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Monday, June 6, 2011

Ruthless Rafa! The Spanish juggernaut rolls on but Federer goes down fighting in Paris


King again: Rafael Nadal stormed to a sixth French Open title beating Switzerland's Roger Federer

Roger Federer came to Roland Garros and made his point, but he could not make it loud enough to suppress the extraordinary Rafael Nadal.

We get the message that Federer is no spent force, and when Wimbledon starts in a fortnight nobody will be underestimating him as they did here and writing him out of the sport's remarkable narrative of 2011.

Yet that is something different from actually beating Nadal and interfering with the private duel he is waging with the records of Bjorn Borg from more than 25 years ago

While Federer was often brilliant and always adventurous in his attempts to stop his greatest rival he was ultimately powerless to prevent a 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1 defeat that took three hours and 40 minutes.

This was Nadal's 10th Grand Slam title and his sixth at Roland Garros, tying with the tally amassed by the great Swede at this stadium.

Of the seven men in history who have reached double figures when it comes to the game's major trophies, only Borg reached 10 at a younger age than the Spaniard's 25 years and two days.

Mutual respect: The game pitted the two greatest players to ever play against each other

Of more current significance is that going into Wimbledon Nadal will still be the world No 1, having defended the position against the odds from the frantic assault of Novak Djokovic.

Federer facilitated that by his semi-final defeat of the Serb and, most unwillingly, played his part again by losing in what was his first Grand Slam final since last year's Australian Open. Nonetheless he was pleased at least to be back in the conversation about who belongs where in the game's highest echelon.

'At the Australian Open when people thought me and Rafa were done I told them to wait six months. Now the talk is different again. I feel really good physically and the priority is to win Wimbledon,' he said.

Holding court: Nadal was at his imperious best, reaching almost everything Federer could throw at him

The slightly scary thing is that Nadal has not been quite at his best in this Championship. 'The fact that I didn't start so good and was able to change and play my best is the most satisfying thing,' said Nadal, who in the final three rounds faced the world No 5, four and three, none of whom played below themselves, and ended up dropping just a set to them.

Poor old Andy Murray. Still no Grand Slam title in the cupboard and now he is up against a rejuvenated Federer, a man who hardly ever loses in Djokovic and the No 1 in full working order.

In line with his usual routine the victor will be on the Eurostar this lunchtime and later in the day will take his first steps on to a grass court to practise for this week's AEGON Championships at London's Queen's Club. There will be a quick break at home in Majorca when he is finished there and then it is on to Wimbledon. This has worked beautifully in recent years.

Well supported: Fans of the Spaniard, who is a firm favourite at the French, packed into the stadium

Federer got off to an explosive start. At 5-2 up, with an aggressive policy of going for lines and attacking the net paying off, his career's crowning glory of a victory over Nadal at Roland Garros did not look out of the question.

But to beat the Spaniard here, as Murray will attest, requires sustained brilliance that is beyond the bounds of other humans' endeavour, plus huge nerve.

Out of reach: Federer had, until the final, been showing signs he was back to his best

The crucial game was at 5-3 when Federer landed in only one first serve out of six and was broken back after missing a set point with a drop shot. The Nadal hammer came slamming down as he reeled off seven games in sequence to reach 2-0 in the second set.

Federer stuck to his attacking policy and was rewarded with a break back for 4-4.

Further breaks were swapped - it will be a crumb of encouragement to others that Nadal's serve has been less than watertight here - but in the tiebreak the Swiss made a couple of early errors and could not recover from the 4-0 deficit that opened up.

Disruption: Even a small rain delay couldn't upset Nadal's rhythm

Federer is revered in Paris like nowhere else and the Court Philippe Chatrier roared him back into the match when he came with a surge from 4-2 down in the third. Having little to lose he hit out, and with Nadal unable to stem the flow his tactic of trying to break down the Federer backhand was met with a flurry of winners.

More than three hours was on the clock, and it was worth remembering that, with Federer only three months shy of his 30th birthday Nadal is five years younger.

Net gains: The win ensures Nadal goes into Wimbledon into high spirits after seeing his No 1 spot threatened

The second most crucial game was the opener of the fourth set, which saw Nadal carve out a hold from 0-40 that palpably put a break on his opponent's momentum.

As had happened when 5-3 up in the first, Federer seemed to second guess himself, and once Nadal had secured the break for 3-1 there was no doubt he would pick up the Coupe Des Mousquetaires for the sixth time.

He leaves Paris with a staggering 45-1 record in this tournament. A huge amount of physical and mental energy goes into these triumphs and at times you wonder how much more he can have left, but on days like this Nadal looks as if he will go on for ever.

This much difference: The defeat for Federer merely highlighted his fall from the summit of the world game

rafael nadal vs roger federer 2011

source: dailymail


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