The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, did something no man in the Open Era had ever done - win the same major tournament eight times. The Matador from Mallorca did just that on a cool Sunday final afternoon with a dominating 62 63 62 win over his countryman David Ferrer, who was making his first appearance in a Grand Slam final at 31 years of age. It was Nadal's 12th Grand Slam title.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for Ferrer, who hadn't dropped a set in his six matches to get to the final. He got down a break early but then got it back. Then he gave it up again and Nadal crucially took the first set. From then on, it was all Rafa, and you never got the sense he was going to let his good buddy back into the match. The under-sized fighter fought, and fought hard, but whenever he made any in-roads Nadal was there to stop him, with the vicious forehand sizzling like meat on a barbeque.
Eight French Opens. Whatever way you slice it, and no matter who you support, that is an achievement that will go down in history as one of the great feats in this great sport. Nadal is unquestionably the greatest to ever step foot on Court Chatrier, and it will be a long time before a player can do what he has done on the surface. We may never see something like it ever again.
Personally, I don't like Nadal, but I don't dislike him either. As I have matured I have come to see him in a neutral light and appreciate the legend that he truly is. I have watched him more in 2013 than in any other year and I have seen in great detail how dominating his game is when he is rolling. He can dictate with the forehand like no other (except maybe Federer).
His backhand, while not what you would call an elite backhand like Djokovic or Murray's, is one of the best simply for the power and angle he can generate with it from far behind the baseline, creating ridiculous passing shots with the strength of his right hand. His defense is extraordinary, even if he was much faster back in his younger years. His serve has improved a ton in the last five years and is a big weapon for him (and will be in the future as he tries to shorten points off clay to protect his body). His return of serve, while not great like Djokovic, Murray, or Ferrer's, is an example of what every club level player should do with the return - first and foremost, get it back in the court. I know, because I absolutely hate missing returns I should get back in play. It is like a cardinal sin. And Rafa understands this, and he just does not miss returns he should get within the court.
You may be thinking to yourself, "isn't he a Federer guy? What's with this sudden praise of Nadal?" Don't worry, Roger is still the undisputed greatest ever in my mind and I could write 10,000 words as to why. But I see things differently than I used to back when Rafa was the guy you didn't like because he was Federer's arch-rival. I appreciate how great Rafa is to be so good for so long on clay (and how great he has become on hardcourt and grass), especially with how many injuries he has had the last 8 years. It has taken tremendous dedication, and unrelenting work ethic, and a true love of the game to keep coming back from what he has had to endure.
With his 8th French Open, Nadal became the first man ever to win a Slam title in 9 straight years (Federer won in 8 straight, 2003 to 2010). That is very impressive to say the least. Personally, Federer's 8-year streak is more impressive for me because Roger won 3 Slams a season in 3 different years (2004, 2006, 2007), and 2 in two other years (2005, 2009), with winning one in the 3 other years (2003, 2008, 2010). I think those 16 Slams in 8 years is more impressive than Nadal's 12 Slams in 9 years (1 each in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, and up to now 2013, with 3 in 2010 and 2 in 2008).
Just one other thing to touch on before I wrap this up - the future for Rafa Nadal.
Since returning from his 7-month absence, Rafa has come back with a vengeance: 43-2, 7 titles in 9 finals, with 3 Masters and now a Grand Slam. It has been remarkable. But his dominance this year could end now.
He has played 8 of his 9 tournaments on clay so far. I said back in February that Rafa would be as dominant as ever on the red stuff, because it is where he is most comfortable and confident. I said the real test would come after the French Open. Now, here we are. He has already withdrawn from Halle, which is a smart move since he's already played 45 matches this year (in comparison Federer has 29, Djokovic has 38, and Murray has 27) and played a taxing tournament in Paris. Then comes Wimbledon, where he might be a favourite if he's playing well, though I think any of the big 4 could take it. And then it will get real difficult for him as the rest of the year is played on medium-fast hardcourts, which, as we all know, don't suit Nadal's knees well. Will Rafa run out of gas? Can he stay healthy? I'm sure we will see a lesser schedule from him in the second half of the year, perhaps missing Cincinnati and Basel or Paris.
Regardless, it's a good time to be a Nadal fan. His comeback has been remarkable. I give my sincere congratulations on winning his 12th Grand Slam title and record-breaking 8th French Open.
Now onto the grass!
This is my tennis blog, Lefty Advantage. Tennis is my biggest passion in life and I started this site to discuss the great game. I mainly follow the career of Roger Federer, but I truly love watching all tennis, whether it be the final of a Grand Slam or a junior tournament on the other side of the world.
I have played tennis for 13 years. If you ever met me, I could talk your head off about all things tennis for hours on end if you would let me. Welcome, and enjoy the writing!