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Written by Mike McIntyre | 06 June 2010

A physically-fit Rafael Nadal won his fifth French Open title on Sunday defeating repeat-finalist Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

The 24-year old Spaniard captured his seventh career Grand Slam title and had little difficulty avenging his fourth-round defeat against Soderling from a year ago.

Nadal broke Soderling's serve to go up 3-2 in both the first and second sets and after breaking again in the first game of the third set he never looked back.

After the match Nadal admitted that the victory was an especially emotional one for him given the physical and mental hardships he endured in 2009. He spoke specifically of the effects that injuries to his knees and the stress his parents' divorce had on his game during that time.

Free of such distractions and hindrances, Nadal is back playing the dominating style of clay-court tennis we all remember so well. His record on the surface over the past five years is remarkable. He improves to 203-16 on clay throughout his career with 28 titles. His impressive record on clay is as follows during that time:

2005 - 50-2

2006 - 26-0

2007 - 31-1

2008 - 24-1

2009 - 24-2

2010 - 22-0

Nadal inches closer to Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open championships which he will surely surpass at some point. He also recaptures the number-one ranking from Roger Federer.

For Soderling it was another great run at Roland Garros. In consecutive years he has beaten the two greatest clay-court players of this era in men's tennis. Yet both times he has come up one victory short of attaining his first major championship. Still, with his strong performance in Paris again this year, Soderling has proved himself worthy of his top-ten ranking and should be truly considered as one of the big threats of men's tennis.

As the ATP Tour now switches from clay to grass, Nadal is once again in the driver's seat. After being forced to skip Wimbledon a year ago, it will be of great interest to see if he can capture the two Slams back-to-back as he did in 2008.

For now though, a celebration no-doubt for a young man whose skill and accomplishment on the tennis court has impressed us yet again.

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Written by Pat Davis | 05 June 2010

Francesca Schiavone

A "wee person" from Milano lays seige to the red clay with style and panache, and ends up taking the victory supposedly intended for Sam Stosur

No matter who ended up in the respective French Open finals, I was still prepared earlier in the week to write about how gloriously good the Italians were to us at Roland Garros this year.  Starting with that early match between Fabio and Gael, absolutely to die for in terms of spectator appeal.  How could you not love this match?  It made my week, that first week in Paris.  Then Flavia Pennetta had a few good rounds, Flavia who had reached the Top Ten last year, only to fall off since then.  Maybe she will reroute herself toward the Top Ten again after this strong showing here.

It was her compatriot though, Francesca Sciavone, who enjoyed the most transcendent two weeks of anybody.  She had more than a few good rounds.  She made the final, an improbable enough thing in itself, even though she is very experienced on clay and had been having a good spring.  But for her to contemplate a win in the final over the tour's new uber-woman, Sam Stosur, who had beaten Henin, Serena and then Jankovic, the latter in overwhelming fashion, was a huge ask. 

Sam supposedly had the bigger game, and the forehand, which along with the serve had been her bread and butter into this final.  But Schiavone proved to have the craftier game, she didn't need big power moves, she used a lot of changes of pace and angle.  She also served exceptionally well, as effectively winning points at it as Stosur's serve.   I was quite impressed by how steadily consistent her first serve was, all over the box, with a surprising amount of pace for one only 5'5".  She's a wiry little squeak but quite strong, and mobile as can be around the court.  She especially liked mobility when it takes her forward, into the net, where she finished a goodly number of points.  Her one handed backhand is truly one of the most beautiful in all of tennis.  Like her countryman, Filippo Volandri, and also Fabio Fognini come to think of it, they all hit it like there's no tomorrow, with a full range of arm motion from ankle up to eyeballs, and kind of a joyous little flip at the end.   You look at that shot, or at least I do, and it makes me happy. 

But most importantly, Francesca came out knowing she was the underdog but taking a strong so-what attitude and started playing her game with more energy and consistency than did Stosur, who in fact appeared more overwhelmed by the occasion than did her older counterpart.   Before you could utter "autostrada" the first set had been appropriated and Schiavone suddenly looked like a woman who was not going to give it back. 

