I could have entitled this column: If a Major Title is Won and No One in the United States is Awake to See it, Did it Have Implications?
Obviously, yes is the answer to my own question. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer may have walked onto court at 3:30 AM EST and not had the television audience they enjoyed stateside for their Wimbledon and French Open finals, but this match meant a lot. A win would have given Roger 2 straight Slams and a tie with Pete Sampras’ 14 major titles. Roger now has to wait and see when the next window of opportunity for tying that record presents itself. If Murray can regroup that wait might be a bit longer than Roger would like as he could have two nemeses on tour. Still, Roger has as good of a shot as anyone at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year.
3 Surface Spaniard
This is however not about Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal joined Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander and Andre Agassi as the only men to win majors on three different surfaces. Connors won on grass at the 1974 U.S. and Australian Opens in addition to his 1974 and 1982 Wimbledon titles. Connors picked up a major on green clay at the U.S. Open in 1976 and won 3 hard court U.S. Open titles in 1978, 1982, and 1983. Wilander won the French Open on clay in 1982, 1985 and 1988. He won the Australian Open on grass in 1983 and 1984. In 1998, he took the U.S. and Australian Open titles on hard courts. Agassi won Wimbledon in 1992 and the French Open in 1999 to get the grass clay double. His 1994 and 1999 U.S. Open titles along with his 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2003 Australian Open titles came on hard courts. Nadal has won the French Open 4 times in a row. His 2008 Wimbledon title and 2009 Australian Open title add grass and hard courts to the surfaces he has conquered. This is elite company. My gut says he surpasses Agassi, Connors, and Wilander in total Grand Slam titles. I think a case can be made that he has already accomplished more than Wilander. Fellow six time slam winners Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker both trail Nadal in total accomplishments in my unofficial judgment.
Who Remembers the Injury Filled End to 2008?
Clearly this win boosts Rafa’s historical standing at a time when he looked vulnerable. His finish to 2008 left me wondering what his legs had left and how much strain his body has absorbed at such a young age. I did not think Rafa’s clay court game was in danger at the end of 2008, but I also did not expect him to win a hard court major coming off of an injury plagued end to last season. No one can pencil someone in to win the French Open, injuries, illness, banana choking and a potentially zoned opponent could always stop Rafa’s quest for a 5th straight French Open, but one has to think Nadal is going to enter Wimbledon half way to a calendar year Grand Slam.
Serena is Queen of a Strugling Sport
Women’s tennis is a mess. Injuries and early retirements have drained some of the top talent. Indifferent and nerve filled tennis has kept some players from performing consistently well. Ana Ivanovic came out the 2008 French Open looking like the new face of women’s tennis. Instead she has flopped wose than Waterworld did. The Williams Sisters have at times looked like part time players. Jelena Jankovic seems to be preoccupied with gaining fame when adding strength would be aadvised. Many Russian players seem to have serves against which a weekend hacker could chip and charge. Yes, the product has never been worse. I was never a fan of seeing the top 2 women meet in the final round of 80% of the biggest events, but at least excellence was found in those rivalries. Now, consistent excellence is like a mirage. Dinara Safina looked great in the 2008 hard court summer season, but the dream of a dominating aggressive player emerging on the WTA tour died when nerves, fatigue and Serena Williams stood in her way.
Serena Williams is the current measure on the women’s tour. She has tallied a 20-1 record in her past three Grand Slam events with her only loss coming against a 5 time Wimbledon champion. As much as tennis fans can look at Serena’s career and wonder what might have been, 10 Grand Slam singles titles is a nice haul. She should add more hardware this season. Like Nadal, Serena has a reasonable shot at a single season Grand Slam sweep. Serena’s recent success in doubles is also only adding to her standing.
A Lot in Store for 2009
2009 is a long tennis year and many players could change the shape of the men’s tour. The women’s game can hope Serena takes the tour by the horns while some younger players emerge. Nadal may find a new pressure of being the obvious person everyone is gunning for, but I get the sense he welcomes that pressure. The next big tests for Nadal are in North America, but having pocketed the 1st slam of the year he can really be the free and clear top dog at least through the end of the French Open. There I anticipate a 5th consecutive title, but also a tougher road to the title than in 2008. Time is the one opponent no champion can overcome in the long run, but clearly Nadal’s time is now.
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