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In Broad Daylight 07/04/2010 - 2:59 PM

102617231 

by Pete Bodo

This time, it required no passing shots fired like small cannons into the deepening gloaming. No desperate second serves that traveled the razor's edge separating those two celebrated Wimbletwins, Triumph and Disaster. No brooding confrontations between fear and courage, both marinated in sweet perspiration that kept them slippery, grasped one moment, gone the next. No flashbulbs bursting like newborn planets in the twilight, and no scaling of the dusty green wall above which the stunned interested parties sat, awaiting the moment: The embrace.

If Rafael Nadal's first singles victory at Wimbledon, in 2008, remains an epic engraved forever on the soul of tournament and those who love it, his second one today was a clinical, almost antiseptic act of reaffirmation. Why go through all that again? Today, Nadal demolished Tomas Berdych, a lanky and late-blooming threat, unstable as acetone peroxide, who was unable to rally the kind of commanding, power-based tennis that had carried him to the final over the fortnight.

Nadal won it, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, as Berdych's nerves, game, or both failed him at inconvenient times. Thus Nadal became the first man since Bjorn Borg to complete the Channel Slam (back-to-back wins at Roland Garros and Wimbledon) more than once in the Open era. It wasn't very long ago that Borg's accomplishment seemed untouchable, not just because of Borg's game but—in theory—because of essential transformations in the game itself. Now, Nadal and Roger Federer have each done it. As Nadal said in his presser, "It didn't happen since Borg (1980), and now it happened for the past three years. How crazy is life?"

But let's get back to those critical moments in the match. With his punishing serve and quick-strike groundstrokes, Berdych is capable of holding serve until the cows, or John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, come home. But Nadal broke Berdych twice in the first set, and in the second set Nadal broke Berdych in what arguably was the most critical game of the match: the 13th. Had Berdych held there, the set would have gone to the tiebreaker and, against a guy like Berdych, that's always a crapshoot. Nadal also broke Berdych in what would be the final game of the match to clinch it 6-4.

You could argue that Berdych's greatest miscalculation was his stubborn refusal to go to a Plan B when Plan A (engaging Nadal in stock baseline-based play) clearly failed. But in each of the last two sets, Berdych matched Nadal, hold for hold, until deep into the set. So in the end, you can just as easily put down his loss to a failure of nerve. He failed to play the big points well. Berdych was 0 for 5 in break points, compared to Nadal's 4 for 6. If someone had told you before the match that there would be no tiebreakers, you would have known it would hardly be worth watching. Going into the match, Berdych had lost just seven service games; today he lost four, nearly 50 per cent of his tournament total.

But Nadal was broken just eight times in this tournament, a statistic that points to his serving efficiency as well as his generally high level of execution. After all, Nadal's 54 aces is barely half the number served up at Wimbledon by his final opponent (111). Berdych finished second on the ace list (behind John Isner, who served all of his in one match); Nadal finished tied for 22nd.

Still, as Toni Nadal, Rafa’s uncle and coach, told us about his nephew's general level of play: "It was as good as 2008. Maybe better, because he improve some things, like his serve."

Nadal's well-placed lefty slice, less effective for its pop than for its shrewd placement, has made his life easier on grass. But he wins on the surface for the same reason as the former player he most resembles, Borg. It's all about the legs. As he said, "I think I have very good thing for player here on grass—movement. I move well on the court, and that's a very important part of the game."

No secrets there. Berdych begged to differ and put it simply: "His biggest weapon is his left hand. It's not many players like that. It's really tough, you know, to find the right rhythm."

102617131And it's that much tougher when the most basic strength of your opponent exposes your most basic weakness. In this case, the quickness of Nadal matched with the relatively poor movement of Berdych. As the match wore on, Berdych's defense looked weaker and weaker; by the late stages, he was pushing feeble sliced backhands which, when they did make it over the net, were easy pickings for the swift Nadal.

How did he get so fast? "I think all my life I practiced with my high hundred percent of intensity in every ball in the practice. That's why today I am faster, no? Probably now I'm not practicing with the same intensity like when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I practiced—believe me—like crazy."

This appetite, even for a cradle-to-grave tennis pro, is slightly unusual, and it points to a more fundamental attribute that may be the wellspring of Nadal's style as well as his degree of success. That's his passion for the game, which is manifested in both subtle and obvious ways.

We all know that tennis players are coy, proud individuals. They claim never to read anything written about them, but you can catch them at the newsstand with an armload of papers. Once they're out of a tournament, they profess no interest in watching the grand finale. But I'll bet they sit there, doing sit-ups, tuned in to the broadcast, growling: That coulda been me.

When Nadal was asked the other day if he had watched last year's final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, he said, "I watched at home, on the sofa. Just enjoying the beautiful match. Was a very emotional match. I liked the tennis, so I enjoyed the match."

How often have you heard players, instead of transported fans, call tennis "beautiful?"

Of course, you don't get to be Rafael Nadal by enjoying the moment when you're actually playing out there; you get to be Nadal by living in it and most of all surviving it—even if you get the job done while the sun is still high and the shadows short, while spectators are appreciating every point instead of living—or dying —a little bit with each one.

Today was easy, although Nadal would be the last to tell you so. Don't you think he earned it?


