In the early part of the movie “Troy”, Brad Pitt as Achilles strikes down a giant with his sword, and then yells out at the stunned opposing army, “Is there no one else?” That scene reminds me of just how good Rafael Nadal is on clay. And especially so after he just struck down Roger Federer once again in convincing, if not humiliating, fashion 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 to win his fourth straight Roland Garros and all but etch his name as the greatest of clay court player ever.
Instead of the gracious victory speech and the congratulatory processions that followed, I’d rather have seen Nadal make like Achilles, rip the microphone and shout out to the crowd and worldwide TV audience, “Is there no one else? IS THERE NO ONE ELSE?” Because at the moment there is no one else. There simply is no one capable of beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Roger Federer simply isn’t guy. He failed for a fourth straight year today. Novak Djokovic tried and he too, failed, having yet to accumulate a single set in three meetings. So who is going to beat him? Anyone? If there someone, I have not seen him.
Let’s face it, the writing has been on the wall all event, so Nadal winning this title and remaining perfect at Roland Garros (now 28-0) isn’t a great surprise. His ultimate destruction of Federer, however, is. I don’t know the numbers but this has to be Federer’s worst loss in any final – has he ever won fewer than four games in any title bout? – or in any Slam match for that matter. Off the top of my head I can’t think of one, but it’s the first time Fed’s been fed a bagel this decade (see Byron Black’s effort at Queen’s in 1999).
On the bright side for Federer supporters, at least the match was quick and really never in doubt and the clay season is over. I’ve said it before that tennis is such a match-up sport, and Federer just doesn’t match up well with Nadal on clay at all. It’s not Federer’s fault. His game, arguably one of the greatest and most versatile we’ve ever seen, is simply not built to attack and withstand what Nadal brings to the table on a clay court.
Roger’s loopy, spinny shots head right in to the Nadal strike zone. Roger weakness, the high backhand, meshes perfectly with Rafa’s strength, the heavy topspin forehand. Plus, supreme clay patience is just not Roger’s game.
If I had to construct a player to beat Rafa on clay I’d take Novak’s backand, Roddick’s serve, Fed’s forehand and Ferrer’s patience. There’s a lot more to it, but for Fed against Rafa it starts with the backhand.
Today, Roger tried a lot of different shots and came into the net a fair bit, but end result is he wasn’t even close. He didn’t play a perfect match and look how far he came up short. Had he played perfectly I’m not sure it would have made much difference the way Rafa’s been going of late.
I actually thought Roger was cracking the ball well at the start of the first set (first few games), especially his forehand which looked crisp, but then Rafa kicked it into to a higher gear and the usual stuff followed. Once Rafa grabbed that first set it was all but over.
Federer did settle down in the second set. He raised his play breaking Nadal after going down 2-0 to level things. The Swiss had further break chances – missed a drop volley there which would have given him a break – but Nadal is just so strong on the big points, and once Rafa earned the final break of the set to go up 5-3 it looked like Fed’s spirit had been broken. It was quick curtains from there. Rafa didn’t lose another game, baking a bagel for the mighty Fed in the third set to run away with it.
Turn out the lights. The party is over. Rafa’s the greatest on clay.
Given the historic significance, this match was and will be the most important of the year in my mind. Sure there’s the Wimbledon and US Open finals – and Roger may yet tie Pete Sampras at the US Open – plus the Olympics and potential future clashes for No. 1, but this French Open final has more meaning in the big picture. There’s more at stake here then anywhere else for Roger. He win’s and he’s the greatest. That simple. Of course it didn’t turn out the way Roger and his fans wanted.
So where does Roger go from here? Unless Rafa hits the skids or gets injured, a future French title is just not looking likely anytime soon for Fed. The dreaded “window of opportunity” is indeed slowly closing. It doesn’t help that he’s getting older – Rog will be 27 at this time next year – while guys like Djokovic as well as Nadal are only getting better, and the Swiss simply isn’t going to get a better draw to the final than the one he had this year.
In some ways it’s almost like a case of bad luck. How many Wimbledons would Andy Roddick have won if not for Fed? Fed’s now in the same predicament at the French with Rafa, except he’s trying to make history. And, who knows, it may scar Fed’s legacy in end if he never does get past Nadal and win the French. How can someone be the greatest if he’s not even close to beating a single guy on one of the most important surfaces at one of the biggest events?
The loss also has to be incredibly deflating for Fed. He’s over his mono. He played well this clay season. He got the coach. He’s added some new shots. Yet he still came up far, far short. And that cannot help his mindset going forward at Wimbledon, where even today Bjorn Borg picks Nadal to win over Fed! I still like Roger The W for now, but this loss is going to be tough to swallow so I’ll be interested to see just how he handles it a month from now. In the meantime, you really just have to tip your hat and be awe of just how damn good Rafa is. There really is no one else even close to his level at Roland Garros. No one.
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