French Open, Paris May 26-June 8, 2008; 128 Draw (32 seeds); Surface – Clay
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play third consecutive final in Paris (!) – this time Federer is humiliated. Three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten and a man who was supposed to be his successor (Guillermo Coria), finish their careers losing in the first round.
Roger Federer made a winning return to the French Open, the only Grand Slam title he has never won. The top-ranked Federer beat Sam Querrey of the United States 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in the first round at Roland Garros, where the 12-time Major champion is trying to become the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam. Federer was broken once early in the first set, but managed to win five times on Querrey’s serve. “It’s always difficult in the first round at Grand Slams,” Federer said. “I’m relieved and looking forward to the second round.” Querrey was making his second appearance at the French Open. He also lost in the first round last year. In the other matches, the 17th seed Marco Baghdatis, the 2006 Australian Open runner-up, lost to Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. “That’s the way it is. That’s tennis,” said Baghdatis, who was returning to the game after more than a month off for personal reasons. “He played better than I did today.”Tommy Robredo, the 12th seed, rallied to beat Guillermo Coria 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. Coria, the unlucky 2004 finalist, completely lost his form in 2006 and after a two-year struggle, decided to retire at the age of 26 – the French Open ’08 was his last major event. Late on Sunday, former triple champion Gustavo Kuerten  brought his career to an emotional end. The Brazilian, a former World No. 1 and champion here in 1997, 2000 and 2001, was beaten 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 by French 18th seed Paul-Henri Mathieu to bring his career, so recently blighted by a chronic hip injury, to a sad end. “Here, it is my life, my passion and my love,” Kuerten said in French. “It’s great to have my family here, my coach. But more important was the love you gave me.” Kuerten was joined at the exit by Spain’s 1998 champion Carlos Moya whose 13th Roland Garros was ended by Argentinian qualifier Eduardo Schwank who won 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-7(1), 4-6, 6-3 in a marathon four-hour clash. However, British 10th seed Andy Murray got past French 17-year-old Jonathan Eysseric 6-2, 1-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2. Novak Djokovic survived a rough start to his quest for a second straight Grand Slam title, holding off Denis Gremelmayr 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2. The Australian Open champion was broken in his first two service games on centre court and trailed 5:1 in the 1st set before finding some of his game in the second. Rafael Nadal finally got his French Open title defense under way with a win over Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci. The world number two was on court for the third day running thanks to the Paris rain and made a slow start against 20-year-old qualifier Bellucci. But the three-times champion came through 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. “The conditions were very bad and the wind was terrible,” said Nadal. “I had to wait two days because of the rain and could only practise for 20 minutes so it’s difficult to come on to the court and find a good rhythm.” Elsewhere, Australian Lleyton Hewitt returned from a six-week injury break to thrash France’s Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. The former world number one is playing his first clay-court tournament of the season following a hip injury. “I really stepped up when I needed to, especially on my return of serve,” said the former world number one. “It’s good to get through in tough conditions out there.” Fifth seed David Ferrer is also safely into the second round after a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Belgium’s Steve Darcis. But 2003 champion Juan Carlos Ferrero was forced to retire from his first-round match due to a leg injury. Tomas Berdych, the 11th seed, was the major casualty of the day as he lost a titanic battle with Frenchman Michael Llodra, going down 6-3, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. The Spaniard, the 23rd seed, was leading Brazilian Marcos Daniel 7-6(5), 2-2 when he decided he was unable to continue. “I’ve suffered this pain for quite a while but it’s a bit of a strange problem because scans and X-rays don’t show anything,”said Ferrero. Ferrero’s compatriot Ferrer will face 35-year-old Frenchman Fabrice Santoro in the second round. Santoro, playing in his 63rd Grand Slam tournament, eased past Russia’s Evgeny Korolev 7-6(3), 6-1, 6-4. Marat Safin booked an all-Russian second-round meeting with fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko by completing a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 win over Monaco’s Jean-Rene Lisnard. Safin had levelled the match at one set all when rain brought play to a premature end on Tuesday. “(Davydenko’s) playing his best tennis probably right now,” said Safin. “He won Miami. He beat Nadal and some other great players there, so he’s pretty solid.” There were two all-tie-break matches: Albert Montanes  withstood Kristof Vliegen 7-6(5), 7-6(2), 7-6(3) in 2 hours 27 minutes while Wayne Odesnik [wild card, 106] ousted his future coach Guillermo Canas 7-6(6), 7-6(3), 7-6(8) in 3 hours 47 minutes – one of the longest 3-0 matches of the Open era. Montanes won in a tie-break also his first set of the second round extending the number of winning sets to four ‘7-6’ in a row. Previously 3x 7-6 occurred just twice in the French Open history: Marzio Martelli beat Goran Ivanisevic in 1998 (3, 6, 2) and Ivo Karlovic beat Olivier Patience in 2006 (6, 1, 10). This time, Karlovic lost to Alejandro Falla 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-7(6), 7-5, 4-6 losing his serve for the first time in the match at 3:1 in the 5th set.