Stosur had to fight just to hold her own in the second set.  By the time she had gathered her forces and started to really unlock her own game, the match was too far under Schiavone's intensity; it became her match to choke away, only she wasn't going to choke it away.  Not this one.  Now, Stosur?  That might have been another story.  Not to be disrespectful at all.  I am a big fan of her game,  but she gets tight as we know.  I thought I wanted to see her take this first Slam, but as the match progressed you couldn't help but turn toward the Italian.  She was putting on the show of a lifetime.

Well worth the wait, no?
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Written by Mike McIntyre | 05 June 2010

Francesca Schiavone said she never expected to win a Grand Slam, but always dreamed of it. On Saturday she achieved that dream and became the first Italian woman to ever win a Grand Slam tennis championship with a 6-4, 7-6(2) win over Samantha Stosur at Roland Garros.

Schiavone came back from a 1-4 deficit in the second set and sent the match to a tie-break where she completely dominated Stosur and quickly raced to victory. With a wicked one-hand backhand and strong intuition at the net, Schiavone played like a woman-possessed as she defeated Stosur for only the second time in six career meetings.

While the pairing formed perhaps the most unlikely female Grand Slam final in the history of the game, both players put on quite the show for the crowd with their strong play. Seeded seventh and coming into the tournament with a 14-2 record on clay in 2010, Stosur was favored to win today but could not seem to find that extra gear. Despite defeating former French Open champions Justine Henin and Serena Williams along the way, Stosur could not figure out the unique brand of tennis that Schiavone brought on court.

As her one-hand backhand bounced off the frame of Stosur's racquet and into the crowd on match point, Schiavone fell onto her back in jubilation and then rolled over to plant one last kiss on the red-clay. After shaking her opponent's hand and acknowledging the crowd, the Italian then climbed up into the stands to celebrate with the strong contingent that made-up her support-team.

Interviewed on-court by John McEnroe after the match, Schiavone was asked matter-of-factly, "How in the world did you pull this off?"

Schiavone replied by saying, "I tried to take the time and push as much as I could and in the end I did so good today."

Asked if she felt much pressure she responded, "No pressure, no. I felt many emotions. This morning I was crying...In the end I believe so much in myself and I try to stay focused on my play and to really enjoy from the heart."

The interview with McEnroe was light-hearted and revealed the enormous joy that was flowing through Schiavone. When the seven-time Grand Slam champion McEnroe asked her what her celebration plans would include she replied, "I don’t know, what do you do?"

Supporters in the crowd wore t-shirts embroidered with the slogan "Nothing Is Impossible." Francesca Schiavone revealed the truth in that statement with her incredible win today.
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Written by Zach Kleiman | 05 June 2010

The French Open - Pace and Precision
by Steve Law

As we build up to the finals at the 2010 French Open, we have been privileged to see the very best and just maybe a little changing of the guard. The players that are making all the headlines are the Swede Robin Soderling and the Australian Sam Stosur.

Soderling is not a big surprise to us anymore after his meteoric rise up the ranks, which was ignited this time last year with his tremendous win over Rafael Nadal in the French Open.

Sam Stosur is a different story. Being built very much like Nadal, and being a true tough Ossie, the only surprise is that she hasn't reached these dizzy heights sooner in her career. It's great to see, great for her and Australian tennis, after all they are in dire need of something to shout about. Stosur's elimination of Justin Henin followed by the world #1 Serena Williams and then the destruction of Jelena Jankovic are indeed reminiscent of Soderling's achievements.

His wins against Nadal last year and then Roger Federer in this year's Quarter Finals have confirmed him as a true contender for the title. His belief has increased beyond all recognition, and his attitude, thanks to the dedicated work of his coach Magnus Norman, has changed from the inside out.  Norman's philosophy is all about changing attitude. Take care of the attitude, and the winning will take care of itself. Something Soderling has struggled with for some time. I can only hope that Andy Murray is watching, and taking note. After his thorough beating from the much improved Czech Thomas Berdych in the third round, I can only see a slippery slope for Murray unless he changes his mindset. Having seen him live in Madrid and on the tube from Paris, I am not joyful at the prospect of watching him in the coming weeks on grass. Still, being British means suffering, at least when it comes to tennis.   

