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Rafael Nadal routs Roger Federer, but French Open triumph isn’t assured

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Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal is aiming for his eighth French Open title beginning next week. (Gabriel Buoys/AFP/Getty Images)

ROME  – Rafael Nadal trounced Roger Federer 6-1, 6-3 on Sunday to win his seventh Italian Open. Nadal improved to 20-10 overall and 13-2 on clay against Federer and won his sixth title in eight tournaments this year. The Spaniard will retake the No. 4 ranking from David Ferrer on Monday and assure himself of a top-four seed at the French Open, which begins next Sunday.

Three thoughts on the King of Clay’s remarkable comeback season and his prospects for capturing a record eighth Roland Garros title:

1. Nadal’s 2013 by the numbers is mind-blowing. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Nadal continues to achieve new heights. Since his return in February after a knee injury sidelined him for seven months, Nadal has played eight tournaments, made eight finals and won six. Nadal has said all week that he could not imagine these kinds of results when he began his comeback. Really, no one could. Even without the benefit of the massive quantities of points from playing a Grand Slam this year (Nadal skipped the Australian Open in January), the 26-year-old will move to No. 1 in the ATP’s Race to London on Monday, meaning at least according to ranking points, he’s had the best season of anyone on tour. In 38 matches, he has lost only twice. His 31 wins on clay this year is the most since 2007.

“If you tell me that four months ago, five months ago, I would tell you you are crazy,” Nadal said. “It’s just more than a dream for me. I am enjoying very emotional days and today was one of those days.”

The heavy workload hasn’t seemed to slow him down, either. After a busy February and March he’s played four tournaments in the last five weeks on European clay, peaking right before the French Open. In back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome, Nadal won 10 matches in 12 days and beat three top-10 players. He’ll go into Roland Garros with six titles in a year for the first time in his career. But here’s the kicker: Despite missing two majors, the World Tour Finals, the Olympics and four ATP Masters 1000s, he’s still the No. 4-ranked player in the world.

“It’s true that I am not practicing as much as I did and I am not able to do it,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have the chance to play at the very high level, and I am doing it. At the end the mental part is more important than the other things. I am fresh mentally.”

PHOTOS: Federer-Nadal rivalry over time

2. One man can still beat Nadal on clay. If not for Novak Djokovic, I’m not sure I’d object to just giving Nadal the Coupe des Mousquetaires now. The top-ranked Djokovic is the only man I could see beating Nadal in a best-of-five format, and he’s the only one who has the game and confidence to make the Spaniard uncomfortable on his favorite surface.

But since he stunned Nadal in straight sets in the Monte Carlo final a month ago, Djokovic has won just two matches, losing to Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid and Tomas Berdych in Rome. He’s been mentally up and down but says winning Roland Garros, the only major trophy he hasn’t held, is his top priority this year. Is the Serb putting too much pressure on himself?

3. Will Nadal’s knees hold up? On one hand, Nadal is right when he insists on not talking about his knees when he’s posting such ridiculous results. I suppose he thinks it’s unfair to his opponents, akin to saying, “I, Rafael Nadal, can beat you on clay with one arm tied behind my back,” and he’s grown weary of having to give a medical update at every interview.

But that doesn’t mean the concern isn’t legitimate, especially considering how much he’s played over the last three to four months. He’ll have a few days of rest before heading to Paris, where he’ll need to prepare for the transition to the best-of-five format. If Nadal was 100 percent physically, I suspect he would just say so. The fact that he hasn’t is cause for concern.

“I said before the tournament, during the tournament, I don’t want to talk about health,” he said. “I want to talk about tennis. I am what I am and how I am today is that I was able to compete against the best players in the world and have great success. So happy about my performance today and happy about everything.”

NGUYEN: Can anyone stop Serena Williams in Paris?