Second round: Howard Feindrich
World number three Novak Djokovic became the first man to reach the third round with a crushing 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 win over Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez Jaen. Djokovic, who could meet Nadal in the semi-finals, was on court for only 80 minutes as he booked a meeting with Wayne Odesnik of the United States. “It’s always good to have an easy match,” said the Australian Open champion. James Blake‘s frustration rose to a crescendo Thursday. The top U.S. man in the French Open was talking to himself, and the words were growing louder. He was bothered by the clay underfoot. By the chair umpire. By his own play. And, most of all, by the drop shots and assorted other winners his up-and-coming foe produced. For the fifth time in six career trips to Roland Garros, Blake departed before the third round, losing this time to 80th-ranked Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-6(2), 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. The 19-year-old Gulbis is more experienced than that, but not by much. He moved to Munich when he was 12 to work with Niki Pilic, the same coach who helped mold Australian Open champion Djokovic. “We were practicing a little bit together when we were kids. I was 12, 13, and he was a little bit older,” Gulbis said of Djokovic. “He was more serious than me at that age.” Against Blake, it was Gulbis who seemed to have a better grasp of when to go for winners and when to wait for the right opening. Blake groused afterward about hearing “too many commentators” and “people that talk about tennis that don’t play tennis” say he should tone down his aggressiveness and make fewer errors. Apparently, that was his approach Thursday. “Today was a perfect example of what not to do,” said Blake, who compiled far fewer winners (54-29) and unforced errors (33-16) than Gulbis. “Just being a little too passive.” Blake was part of a 1-3 showing by American men Thursday, when Mardy Fish and Bobby Reynolds also lost. The 88th-ranked Robby Ginepri knocked off No. 27 Igor Andreev 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-2 to join Odesnik as the only players from the United States in the third round. “Americans a lot of times don’t have the highest expectations on clay,” the No. 7-seeded Blake said. “But I really felt like this match today was a match I could have won.” There were moments, if ever so brief, that similar thoughts ran through the minds of the men facing No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal. Federer’s opponent, 60th-ranked Albert Montanes of Spain, staked himself to a one-set lead – and then was overwhelmed the rest of the way in a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 victory for the owner of 12 Grand Slam titles. Nadal’s opponent, 148th-ranked Nicolas Devilder of France, was one point from serving for the first set, holding a break point at 4-all – and then was completely overwhelmed the rest of the way in a 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 victory for the owner of the past three French Open titles. “His forehand was not a big problem for me to start with. And I thought, ‘Why not? Why not?”‘ Devilder said. And then? “The games go by so quickly,” he said. “They go by so quickly, and you think: ‘When is it going to end?”‘ Nadal improved to 23-0 at Roland Garros and said he’s “improving with each match.” Federer, meanwhile, called his outing “a good test.” He saved all six break points he faced, including two during a rain shower while trailing 5:4 in the 1st set. After a 1 1/2-hour rain delay – making it the fourth of the tournament’s five days with wet weather – he came out and lost the tiebreaker. But as Federer put it: “Bounced back strong.” Talk about understatement. From Montanes’ perspective, Federer was “like a hurricane. I couldn’t do anything. You can tell that he’s here to win this tournament.” In the third round at the only major tournament he hasn’t won, Federer faces a familiar foe: Mario Ancic of Croatia, the last man to beat him at Wimbledon, back in 2002. Blake’s exit in the second round in Paris – only in 2006 did he make it to the third – was followed shortly by that of No. 6 David Nalbandian. Unlike Blake, Nalbandian has had success at the French Open, twice reaching the semifinals, but the Argentine wasted a two-set lead – and four break points in the opening game of the 3rd set – and was eliminated 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 in 3 hours 3 minutes by Jeremy Chardy  of France. “The best match I’ve ever played,” said Chardy, a wild-card entry who had won only two tour-level matches in his career before this tournament – and now has doubled that total. Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko backed Marat Safin to regain his position among the world’s best players after negotiating a way past his enigmatic compatriot in the second round of the French Open on Thursday. The mercurial Safin, a former Australian Open winner and a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2002, was a dangerous floater in the draw owing to his lowly world ranking of 73. But fourth-seeded Davydenko dealt with him well, his 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-2 win setting up a match with big-serving 28th seed Ivan Ljubicic. The Croatian defeated Diego Junqueira 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 following the break for rain midway through Thursday afternoon that lasted just over an hour. “It was a great day for me as it was a difficult match,” said Davydenko. “I think he [Safin] wants to be a top player again. And if you see what he did here, he can be. He hit so many winners, has a good return and serve. Maybe sometimes he’s just lacking something mentally.”