So what of the upcoming Finals?
Italian Francesca Schiavone vs. Sam Stosur was a first round match 12 months ago in Paris. Incredible to think that a year on, they're fighting for the title. Only a crazy man would be betting on women's tennis right now.
I have to back Stosur to win, on the form that I've seen - but I think it may be in three, as Schiavone has impressed me with her physicality and desire. Darn, I think this means I must be crazy.

Spainaird Rafael Nadal vs. Robin Soderling. As much as Soderling is a genuine threat to Nadal, and for the first time I think Nadal is genuinely scared of a player, I believe Nadal will come through. The conditions are meant to be dry and warm, which will favour the Spaniard. So Nadal in four.

What's your predictions? Is there a new changing of the guard? Will the likes of Soderling and Berdych start threatening Nadal and Federer with their blistering precision hitting? Are Djokovic and Murray on their way down?
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Written by Mike McIntyre | 03 June 2010

It will be Sam Stosur versus Francesca Schiavone in the women's final at Roland Garros this Saturday. I have no doubt that in all the years of Grand Slam finals, this one takes the cake as the most unlikely ever. Yes, ever. I challenge anyone to come up with a more surprising pair that the Stosur/Schiavone combo that is about to take place.

In Stosur we have a 26-year old Aussie who has been known for most of her career as a doubles-specialist. She is a former world number-one doubles player who teamed with American Lindsay Raymond in winning the 2005 U.S. Open and 2006 French Open titles. She completes the career-slam in mixed doubles with a win at the Aussie Open in 2005 and at Wimbledon in 2008. Never before has she reached a Grand Slam singles final and her 2009 semi-final appearance at Roland Garros was the first time she ever surpassed the fourth round in singles Slam-play.

Stosur becomes the first Australian woman to make the finals here since Evonne Goolagong in 1980 and if she wins she will be the first Aussie to do so since Margaret Court back in 1973. She will become the number-six ranked player in the world should she emerge victorious this weekend.

Stosur's route to the finals includes the following results:

1st Round - d. Simona Halep 7-5, 6-1

2nd Round - d. Rossana De Los Rios 4-6, 6-1, 6-0

3rd Round - d. Anastasia Pivovarova 6-3, 6-2

4th Round - d. Justin Henin 2-6, 6-1, 6-4

Quarters - d. Serena Williams 6-2, 6-7(2), 8-6

Semis - d. Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 6-2

So to what can we attribute this incredible run that includes victories over former champs Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and former U.S. Open finalist Jelena Jankovic?

Looking at Stosur it is obvious that she spends a great deal of time on her physical fitness. Not an ounce of fat seems to be visible on her muscular physique. A 14-2 record on clay in 2010 coming into the French Open reveals a player who is confident and hitting her stride on the surface. Stosur has also decided to dedicate herself more towards singles competition after a break-out 2009 on tour where she captured her first singles title against none other than Schiavone in Osaka, Japan. That was their last encounter and Stosur prevailed in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1.

The two also incredibly met a year ago at the French Open, but in the first round. Talk about the difference a year can make. Stosur won that match 6-4, 6-2 with relative ease and a similar result is expected on Saturday, although nobody can count out Schiavone after her terrific run so far this year.

Asked about their first-round encounter at this tournament a year ago, Stosur had the following to say:

"Yeah, it's quite funny we played each other first round last year and now we're both in the finals. I don't actually remember that much about that match. I know it was cold and wet and whatever. I got through it.
We also played the final of the tournament in Osaka at the end of the year last year, as well. That was the last time we played. We've had a lot of matches against each other. I think we both have a very good way about the way each other play. We're both going to be excited. It's a great opportunity for both of us. I'm just looking forward to it."

At 29 years-old, Schiavone is the epitome of the veteran who finally breaks-through. To give you an idea of how long she has been around, she made the quarter-finals of the French Open in 2001 where she lost to Martina Hingis. Schiavone becomes the first Italian woman to ever make the finals of a Grand Slam tournament, and is the first woman from her country to crack the top ten - which she accomplishes regardless of the end-result in Paris.

