long is so tough against Nadal, and on top of all that, Nadal has an extra edge: his shots, especially his forehand, bounce so high against Federer’s backhand, and that’s the one spot where that classic one-handed backhand is a liability. This isn’t anything new, but it’s a problem that Federer’s never really solved on clay, even when he’s won.

Djokovic would definitely have given Nadal more trouble, if only because he doesn’t have that same problem with his two-handed backhand. Indeed, in their recent matches Djokovic has been extremely successful with that backhand, and depriving Nadal of that comfort zone, where he can hit what is for him a relatively easy shot but which Federer must struggle to deal with, would change the tenor of the match, which is why Djokovic, also playing excellent attacking tennis, has been winning recently.

In any case, Nadal has tied Borg for the most French Open titles, and has joined the elite group of men with ten or more Grand Slam titles. Both are amazing achievements, and right now six doesn’t seem like a comfortable buffer between them for Federer.

Wimbledon should be extremely interesting. I suspect Djokovic will return fired up; Nadal will be full of confidence; and Federer should similarly be fired up and confident—but at a disadvantage to the others because, assuming all goes according to seeding, he would again have to beat both for the title, which is the price he pays for having dropped to number three in the world.

Leave a Reply