Third round: (Daily news)
Roger Federer disposed of Croatia’s Mario Ancic last night to reach the French Open last 16 as the world number one also saw potential semi-final opponent Davydenko removed from the draw. Federer took just over 90 minutes to clinch a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over close friend Ancic, the last man to beat him at Wimbledon in 2002, but who has now lost their five subsequent meetings. Their last three matches took place at majors, and every time Federer won with a very similar scoreline (previously Roland Garros & Wimbledon ’06).“I’m happy with the way I’m playing. I haven’t lost much energy in the first week and I’m happy to get through and to give myself an opportunity,” said Federer. “I’m happy to be in the fourth round and to be the favourite.” Federer, who needs a Roland Garros title to complete a career Grand Slam, was completely untroubled by the 24-year-old Ancic who is still feeling his way back after missing six months of the 2007 season with glandular fever. Federer went through for a fourth round match-up against Frenchman Julien Benneteau who had two points against him in a tie-break to go two sets down before hitting back to defeat Robin Soderling of Sweden 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-0, 6-1. In other men’s third round action, the main upset came when back-to-form Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia battled from two sets down to oust fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Davydenko had reached two semifinals and a quarterfinal in Paris in the past three years. Also from a two-sets-to-love deficit came back Fernando Gonzalez dispatching Stanislas Wawrinka5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.Wawrinka led 3:0 in the 3rd set! The French flag was flying for former world junior champion Gael Monfils whose superior fitness helped him see off Jurgen Melzer of Austria 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2. Fifth-seed David Ferrer of Spain also slugged it out over five sets with Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt before winning 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Ferrer will next take on the much-improved Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic whose unpredictable game was too much for Spanish claycourter Tommy Robredo winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-1. Three-time defending champion Rafael Nadal played for the fourth consecutive day at the rain-interrupted French Open, defeating Jarkko Nieminen 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in a third-round match Friday. Also on Friday, third-seeded Novak Djokovic advanced to the fourth round with a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 win over American Wayne Odesnik. Nadal, who is bidding to match Bjorn Borg by winning a fourth consecutive title at Roland Garros, has now won all of the 24 matches he has played on the Paris clay. Nadal fell behind 0/40 down on his serve in the 3rd game, but staved off four break points to gain the psychological edge on Nieminen, who was seeking to reach the fourth round for the second time. He went on to win seven games in a row, including a series of 11 points, to find himself a break up in the second set. Nieminen, however, broke straight back and celebrated excitedly with the crowd. He held on until 3:3, but with Nadal pulling him wide with his top-spin forehand, he succumbed and dropped the set. Djokovic survived a tumble in the first set before coasting into the fourth round with a straight-sets win over Odesnik. Djokovic drew gasps from the crowd when he slipped behind the baseline at 5:5 in the opener and rolled over in the red clay on Court Suzanne Lenglen. After taking time to get back on his feet, he gave himself a dusting down and then quickly returned to the task at hand, hitting 10 aces in the win. Paul-Henri Mathieu saved three set points in a 4th set tie-break (4:6, 7:8) against an overusing dropshots Eduardo Schwank, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(9).Schwank  entered the match having won 20 matches in a row (15 in Challenegrs, 5 in Paris including 3 qualifying rounds). In other results, No. 10 Andy Murray was eliminated by No. 19 Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-5, and No. 15 Mikhail Youzhny lost to No. 22 Fernando Verdasco 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-5, 6-1. Murray, who had never won a match at Roland Garros before this week, threatened to make a match of it after taking the second set in the tie-break. But he was unable to come to grips with Almagro’s serve. Almagro, who has two clay-court titles under his belt this season, hammered 21 aces and hit a string of winners. He will face either French wildcard Jeremy Chardy, who eliminated second seeded player in a row – 30th seed Dmitry Tursunov 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-4.
