It was business as usual for Rafael Nadal Sunday in Italy, crushing his 77th straight opponent on the red clay defeating Fernando Gonzalez for his third consecutive Rome Masters title.
What has most shocking about Nadal’s title run is that this event he actually surrendered a set, nearly losing to an inspired Nikolay Davydenko who forced Nadal side-to-side before coming in to put away volleys. Nadal was too strong in the end, but Davydenko’s ability to create angles and to knock volleys put Nadal on edge.
Nadal is now entered to play in Hamburg, which thanks to a bye begins for him on Wednesday. But if you’re a Nadal fan living in Hamburg, don’t get your hopes too high of seeing the clay monster given that Rafa could very easily and understandably withdraw from the event. Let’s face it, Nadal’s game is clearly back in gear and his confidence sky high, so playing Hamburg, a slower, wetter surface, really wouldn’t add much to his level of play. And by playing he could suffer fatigue or even worse get injured ahead of the French. In my mind, the reward/risk ration just isn’t high enough for Nadal to play, that is unless he wanted to lose early and get the streak over with. But that’s hard to imagine.
Speaking of the streak, Nadal’s 77 straight is a record-long for any surface beating Johnny Mac’s 75 in a row indoors. What makes Rafa’s streak that much more impressive is that there are so many guys who know how to play on clay, and he’s blowing them out. Whereas on an indoor surface like carpet, McEnroe had fewer obstacles to deal with. (how many “indoor experts” were there back then? Zero??)
And let’s not forget one thing about Rafa when it comes to Roland Garros, the guy has never ever lost a match there. Never. He’s a perfect 14-0. Find me another guy who won his first 14 career matches at a Slam. Pretty incredible.
But perhaps the biggest story from yesterday was news that Roger Federer sacked Tony Roche. Is this just another sign of Federer unraveling or perhaps does he know what he’s doing? We shall see, but what’s interesting is that Roche was with him at Rome leading me to wonder had he done better at the tournament would Roche then have remained on board?
Also, seeing how Roche won the French Open and was hired in part to help Roger get over the Roland Garros hurdle, why fire the guy just weeks before the event at which you need his help the most? Puzzling, but Federer seems comfortable with his decision. Says Fed:
“It’s something that’s been inside myself for a few months. It was a decision that wasn’t easy, of course, because we’re good friends and get along very well and he’s helped me a lot over the last couple of years. (But) in the end he was a part-time coach. We only were together for 15 weeks and distances were also not so easy … I just thought the communication kind of changed and it was not going much further.”
Translation: I’ve lost four straight events, something’s got to give and I can’t get rid of Mirka. My game is getting stale and Roche doesn’t want to travel as much as I would like him too. Plus, how many titles did Roche help Lendl win at Wimbledon? Roche is jinxed when it comes to winning that missing slam, and I want none of that.
Roger, who is in Hamburg this week where he should win his third straight title there provided Nadal pulls, said he would hold off on hiring a new coach until after Wimbledon, which is probably a smart move. Hiring a new coach this close to the French could potentially further screw up his already screwed up game, something he simply cannot afford to deal with next month at Wimbledon.
Speculation is Darren Cahill will be Fed’s next guy. An Aussie like Roche, Cahill coached Andre Agassi and was said to be close to Fed’s former mentor Peter Carter.
Till then, the Fed Faithful needn’t be too worried. Remember, a coachless Federer won three of the four Slams in 2004. Of course he didn’t win the French that year either.
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