|Untouchable – Nadal and Williams were imperious in Paris|
Last week I spoke of a certain Spaniard’s struggles in the opening rounds of this year’s French Open and whilst I never discounted his chances of taking the title, to me it was far from certain.
How wrong I would prove to be – Nadal, already the Master of Clay is now something of a Comeback King with this commanding, crushing triumph in his first Slam since 7 months out with an at times seemingly costly injury.
During those months away, seeing his world ranking drop out of the top 4 the Spaniard must’ve wondered if the field had moved on in his absence, that he would at least take a few months to get back to his best and/or to a level necessary to compete with the super-humans at the summit of men’s tennis today.
Instead, after several comeback titles prior to Paris, Nadal has answered his critics and overcome those first-week struggles not to mention that titanic semi-final with the Serbinator – his eighth Roland Garros crown will taste the sweetest yet.
There will be more of course, and not just in Paris.
Saying that however, just as Nadal’s combination of agility, power and shotmaking has made him factory-made to beat Federer, so too is Djokovic now the biggest thorn in Nadal’s side on any other surface but clay.
But Novak’s robotic nature doesn’t only manifest itself physically, it has given the Serb an impenetrable mental toughness. Like all technology though, this is not immune to the odd glitch. That 3rd set drubbing in the semi final in which Djokovic went walkabout is all the motivation Rafa, Murray and the rest will need come Wimbledon.
A word or two now for Nadal’s final opponent on the French dirt, the man who perhaps more than any other is a victim of the caliber oozing from each of the top-four players of today. In any other era, David Ferrer’s talents would have guaranteed his name to appear amongst the other clay court specialists on the Coupe des Mousquetaires, perhaps even in New York or Melbourne too.
The 31 year old – in his first major final here after dropping not one set – doesn’t make mistakes, fights for every point and is devastatingly consistent both in attack and defence, metronomic even. Yet this is nowhere near enough to beat Nadal, and so it proved Sunday.
Unlike the men’s draw, the top women’s seeds represented the worlds best two players right now, both Serena Williams and defending champion Maria Sharapova were expected to reach the final. From there of course, despite the quality of the Russian, and barring an emotional collapse from her opponent that for one brief moment looked to materialize – there was only one fancied victor.
Such has been Serena’s dominance of the women’s tour since her 1st round exit here twelve months ago that, unfavoured surface or not, her first title here in eleven years quickly became a formality.
What has changed? For me it is the level of concentration and consistency in Serena’s game – boosted to its peak right now and coupled with a fitness level and sheer confidence in her own abilities, all of these attributes have made the American unplayable.
Her movement, her accuracy and her resolve are leaps and bounds beyond her peers. Only the wily former champion and one of the best clay-court movers on the tour Kuznetsova made things uncomfortable for Serena this fortnight.
And with it all, Williams brings grace, humility and humour to her off-court public image – it hasn’t always been this way, indeed at times the younger sibling has proven difficult to love.
Now, she just looks impossible to beat.
Maria will always be there, as will the other cream of the crop of the ladies’ game in which there is currently incredible, genuine talent. Gone are the days of the Ivanovic/Jankovic/Safina/Wozniacki mediocrity which plagued the top spots.
Some will rightly point to Serena’s drubbing of top 5er and one of 2013’s form players Sara Errani in the French semi’s as a sign that the gulf is too big and the depth of real talent in the women’s game too non-existent. But this is not guaranteed week in week out. The beauty of the game is that an upset is always around the corner, and Wimbledon will no doubt produce it’s fair share in a fortnight.
Other stories of RG 2013
Elsewhere in the singles competitions (I assure you my exclusion of any doubles action on this blog is down to laziness and not a lack of interest) what were the stories of the second week?
Well there was plenty of heroics from Frenchmen Gilles Simon and of course Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, the latter finalizing what the former had started to suggest – now is the beginning of the winter of Federer’s career. Tsonga has been something of a bogey player for the great Swiss before but this was reminiscent of Federer’s defeat at the hands of Murray in Australia. Roger and his silky smooth, attacking style was no match for this new breed of power tennis that can offer similar attacking prowess as well as super-human defensive abilities.
Tsonga had delivered again and al the more impressively on home soil where pressure is of course at fever pitch. All the more disappointing then was his feeble exit at the hands of the evergreen Ferrer who – unlike Federer – didn’t loosen his businesslike grip on the match, Tsonga had no time to compose himself.
Victoria Azarenka provided a sterner test for Sharapova in their entertaining semi-final, but alas this showed the uglier side of the women game – and no I’m not talking about the grunting for once.
It may have been an engrossing encounter full of brilliant shot-making and precision with many a momentum shift, but the points ended more often than not with an UE rather than a crowd-wowing winner.
A last word for the protests rightfully labeled ‘pathetic’ during the men’s final, namely that they served no other purpose but to throw the spotlight on efficient tournament security.
The grass season is in full swing, I may have missed the French this year but will be making my seventh consecutive appearance at SW19.
Prepare yourselves for an exhaustedly in-depth piece from the jewel in tennis’ crown soon enough.