Her path to the finals is as follows:

1st Round - d. Regina Kulikova 5-7, 6-3, 6-4

2nd Round - d. Sophie Ferguson 6-2, 6-2

3rd Round - d. Na Li 6-4, 6-2

4th Round - d. Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 6-4

Quarters - d. Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-3

Semis - d. Elena Dementieva 7-6(3), Ret.

No matter the outcome on Saturday, both players will be going through similar feelings about their first Grand Slam final. Stosur eluded to this when she said, "Yeah, I could probably think no matter what I'm feeling she's probably thinking it too, so it's a different new situation for both of us. Who knows how we're both gonna feel. I'm sure there's gonna be some nerves out there, and I'm ready for that. I'll try and prepare myself as best I can to handle anything that happens. But, yeah, I mean she hasn't gone through it before either, so that's probably a little bit comforting."

Check out the enjoyable post-match press conference with Schianove and the transcript with Stosur as well.

Neither of these players has anything to lose, so a closely fought match will hopefully reveal itself Saturday. It is the opportunity of a lifetime for both Stosur and Schiavone and one of them still has another victory to add to their improbable run in Paris.

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Written by Mike McIntyre | 01 June 2010

Robin Soderling has done it again.

A year after handing Rafael Nadal his first ever loss at Roland Garros, Soderling has defeated Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

Not only will Federer not have the opportunity to defend his lone French Open title, but his consecutive streak of Grand Slam semi-final appearances ends at twenty-three.

While some chalked-up Soderling's defeat of Nadal a year ago to luck and injury issues, I think we can all definitively say now that the world-number seven player has discovered some serious mojo at Roland Garros.

This is the first time he has beaten Federer in thirteen attempts and must be especially rewarding considering the last three losses all came in Grand Slam play (French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open in 2009).

For Roger another French Open title is not in the cards this year and perhaps it never will be again. He can at least take solace in the fact that the grass-court season is just around the corner. A few wins at Halle should get him ready for another strong Wimbledon run.

Soderling has been playing fantastic tennis for the past week in Paris, as evidenced by his results prior to meeting Federer on Tuesday.

First Round d. Laurent Recouderc 6-0, 6-2, 6-3

Second Round d. Taylor Dent 6-0, 6-1, 6-1

Third Round d. Albert Montanes 6-4, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3

Fourth Round d. Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-4, 6-2

Soderling will now face Tomas Berdych in the semi-finals, as Berdych defeated Mikhail Youzhny easily by a score of 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.

Taking Soderling lightly is no longer an option in Paris. He is one win away from his second consecutive French Open final.

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Written by Mike McIntyre | 27 May 2010

AEGON_Championship_a8ed

Au revoir Sebastien.

Crafty veteran Sebastien Grosjean of France announced his retirement from professional tennis today at Roland Garros. Unable to continue to train due to injuries to his shoulder and knee, the 31 year-old will now step away from the ATP Tour but hopes to remain closely attached to the sport.

"Now I don't really know. I'll see," Grosjean told the assembled media. "You know, the media, I can be a commentator. And then there's my foundation , which is very important. It's time consuming. Next week there's a dinner. It's a foundation for orphan diseases. And I'll continue with perhaps exhibitions. That's for the senior tour. That's a sport I love. I'll still be close to tennis."

Once described by Andre Agassi as, " ...a phenomenally talented player who is one of the best shot-makers in the game, one of the fastest in the game," Grosjean made the most of his modest 5'9'' and 160lb frame. He managed to handle the power of opponents by using short, compact swings and incredible foot-speed. His strong forehand, slice backhand and deft touch at the net all aided Grosjean to achieve considerable success during his professional career. He was well-recognized on court for always wearing his hat on backwards with the brim often flipped up.

Highlights from Grosjean's career include winning the Davis Cup for France in 2001, qualifying for the Tennis Masters Cup that same year, reaching the number-four ranking in the world in October 2002, regularly finishing in the top-twenty players in the rankings, and making numerous trips to the quarter-finals and semi-finals at the Grand Slams.