Fourth round: (Mail Online)
Roger Federer posted a workmanlike 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 triumph in an entertaining encounter, but admitted facing a fired-up Julien Benneteau on his home turf was more taxing than the result indicated.“It might be tough but I think that the [French] public was fair,” said Federer. “Once again, they were here when they were needed for Benneteau. He broke me twice when I was serving for the set in the first, so the pressure was going up.” It appeared to be business as usual in the opening set as Federer claimed two early breaks to move three games ahead, but Benneteau rallied to get back on serve at 5:4. Federer bounced back in the 10th game, however, breaking Benneteau to close out the first set. The Swiss, seeking a 13th grand slam crown and a first at Roland Garros, broke twice in the second to move two sets clear, despite Benneteau frequently displaying the battling qualities that saw him come from a set down to beat Soderling in the last round. A 90-minute rain delay prior to the start of the 3rd set did little for the concentration levels of either player, but it was Federer who appeared the least flustered as he broke Benneteau twice more to secure the win after 2 hours and 26 minutes. “I didn’t serve in the best possible way today, but otherwise the match was solid,” Federer continued. “I waited for him to make more errors. But I managed to find the means to win the match. That was very important. I was very happy to win because it was a difficult draw against a Frenchman.” Next up for Federer is a quarter-final encounter with Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, who breezed into the last eight with a routine 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-1 win over unseeded American Robby Ginepri. The 24th seed is a clay-court specialist and is unbeaten on the surface in 2008, his win against Ginepri his 16th of the season. Federer is heeding all the warning signs, however, and is braced for a tough battle against a man who has won titles at Vina Del Mar and Munich this season. “He is a dangerous player,” said Federer of the 27-year-old. “He was born on clay, more or less, and his tournament has been good.”David Ferrer notched second straight 5-set set win trailing 1-2 in sets as he defeated Radek Stepanek 4-6, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. Three-time defending champion Rafael Nadal and third-seeded Novak Djokovic posted fourth-round victories on Sunday to advance to the quarterfinals of French Open Tennis Tournament. Second-seeded Nadal easily beat 22nd-seeded fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 to improve his lifetime record at the French Open to an impressive 25-0. Nadal put forth his best effort thus far as Verdasco struggled. Verdasco committed 38 unforced errors and six double faults. The 21-year-old Nadal will face fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals. Almagro edged crowd favorite Jeremy Chardy 7-6(0), 7-6(7), 7-5 in a match that last almost three hours. Chardy had set points in each set: 2, 3 & 1 respectively. Djokovic beat crowd favorite Paul-Henri Mathieu also in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. Djokovic is looking to win his first-ever French Open title; his best showing at Roland Garros came last year when he reached the semifinals. Besides Almagro and Gael Monfils (a 4-set victor over Ivan Ljubicic on Centre Court) also Ernests Gulbis advanced to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. The Latvian cruised past Michael Llodra 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Quarterfinals: Mark Hodgkinson