  • Published On May 19, 2013
  • 15 comments
    anotnico
    anotnico

    If you look at the Djokovic history at Roland Garros, all of those who are ready to hand him the mantle as Nadal's most serious threat might reconsider. Djokovic has played Nadal 4 times at The French. In those four matches, Djokovic has won exactly 1 set - and that was in last year's Final. Beyond that, last year Djokovic was pushed to the wall in back-to-back 5 Setters, against both Seppi and Tsonga - and he had to save Match Points against Tsonga. Going back further, he's lost to guys like Kohlscrieber and Melzer at RG to boot. Djokovic's problem in Best of Five on clay as opposed to Best of Three on clay is his Backhand. Even though he uses it more effectively on Offense than any other player on tour, clay reduces his effectiveness on that shot by about 10-15%. The ball can still get up high enough out of his optimum strike zone that he ends of hitting it on Defense more than he'd like, making sure to get it on a downward trajectory. He can get away with it in Best of Three on clay. In Best of Five on clay it's harder to not let that Defensive Backhand slip into more and more errors. When Djokovic loses effectiveness on his Backhand by 10-15%, he's no longer Novak Djokovic. He's more like David Ferrer: able, but more vulnerable. He has the same challenges on grass in reverse, the ball stays too low out of his optimum strike zone on the Backhand - he has to hit up more often, rather than drive through it likehe prefers. He can trust and time the bounce from hard courts on his Backhand beautifully - that's why he's made 4 Finals at the US and Australian Opens, and has made it to just 1 Final at RG and Wimbledon. Djokovic will face more challenges in simply getting to a SF date wiith Nadal - especially since Dimitrov could be his 3rd Round opponent. And Dimitrov can absolutely win that match if it comes off - provided he's stopped that infernal cramping he's becoming infamous for :).

    kintoy
    kintoy

     

    Federer should retire or play in the Challengers

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    Fed wilted like a drowned flower today. He looked like he was beat after three games and just went through the motions the rest of the way. I love the guy, but he could use an injection of cojones in these kinds of matches.

    MarcNichol
    MarcNichol

    why would you assume that?..the guy is so spooked about his knees, and superstitious, i can't possibly see him saying he's 100% ever again

    ChrisM
    ChrisM

    If on the other hand you have no Serena on the woman's side the final is instantly "must see TV".

    ChrisM
    ChrisM

    Usually don't book a match to play in during the slam finals, but after what I saw today if it comes down to ReRe and either of the Blondes and Rafa and anyone besides Joker, looks like I'll be playing some nice summer morning ball.

     

    I can sum up today's final in one phrase.....YAAAAWWWWNNNNNN

    rick.cale1
    rick.cale1

     @kintoy

     Why are you reading tennis articles?  I am guessing hopefully to learn something as you obviously have no clue. Happy Learning or worse yet you probably think you know it all already.

    ramification
    ramification

     @kintoy Sure, he just got to the final of a Masters event and is the defending Wimbledon champion, and is ranked 2 in the world, wow what an awful player he's become! SMH!

    addisonmango
    addisonmango

     @ChrisM You won't see the likes of two like Rafa and Serena again in another generation...if ever.

    Worldwide fans will stay riveted to TV's savoring two great champions. You can go outside, bat a ball around, dream a huge crowd roars each time you score, pretend you banked a millon dollars last week doing what you love, wish you can jump on a private jets, meet heads of state, model for Armani. Please keep typing @ChrisM. The world waits with baited breath.Yawn. 

    missfenty23
    missfenty23

    AMAZING RAFA AND SERENA. CAN GIVE MY RIGHT LEG TO WATCH THESE TWO!! @ChrisM

    ChrisM
    ChrisM

     @addisonmango I completely respect Serena and Rafa AND have been watching them FOR YEARS!  Point is these lopsided wins are BORING TO ME AND MANY OTHERS (Go read Bodo's recent column)...so absolutely no need to watch a final with a scoreline of 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 or worse yet the typical WTA side Serena beat down of 1 and 2.  I can go have a great time and simply catch the 1 minute "highlights" of those kind of finals...sorry I'm not as easily amused as you.

     

    By the way, don't know how old you are, but when I go outside and "bat a few balls around" I don't play "pretend time" that I'm anyone but me..playing great friends, running my a## off, working up a great sweat, and then going to have a few brews with lunch.  Pretty much the same thing I'll do AFTER watching a final that doesn't involve Serena or Rafa and anyone but Joker.

    ChrisM
    ChrisM

     @missfenty23  @ChrisM How hard is it to get to watch these two?  That's the point, they've been in every final the last month...it's getting old...if they are getting challenged I'm there..until then, simply catch the highlights.

    ChrisM
    ChrisM

     @addisonmango Sorry...I wrote that wrong...I won't watch the final on the men's side unless it is Joker and Rafa...or anyone else besides Rafa...because at this point Joker is the only one that MIGHT make Rafa have to work for it.  THAT IS A COMPLIMENT TO RAFA IF YOU DON'T RECOGNIZE IT!

    James96
    James96

     @ChrisM  I bet you wouldn't have been as "bored" if it were your favorite player raking in all those wins. Success can be boring to those not enjoying it, but make no mistake, Rafa and Serena fans can't have enough of it!