Men’s Final

Jun 6, 2010

The two finalists walking out on Philippe Chatrier today were two very different men. Robin Soderling had never won a Grand Slam, but he had been in this situation before only last year against the world no. 1 at the time, Roger Federer. The same Roger Federer he had beaten only two rounds ago to get him into the final this year. Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, had been in this situation before. As a five time French Open champion, and having played in too may Grand Slam finals to count, Nadal was at a distinct advantage experience-wise. But that is not to say that the nerves wouldn’t have been fluttering for Nadal too. This was his first time back at the French Open final after a year away, and more importantly the reason he left so early in the tournament was the very man who was standing in the way of regaining a trophy that was most definitely ‘his’. Would Soderling capitalise on his last year’s defeat over Rafa and make himself ‘the one’ (besides from Roger) who is able to beat Rafael Nadal?

The weather didn’t give us the storm that was predicted, with the grey overcast conditions that were supposed to be in Soderling’s favour gaving way to bright sunshine; exactly what the Spaniard would have wanted. When things got going, the word ‘powerful’ was starting to become an understatement with regards to Nadal’s game. Shots, angles and spin that seemed to be a physical possibility were all part of Rafa’s heavy arson. He wasn’t about to let Soderling get the better of him after last year.

The Swede stood strong though, and there was a moment when he looked as though he may break, before making a mistake by thumping a backhand way over the baseline. Two other break points passed Soderling by, including one very nearly handed to him by a Nadal double-fault (I’ll give you a minute to fan yourself with something whilst that sinks in). The pattern of the game appeared to be that Nadal broke, then held with such promise Soderling could barely get himself into the game to try to break back. Credit to the Swede though; not many stand up to that kind of a pummelling in a final and not become a broken man at the end of it.

The final scoreline was 6-4 6-2 6-4. So a three set win for the Majorcan, but not a complete demolishing for the Swede. Soderling should be proud of making this final two years in a row; the first is always the hardest and he has a tough barrier to break, but the barrier seems much less great than it may have done two years ago.

And after a year of heartache for Nadal, starting at this very tournament last year when the injuries and losses started to tally up, Rafa can finally lift another trophy and get back his beloved French Open title. It’s been a year where he has had to miss Wimbledon, his knees have been the bane of his life, and he has lost his world no. 1 spot to Roger Federer. Now, he takes it again, denying Federer who was only a week away from tying Pete Sampras’ record. However much you love the underdog, you have to smile at the familiar sight of Rafa dropping to the clay in exhaustion and delight. The culmination of a trialling year ends where it began, and the win is a testament to his physical and mental strength. The scary thing is is that Nadal played better today than he did last year. Who knows what Wimbledon and next year will bring, but I for one am looking forward to finding out.

Commiserations to Robin Soderling; it is clear he will be deeply disappointed by losing in the final again, but he seemed almost chipper as he accepted his trophy; and well he should be. His form has been spectacular almost consistently since this time last year, and he is definitely one of the men out there who are starting to crack the code as to how to beat the top players in the world. ’Third time lucky’ he joked to the crowd; I wouldn’t be surprised if he was back next year though, and maybe third time lucky with come true.

Congratulations to Rafael Nadal. There’s no-one that can deny this man is a champion, and will take the game to some dizzying heights before his career ends.

All is left to do is to say a sad goodbye to the French Open tournament. It’s been a friend and a source of pleasure for the past two weeks. Now we go shivering out into the cold, blinking in the watery sunlight, wondering what to do with ourselves now a Grand Slam is over. Thankfully, French Open sits very close to Wimbledon and we will soon be getting our fix of Grand Slam fever yet again. Thank you to everyone who has read the blogs and participated in the fantasy event and discussions, this whole blogging experience wouldn’t be as fun without you. I feel for those whose predictions went awry (mine included) but hey, it happens to the best of us, and with tennis the way it is these days I think predicting who is going to win is going to get much, much harder. That can only be a good thing.

- SophieG

Written by: SophieG

(1) Comment

DonDenman says:
Jun 6, 2010

Your message…

Rafa Nadal is back! The real #1 player is back to #1 after recovering from knee tendinitis. Wimbledon should be interesting this year.

But before we get to that, this seems to me a good time to review what Rafa has done the past 6 years on clay, because it is beyond amazing. His overall record on clay during the period 2005-present is 177-6. Really.

In 2005, the year Nadal broke onto the scene and rose like a rocket through the men’s rankings, Rafa went 50-2 on clay!!! Way too many matches no doubt — but after all, even the Nadal camp didn’t know he would be THAT successful that fast. His first loss came to Gaston Gaudio in the quarters of the first clay court event of the year, in early February in Buenos Aires. His other loss came to Igor Andreev in the quarters of the first European clay court tourney of the year, Valencia. Rafa then won Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, Roland Garros, Bastad and Stuttgart to end the clay season with 34 straight victories. Not bad. He turned 19 at RG that year.

Just like this year, in 2006 Rafa was undefeated on clay.

In 2007, Rafa lost only one match on clay — ending the longest clay court winning streak of all time — to Federer in the Hamburg final. Rafa frankly ran out of gas and was bageled by Roger in the third set. That will never happen again, I predict.

In 2008, Rafa again lost only one match, to Ferrero at Rome, when Rafa had awful blisters on his feet that very greatly limited his mobility.

Last year, he lost two clay court matches: his famous loss to Soderling in the Roland Garros R16, and to Federer in the Madrid final (just after his SF marathon with Djokovic). In both of those losses, Rafa’s mobility was limited due to his knees — though both players still had to play amazing tennis to beat him.

In 2008 and again this year, Rafa won Roland Garros without dropping a set. That had happened only three times before in the open era — Borg in 1978 and 1980 and (nearly unbelievably) Nastase in 1973. I fearlessly predict that the 6th time that happens, it will again be Rafael Nadal who does it.

Now that his knees are back to OK and he’s limiting his play, hopefully we will be able to enjoy many more years of unparalleled greatness from this young man who just turned 24 and has already established himself as — unquestionably and by far — one of the two greatest clay court players in the history of the game.

Six losses on clay in the last six years. Since the loss to Andreev in 2005, a clay court record of 161-4.
161-4??? You’ve got to be kidding me!!! Not even Borg has stats to match that.

Here’s what’s even more disconcerting for the other players: 3 of Rafa’s 4 losses on clay in the last 5+ years (the only losses since 2007) were due to injury!!! Compare Rafa’s movement around the court this year to his movement when he lost to Federer and Soderling last year, and I think you’ll agree that was the difference. If you’ve never seen photos of Rafa’s feet at Rome in 2008, I hope you never do. It’s hideous.

So you have to be a great player playing your best — and get Rafa when he’s not 100% — to have any chance whatsoever to win, and even then you probably lose. That’s so dominant, I’ll go this far with it:

The extent and degree of Rafa Nadal’s dominance on clay for the last 5+ years — a time when the sport had FAR more excellent players than at any time in the past — is utterly unparalleled by any athlete in ANY sport, ever.

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