Four games: What is the Swiss word for "annihilation"?
Four games is all it took, and Rafael Nadal rubber-stamped, underlined, and highlighted his complete dominance on the red clay by winning the 2008 French Open. That is how many games the world number ONE player, Roger Federer of Switzerland, was able to take off the now four-time French Open Champion.
On Thursday last week, I did a post looking forward to the Men's Final, which at that stage was undecided. I'd hoped for a Federer-Nadal rematch of the last two Finals, and so it turned out. But what did not materialize was an epic battle between number 1 and 2. Instead, it was a rout, a brutal dismembering of Federer, who is called the greatest ever, by Rafael Nadal, who must without doubt be the greatest ever, on this particular surface.
The statistics - telling the story of the carnage in Paris
The stats from the match are remarkable, even if taken in isolation. Consider the following:
- 35 Unforced errors compared to SEVEN
- Only five points won on the second serve in the WHOLE MATCH
- 31% of points won when receiving serve, compared to 60% by opponent
- 52 points won in the match, compared to 92
- Only managed to see FOUR break points, compared to 17
Those stats would be remarkable enough in any game, but when you consider that it's Roger Federer whose numbers are shown first in the above list, compared to Nadal's, then you get an idea of the total domination enjoyed by the Spaniard. Federer only won 5 points on his second serve in the whole match, and won almost half the number of points won by Nadal.
If those numbers don't tell the story, then these do:
6-1, 6-3, 6-0
because that was the final score. When was the last time the world number ONE managed to win only four games in any match, let alone a big final? And when last did a world number one get bumped to love in any set of a competitve match? It was a truly remarkable match, for reasons I really did not expect last week. I expected a Nadal victory, sure, but the manner of the win was quite eye-opening.
Implications of the result: Doubt and confidenceIt leaves Federer in pretty much the same place he's been every June for the last four years - contemplating the only Grand Slam to elude him, and wondering how on earth he is going to even compete with, let alone beat, Nadal. The last two finals have been much closer - four sets last year, and he was competitive for most of the match, bar one set. This year, six games in the second set gave the neutral and Swiss fans hope, because Federer fought back from a break down, and then threatened to break again. But that was the sum of his resistance and pretty soon, the heavy hitting and precision by Nadal, combined with a wild forehand by Federer, counted for too much.
Once Nadal broke to go 5-3 clear in the second, he never looked back, winning the final eight games, handing Federer his worst defeat since his arrival as tennis' number one, and so the truth is that Federer is probably not in the same place he usually is in June - he's much further back.
As for Nadal, he now heads into the grass court season having built his legacy yet again. He suffered only 1 defeat all season on the clay, and that was largely due to blisters that prevented him from walking, let alone running. For the rest of the year, he was challenged, but always responded, and then on the biggest stage, he simply blasted everyone away.
Consider that in all his matches in this tournament, he made only 98 unforced errors! In 21 sets of play, that's fewer than 5 mistakes a set (I am a little sceptical of those numbers, to be honest, but the point is, Federer made 35 in three sets today). He doesn't miss, chases everything down, hits with power, accuracy and aggression, and the opponent has little choice but to become increasingly desperate in trying to win points, let alone games.
Consider also that he lost only 22 games in his last four rounds - 3 to Verdasco, 3 to Almagro, 12 to Djokovic (he must have played poorly that match!), and now 4 to Federer - and you get an idea of how utterly superior he has been.
He goes into the Wimbledon campaign on a serious high then. Last year, he pushed Federer to five sets in the final, and that will give him heart. Add today's whitewash third set to that, and you have the makings of a real challenge to Federer's crown on grass. What may ultimately determine the outcome at Wimbledon is the draw, because Djokovic will be the "floating" seed in third, and he will either play Federer or Nadal in a big semi-final. Whoever avoids Djokovic therefore has to win only really one BIG game, and if that is Nadal, then I'd say the odds are pretty close to 50-50.
Then again, Federer may have given himself a close to 50% chance of winning this final. He never knew what hit him.
Last word on the ladies: Ivanovic claims number 1 and maiden Slam
On the ladies' side, it was Serbia's Ana Ivanovic who triumphed in a nervy final against first time finallist Dinara Safina of Russia. The game was not particularly memorable, as both ladies seemed very hesitant and there were numerous errors. In the end, it was experience and slightly superior athleticism that won out, and Ivanovic crowned her new number 1 ranking with her first Grand Slam title.
Please stop the reliance/dependence relationships - you're all big girls and boys...
Just a note on the game in general here, and it's particularly relevant to Ivanovic. Am I the only one who finds it increasingly annoying how reliant the players seem to be on their coaching staff and support teams DURING matches? I remember seeing it at the Australian Open earlier this year, and now again in France, but every time the player wins a point, they pump the fist, and look up at their box and family and coaches for some kind of telepathic support. When things go badly, the same happens - look up to the coach and support team.
Now, to me, this seems like some kind of dysfunctional "Freudian" need, when a professional player has to look for invisible help that often. Ivanovic, in all her matches, must look at her box about 150 times in the match. For everything - line calls, points won, points lost, first serves missed, crowd noise. You name it, she's looking. It was similar for Djokovic in the Australian Open.
And it was Dinara Safina who actually put it best, when in her speech at the prize-giving, congratulated Ivanovic and her team, and then said "even though the team was really annoying sometimes". I second that!
Tennis has always had this tendency to produce somewhat dodgy parent/coach-player relationships, but it seems to have gotten worse of late - I don't recall the likes of Steffi and Monica Seles being quite so dependent on people in the crowd! But watching Ivanovic's completely dependent demeanour towards her team made me pretty annoyed as a spectator too. Federer and Nadal showed the way - play the game, play the opponent, and be a big girl/boy, and look after yourself.
Bring on Wimbledon!