Federer v Nadal - still a classic rivalry
Roland Garros, Paris
During a year dominated by one man, the extraordinary Novak Djokovic whose 43-match unbeaten run came to an end in the French Open semi-final, this was a timely reminder that the Rafael Nadal / Roger Federer rivalry still ticks every box.
The Swiss genius with the single handed backhand, aggressive intent, the
flair and flourishes versus the Spanish bull, with the tough two-hander and a
potent brew of devastating defence and relentless retaliation.
They even looked like rivals; Federer in red and white, Nadal in blue and
white. Old school sporting colours like an FA Cup final from the 1980s which
reminded me of my first Subbuteo set.
What makes Nadal / Federer so intriguing is the contrast and the variables,
the mid-match alterations, the element of surprise.
When Federer started his drop-shot blitz in the third set it was instantly
damaging to Nadal. During one half-hour spell he scored with six out of seven drop
shots, many of them clean winners cunningly disguised.
Earlier, the 29-year-old had stepped up the court to take balls on the rise -
essential to counter the effects of increased top spin. Federer has struggled
in the past because when that viciously spun forehand kicks up off the clay,
it bounced head high.
The defensive backhand has given Nadal too many options in the past so this time Federer resembled the cricketer taking a stride down the pitch and hitting "on the up".
This is all well and good but maintaining and executing those tactics for
five sets, on clay, against Nadal, are near impossible.
This match was close, very close. At one stage, with Nadal two sets and a
break ahead, they were almost level on total points.
The Spaniard knew there would be no repeat of his 2008 demolition job, when he won 6-1 6-3 6-0, and so it proved.
Nadal may have even been worried after seven games after Federer starting superbly, then he was disturbed by the rain which followed his failure to convert set-point for a
2-0 lead, and he was also rattled by the drop-shot half-hour in the third set.
But he dealt with it all calmly ("with calm" as he would say, endearingly)
and while Federer undoubtedly made a match of it, victory for the Swiss was
always a distant dream.
Even when the comeback began it was hard to imagine Nadal losing for the
first time at a major from 2-0 up.
So Federer is firmly back in the picture, not that he ever left it, and
probably starts a marginal favourite for Wimbledon.
But Nadal completely deserved his sixth Roland Garros title which not only
ties Bjorn Borg's record, also takes him into double figures for major
And my overriding thought during another terrific final?
How lucky we are to be continuing this amazing era in men's tennis. Only seven men in the history of the game have won all four majors and two of them were in front of our
eyes, sharing a court, trading strokes of rare quality. Quite simply, a privilege to watch.