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Monday, 1 June 2009

The King Of Clay Is Dethroned

An unseasonably warm day here in Ireland (yes, even for June) probably explains the almost complete silence from your team today but with 43 minutes remaining until the end of the warmest bank holiday weekend since the one before the last set of exams, I said I'd come along and blog about something that's a lot more genuine then Bruno's fall into the face of Eminem at the MTV Movie Awards, yet just as unexpected.

Yesterday at Roland Garros Rafael Nadal lost. He actually lost. To Robin Soderling, a man who's not very good on clay. It's been called the biggest upset in the history of the French Open and I for one won't disagree with that. Coming into this year's tournament, Soderling had a record of three wins from the eight games that he'd played in the year's second Grand Slam. Nadal had thirty-one wins. From 31 matches. The difference, nay, gulf in class between them cannot be overstated and that is why this was such a shock.

I thought the most poignant moment came after the match when a visibly shocked Nadal looked for a marker to sign the camera lens as he walked off the court, a tradition reserved for the winners of matches on the show courts in the French capital, a tradition Nadal would have taken part on every other occasion he played there.

Two points of note in the fall-out from this match. So, Rafa is human after all, and I think that Soderling may just be the one player he would wish not to lose to. The pair played a two-day, five-set epic in the third round at Wimbledon in 2007, a match that became remembered for the antics of the Swede who imitated Nadal's antics and failed to raise his hand in apology after he won a point on a shot that crept over the net chord.

To have lost to someone who angered him so would have rattled Rafa and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back going into the grass-court season.

The result also has implications for Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro barely squeeked by his opponent today, falling two sets behind Tommy Haas before coming back to win in five. He's now just three matches from winning the one Grand Slam that has eluded him throughout his career. Federer is not guaranteed the win - I for one feel that he'll do well to overcome Monfils, del Potro and the winner of Murray/Gonzalez. But if he is to do so, and remember Federer has reached the final in each of the last three years and thus is no slouch on clay, I would expect the media to tarnish the victory by reminding us that it was not he who beat Nadal. That would be a fair comment, and though Federer would have completed the sweep of Slams, the curse would still be on his back for at least one more year.


  1. Good piece Gavin, although as a Fed fan I would disagree on the conclusion slightly. Yes, it would be great for him to win the French by beating Nadal, but the mists of time would swallow that up leaving him as one of the few people in the record books to have a sweep of slams. For a player of Federer's class (and for that matter Nadal's) its a deserved and necessary record. Or to put it slightly differently it doesn't matter how you come by them, they all count ;-)

  2. Ah but even if Fed does win (and I am also a fan of his) his French Open record v Nadal will still stand 4-0 at the French Open and 10-2 on clay, both in favour of Rafa (obviously). Therefore, it could very easily be argued that despite his achievements, Fed will have been outplayed by another player for a large chunk of his career and thus his status as a true all-time great is tarnished if he wasn't the best player in his own time. Even if the sweep is completed, the nagging feeling that he only got lucky because Rafa was knocked out by Soderling won't go away until such a day he beats him at Roland Garros, particularly now that Nadal also seems to have the ascendancy on the hard court (Australian Open this year) and grass (Wimbledon last year) too.