I was reading this article in Haftamag last week about Sampras being the greatest player ever to have played the game. The article also talks about how this guy’s ability to mask all emotions on court, dedicate himself to winning and his religious fervor towards the game made him an icon for all the aspiring people who want to achieve such greatness in their lives. It was a nice article but I was just telling myself that only if the author would have waited till the end of the French Open Finals before publishing it because this one time I felt Federer would dethrone Sampras as the player with the near complete game. I was wrong as Federer will have to wait for a while before that can be said of him.
Federer Vs Nadal, French Open Men’s Final. 2006. This would have been the match of the year. This would have been the game in which Federer would have been crowned the undisputed champion of the open era. After the first set, he was almost there. But one magnanimous gesture on his part and Nadal came back. And once the return began, there was absolutely no looking back.
Tennis on clay is a tricky business. It’s not a Pre-Eminent Championship like Wimbledon (or so they claim, BRITISH!!!), neither it’s an all guns blazing tournament like the US Open, but French at some level constitutes the real challenge because how much ever skill or finesse one possess, it come down to stamina, hard-work and perseverance. That’s why some of the most wonderful exponents of the game, so they are called – like Sampras, fail at Roland Garros.
Clay court play, unlike grass or hard-court requires patience. Here the rallies are long, almost entirely on the baseline and never ever quick. When the average rally on Clay is 9 strokes, one can imagine how much preparation and strength is needed to win here regularly. That’s the reason why, except for Bjorn Borg, no other player has managed to win more that twice here on a trot. In Contrast, the Wimbledon, U.S. and Australian have been won time and again by loads of payers consecutively for years.
In yesterday’s game, after the first set demolition of Nadal, Federer looked like he finally broke the code of Nadal and found a way to win. 12 unforced errors from Nadal was unheard of especially on his favorite surface, such was Federer’s domination. But the moment the second set began, Nadal had the edge because of the heat, which Federer is not used too, and the pace of the court which was decreasing by the game. And the moment the court started to break into dust, Nadal’s resurgence began.
All through the remaining sets, Federer was forced into corners by long rallies, some of them crossing 20 strokes frequently, rallies which only one player could win. The only time when Federer looked like taking control was when he finished the point in 2 or 3 strokes. But such chances were far and few and by the fourth set, unforced errors read 40-18 Federer. No one can recover after hitting such a low in such a match.
Like Sampras, Federer has only the French Open left to win to stamp his authority on the game. Sampras’s remark once about exchanging a couple of grand slams with French Open may be true for Federer too. All through the final set when he was loosing, there could have been only one thing that Federer must have been saying to Nadal. “Dude, come onto Grass and I will show you”. A face off between the two on grass is out of question as Nadal will not survive for so long in the tournament as these two players are ranked 1 & 2 in the world. It will be the French again next year and another chance at the Open for Federer.
On a different note, what a day at sports it was yesterday. Tennis, F1, Football. And all at the same time. At one point, I was toggling between three channels, all with nail-biting stuff. Total paisa vassol. And yes, there was cricket too…