Before I get to the topic we’re all eager to discuss, let me just start by quickly introducing myself to you as Tennis-X.com’s new blog writer. Let’s start with my name, Abe Kuijl. Right now you’re probably thinking, how the bleep do you pronounce that last name? Well, I’m Dutch and here in The Netherlands, the ‘ij’ is the same as ‘y’. In English, pronouncing it as ‘Coil’ comes close. If you’re thinking, ‘hey, that name rings a bell’, you could be right. I I covered the WTA event of Antwerp and the ATP tournament in Rotterdam earlier this year for TennisReporters.net. Also, if you speak Dutch, you might know me from my Grand Slam blogs and weekly column posts at TennisInfo.be, Belgium’s biggest tennis website. If you’re interested in my work, check out my blog at http://abetennis.blogspot.com . It’s basically an archive of all I’ve written over the past year.
Anyway, I will be adding to the X-blog, which Sean Randall and Lynn Berenbaum have made famous to the world. Now, let’s get to business.
He’s done it. After five previous losses on clay against Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer ended the Spaniard’s winning streak on dirt on Sunday by thumping his rival 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 in the Hamburg Masters Series final.
Speculation had begun whether or not Federer was past his prime. Two losses against Guillermo Canas in the American spring circuit were dismissed by the No.1 as ‘incidents’. Being straight-setted by Rafael Nadal in the Monte Carlo final was ‘expected’. However, there were no excuses for the great Swiss’ loss against inspired Italian Filippo Volandri in the third round of the Rome Masters Series one week ago. Just when you started to believe Federer was slipping, the man from Obervil shows you why he is one of the all-time greats of the sport.
His win over Nadal on clay is a milestone in Federer’s career, but there was no doubt that if Rafa was ever going to lose on his favorite surface against his rival, it would be on this day in Hamburg. I am not throwing in the ‘playing conditions’ argument here. There was no wet clay – it had been sunny and dry the past couple of days in Hamburg -, the balls bounced up high like on any other clay court, so, if anything, the conditions favored Nadal and not his opponent. However, you could tell by looking at the King of Clay that he wasn’t feeling a hundred percent out there.
Both players hadn’t played their best tennis over the week. Federer could have easily gone down in his first appearance against dirtballer Juan Monaco, but the Argentine failed to pounce on a horrendous performance by his opponent, wasting five break points in the third set to go up a break. Then there was David Ferrer, who took the Swiss to a decisive set, before Carlos Moya did the same in the semi’s. In between, Federer played one good match against Juan Carlos Ferrero in the third round.
Nadal on the other hand, wasn’t playing up to par either. Lleyton Hewitt was very close to beating him in the semi-finals, blowing a one set lead and two break points at 5-6 in the final set to take the match to a deciding tiebreak. Rafa survived, but when you’re coming off a Masters Series win in Rome, the last thing you want is spend two and a half hours on court with Lleyton Hewitt before heading into a final.
In the first set of the championship match, both Federer and Nadal were erratic. It was probably the worst set the two of them have ever played against each other, but still Nadal was looking good to keep his winning streak intact after going up 6-2. The big turnaround came in the third game of the second set. Nadal went up 15-40 on the Federer serve, but when he failed to convert one of the break points and lost the game, Federer pumped himself up – when was the last time we’ve seen him do that against Nadal? – and started to dominate play.
Nadal was hitting way too short, but it was from this point on that Federer really started attacking these halfcourt balls and putting constant pressure on the physically drained Nadal. Whereas the Spaniard normally has no problem hitting his heavy top spin shots deep near the baseline, he couldn’t get it done this Sunday.
What was more shocking to see, was the fact that Nadal actually showed less emotion than Federer. Sporadicly, Rafa would hit a great winner, but there never was an outburst of joy we normally get to see. There was simply no energy left.
Federer started to look more and more inspired, even pumping his fist now and then. He was taming the bull, but ended up humiliating it, when the scoreboard showed 6-0 in the final set.
So what have we learned from this match. First of all, Nadal’s physique has its limits and the man can be beaten on clay. But a tougher question to ask is, did Nadal lose the final, or did Federer win it? Yes, Federer played well, but only after he realised in the second set that Nadal was playing way below his normal level and this was his golden opportunity to score a win over his rival on his beloved surface. In the first set, the Mallorcan wasn’t playing great tennis at all, but it still seemed as if Federer didn’t believe he could win.
It’s not an easy pick, but I’ll say Federer won it, by stepping up in the second set when he faced double break point at 1-1, never looking back after that crucial hold. However, do I believe that he will go on to win Roland Garros? Not really. Although it is hard to judge how this win will effect both Federer and Nadal mentally heading into the French. Still, when Nadal is playing his best on dirt, there is only one King of Clay.
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