Saturday, July 14, 2007

Roger & Rafael: a burgeoning rivalry

Just when I was thinking it would be better to watch Aisam Qureshi (because he volleys on grass) than all those baseline bashers with titles, Nadal and Federer served up a treat at the final. The first five-setter at a Wimbledon final since 2001 when Goran Ivanisevic beat Patrick Rafter was everything a Grand Slam final should be - fast, furious and unbelievably close.

In the end, like tradition demands it at the home of tennis, the usurper had to be content with second place. Federer bawled like a baby after putting away Championship Point and promptly added on a white blazer and white pants. (The wrong way round, according to a few reports)! Who said Wimbledon doesn't make you do quirky things"! And when Federer congratulated Nadal for having made it to a 2nd final in a row, he managed not to sound condescending.

Though Federer reminded us that he had the touch even at the net, it was Nadal who was the revelation. He showed that he could out-volley the champion and unfurl incredible passing shots on grass. The intensity of play did not drop even in the final set. Five-setters tend to be tiring for the viewer as well, especially when the two players are sluggish after giving it their all. But this wasn't so because the points were short. Thankfully, we were spared tedious rallies with both players unafraid to rush towards the net. A brief summary for those who missed the match:

First set 7-6 to Federer. Nadal saves 4 set points in the tie-break, but Federer smashes a back hand volley to end the matter. Absolutely loved the angles Nadal was getting in, he must have rubber wrists!

Second set 6-4 to Nadal. Federer snuffs out two break points with three aces cool as you plesae to make it three games all. But at 4-5, serving to stay in the set, Nadal rushes forward to break him. A wrinkle of two appears on Federer's forehead.

Third set 7-6 to Federer. Unbelievable intensity. Am checking The Guardian's website commentary on the match, while watching the battle on TV. They quote Jimmy Connors on BBC, "if either player drops their level by as much as two percent, they will be totally overrun". Federer quickly ratchets up a lead in the tie-breaker and duly closes the third set out.

Fourth set 6-2 to Nadal. Hold on! Quick as a flash, Nadal snatches a break in the first game of the fourth set and before you realize it, breaks Federer again to go up 3-love. Federer intensely irritated, says 'shit' within range of the umpire's microphone. The marginal calls continue to go Nadal's way, is Hawkeye conspiring against the Champion" Alan Wilkins says something like this on commentary, "Nadal is like Joe Frasier was against Mohammed Ali, he keeps coming at Federer."

Fifth set 6-2 to Federer and with it the match! Both players are moving very well. Federer continues to rely on his serve to bail him out and Nadal is still whipping out passing shots that are hard to comprehend; Nadal also continues to come to the net. Vijay Amritraj in mock-discovery mode, "he likes to volley!" But Federer has begun to lift his levels. He breaks Nadal, his game getting tougher and tougher to match as he rides the momentum. Championship Point is upon us before we know it, and Federer ends it with a smash. Whatta match!

This piece was originally posted here.

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