Grosjean enjoyed the most Slam success at Wimbledon where he reached the semis in both 2003 (L. to Philippoussis) and 2004 (L. to Federer). He also pushed Andy Roddick (a frequent hitting partner) to five sets in the quarter-finals of 2005.

At the Aussie Open, Grosjean reached the semi-finals in 2001 where he failed to capitalize on a two-sets-to-one lead against compatriot and close friend Arnaud Clement. He also reached the quarters in 2003 and 2004 (L. to Agassi) and 2006 (L. to Kiefer). That match against Kiefer will be remembered for a shot where the German threw his racquet through the air in desperation, sending both the ball and his racquet over the net. Oddly enough, the point was rewarded to Kiefer and no let was played.

At his home tournament at Roland Garros, Grosjean attained the semi-finals in 2001 where he lost to finalist Alex Corretja. He lost to the eventual champions in both 1998 (Moya) and 2005 (Nadal).

The only Slam where Grosjean did not have significant results was at the U.S. Open. The self-described "discreet" Frenchman perhaps could not handle the loud, in-your-face style that New York had to offer. His best result there was the third round which he reached three times. (00, 05, 07)

Grosjean certainly helped grow the popularity of tennis in France along with Cedric Pioline in the late 90s, early 2000s. He was the first Frenchman since Guy Forget to win a Masters Series event (Paris, 2001) and the first from his country to finish in the top-twenty five years in-a-row since Yannick Noah did it in the mid 1980s. When you look at all the success French tennis players are enjoying today on tour (Tsonga, Monfils, Simon, Benneteau, Gasquet and Chardy all in the top-50) you cannot help but point to Grosjean as part of that process.

Sadly injury issues that began in 2008 took their tole on Grosjean and have now forced him to leave the game he played so beautifully. In 2009 Grosjean attempted to comeback from shoulder surgery during the grass-court season but had to withdraw after a first round win at Nottingham and then retired from matches at his next two tournaments in-a-row. He compiled a 1-3 record in 2010 on tour with his last match being at the Sunrise, Florida challenger event in March.

A class-act through and through, Grosjean did not request a wildcard in singles competition at the French Open this year as he did not wish to take the spot of any emerging young players. Instead he had hoped to play doubles with Richard Gasquet. Unfortunately that final goodbye to the French crowd fell apart when Gasquet had to withdraw due to back pain.

Asked about any regrets when looking back at his career, Grosjean said he had no regrets, only wishes.

"No. I have a few wishes. I wish I could have won one of the Grand Slams. Unfortunately, I didn't manage. I put a lot of effort into this each time, yet there are better players, people who play better than I do. So no, no regrets. Had people told me I would be in the top 5 at the beginning of my career I wouldn't have believed it."

Here is a nice interview of Grosjean from 2005 which reveals some of his soft-spoken personality and certainly shows us the importance Grosjean places on his family.

See the full transcript of his retirement press conference for more on Grosjean's decision to leave the game.

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Written by Pat Davis | 24 May 2010

2010 French Open - Day Two
Zee French, they are a funny race, no?  So said I to myself on Saturday as I watched Richard Gasquet struggle to maintain his excellent starting form against Fernando Verdasco in the final from Nice.  The Frenchman displayed superb serving and shotmaking skills in seizing the first set.  Then things got more problematic:  Verdasco fought his way back in, as well he should.  He was the favorite in this final, and he has shown good form this year.  Richard has not.  Mostly he just hasn't played that much, but it was nice to see him get to a final.  But would he pull the match out?  Could he stay the course? 

Gasquet hung on to win the final, but the question asked on Saturday could also have been posed today in Gasquet's first round match from Roland Garros.  Could Gasquet show strength now that he had gotten himself two sets up on Andy Murray?   Yes, that's right - TWO sets up on Britain's finest.  How could he not pull this win out? 

Easy.  It was pretty incredible to sit there and watch the life seep out of this match from Gasquet's perspective.  But seep out it did.  Murray came back and hauled his victim to defeat in five sets.  Shades of disaster - the very same lads gave us a similar match from Wimbledon two years ago.  Murray came back there against Gasquet from also being two sets down.   Lightning does strike twice it would seem.  I was a bit surprised the crowd more or less tolerated their lad's debacle; they probably should have been yelling for his blood by the end, but then maybe they've been done this road before with Reeshard and they know the drill.  A deep sigh and the Gallic shrug brought this match to a conclusion.