The Philippe Chatrier Court was rocked last night by the explosive and expressive tennis of Gael Monfils. The young and unseeded Frenchman  beat David Ferrer, the Spanish world No 5, to reach the semi-finals of the French Open – where he meets Federer – for the first time in a Grand Slam tournament. Monfils, a 21-year-old whose parents come from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, bounced up and down on the clay in celebration after his 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory. The only surprise was that he didn’t go for a repeat of the hip-hop dance routine he performed earlier in the fortnight. Who would have thought that France would have a man in the semi-finals for the first time since Sebastien Grosjean in 2001? The country’s leading two male players, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, didn’t strike one ball in anger at the claycourt slam after pulling out because of injury, and Monfils had won just five matches on the tour all year before Paris, because of a knee problem that meant his season did not get going until March. Roger Federer has won all three of his career meetings with Monfils, including the one on the Monte Carlo clay this year. Federer started poorly yesterday against the Chilean, Fernando Gonzalez, struggling to keep the ball in play during an opening set that the Swiss player lost in 25 minutes. But he picked up to level at a set apiece and staved off three break-points in his opening service game of the 3rd set. Gonzalez was so angry with himself for not making the most of his chances in that game that he hurled his racket down, leaving the frame a broken, twisted mess. A ball-boy kindly put it in a dustbin for him. Thereafter Federer took control of the set and of the match, winning 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, and so is through to his fourth successive semi-final at Roland Garros. Serbian third seed Novak Djokovic reached his fifth consecutive Grand Slam semi-final when he ended childhood friend Ernests Gulbis‘ fairytale French Open run. Third seeded Djokovic, a semi-finalist here last year, saw off Gulbis 7-5, 7-6(3), 7-5 and will face triple defending champion Rafael Nadal, who humiliated Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, for a place in Sunday’s final. Nadal needed just 104 minutes to send Almagro packing, 10 minutes fewer than in the previous round when dropped just three games as well (against Verdasco). Australian Open champion Djokovic and Gulbis first trained together as youngsters at the Munich academy owned by former Germany and Croatia Davis Cup coach Niki Pilic and have been firm friends ever since. With a little more composure, Gulbis could have pulled off a famous win over his old pal, but his 60 unforced errors and seven double faults told a sorry story. “We know each other well from being at the same academy and have been friends for a long time,”said Djokovic. “He’s had a great tournament and I’m happy to see him doing so well.” Unseeded Gulbis, bidding to become the first Latvian to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, saw his serve come under siege in the 1st set where he had to save three break points in the 4th game and five more in the 6th. The 19-year-old bravely fought off three set points in the 12th game but his resolve finally cracked under the Djokovic assault when he buried a weary, running forehand into the net to conclude the 63-minute opener. Djokovic hadn’t faced a single break point in the entire first set, but Gulbis carved out three in the 1st game of the 2nd and opened up a 1:0 lead with an accurate down the line forehand. The Serbian world No. 3 then levelled at 4:4 before running away with the tie-break which was played in pouring rain. Gulbis’ error-strewn afternoon continued when another simple forehand was buried into the Suzanne Lenglen Court net allowing Djokovic to nip ahead 3:2 in the 3rd set. Gulbis held on grimly, changing his racquet twice as he desperately sought a way back. Djokovic served for the match in the 10th game, but his opponent broke back to level at 5-all only to return the advantage in the next game. Djokovic then wrapped up the quarter-final when Gulbis only laid half a racquet on a deep service.
