Rafa won a fifth straight Barcelona title today when he beat David Ferrer 6-2,7-5 in the final. This comes after Rafa won a fifth straight title in Monte Carlo as well. Utter clay court dominance. This week was an even better display then in Monte Carlo, not dropping a set during the tournament. He wasn’t even pushed much in a set, the closest being the 7-5 set against Ferrer. Surely Rafa is still the clear favorite to win a fifth straight title at Roland Garros and break his own and Bjorn Borg’s record of four straight titles at the French Open. Borg won a total of six titles at Roland Garros and you feel Rafa would almost certainly break that record as well. The hard record to break will be the three times that Borg won the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year.
Of course Rafa did that last year for the first time. But doing it two more times will be no walk in the park. Rafa is currently the king of clay, but can he become the king of grass as well? A few years ago that would have seemed like a ridiculous suggestion. Never since the time of Borg did anyone even come close to dominate at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. In Borg’s time they were still playing with wooden racquets and with the new racquets clay court tennis became even more of a specialized art. The new technology allowed players to hit with even more spin and power. Topspin is something that is very effective on clay because it decreases the margin for error and it makes the ball bounce higher on an already high bouncing surface.
In contrast to that Wimbledon used to be a place where the ball bounces low and loopy topspin shots doesn’t do you much good. So in a sense it has become harder to dominate simultaneously on clay and grass. But ever since around 2001 the grass at Wimbledon has become slower and the bounce has become higher. This gives Rafa the chance to use topspin coupled with deadly movement to dominate on grass as well. This is a far cry from the style of tennis that would usually triumph at the All England Club. It used to be a paradise for the big servers and volleyers who employed their serve-and-volley game to dominate. But the game of tennis has changed so much that these days even Wimbledon is a retrievers paradise.
I remember a time when big serves and power was threatening to kill tennis. All kinds of suggestions was made to save the sport like getting only one serve instead of two. But tennis compensated by making the courts and conditions slower. But it seems they have over compensated, because now people are complaining that there is too many defensive players that is killing the game with their retrieving. Their is very few truly attacking players left, of which Roger is one. Another that comes to mind is Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. We know that Roger can defend very well of course. He is fast around the court and can make some impossible shots from difficult positions. I guess that is one of the reasons I like his game so much, because it is so balanced.
That is something that tennis still has to get right. The conditions needs to be such that there are both attacking and defensive players on tour. Not everyone can do what Roger does! To come back to Rafa, he has a chance of dominating at Wimbledon as well, but it won’ be easy. Going into this year’s Wimbledon he will probably be the favorite again after that 9-7 in the fifth victory over Roger last year. But it’s definitely not a done deal. Andy Murray will be a real force to be reckoned with this year having lost in straight sets in the quarter finals to Rafa last year. Also the Djoker is starting to find form again, and we know he can play on grass after having made the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2008. And last but not least Roger would desperately want his Wimbledon crown back.
It should be a very interesting championships at the All England club this year if nothing else. Should Rafa win it again after having won the French Open he will be in the unique position of having a shot at the calender year grand slam, something that only Rod Laver have done in the open era. But the US Open will be the hardest grand slam for him to win. This is also the grand slam where Roger probably have the best chance still and Andy Murray will be very dangerous there as well, not discarding the Djoker of course. Even a guy like Tsonga must have a title shot there with his attacking game. Should Rafa go on to win the calender year grand slam it will propel him right to the first tier of contenders for the greatest of all time title.
On two occasions Roger came within one match of winning the calender year grand slam. So close but yet so far! If I was Roger my main focus would be to deny Rafa the calendar year grand slam, since Rafa is the one that denied him twice. But not only that, if Rafa wins the calender year grand slam it would mean he has done something that Roger could never do, and Rafa would be well on his way to snatching away the greatest of the modern era title away from Roger. So clearly Roger should take it upon himself to deny Rafa that honour, there is no use in hoping someone else will do it anyway. The year of 2009 will be yet another very interesting one in the Federer/Nadal saga, and it could be a very decisive one.