Ernests Gulbis must have wondered if he hadn't been struck by lightning too.  The rising Latvian star has shown excellent form lately so we could have expected him to get by Julian Benneteau in his first round match.  But the Frenchman played extremely well and got up two sets on Gulbis before he retired from a thigh pull at 1-0 in the third.  That got a big boohoo out of me.  Gulbis was in Federer's corner of the draw, and I was distinctly looking forward to another match between the two guys.   Not to be this year unfortunately, at least not at the French.

There were two other match-ups here that looked interesting:  Andy Roddick will play Jarkko Nieminen on Tuesday, and because Roddick has pretty much blown off the clay season so far I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Finn took him for a ride on the clay.   He's a crafty and versatile player who's been around forever, so this one could be interesting. 

I also saw the names of Tommy Robredo and Victor Troicki pop up in another interesting first-rounder.  When I selected my Tennis Channel draw, I wondered about this match.  But surely Robredo could pull it out?   No dice here either.  Robredo lost rather tamely in three sets.  Perhaps hard courts are his better surface after all.  Troicki has been fighting to establish himself over the last year or so, and this is an excellent first round confidence-booster for him.  Thanks for screwing my draw up, Tommy!

The women aren't that thrilling at this early stage.  Not unless you like seeing public maulings being performed by the seeds against much lower-ranked players.  I particularly like the play of Alisa Kleybanova and Aravane Rezai, who just beat Venus in a final.  Both women easily pulverized their first round opponents today, and I am expecting deep runs from both of them.

But what on earth has happened to Victoria Azarenka?  I saw her lose against a nobody yesterday and I felt like I was watching an entirely different player from the one who was performing so well just a year ago.  She has gone through a coaching change and a spate of injuries, so she hasn't found the consistency her game needs to keep her hitting with power and confidence.  Her serve has gone off, and her body looks strangely different too, as if she had started to bulk her lean frame up a bit but then she got scared of the extra mass and backed off.  Her movement looks suspect.  Now her body seems a bit ill-defined and uncertain, perhaps a mirroring now of what her game has become.  This is sad.   I hope she finds her way again.

Stay tuned!

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Written by Zach Kleiman | 17 May 2010

MADRID 2010 FINAL FEDERER vs. NADAL

by Steve Law

Having read Pat Davis's report on tennis diary from the Madrid Open Final 2010 I figured to keep this brief, save repeating.

Roger Federer is back. Not that he ever went very far away, and even though he didn't win, his quality of shot making and more importantly, his intensity, was spot on.

I couldn't help noticing that in every other match his attention wanes at some point; but against Rafael Nadal -- not for a moment. This match could have easily turned at the end of the second set, and if it weren't for a fluke bounce on match point to Nadal, chances are it MIGHT have.

Federer came back from 4-2 down in the second and certainly put the jeepers into Nadal as he won three straight games to lead 5-4. Occasionally, Federer over-used the disguised drop shot. But it was his Andy-Murrayesque variety: of touch, moving forward and bringing Nadal off the baseline, that nearly levelled the match at one set all. Nearly is rarely close enough.

This is sometimes as much as Federer can hope for against Nadal, and in his presentation post match he noted: "I am very pleased with my clay court play at the moment."

And so he should be, it is the best in the world, bar one. And he has got the timing right too, just on the run up to the French Open.

So can he beat Nadal in a French Open final, in what must be his last major goal in his career?

I doubt it, but on this form he has a chance.

Oh and one more thing: Zach (Kleiman) said, without a beat of hesitation, "Nadal in two," when I spoke to him. Well it'd be nice for him to be wrong once in a while. Alas, we'll have to wait till the French. What are your predictions? Mike McIntyre has predicted the same: Nadal in three at Roland Garros.

