Sunday, June 8, 2008

Day 15: Rafa is not Human

The script writers at Roland Garros need to be more creative. Who hires these guys anyway? It's always the same old thing: A young, earnest, and humble Nadal crushes the opposition into submission. He literally tears him apart limb from limb with impeccable ground strokes from both wings, and leaves him beaten, a shadow of what we thought he would be when we first contemplated the epic proportions that this match might reach. Why can't these script writers throw in a twist? A sudden lapse in concentration from the impervious king of clay that opens the door for a beleagured Federer? It's not that far-fetched, is it? How about a twisted ankle, a shredded groin, anything to make Nadal cough up at least one set?

Not this year. The script has gone to press. In one of the most one-sided Grand-slam finals you'll ever see, Rafa Nadal pummelled the man that many experts call the greatest of all time, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. How did he do it? How can you utterly dominate a man who is possibly the greatest tennis player of all time in such a way? On a stage as grand as this, with so much on the line? It truly is hard to fathom.

From the early stages of the match Rafa was in control. A morose Federer, showing very little emotion other than bewilderment, had his serve broken in the very first game. It didn't get much better from there. Federer, who looked at times as if he'd rather be filming a commercial with Tiger Woods, committed 18 unforced errors in the first set (he was averaging 8 per set in the first six matches of the tourney)- not exactly a recipe for gaining an edge against the worlds nastiest clay court player.

"Once he's on top of you, he doesn't release his grip," mused Roger in a post match interview with another man who never won the French Open, John Mcenroe. Indeed. After Nadal cruised to a 6-1 first set victory, Federer aka our heavenly father did briefly provide a glimmer of hope for his fans (and the capacity crowd who cheered him on in hopes of seeing a closer match). After a few well played games and several successful trips to the net, he found himself at 3-3 with a break point opportunity. But the vice-like grip of Nadal tightened - remarkably, he brushed away the break point, held his serve, and went on to win the last 9 games consecutively without very much resistance from the worlds #1 tennis player.

Federer, who felt that he had served well, still was broken 7 times by Nadal. I guess it's a good thing that he did not serve poorly or this one could have been uglier. But ugly is the wrong word to use here. What occurred in the 2008 Men's French Open final was nothing short of pure perfection. How does a three time champion at Roland Garros, one who has never lost or even been pushed to a fifth set on the fabled French Clay, improve upon his performance? It seems to me that at some point he would have to feel the pressure; he would have to come down to earth and play a few soggy points in a row. Perhaps tank a game or two and lose a set. Evidently not this year. At the ripe age of 22, Nadal's focus, intensity, and accuracy are second to none. His deadly array of topspin ground strokes and ever-improving serve variety are the perfect complement to what we already know: That his mental and physical endurance are unequaled by any other tennis player on tour, and are tailor made for clay domination.

As for Federer, the worst of 2008 may very well be over. He has suffered through illness, and has also been forced to divert some of his valuable attention to fending off the up and coming Novak Djokovic. The winner of the last five Wimbledon Championships has a few weeks to regroup before another highly anticipated rematch with Nadal might take place (this time on grass, where Roger has defeated Nadal in the last two finals). Surely, at 26 years of age, Federer is starting to realize that his quest for Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles may not be achievable without another monstrous surge in commitment.

It should make for high drama come late June and early July. Hopefully the Wimbledon script writers are doing their homework, unlike these Roland Garros lackeys.