Friday, June 6, 2008

Day 13: Is Rafa Human?

Utterly remarkable is the first phrase that comes to mind when thinking of Nadal on clay. In some kind of super-human overdrive for 169 minutes, ornery Spaniard Rafa Nadal once again completely mastered a highly regarded opponent on the Roland Garros clay, in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3).

At 27-0 all time, he is now one win away from matching Bjorn Borg by winning his fourth straight title at Roland Garros.

Nadal, who entered the match averaging only 5 unforced errors per set, committed only 16 against an overwhelmed Novak Djokovic. His execution was so precise, so punishing, and so relentless, that Djokovic was pretty much helpless all match except for a late and brief rally in the third set. During that rally Djokovic was able to gain a set point, but it was quickly brushed aside by a reinvigorated Nadal, who sensed the imminent danger of losing his first set of the tournament just in time to reel off 6 unanswered points to start the tiebreaker, which he eventually won 7-3.

A stunned Djokovic really was never really in the match - Nadal had his first break just 3 games in - and a brisk wind blew across the stadium, making serving tough for Novak, who much to his own chagrin, could muster only a 54% first-serve percentage against 72% for Nadal. Without his big serve as a weapon, he was helpless against the all-out assault that Nadal delivered on a consistent basis.

One was left with the impression, as this match drew to a close, that playing against Rafa Nadal on Clay is perhaps the most impossible task that any tennis player of this era will ever have to face.

If there is one man who is up to the challenge, it was the winner of todays other Semifinal match. Roger aka our heavenly father Federer needed 3 hours to get past the man affectionately known as "La Monf," 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. "La Monf," taking his first sniffs of the rarefied air that the other three semifinalists have become so used to breathing, used the support of 15,000 mainly French tennis enthusiasts (hoping that La Monf could be their knight in shining armor) to steal the second set, but in the end, Federer's diverse game and grace under pressure were too much for the albatross-like Monfils.

Now, all that remains for Federer to win his first ever French Open is for him to find a way to beat his arch nemesis Rafa Nadal on Clay. It seems weird, but the worlds #1 player will have to play near perfect tennis if he is to have any chance against Rafa. He has lost to Rafa in Roland Garros 3 consecutive times (2005 semis, and the 2006 and 2007 finals) and, as time progresses, it seems that Nadal only gets stronger on his favorite service, while Federer only gets more vulnerable.

Still, with Roger toting 12 major championships (since 2003) in his duffel bag, I'm not prepared to count him out of this one.