What We Can Gather From The Madrid Final
It may not have been the Federer/Nadal final we all wanted with stunning winners, amazing gets and a close third set, but there is plenty to read into after last night’s match. Most of what can be read is from the Federer side, whose 4-6 6-7 loss said a lot about his clay court game leading into Roland Garros. Nadal displayed much of the same form he has all clay season but there is still something new to be gained from every tournament.
What we can read meticulously into from Federer’s performance:
The positives: He may not have beaten his greatest rival once again but there are plenty of positives to draw from Madrid. The first, of course, is that he wasn’t the victim of yet another upset and made his way to his first Masters final of 2010. He beat in-form players such as Ferrer and Gulbis, and more importantly, showed good mental strength in the third set against both of them. A loss before the final would have been disastrous going into Roland Garros, even for Federer. Thankfully, Federer found some solid form and played a decent match in the final. There was no beat down from Nadal as feared.
Playing Nadal can only be a good thing seven days out from the French Open. Federer wasn’t too shabby either and it’s clear with a bit more precision he could have won last night’s match. In fact, he hit more winners and won more points than Nadal, he just didn’t play well on the big points. Besides from the high backhands that will always be a problem for Federer he held himself well in the baseline exchanges. A few more break point conversions and Federer would have pushed it to a third with a real shot at winning.
Throughout Madrid Federer has seen both his ground strokes improve. He also hit some lovely drop shots that could be a tactic for Roland Garros and his serve has come a long way since Rome. All and all, his game is finally shaping up for Roland Garros in the nick of time.
The negatives: He didn’t win the tournament. Naturally Nadal enters Roland Garros as the clear favourite and Federer’s confidence, whilst better, may not be as good as it needs to be to beat Nadal in Paris. Back to back wins over Nadal on clay would have boosted him a lot more than we can even fathom.
Speaking of confidence, Federer played poorly in the crucial moments. In the second set tiebreaker against Nadal he hit three unforced errors to blow a lead that can only be put down to nerves. He squandered 8/11 break points and that alone is more concerning than a few missed forehands. The match deserved to go to the third set, and although a bad bounce on match point could potentially be used as an excuse, the truth is Federer blew his chances when he had them before any match point was offered.
The only other concern with Federer in Madrid is his forehand still isn’t at it’s best. However, it is far better than it was in previous tournaments and more time may allow Federer to iron out the kinks.
What we can read meticulously into from Nadal’s performance:
The positives: He hasn’t lost on clay in 2010 and has beaten all his main rivals excluding Novak Djokvoic, who remains a giant question mark. If that isn’t convincing enough that he is ready to win the French Open once again that I don’t know what is.
The negatives: It could be clutching at straws but Nadal’s backhand has not been the same this year as it was in previous years. It is obviously his weaker side but no one has really managed to break it down yet. The only other fault in his game that could be analysed is that he seems to be more vulnerable to the drop shot this year, which Gulbis and Federer made excellent use of.
Other than a backhand that occasionally misses and drop-shots he cannot run down there is the case of two dropped sets this season which by itself is a ridiculous thing to read into. However he dropped them to unlikely players Ernests Gulbis and Nicholas Almagro. It wasn’t that Nadal played badly against the two, they just outplayed him for a set, especially Gulbis. The fact that Nadal came semi-close to losing to Gulbis, (and close is a very loose term here), shows again that he isn’t invincible. However, it also proves that in order to win against Nadal on clay it takes extraordinary play, unwavering consistency and nerve, the latter of which hasn’t been achieved by any of his opponents as of yet.
Other than those few niggles there really isn’t much to fault in Nadal’s game or mentality. Yes, he has dropped a couple of sets, made some strange errors, and been broken a few too many times, but these hardly justify worry when his opponents cannot capitalise on any of these things for a decent length of time. Nadal is playing brilliant tennis and he enters Roland Garros as the deserved favourite.
This brings to a close the clay-court Masters season. As we enter the second Slam of the year Nadal followed by Federer are once again the two to beat. Whether anyone can spoil the show remains to be seen.