I couldn’t watch this match live so I had to take a look at the rerun first. But I was nevertheless excited at the result when I saw it. Of course it is highly disappointing every time Roger loses, especially to Nadal. But this was more than I expected so I am actually quite excited. The match didn’t start out very convincingly for Roger, with him dropping serve in the opening game. He hung in there however and got the break back in the eighth game. This was somewhat against the run of play, as it is very hard to break Nadal on clay. In the eleventh game Roger went down 0-40 on his serve however, and the set look all but lost. He fought back brilliantly though and held serve to take a 6-5 lead. In the next game he made an exquisite backhand flick pass at 30-30 to set up set point. He converted in style to take the opening set.
The match was on. It was expected that Nadal would mount a comeback and he proceeded to breadstick Roger in the second set. Despite the scoreline it was still a close set, but Nadal was back in control. Then in the third set Roger managed to produce a break point early on. He couldn’t convert, and in the next game, despite being up 40-15 on his serve, he dropped his serve. That was pretty much the end of it right there. Roger did manage to produce one more break point at 3-5, but hit a second serve from Nadal straight into the net. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by this result. Maybe because my expectations were so low. Roger played some brilliant tennis. He served pretty well and kept Nadal under pressure with attacking tennis. He also mixed it up well with drop shots and slices, and came to the net when necessary.
I feel like Roger could not have done any better at this point. I don’t care about the fact that he was 2/11 on break points either. This is Nadal we are talking about and it was on clay. To break Nadal twice on clay is already a lot. I am probably Roger’s toughest critic, but at times you have to give the guy some credit. To criticize him for anything in this match is way too harsh in my opinion. After losing 6-3, 6-2 to Nadal in Miami, this was a great effort to give Nadal a very tough match on his favorite clay. As a fan we should know when to criticize and when to applaud. This match made me excited because it showed me that Roger is not done and that he is competing strongly with the very best still. He could hardly beat Nadal on clay in his prime, so I cannot possibly expect more from him here. Nadal is just unbeatable on clay.
His relentless moonballing and retrieving skills is immensely difficult to overcome on clay. For Roger to have won a set was an incredible effort. Having said that, it does annoy me a lot that these two are still facing each other so much on clay. Roger is in Nadal’s half again in Rome, so they will probably face off there in the semi’s again. It’s just not fair. Of their 24 meetings, 13 have been on clay now. That is more than half. But in the end the head-to-head record with Nadal matters little. If Nadal was good enough in Roger’s prime to meet him more on faster surfaces the head-to-head would have looked very different. Because of the fact that they faced so many times on clay, Nadal got the upper hand and the mental edge in the rivalry. Fact is Roger plays a much more acceptable brand of tennis than Nadal’s relentless pushing.
It’s ugly and it is not how a man should play tennis. There is no guts involved. It is just about keeping the ball in play in a fashion which makes it impossible for the opponent to play attacking tennis, and then waiting for the error. Nadal can win a 100 slams for all I care. I would still hate his game and his on court demeanor. Roger is just infinitely better to watch in every possible way. He leaves it all out there and takes risks, where Nadal just wants to sit back in his comfort zone and wait for his opponent to falter. It’s the same old story. For me a moonballer can never be the GOAT, even if he wins the most slams. The way you play the game matters just as much as how many titles you win. Of course I’m not saying that Nadal will win more slams, but he will never be the GOAT in my eyes. I am pretty excited for Roger now.
I said I wanted him to do better in this clay season than last year, and that is what he showed me today. It was already a much better showing than the match against Nadal in Madrid last year. He really went for it this time and believed in himself. So all in all I’m feeling good. It’s a real shame that Roger is not in Djokovic’s half in Rome, but I guess he has no choice but to make the semi’s again and face Nadal. That will surely mean another beat down at the hands of Nadal, but at least he would have gone as far as he could and gained the ranking points. I’m not being negative believe me. I just can’t see that he will beat Nadal on sea level if he can’t do so on altitude. Roger can only control what he can control, and he doesn’t control the draw. He just has to make sure he gives himself the best chances and keep his confidence as high as possible.
Nadal will now face Djokovic in the final, which was pretty much expected. Djokovic didn’t impress me much however, having been taken to three sets by both Ferrer and Belluci. It is possible that Roger is still the second best clay courter on tour, which is why I would have loved to see him in Djokovic’s half in Rome. But we will get a good idea after we see how Djokovic fares against Nadal tomorrow. The important thing is that Roger is back on track with this very competent performance. I am looking forward to the rest of the clay court season, but especially to the grass court season, knowing that Roger will most probably take more confidence from the clay court season than last year. Wimbledon is beckoning once more.