By Jane Voigt
Questions swirled around Rafael Nadal’s condition, his ability to play like the anointed King Of Clay, two weeks ago when we welcomed The French Open into our living rooms. He lost in Monte Carlo to David Ferrer. He lost in Barcelona to Nicolas Almagro. Two Spanish friends he had manhandled in prior years. Would Rafa fall apart at the French, pundits pondered?
Well, you need not ponder any longer. All doubt can be locked up and shipped off to the hinterlands.
Rafael Nadal was about as comfortable as any player could be that’s won 8 French Open titles today on Centre Court. And, since he’s the only one to have won that many it appears he could win a 9th if only he can defeat the thorn in his crown, Novak Djokovic.
“Normally when you play well then you [are] able to play with the right intensity; you can play as well as you are practicing. I think that is something that I did today,” Nadal said, thoughtfully. “I think I played very well with my forehand. I served well. If I hit a few forehands in a row, which I did not do a month ago, normally I have chances of having good success.”
Both men advanced rather handily in their semifinal matches. Djokovic lassoed Ernests Gulbis early, survived a bump in the third, then tied and roped him in the fourth. Djokovic advanced to the final, winning, 63 63 36 63.
Yet each man viewed the competition differently. Gulbis admitted to nerves and being, ‘extra tense.’ “In my opinion it was not a good quality tennis at all,” Gulbis said. “It was a struggle out there. I hit five really clean shots, you know, from either side, backhand or forehand. Even serve. I felt that he did the same.”
Asked the same question, Djokovic tempered his response. He said the first two sets went well, felt solid, then in the third he felt a bit tired, and was glad it didn’t go five.
When asked why he took so long to get to the press and was something bothering him, Djokovic said, “There is nothing bothering me. Just the general fatigue that, you know, probably was influenced by conditions or other things that I felt today. But I’m not going to talk about [it]. That’s it. I’m glad I won in four sets because if it went to a fifth, god knows in which direction the match could go.”
Novak has been through a hefty number of press conferences, many more than Gulbis. The Serbian seemingly did not want to reveal his hand, knowing that information would wind its way to the Nadal camp. Why give them the intelligence? However, Djokovic did sound as if he had a cold.
Nadal didn’t need four sets to release Andy Murray from his misery, or ever believing he could possibly take a match from King Rafa in Paris. It was a brutal show of control from Nadal and lasted a little over 90 minutes, 63 62 61.
“He served well and I didn’t return well. Simple,” Murray began. “Problem is if you don’t do anything with the return, he was just battering the next ball into the corner. I mishit a lot of balls. It was incredibly frustrating. In some ways you start trying too hard. But you want to do stuff too badly, and you end up making more mistakes and things get worse.”
On Sunday and not before 9 a.m. EST, Nadal and Djokovic will once again vie for the French Open title. Nadal has the most impossible record to comprehend at this major: 65-1. And although bets have favored Djokovic, coming in to the last weekend, today’s performance by Nadal certainly could have tipped the odds.
Novak defeated Nadal in their four previous meetings, but as Nadal said today, “He has never beaten me here.”