Restored to his throne
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold, yet there was nothing chilled about Rafael Nadal's serving at Roland Garros yesterday. His returns were hot, too hot for Robin Soderling, his conqueror last year, as were his punishing ground strokes and the occasional executed volley. Nadal needed to be at his sizzling best in all departments of his game to carry out his mission to regain, what was until last year, his title as the undisputed King of Clay. And how he responded.
By ruthlessly denying the world No 7 the small consolation of a set in carving out a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory in 2hrs 18mins, Nadal sent out a resounding message last night that he is the man to beat on his favoured surface. Soderling, an inspired, fierce hitting Swede, had, 12 months ago, raised doubts about Nadal's imperious dominance on the red dust of Europe by sending the four-time French Open champion packing in a seismic fourth-round upset. Anything less than would have left the Spaniard vulnerable to a similar embarrassment in yesterday's final as Soderling turned in a repeat of the creditable display which was too good for Roger Federer, the world No 1, in the quarter-final.
Like Italy's Francesca Schiavone in the women's final 24 hours earlier, Nadal kissed the dust at his moment of triumph leaving his adoring Paris supporters in no doubt about the enormous significance of the occasion. A major factor in Nadal's failure to win a fifth successive French title last year was wear and tear on his knees. A diagnosis of tendinitis was declared after the shock defeat to Soderling, denying him the chance to defend his Wimbledon crown and an 11-month period of title-less uncertainty on the ATP Tour. Those doubts about Nadal's capacity to, one day, join the outstanding figures in tennis history have been removed over the last few weeks.
Victories in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid provided the Spaniard with timely boosts to his shattered morale but Roland Garros was the one that mattered most in restoring his all-conquering reputation. This is Nadal's kingdom and has been since he first appeared in the main draw in 2005. His record of five titles in six visits is almost as outstanding as Federer is at Wimbledon. Federer's only defeat in the past seven years at Wimbledon was at the hands of Nadal in the 2008 final. There is every chance that the Swiss master's next reverse at the All England Club may also be at the hands of his nemesis who holds a career win-loss record of 14-7 from their 21 previous meetings.
Federer's unexpectedly early departure, coupled with Nadal retrieving the rankings points he surrendered last year, means Nadal will take Federer's customary position at the top of the Wimbledon draw as the restored world No 1. That top ranking is likely to remain with Nadal for the foreseeable future because he can only pick up points during the short grass-court season - having missed it last year - while Federer can only hope to break even by defending the points he earned beating Andy Roddick in an epic 2009 Wimbledon final.
In the meantime, Nadal assumes top billing in a high class line-up for the Wimbledon warm-up tournament at London's Queen's Club where he is seeded to meet Andy Murray, the holder, in the semi-finals and Novak Djokovic in the final. Federer, who has made no attempt to disguise the suggestion that only the grand slams now really motivate him as he seeks to increase his record haul of major titles to 17, makes his customary visit to the less intense Halle tournament in Germany where he will be strongly fancied to prevail for the fifth time.
Published: June 6, 2010 04:00 AM