World number one Roger Federer saw off a brave challenge from Gael Monfils to set up a dream final against Rafael Nadal at the French Open. Federer, who has lost to Nadal in the last two finals, came through 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 against Frenchman Monfils. Nadal earlier swept aside world number three Novak Djokovic6-4, 6-2, 7-6(3). The Spaniard, chasing Bjorn Borg‘s mark of four back-to-back titles, was in awesome form as he kept up his unbeaten record at Roland Garros. It will be a major surprise if Nadal does not make it 28 straight wins on Sunday when he faces Federer for the fourth year running in Paris. The 22-year-old admitted he had produced a near-perfect performance to see off Djokovic, the form player this season: “I was not expecting to play at this level. I was very dominant, I could put the ball anywhere I wanted. I was dominating both on my forehand and backhand, and I didn’t think that I could make mistakes. That was key.” Federer, meanwhile, looked poised for an easy win when he raced through the first set against unseeded Frenchman Monfils, playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final. However, the top seed appeared to lose focus in the second set, allowing a pumped-up Monfils to level. But Federer earned an early break of serve in the 3rd set and never really looked like losing his grip on the match. Monfils had six break points in the 4th set and bravely saved two match points at 4:5 to the delight of a partisan crowd, but Federer eventually closed out victory after 3 hours 5 minutes. “The key was the first game when he allowed me to break and after that he was behind all the time,” said Federer. “But he held on and battled hard and I am just relieved to have gone through. It was hard to play against him. He is such a great talent and now he has shown it on a big stage.” Monfils blamed a broken contact lens for ending his hopes of becoming the first Frenchman to win the Roland Garros crown for 25 years. “I couldn’t see well, so I tried to put some eye drops in at the beginning of the match,” said Monfils. “Then it didn’t work, so I asked the doctor to come on the court. That didn’t work. I think part of my contact lens stayed, remained in my eye. I managed to take the other part out, but there was one part left.” Monfils added: “I am disappointed, there was an opening for me there.” Djokovic came into his semi-final against Nadal hoping to prove the gap between world number three and two was closing. But the Serb quickly learned what kind of match he was in for when he was forced to stave off break points in the very first game on Philippe Chatrier. But it did not take long for Nadal to break at 2:1 on his way to taking the opening set in just under an hour without facing a single break point. There was more of the same in the second, as the world number two lashed down a series of powerful groundstrokes for a 2:0 lead. Djokovic carved out his first break chance in the third game, but Nadal snuffed it out with a unreturnable serve and broke again at 4:1 to race to a two-set advantage. The Spaniard appeared to be cruising to an easy win as he broke twice for a *3:0 lead in the 3rd – but to his credit, Djokovic refused to throw the towel in. Right at the last, the Serb, who won the Australian Open in January, finally found his form, recovering both breaks (just like in the 1st set of their semifinal a year before) and even earning a set point at 6:5. But Nadal saved it with a wrong-footing forehand and the momentum swung back in his favour in the tie-break. The Spaniard chased down every ball and returned it with precision and power to clinch it 7/3, and move one match away from a fourth title on the Roland Garros clay. “The first two sets were very bad,” admitted Djokovic, who has now lost eight of his 11 meetings with Nadal. “I had no rhythm and was hitting too many unforced errors. Then I decided to go for my shots and try everything or nothing. He showed once again that he is very strong mentally. He’s the best defensive player in the world and plays every point as if it’s match point. The better player won today.”
Final: Christopher Clarey
So what was Roger Federer to do with the elusive French Open trophy once again in sight and Rafael Nadal looming larger than ever across the net? Stay back and rally? Definitely not. Nadal was too quick, too powerful and too steady, with unforced errors creeping in as rarely as sunshine during this tournament. Why not attack the net? More sensible indeed, yet Nadal’s dipping passing shots were so precise, so forceful that they kept requiring Federer to dig balls out of the dirt or twist his neck – smoothly, of course – to watch a winner land on the sideline or the baseline. No, the answer for the millions of Federer fans worldwide who would like nothing better than for their man to win the only Grand Slam singles title he lacks was that there was no solution available to Federer in his current state of form and Nadal’s current state of grace. In a final that rarely resembled anything other than one-way traffic, Nadal was at his clay-covering, forehand-whipping finest as he won his fourth straight