Rafael Nadal is getting scary good. A week after destroying the field for his fourth straight Roland Garros crown, Nadal could have taken it easy this week at the Queen’s Club grass tournament in London, but credit to the Spaniard he didn’t. Nadal carried his clay momentum into his first career grass title with a very impressive 76, 75 win over rival Novak Djokovic.
The win was Nadal’s 17th straight and he becomes the first Spanish grass winner since Andreas Gimeno in 1972 at Eastbourne.
Nadal was my No. 3 pick at Wimbledon, behind Roger Federer and Andy Roddick as the best grass players, but after what I’ve seen this week I have to bump him to the two spot now, and he’s closing in on the top spot.
Like Nadal, credit to Djokovic, too. I really didn’t think either player would reach the final – not because of their lack of grass/tennis skills – with each putting priority on getting match practice over going 100% for the title. But these two guys are really gunning for Federer, who by the way collected his 59th straight grass win today beating Phil Kohlschreiber in the Halle final.
As for the match, it was very high quality stuff with both players playing exceptionally well. How many shots did Nadal get back that you thought “no way he gets that?” But he does and that’s part of what makes him so tough on any surface, and grass really rewards speed and Nadal’s got it.
Djokovic was up in both sets (though he overcame a break down in the second), but Nadal, as he seems to do in such situations, locked down and played his best tennis when it mattered the most. How many times have we seen the last few months guys getting up on Rafael only to unravel? I’ve lost count.
When the odds are against him the Nadal is the toughest on tour right now, and the more he keeps getting out of these holes the more his opponents are going to let him do it.
And just because you got into a winning position against Nadal doesn’t mean you are close or that you’ll get him on the big stage at a Slam. Both Djokovic and Federer were close to Rafa in the French Open lead-ups, but how’d that turn out for them in the end at Paris? Not very well.
If you are a Fed, Novak or Roddick supporter, or just anti-Rafa, you can try and spin it that Nadal beat a hapless Karlovic, a rusty Roddick and a tired Djokovic, but the fact remains, a guy winning the French Open has no business winning a grass title seven days later – it hasn’t happened in how long? And doing it in a fairly comfortable fashion against some very tough opposition makes it that much more impressive.
That said, Rafa’s not going to coast through the Wimbledon draw like he did the Roland Garros. (Of course the draw could tell otherwise – I do hope Rafa and Novak end up on opposite sides for a change!) Unlike the French, where only Roger and Novak had any real hope of stopping Rafa, at Wimbledon I’d still give Roddick a chance and a few others. Rain, scheduling can of course be a factor. But again, the best-of-5 format really favors Rafa, and from what I’ve seen this week it’s still hard to see someone winning three sets over that guy in any one match.
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