Rafa Nadal: Still the ‘King of Clay’.
As expected, the French Open gave us a dramatic couple of weeks of tennis.
The women’s competition provided the first ever Chinese Grand Slam champion, in Li Na. In the men’s singles, things seemed no different to so many years of late with Rafa Nadal picking up a sixth title, and Roger Federer yet again the beaten finalist.
It was far more dramatic than statistics alone may suggest, however.
Nadal may have gone into the competition holding three of the four Grand Slam trophies. But the form of Novak Djokovic over the previous six months was grabbing far more attention.
His unbeaten record, which during the tournament went on to become the longest ever unbeaten start to a year, had included wins over Nadal in four separate finals. Two of which had come on clay, a surface on which Nadal is widely considered to be the greatest player in tennis history.
The two would only meet in the final, should they have both made it that far.
Stuttering form in the early rounds suggested Nadal would be lucky ever make it to the final, but he saved his best tennis for meetings with Robin Soderling and Andy Murray, both of whom were dispatched from the competition in straight sets.
Djokovic meanwhile had cruised through to the semi finals, and needed only to beat Roger Federer to set up another final with Nadal, and guarantee top spot in the ATP World Tour rankings.
While Federer had been the other form player throughout, few had even given him a chance. But it was the Swiss who finally ended Djokovic’s 43 game winning run.
The most decorated tennis player in the Open era was enjoying the lack of pressure, simply getting on with what he’s always done best, and illustrating quite emphatically that on the biggest stages in the game, he is still amongst the men to beat.
After four previous losses to Nadal at Roland Garros, three of them in a final, it would have been something of a fairy-tale ending for Federer had he finally clinched a win over the Spaniard.
Nadal himself had plenty to play for, needing a win in the final to maintain his number one ranking, and it his absolute refusal to be beaten which proved decisive in a gripping and closely fought final.
It might just have been the hardest fought of all of his six French Open titles but like a true champion, Nadal did what was required to achieve success, even when Djokovic’s form was causing many to write off his chances.
Federer and Nadal have now won a total of 26 Grand Slam titles between them. For Djokovic, as well as Andy Murray, it’s a statistic which highlights just how far they must go before really being able to compare with two of the game’s all time greats.