|05-21-2009, 11:03 AM||#1|
Join Date: Feb 2009
NY Times article on FO - some interesting quotes
PARIS (AP) — Can one match really change everything?
Roger Federer certainly hopes so. Rafael Nadal certainly
thinks not. Can one win over Nadal — in a final; on clay; last weekend
— reverse Federer's recent malaise? Perhaps even point him toward a title at the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament he hasn't won?
Can one loss to Federer — in straight sets; in Spain — chip away at Nadal's sense of superiority? Perhaps even portend an end to his unbeaten run at Roland Garros, where he will try to win a record fifth consecutive championship and take the second step toward a true Grand Slam?
This much is indisputable: Federer's victory over Nadal at
the Madrid Open simultaneously gave the Swiss star his first
tournament title in more than six months and ended the
Spaniard's 33-match winning streak on clay. Those facts alone at
least change the conversation heading into the French Open,
which starts Sunday.
"I am very excited about going to Paris, whereas a couple
of weeks ago, I was still a little bit unsure about my game,"
Federer said, "and not sure if I could win the French."
Nadal, for his part, graciously noted after that setback,
"He was better. That's all there is to it." Less graciously,
Nadal also pointed out that the altitude and other particulars
of the Madrid tournament favored Federer.
Yet we have seen this before: Two years ago — also in a
final; also on clay; also shortly before the French Open —
Federer beat Nadal at Hamburg, Germany, to end Nadal's 81-match
winning streak on the red surface, then spoke boldly about
"dictating play." Some thought that would foreshadow a title for Federer in
Paris. But he lost to Nadal in four sets in the 2007 French Open final, the same way the 2006 French Open ended. In 2008, Nadal beat Federer in three sets in the final. In 2005, Nadal beat him in the semifinals.
"The toughest opponent on this surface is Nadal. There's no
question about it. But, still, Roger has been playing really
well on this surface," said fourth-ranked Novak Djokovic, twice
a French Open semifinalist.
And yet, if the recent past is any indication, this tournament will come down to Nadal and Federer. Nadal, thanks in part to victories over Federer in five-set finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, has the No. 1 seeding in Paris for the first time. After all those years atop the rankings, Federer is No. 2.
With 13 Grand Slam singles titles, Federer needs one to tie
Pete Sampras' record. With six, Nadal is gaining. Federer bids
again to become the sixth man with a career Grand Slam, while
Nadal's victory in Australia means he can eye the first
calendar-year Grand Slam by a man since Rod Laver's in 1969.
"He definitely has a chance," Federer said.
More immediately, Nadal can break a tie with Bjorn Borg,
whose 1978-81 titles make him the only other man to win the
French Open four years running.
"It's a fait accompli at this point, if Rafa stays healthy,
that he wins," two-time French Open champion Jim Courier said.
"I remember growing up seeing Borg dominate that tournament, and
I haven't seen anyone dominate it like that since — until now."
Check out these statistics: Nadal is 28-0 at the French Open. He never has been pushed to five sets there. He didn't drop a set in the 2008 tournament. He is 43-0 for his career in best-of-five-set matches on clay (those Madrid and Hamburg losses to Federer were best-of-three).
"Who knows if Nadal is going to win this year, and then
maybe next year, and the year after? He could win seven, eight
in a row, the way things look at the moment," three-time French
Open champion Ivan Lendl said. "Guys are closing the gap,
there's no doubt about it, but I don't think it's closed enough
where anybody who understands the game would say that Nadal is
not a heavy favorite."
What seems to get lost, at times, is just how good Federer is on clay. Since the start of the 2005 French Open, Federer is 23-0 at Roland Garros against everyone other than Nadal. Against his nemesis, however, Federer is 0-4. That's part of Nadal's overall 13-7 edge. But Federer believes their most recent match makes a difference in mind-set. Their previous meeting, don't forget, ended with Nadal's first Australian Open title and Federer's tear-filled breakdown. Also, Federer had been 0-7 against Nadal, Murray and Djokovic since winning the U.S. Open. And Madrid gave Federer his first Masters title since 2007.
"I got the win I needed badly," he said, "because I have had some rather bad losses this year."