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Posted by David 07/07/2010 at 11:07 PM

As a Nadal fan, I know how Roger's must feel about his current form. The latter half of 2009 was rather depressing and made me wonder if Rafa would ever return to number 1 or win a GS again. Hang in there guys! His game WILL improve and he surely has a few slams left in him. I find it cruel and pathetic when certain supporters of Nadal seem to revel in Fed's lack of results lately. He is the greatest player of all time and his records may never be broken even by Rafa himself. We all should consider ourselves lucky to witness two such great champions perform in this era. There's no need to be so negative; just enjoy what these two bring to the game.

Posted by Geellis 07/07/2010 at 11:35 PM

@Ladyjulia
You make my point. Roger did grow up on clay and, last I checked, with four consecutive RG finals appearances, he is the second best clay court player on the tour. Stated more accurately, Roger has been, for most of the period of his dominance, the second best clay court player in the world.

@TheMightyFunk
I hear you on your Murray analysis, but my point isn't necessarily about results, it's about a) the fairness of a surface as a function of how many players honed their games on it; and b) the level of competition on a surface resulting from "a". Because pretty much the whole tour (at least the top 50) grew up playing on clay, it is the most difficult surface to dominate because it's the one on which the greatest number of players are proficient. If it's more difficult to win 90 matches of a 100 than it is to win 9/10, it surely must be more difficult to dominate a surface in which 100 players are proficient than it is a surface in which 10 are, no? Exact same principle, no? Of course we both exaggerated the numbers for the sake of clarity, but I think you get my point.

Posted by FedererFunk? 07/07/2010 at 11:43 PM

@David,
I agree that it's sort of silly to "revel" in Fed's lack of results lately. He's a great champion and likely the greatest to ever play the sport. No one will ever dominate an era like he did his for close to 4 years. And even if Nadal wins more slams (also unlikely, though not impossible), he'll never dominate the tour like Federer. That said, Fed is in a slump and it's senseless to deny it. Moreover, it's a slump that's been going for some time now. Remember, champions often have ways of winning when not at their best. This has been true of Fed for the better part of 2 years now and he got somewhat lucky not having to pay the piper last year. But the piper is camped out in the Fed's living room now and can no longer be ignored. That's the nature of aging in a young man's game.

Posted by Ethan 07/08/2010 at 12:57 AM

"And even if Nadal wins more slams (also unlikely, though not impossible)"

Surely, you really don't believe that.

He's a 5 time FO winner at 24.

Posted by FED FRED 07/08/2010 at 06:32 AM

FED was finished as a tennis player
the day he married and got kids.

He is a spent shell of himself that cannot even win
a Masters 250 tournament.

Get a dose of reality FED Fans.
Your hero is splat.
#3 and falling fast.

Posted by FED FRED 07/08/2010 at 06:34 AM

Roger FED has a new form.

It's called loosing people.

Posted by FED FRED 07/08/2010 at 06:38 AM

DEl Po eats dog food.

He will never win another major.

He even serves under handed now.

Posted by FED FRED 07/08/2010 at 06:41 AM

I would respect FED more if he could win a tournament.

He is just a glorified ball boy.

Reduced to a shell of himself.

Posted by Purcell 07/08/2010 at 07:56 AM

Fed Fred: and we will respect you when you respectfully write something about the person whom many of us choose to respectfully respect. Well who could that be? Ah, the well-respected Roger Federer.
Now run along. Mummy's calling you to respectfully continue with your potty training.

Posted by Sirhan Fred Sirhan 07/08/2010 at 01:15 PM

The sound track of the Serena-Sharapova match, accompanied by The Boston Pops Orchestra, is now available at

Posted by Sir Fartington Shuttlecock 07/08/2010 at 01:19 PM

That's quite interesting Sirhan, because I am creating a concerto for 3 screaming tennis players and orchestra.

Posted by JKCounterpuncher 07/09/2010 at 03:24 AM

All the talks and buzzes are just predictions. Statistically-wise, Nadal is the best player of the moment and he has long way to go. As for Federer, he already did his thing and already secured his place to all-time greats. Some great things are ahead of us tennis fanatics, and some success are ahead of our favorite players. For me, wherever Federer and Nadal end up in their career, it's their contribution to the sport that matters.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/416260-rafael-nadal-will-end-the-year-as-mens-top-ranked-player

Posted by espnalanaldo 07/09/2010 at 10:18 PM

Marie,

thanks. and you can also read T Ruffin at the Bleacher's Report site , if you like.

Posted by Tennis Observer 07/10/2010 at 02:20 AM

let us respect federer;

but not over hype, over glorify him;

true, fed has a record 16 slams ;

but he has almost always lost to nadal;

including slam finals;

that is why federer is one of the GOATS;

not The GOAT

Posted by ashish 07/10/2010 at 01:41 PM

Rafa is mentally and physically so strong than any tennis player i have ever watched.physically strong there are so many player physically fit but no one matching to rafa in mental toughness.so many time he is down to 0-40 but strongly came up n won the game.so he will go far,at least for another 3-4 years and will win another 8 grand slam for sure.

vamous rafa!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by air jordan shoes 08/25/2010 at 02:41 AM

I was a tennis fan, I like Roger Federer, he is very great.

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