Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Gold Standard

Rafael Nadal, chewing them up and spitting them out, captures his second Wimbledon-French double in three years.
Exhibiting the alacrity of a luxury timepiece, Rafael Nadal stole the swagger of yet another opponent en route to his second Wimbledon crown—his eighth Grand Slam title—in front of a packed Centre Court crowd today.

The 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory was another virtuoso performance for the 24-year-old, and it caps off a very challenging fortnight that saw him facing elimination twice in the first three rounds against hard-charging opponents who seemed to be destined for short-term glory.

In the end, all seven of his opponents were sent packing—destiny can only favor one man per tournament, and it was Rafa's turn once again this Wimbledon.

Many of the Spaniard's matches during the fortnight were close, and a few were too close for comfort, but always it was Nadal who produced the thrilling shot or the clutch serve when the pressure was thickest. Like a thief in the night, Nadal displayed the uncanny ability to swoop in with menacing verve to take control of his matches at key junctures.

Today's straight set thrashing of first-time finalist Tomas Berdych was no exception. Each set provided the young Czech with a bucket of hope, as the players were deadlocked for the first six games of the first set, the first ten games of the second, and the first eight of the third, but each time Nadal punched a hole in Berdych's bucket, and all the hope drained out as the set concluded with yet another crucial Nadal break.

Nadal was so good, and so versatile, that it's hard to say that one shot made the difference. He attacked relentlessly and defended like a mother Grizzly defends her newborn cubs. He returned like a guru, and served perhaps better than he ever has. There was no weakness, no fatal flaw, and no mental lapses in the game of the swashbuckling Spaniard.

Wrap all of that up and add in that inexplicable sixth sense that Nadal possesses, and you've got a recipe for a cold shower and a plane ride home for the rest of the field. Close, but no cigar. Thank you, come again.

"I think the biggest difference between us was that when he get a chance, he just took it," said Tomas Berdych, who was trying to become the first Czech player to win Wimbledon since 1973. "That just shows how strong he is. I think it was just really about the small difference."

Nadal, in addition to redefining the modern baseline game, has evolved into a cunning strategist with a keen sense of how to create and maintain momentum during the course of a match. He was four-all 30-all in the first set of his semifinal match against Andy Murray, when he made the return of the match which forced Murray to hit a short ball that he then hammered for a winner. He converted on his first break point immediately thereafter and consolidated the break with a hold and a one set lead that he would never relinquish.

That's how it goes when you play Nadal. One minute your laying in the sun, and the next your jugular vein is spurting blood prodigiously. One minute your counting out ten paces and the next your lying wounded on the ground.

It is small sequences like this, or 'matches within matches', that set Nadal apart from virtually everyone else in the sport. The Spaniard perpetually plays high-intensity tennis, but during these definitive moments he digs deeper to find another gear, and ratchets his focus to a shaman-like level.

It was a fantastic effort for Berdych, who surprised everyone by following up on his French Open semifinal appearance with huge wins over Federer in the quarterfinals and Djokovic in the semis. To see him evolving into a big match player with a mental game to match his lethal shotmaking arsenal was a joy for all to see.

But his chances to win the tournament might have ended when both Robin Haase and PhilippPetzschner failed to capitalize on their chances to bounce Rafa from the draw in the second and third rounds, respectively.

As Nadal's confidence grew with those successive comebacks, the chances of anybody else getting near that trophy were about as likely as Suzanne Lenglen coming back from the dead to beat Serena Williams in the women's final.

Not very likely, in other words.


  1. "Nadal was so good, and so versatile, that it's hard to say that one shot made the difference." You are true about this. That's why; Rafa remains a big and popular name in Tennis. Apart from his charismatic looks and booming forehand, Rafa is the type of person who is confident, positive-thinker, a real fighter and the consistent contender.

    Tennis is not complete without Rafa.

  2. Tennis is now complete WITH Rafa. My hero!

  3. Great article on Nadal's performance. The line about Suzanne Lenglen rising from the dead to defeat Serena may have been the inspiration for Gatorade's recent ad for the current champion.

  4. For some reason i have never checked out your blog. Im putting you on my roll ;)


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