French Open crown retained by Rafa
Rafael Nadal’s fourth French Open title may go down as the most dominant display in the tournament’s history, after beating top seed and world No.1 Roger Federer 6-1 6-3 6-0.
Nadal produced a breathtaking display of the highest calibre, blitzing the Swiss ace in less than two hours to the amazement of the French crowd, and completing a perfect 21 unanswered sets on his way to the title.
The Spaniard played just one tie-break in the previous six rounds of the tournament, but had spent just half an hour less on court than Federer. The Swiss has been notably hastier in wrapping up points than Nadal throughout the rounds, even if that has meant dropping the occasional set. Fatigue, therefore, would not separate the players.
The first set disappeared from sight as Nadal picked up exactly where he left off in his semi-final against Djokovic. Federer, in contrast, was uncharacteristically sluggish, and gifted a man who needs no such help three breaks of serve in the first set.
The world No.1 seemed desperate to end rallies sooner rather than later, but was not picking his shots at the right times, particularly his net approach. Nadal, however, was omnipresent and just could not miss, hitting the corners at will.
A fourth break at the start of the second set, and the final threatened to be over before it had begun; but in the tenth game of the match, at 0-2 down, Federer showed up. Backed by a partisan crowd clearly favouring the Swiss, he received a standing ovation after breaking back on the Nadal serve, hitting a angled backhand that almost forced Nadal into the stands to get a racket on it.
Federer’s forehand began denting Nadal’s defensive armoury more often, driving the Spaniard deeper and deeper, and improving Federer’s prospects at the net, where short cross-court volleys were proving key.
Nadal’s intensity remained relentless, and Federer – under pressure to make each shot count – binned a forehand long at deuce with the set score 3-4, before presenting Nadal with a passing shot to break him once more.
After all the good work that Federer had done to claw his way back into the match, it was the shots that betrayed him in the first set – the drop shot and his sub-par approaches – that returned to cost him the second.
Once again in the third, Nadal broke at the earliest opportunity. The Spaniard’s accuracy from the baseline was unreal, hitting the corners and to such a length that left Federer bewildered. So often Federer has found another gear in the past when it counted – but today it was Nadal who continued to raise his game.
Despite this, few would have predicted such a one-sided third set, even given the character of the first hour of the match. Federer last conceded a set to love in 1999, against Pat Rafter in the first round of the French Open, but Nadal inflicted such a scoreline to seal his fourth Roland Garros title.
At Championship point, Federer hit out at everything before pushing a forehand long. And then something strange – no collapse to the terre battue from Nadal, no leaping to their feet from his entourage. Even the applause from the crowd was a muted affair. Nobody could quite believe what they had been witness to.
Nadal looks to have become the complete player on clay, adding ever-enhanced attacking instincts to his unparalleled defensive qualities. Federer has no answer to the Spaniard’s game at the French Open, much as Nadal once found in their meetings at Wimbledon, when he also lost a set 6-0 in the final.
Federer will no doubt be relieved to put the clay court season behind him as he prepares for the upcoming Wimbledon Championships. But on current form, Nadal must feel that his best chance to win in SW19 could arrive in a month’s time.
The Swiss almost said as much during the award ceremony. “Rafa is very, very strong and he dominates this tournament like never before,” said a magnanimous Federer. “Congratulations Rafa.”
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