Federer Over Nadal on Clay – Get Ready Paris!

19 May 2009 by tennisguru in Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open

Federer v Nadal at madrid-openThe world’s best clay court tennis player is Spain’s Rafael Nadal. On Sunday, May 17, 2009, the world’s best clay court tennis player did not win the Madrid Open, a Masters tournament featuring a Men’s Draw and a Women’s Draw. To the astonishment of the subdued home crowd, Rafael fell to the world’s second best tennis player, Switzerland’s Roger Federer.

After a devastating loss to Nadal at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Federer seemed broken in sprit. At a post match interview, the world’s former number one and winner of 13 Grand Slam Championships was near tears. Exhaustion almost got the better of the graceful Swiss star.

The Madrid finals marked the sixteenth time the two champions have squared away in a tournament finals. Nadal owns a commanding 11 – 5 championship match record. Only Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe have met in more finals and like Nadal and Federer, many of their 20 final matches were memorable. In head-to-head matchups, Nadal has won 13 of the 20 battles.

Always the consummate sportsmen, Federer has been gracious in defeat. With each recent loss, an edge has begun to surface between the two. Tennis fans have come to believe that the fire has left Federer’s game. While he remains a threat on faster surfaces, he is often overlooked on clay.

During a post match interview, Nadal made mention of the speed on Madrid’s new clay courts, saying the surface is unlike the notoriously deliberate red clay at Roland Garros in Paris. Nadal thought the faster surface was geared more to Federer’s game.

Serb Novak Djokovic brought his big game to Madrid and kept Rafael on the court for four grueling hours in the Saturday semi-finals. The match definitely took a toll on Nadal. Federer had an easier time disposing of Andy Roddick in the other semi-final. Nadal’s assessment of the court speed seems valid as Roddick is not known to reach the semis on true clay surfaces.

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For Federer and for the organizers at Roland Garros, the upset could not have come at a more opportune time. The cocky Nadal has been on an impressive roll winning 33 consecutive clay court matches. Amazingly, the burly 22-year old lefthander has only lost 5 of 155 clay court matches since 2005. After wins at Monte Carlo and Rome, Rafa was seeking to become the first male to win all three clay Masters events. Playing in his homeland before 12,500 center court fans, the stage was set. But, the Swiss star spoiled the party with the straight set, 6-4, 6-4 win.

Despite the top seed’s marathon match on Saturday, the Spaniard came out firing and had two early break points against Switzerland’s star. Federer overcame break points in game two and game six of the first set and finally broke through against Nadal in game nine. He followed the break with a love service game to claim set one.

In the fifth game of the second set, the champion dazzled the crowd with a spellbinding drop shot that the hard-charging Spaniard could not play. At add out, Nadal lost serve when his backhand came up short. That was all the Swiss star needed. At 5-4 and down 15-40, Federer clawed his way back to deuce then to match point, which he won with an ace down the middle. The Madrid title was Roger’s first win over Rafa since the Hamburg Open in 2007.

At the end of the month, the pair may meet for a re-match in Paris. Once again, Nadal will be the top seed. And, Paris has been very, very good to Rafa. The wake-up call may be just what the doctor ordered for Nadal as he goes for his fifth consecutive French Open Championship and the second leg of the Grand Slam. On the other hand, Federer has struggled in Paris. The French Open is the missing link in his Grand Slam trophy case.

Federer’s success in Madrid will serve notice that his clay game is ready. “It’s a nice feeling and I’m excited to be going to Paris now whereas maybe a couple of weeks ago I was still a little bit unsure about my game and not sure whether I could win the French and now that’s changed.”

The Madrid champ not only snapped Nadal’s 33 clay match win streak but did the same with his 2007 Hamburg win. At that point, Nadal had won 81 straight clay matches. Federer’s newfound drop shot might be just the weapon he needs in Paris.

Nadal has been preparing mentally and physically for Roland Garros. Like all the elite players, he can afford to bear down on the majors. Since 2005, the Spaniard has not lost a match at Roland Garros and anyone who overcomes him now will know they have been to battle. While Federer has the Madrid hardware, Nadal leaves knowing that he was off his game and still finished a close second against the same competition that will move on to Paris. See you there!

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