A lot has been said about Rafael Nadal’s greatness on clay. Even more has been said about Roger Federer’s greatness in general. And yet he still managed to add so much more to the discussion during the grass court season it’s simply surreal.
First, I want to say that I loved this extended grass court season. For years, fans have been, at least, discussing how enjoyable it would be to squeeze in a grass court Masters event. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance we’ll never see that. But for one year, we got as close to it as possible. The Olympics, while obviously more prestigious than a Masters title, served as the grass Masters we’ve always wanted. It even played like an old fashioned Masters event by being six rounds and featured a best-of-five set final. And for even more excitement, it featured a mixed doubles event. I’m not usually into mixed doubles but watching it at the Olympics was plenty of fun, particularly the final that saw Max Mirnyi finally clinch a gold medal.
But there was a ton of tennis played before the Olympics. After the French Open, which featured the fourth consecutive major final between Nadal and Novak Djokovic, there was little reason to believe the Nadole show wouldn’t continue. After all, their streak had started at Wimbledon in 2011 where Djokovic won in four sets and also came out of the tournament as the World Number 1 for the first time. Djokovic once again skipped any warm-up events, as did Federer, who was slightly injured and fatigued.
Andy Murray was playing in Queen’s Club, where he was the defending champion. Murray had just one title all year and that came in his first tournament in Brisbane. One would have though that Queen’s Club would be a pretty good place to snap that title drought. Instead, he was ousted in his opening match by Nicolas Mahut (no slouch on the grass courts himself). It really looked like, despite hiring the great Ivan Lendl as his coach, Murray was arguably regressing.
Nadal, meanwhile, was upset by Philipp Kohlschreiber in his second match in Halle, Germany. I doubt anyone put much stock into this loss seeing as how Nadal often loses early in these tune-ups without any serious repercussions to his major results. As for Federer, he made it to the final in Halle but suffered one of the biggest upsets of the year in losing to comeback king Tommy Haas. I still think this was a match he never should have lost and it certainly didn’t foretell what was about to happen in the next few weeks.
Lukas Rosol scored one of the biggest upsets in sports history when he stunned Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon. He had about eight tour-level wins before and only won about eight more after this match. Unlike Robin Soderling, who beat Nadal at the French Open and used it as a springboard to become a fixture in the top 10, the context around Rosol is unbelievable. The guy is nothing more than a challenger-level player and has stayed at that level even after this huge win. And considering how well he played, it’s really bewildering. This also turned out to be Nadal’s last match of the 2012 season. And of course people are going to assume he was injured during this match which contributed to this loss. I don’t think this was the case. Especially considering how authoritative Nadal looked in the fourth set. But his momentum was surely broken during the roof-closing delay and Rosol just zoned in the fifth.
With Nadal out of the picture, the draw opened up for Murray. He was able to reach his first Wimbledon final and threw the kitchen sink at Federer, who threw the bathtub back at him. As Wimbledon champion once again, Federer reclaimed the number one ranking and, finally, broke Pete Sampras’s record of most weeks at number one.
At the Olympics, the Federer-Murray show continued. Djokovic would once again lose in the semis at the All England Club (after falling to Federer during Wimbledon) but this time it was to Murray. And Murray followed up big by avenging his Wimbledon defeat and simply crushing an exhausted Federer. Djokovic would miss out on a second Bronze medal by falling to Juan Martin del Potro, who showed serious poise by overcoming the 19-17 loss in the third set to Federer in the previous round.
Although Djokovic and Nadal have combined to win three of the last five Wimbledon titles, I feel like things finally made sense on grass this year. Not to discredit either guy, but Murray and Federer are much more naturally suited to grass than the other guys. And to see them make back-to-back grass court finals like that was a serious treat from a pure tennis perspective.
And with Federer back at number one and Murray finally securing a huge title with the Olympic gold in his pocket, the theme of historic performances was not even close to being over.
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