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Steve's Weblog

An incurable tennis addict, Steve Flink has been following the game since 1965, the year he first went to Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships. Flink is a Senior Correspondent for Tennis Week Magazine, a publication he joined in 1992. From 1972-82, he put his photographic memory to use as a statistician for CBS, NBC and ABC. He has been a consultant and writer for the International Tennis Hall of Fame since 1994 and is a member of their Nominating Committee. Steve is the author of The Greatest Tennis Matches of the 20th Century. Flink's recall of match history is unsurpassed.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

French Open Review

I have had a week to digest the final of Roland Garros, and still it boggles my mind. Rafael Nadal’s 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 triumph over Roger Federer was stupendous in many ways. He made 11 unforced errors in those three nearly impeccable sets. In 11 Federer service games, Nadal broke his adversary 8 times. In two of the three games Federer managed to hold serve, the world No. 1 had to recover from match point down. And yet, Federer did not serve badly by any means; he made good on 68% of his first deliveries.

The bottom line is that Federer suffered the single most decisive loss of his entire career at the Grand Slam events. In 173 matches over a span of 10 years, Federer had never had anyone beat him that soundly. Moreover, he had not lost a 6-0 set since 1999. The remarkable thing was that Federer was such a discouraged figure in the end. After dropping those first two sets--- and making a concerted effort to get back into the second set as he recovered from 2-0 down to reach 3-3---- it was apparent from the early stages of the third set that the 26-year-old Swiss was almost devoid of hope. Since 2003--- when he won his first major at Wimbledon--- I have never seen Federer in such a state of despondency.

He did not give up and he stayed on the job as best he could, but his mannerisms told the whole story. He knew Nadal was not going to take his foot off the accelerator and he seemed almost fatalistic about the outcome. Nadal was simply playing clay court tennis of the highest order, and his level of play was decidedly higher than anything he had produced in his three previous winning campaigns at Roland Garros. I do not make that assessment lightly. Nadal did, after all, perform exceedingly well at Roland Garros from 2005-2007. But never in that stretch did he set the tempo from the baseline with such unrelenting aggression.

Nadal became the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to rule at Roland Garros without losing a set across the fortnight. That is no mean feat. Not only did he dismantle Federer in the final round, but he had to beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Djokovic had raised his clay court game to a much higher level this year than in the past, winning the Italian Open, playing a superb match against Nadal in the semifinals of Hamburg. But he was taken apart at Roland Garros by his Spanish adversary 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3) as the clay court master dictated for large stretches of the contest.

Djokovic somehow worked his way back into the third set from 3-0 and two service breaks down. He began going for the lines fearlessly and his return of serve was hit consistently with extraordinary depth. Nadal led 5-3 and served for the match at 5-4 in the third, but Djokovic steadfastly went after that set, and nearly found a way to take it. With Nadal serving at 5-6, Djokovic had a set point that Nadal wiped away with a sharply angled forehand winner crosscourt. In the tie-break, playing with the wind at his back, Nadal collected the first six points and held on from there to finish it off.

All credit must go to Nadal for knocking out Djokovic and Federer back to back without conceding a set. He has now secured four titles in a row at the French Open, a feat previously realized only by Borg. Nadal is only 22. He should have five more good opportunities to win the three titles he would need to break Borg’s men’s record of six championships. I like his chances.

As for the women in Paris, Ana Ivanovic--- the No. 2 seed--- was a worthy champion. She did a nice job in the final of fending off Dinara Safina. Safina had upended No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova, No. 7 Elena Dementieva and No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova. She was on quite a run. Against both Sharapova and Dementieva, Safina had rallied gamely from a set and 5-2 down to win in three set skirmishes. She recovered from match point down in both contests, and then handled 2006 finalist Kuznetsova in straight sets. But Ivanovic was too good on defense against Safina. When they went toe to toe and both women were hitting the ball big off both sides, Safina almost held her own. But she was not as flexible as Ivanovic, and in the end that made all the difference.

Ivanovic--- who won a stirring three set contest from her Serbian countrywoman Jelena Jankovic in the penultimate round--- can be proud of that effort. After leading by a set and 3-1, Ivanovic fell behind 3-1 in the final set, and lost her serve to trail 4-3 as well. But she came through deservedly for a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory that was probably more gratifying in its way than the win in the final. I have a feeling Ivanovic will win her share of big prizes in the years ahead. She has a great match playing temperament, a top of the line ground game, a match playing maturity that is impressive, and an immense will to win. This woman is surely going places, and she is only 20.


At June 18, 2008 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks steve!! I am really curious to know you picks for wimbledon and read your wimbledon preview!!


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