French Open by beating up on the erratic, increasingly dispirited Federer. The stunning final score – 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 – was the most lopsided result in a major men’s final since John McEnroe also surrendered just four games against Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1984. “I was walking out worrying about losing; it would have been impossible to imagine it would turn out like this,” Nadal said. “I think I played an almost perfect match, and Roger made more mistakes than usual.” The victory was the finishing touch on one of the most dominant performances in Grand Slam history. The left-handed Nadal, whose record at Roland Garros is now 28-0, did not lose a set in this tournament. The last man to do that here was the Swedish champion Bjorn Borg in 1980, and Borg is also the only other man to win four straight singles title in Paris. Borg, his blond hair now gone gray, was in the front row of the president’s box for the entirety of this 1-hour-48-minute rout, and he later awarded Nadal the Coupe des Mousquetaires, which is beginning to seem like a formality in Paris. “I would have hoped, of course, to get more today than four games,” Federer said in French in a quiet, slightly sheepish voice as he addressed the crowd. “But Rafa is really very, very strong this year. He dominated this tournament like perhaps never before. Like Bjorn. He deserves this title.” The defeat was Federer’s most lopsided in a Grand Slam match. He had not won so few games – in a best-of-three or best-of-five match – since losing to David Nalbandian, 6-2, 6-1, in the second round in Monte Carlo in 2002. It was also the latest disappointment in a season in which Federer’s pre-eminence in men’s tennis has been consistently usurped. His only title this year came in a minor clay-court event in Estoril. Losing to Nadal on clay in Paris was no surprise. Federer was beaten by Nadal in the semifinals in 2005 and the final in 2006 and 2007. But Federer managed to win at least one set in those matches before Nadal wore him down. This time, however, Federer had more than twice as many unforced errors as winners. And Nadal was quite obviously on a higher plane, making just seven unforced errors – total – as he controlled the rallies with his wicked spin and grunting athleticism and ripped big holes in Federer’s plan of attack, which was at times difficult to discern. Nadal now leads their head-to-head series, 11-6, and has won 9 of their 10 matches on clay. “I definitely think he’s improved,” Federer said. “He’s much better on defense, much better on offense. When you really cannot play your game and he can play exactly what he wants from the baseline, well, you end up with scores like this sometimes. It’s tough for the opponent, obviously.” Disappointing, too, for the celebrities who piled into the Philippe Chatrier Court in the hopes of seeing a Federer-Nadal classic. The mood as the gladiators walked on court was festive, with the top-seeded Federer receiving by far the louder ovation. But Nadal very quickly asserted himself, breaking Federer’s serve in the first game. He then held his own with difficulty in the next. After Federer held to 2:1, Nadal proceeded to reel off 22 of the next 25 points. Federer did briefly change the tone, breaking Nadal in the 3rd game of the 2nd set to get back on serve. The crowd, eager for a contest, chanted Federer’s first name at 2:2, but the reality was that all he had done was hold his serve. Something extra special, perhaps extraterrestrial, was required, and Federer’s only chance to truly begin rebuilding came when he had a break point with Nadal serving at 3:3 against the wind. But Nadal won that long exchange with a drop shot that Federer reached with his backhand but knocked into the net. Federer did not know it yet, but he would not win another game, with Nadal taking nine in a row. As Federer’s errors piled up down the stretch, there were boos and whistles from the crowd. Nadal, clearly sensitive to the situation, kept his celebration to a respectful minimum. After Federer’s last forehand approach sailed long, Nadal simply raised both arms and smiled before shuffling to the net to shake Federer’s hand. “First of all, I don’t prepare my celebrations; I do them as I feel them,” Nadal said. “In the other years I won in four sets, they were closer than this one. This time, there were no moments of maximum tension. And considering my relationship with Roger, it seemed like the right way to go about it.” Nadal’s 27th title, he still hadn’t a Grand Slam crown elsewhere. Stats of the final.
Three back-to-back ‘Fedal’ finals in Paris:
2006: Nadal d. Federer 1–6, 6–1, 6–4, 7–6(4) [3 hours 2 minutes] 2007: Nadal d. Federer 6–3, 4–6, 6–3, 6–4 [3 hours 10 minutes] 2008: Nadal d. Federer 6–1, 6–3, 6–0 [1 hour 48 minutes]
* Nadal and Federer met also in the 2005 semifinal (four sets); in 2008 they became a second pair to play against each other four straight years in one major (Courier & Agassi met at Roland Garros in years 1989-92); this record will be overcome in New York 2011 (Federer vs. Djokovic)
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