Monday, 20 June 2011

Rafa Nadal, the reluctant ruler

SPAIN/UK (El Pais/J.Badcock) Rafa Nadal seems to live in denial. For years he insisted that Roger Federer was by far the best, even as the young Spaniard robbed the imperious Swiss player of chances to win the French Open, then his green fiefdom of Wimbledon, and finally the number-one ranking. With Federer currently holding no major titles down in the third-ranked berth, Nadal was arguing before this year's claycourt Grand Slam event that his own days at number one were sure to be ended by the trail being blazed by Novak Djokovic. The Mallorcan then duly picked up his sixth French title and held on to his top ranking.>>>

Now it is the time of year to discuss the vagaries of grass-court tennis. The reigning Wimbledon champion has insisted that Federer is the favorite at the All England Club this year while talking up the problems of playing "a player with a big serve because the game becomes very fast."
That said, the twice champion did accept that the Wimbledon grass is a "fantastic surface if you can return the ball."
On Monday, Nadal starts his bid to retain his title against the US' Michael Russell, 91st in the world. In those same ATP rankings, Nadal is just 65 points ahead of Djokovic, which is nothing when considering that a successful defense would earn the Mallorcan 2,000. Anything less than victory would see the left-hander lose points, while Djokovic is defending a lesser result, having reached last year's semifinals.
Later on Centre Court on Monday, British fourth seed Andy Murray is due to play a less-fancied Spaniard, Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
If the seedings come to fruition, as at Roland Garros, Murray and Nadal would meet in one semifinal and Djokovic and Federer would replay the match that saw the Swiss master impressively dismantle the Serb in Paris to end his 2011 run of 41 straight wins. Although Nadal later beat Federer in the French Open final for the fourth time, the performance against Djokovic has led many, including five-time Wimbledon winner Björn Borg, to tip Federer for what would be his seventh win at the All England Club. Nadal, of course, is another subscriber to this theory.
Much depends on the serve- Nadal's, rather than his opponent's. Although it is a more powerful weapon than in his youth, Nadal's serve has been erratic this year, completely packing up at times as at Indian Wells against Djokovic and at Queen's when losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 10 days ago.
Federer is clearly in tip-top form, but if it comes to a showdown, Nadal has the psychological advantage of having won 14 of their 20 finals. For Djokovic, the key will be keeping up his magnificent movement on grass, a surface on which he has yet to blossom. Murray, the winner at Queen's, bears a heavy burden of home expectation.

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