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Written by Pat Davis | 16 May 2010

 

Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open - Day Nine

It does seem like old times as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal invited us to a petit bouche before the French Open

Well so much for being aggressive.  The score was Nadal up a set and an early break, but he gave it right back for 2-2.  Then Roger tried being aggressive on his service game and came into net.  Nadal passed him at every turn.  Another break of serve.  That's what this match was about - one man got  ahead, only to surrender the lead back.  After breaking for 4-3, Rafa got down love 40 on his serve, erased two breakpoints, but missed a forehand well long and the second set was even again at 4 apiece.

It hasn't been a barnburner, nothing like the Wimbledon final in 2008.  But then we're just grateful for a final from them, aren't we?  Especially since those supposed young lions in waiting, Djokovic and Murray, have had dismal results of late and were both long gone by the time Madrid rolled into its Sunday finish.  Kind of leaves a girl feeling like maybe we've seen the best they have to offer?  We shall see. 

The Tower of Tandil, Juan Martin Del Potro, is doing a good imitation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa - he just had wrist surgery and his absence will continue for at least another three months.  How hard is it going to be for the big guy to get his place back at the table?  No wonder he's reportedly depressed.  

Soderling, the Number Four seed, went out here early, and Andy Roddick developed the flu and withdrew.  Every year at this time Roddick basically blows off the clay court season.  Thank goodness John Isner and Sam Querrey showed up to lay claim to the fact that yes, on occasion, SOME of our guys can even play on the red stuff, with Isner getting a good distance (the third round) before losing to Nadal. 

It was fortunate that guys like Almagro (beating Soderling, Monaco and Melzer on his way) and Ferrer(offing Baghdatis, Cilic and Murray) stepped it up and provided us with a lot of fire and music this week.  Gulbis again had a good showing, losing to Federer in three sets in the quarterfinals.  His match-up with Federer has been a good one, this past week showed them together for the second time in a match.  Gulbis plays Roger well; he has nearly as much variety as the Swiss star.  The broad smile that Federer showed shaking hands with his opponent after the match indicates to me that he enjoys his new rivalry too. 

Roger held serve for 5-4, and Rafa rose to the challenge, tying the set on his serve at 5-5.   Roger served and followed it in, but dumped the volley.  He's dumped a goodly number of volleys today, and the serving had not been as sharp as what he showed getting here.  It's been a tough match to watch because it seesaws all over the place.  Like a car that doesn't run smoothly down the road, but hiccups and stutters its way along. 

Still, this is a final that rewards us in a number of ways.  Firstly, it sent a wake-up call to Roger after his lousy play in recent weeks on clay.  He definitely tightened his game up this week in Madrid.  One thing also I enjoyed seeing him do is step around the forehand repeatedly.  He wants that forehand shot and now he is taking more patience to get there with it.  His serving game righted itself this week too, although as I said earlier it was not as sharp today as it has been earlier in the week.

For Rafa, the benefits are that his health and his knees seem fine.  He is moving well and hitting with his usual high consistency.

The back and forth continued into the second set tiebreak that saw mini-breaks traded.  The Federer serve was again just slightly off, he missed a few key first serves, and the backhand let him down again.  A fluke ball kicked up on championship point, Federer swung and missed.  It was that kind of match.

Frankly, even though we got the final we had all hoped for, we had already seen better matches this week.  I thought Almagro really announced himself:  he played with a passion and intensity - and finally a consistency - that has eluded him before.  He really socked it to Nadal in the first set of their semi-final.  I don't know if Federer really had expectations he could win this final today.  I was happy just to see him redress the imbalance that has occurred of late. He is getting enough matches under his belt.  Today Federer looked about two-thirds full speed,  Nadal looked better, but even he has a ways to go if he hopes to recapture the French. 

Both guys seemed a bit nervous, I thought - like a pair of lovers reunited after time apart and trying to find their way across the room to each other.  There were more than a few scratchy bits in among the good shotmaking, but did that really matter to us fans starved to see again the weightiest match-up perhaps ever in men's tennis?  

Pardon me if, like little Oliver, I pull on my bib and beg the tennis headmaster for more. 

The score from Madrid was Nadal, 6-4, 7-6(4).

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