Federer finally beat Nadal on clay

22 05 2007

Roger Federer finally beat Rafael Nadal on clay, with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win at the Hamburg final.  It’s a huge event, because it snaps Nadal’s 81-match winning streak on clay, and it shows that Nadal isn’t invincible on the surface.  It was also the first time ever that Federer has beaten Nadal on clay.

But should we be so surprised?  Sportswriters and fans are writing volumes on this, reading a whole lot into it, perhaps more than there is to “read”.  Of course this makes it look more likely that Federer can win the French Open, but didn’t anyone suspect that already?  Last year he was just a couple of loose sets from winning, and he obviously didn’t play his best then.  And at Rome last year, also on clay, Federer actually had match points on Nadal — meaning he was just a shot away from winning.  So he’s shown that he can hang with Rafa on clay.

I wasn’t that surprised, because of what I mentioned above.  Federer had been close several times, and had yet to play one of his “in the zone” matches in those circumstances.  In the second and third set of their recent match, he finally stepped it up and played really well.  It’s also true that Nadal was mentally tired — but he said he wasn’t physically tired (so people should quit saying that).

I want to give both players props for being very respectful of each other after the match.  You can read some of their comments here : excerpts from the post-match interview with Federer and Nadal.  Nadal didn’t make excuses, nor did he belittle Federer for winning.  He showed a lot of maturity.  I would expect most people to be quite upset and/or frustrated that their record streak was broken, by their biggest rival, yet Nadal didn’t seem that way.  In one part of the interview he said :

…Against him it’s always difficult matches, if I’m winning or losing.  Because he has unbelievable talent and he can come back any time.  So he came back today (laughs).  I think I made more mistakes than usual.  I played very short and he has a very good feeling for the ball.  He played better than me and he beat me.

Many of Nadal’s fans have made excuses for him on message boards, saying it doesn’t mean anything because Rafa was exhausted.  But that’s part of the game.  And the “upset” shouldn’t be too surprising.  Federer had been really close on multiple occasions, and this time he finally made the necessary adjustments on his backhand and on his strategy by being more aggressive.

This doesn’t forecast who will win the French Open this year, but it does make it more interesting.  I’m looking forward to it.  I hope Federer finally wins it, to complete the career Grand Slam (winning all four majors).  Then there would be little doubt that he is the greatest of all time.




One response

23 05 2007

Federer should get props for not giving up on clay, as many American players do. He kept entering lots of clay tournaments, working hard to improve his game on dirt. Many tennis pros seem to just accept the fact that they aren’t that good at playing on clay and will never be able to beat the “clay-court specialists” (which really isn’t a fair term).

Even though Federer was consistently losing to Nadal on clay, he never gave up. He kept battling against him, knowing it hurt his win/loss record and his reputation. And it finally paid off. It shows what you can accomplish when you don’t give up.

On a somewhat-related note, the Indo-Asian News Service reported that after the match, Nadal asked Federer for his autographed shirt. This exchange is not common in tennis, but is more typical in football (soccer), which is familiar to them, because when both players were young they had dreamed of playing football professionally. Perhaps their friendliness toward each other doesn’t make for great headlines, but it is refreshing to see professional athletes with class and respect.

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