The French Open 2013 has moved into the history books with Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams emerging the King and Queen respectively of their leagues and in the process etching themselves into the record books.
In both draws, the form players coming into the tournament lived up to their billing to go on and claim the top prize.
Nadal was crowned champion for the eighth time when he beat compatriot David Ferrer in the final in straight sets. The comfortable win was an expected one as Ferrer had not beaten Nadal in 16 previous attempts, and on clay at Roland Garros it was always going to be a daunting proposition.
Rafa in the process clinched his 12th Grand Slam overall which puts him tied third on the all-time list with Australian Roy Emerson. He also became the first man to win a single Grand Slam event eight times.
Statistics aside, what has been remarkable is how well Nadal has come back onto the tour from his seven-month absence which he spent nursing his knee back to health. Since his return the Spaniard has won seven out of the nine tournaments that he’s entered headlined by the French Open title and three Masters 1000 titles (two on clay, one on hard courts).
He started off slowly in Paris, losing a set in each of the first two rounds but got better as the tournament progressed. As widely expected, his stiffest challenge came in the semi-finals against World No.1 Novak Djokovic.
He did really well to come through that game especially as he had to come from a break down in the decider with the momentum seemingly with the Serbian.
He showed us his attacking best as he swung it around in the fifth set by actually going for more winners, which put Djokovic on the back-foot. The top seed also didn’t help his own cause with some crucial mistakes of his own in the final set.
The weather over two weeks did play its part. Nadal favours the hot and dry conditions that give his game that added edge and over the first week rain and overcast conditions meant that the courts were heavy and moist.
This reduced the impact of the heavy top spin that Nadal imparted on his shots thereby slightly reducing their threat. Once the conditions got better with the rain staying away his game went into top gear and was almost unplayable.
At the end of the two weeks, Rafa Nadal left nobody in doubt that he’s right up there amongst the best clay-courters to have ever played the game.
A second French Open triumph for the ‘Tennis Goddess’ after 2002, ending an 11-year wait to once again lift the Suzanne Lenglen trophy. A 16th Grand Slam title to put her two short of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Serena at her best is the best player in the women’s game – period.
It does not matter what the surface or who the opponent is; if Serena is zoned in and focussed, there are very few players who can beat her. She raced through the opening rounds hardly breaking a sweat and her sternest test came against former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-finals.
Kuznetsova managed to stretch Williams to a third set where the champion displayed great fight to come back from a break down and secure her passage into the semi-finals. She won the final in straight sets, but the score line does not do justice to the effort put in by last year’s champion Maria Sharapova. The Russian came out headstrong and played a very good game, however Serena was able to take her own game up a notch to respond to the challenge and wrest the trophy from Sharapova.
Sharapova had a super tournament! Make no mistake, she has not repeated her title triumph simply because she ran into the unstoppable force that is Serena Williams. The defending champion was very, very impressive and some of the tennis she played at Roland Garros over the past fortnight was the best that we’ve ever seen her play.
Sharapova knows her limitations against Serena but she is never a quitter and she did not go down without a fight. There was a steely resolve to the Russian’s game in glaring evidence in the semi-finals and final. The first set she played against Victoria Azarenka in the semi’s was breath-taking as she hit winners at will and the ball striking was so clean and perfect. Azarenka is one of the best defenders in the women’s game and she had simply no answer and was blown away as she lost the set 6-1. After the Belarussian’s fight back to take set two, Sharapova managed to find that early rhythm once more in the third as she unleashed another barrage of winners to take the match.
In the final, she saved 11 of the 15 break points fashioned by Williams. Under pressure, Maria played superbly and the two finalists were clearly a notch above the others. The caravan moving to grass will only be more beneficial to her.
The third seed benefited hugely from the withdrawal of Andy Murray from the tournament. He also benefited from Roger Federer’s rather meek surrender against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Ferrer has a horrendous record against both Federer and Nadal; he had to face only one of them and we all saw what happened. Ferrer continues to be the perennial outlier – better than the chasing pack but still a step short of the big 4. He was consistent through the tournament and it got him to his first Grand Slam final. Yes, the Spaniard has lots of fight, is full of running and never gives up, but the fact is he simply does not possess the weapons to hurt the bigwigs and one reckons that his chances of repeating such a run would massively hinge on a little help from the top 4 players in the world.
Match of the tournament
The Nadal-Djokovic matches more often than not turn out to be marathons filled with drama, tension and a lot of physical rallies. We got one at the French championships as well.
Nadal outlasted the World No.1 to cut short his comeback and win his semi-final match; however, there was another match that in my opinion surpassed this one in the quality of tennis that it brought out.
(9) Stanislas Wawrinka beat (7) Richard Gasquet 6-7(5) 4-6 6-4 7-5 8-6, 4th round
Mind-blowing – to sum up the match in one word! Wawrinka was two-sets-to-love down; he was up against a local lad with a vocal crowd behind him; he was battling with a dodgy hamstring that threatened to keep him out of the tournament even before it started. However, these were barely the reasons why this match stood out.
We got to witness two gladiators who left it all out on the tennis court. We witnessed two players throw caution to the winds and relentlessly go for their shots not backing an inch.
There were no half-hearted measures in this one as the second best players of their respective countries teed off in a contest of epic proportions that lasted four-and-a-half hours.
With the stakes getting that much higher towards sets four and five, the tennis from both players reached stratospheric levels. Unforced errors became a forgotten commodity and taking its place were sumptuous winners from the rackets of the two men.
On top of it, both players looked to be physically struggling during the game at varying times and yet somehow there was no let-off in the quality of tennis that they continued to produce as one beautiful winner followed the other.
Wawrinka hit 92 winners in the game including 30 return winners; Gasquet hit 57 making 10 return winners.
The leader in that category is obviously the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut mega-marathon from Wimbledon 2010 which had 490 winners almost equally shared! However, that was inevitable considering the sheer volume of games that were played.
A year earlier though, the final of the Championships saw 181 winners in total – 74 from the racket of Andy Roddick who finished runner-up to Roger Federer who had 107 winners.
France’s No.1 player has started showing a little more consistency in the majors which is nice to see considering the immense talent that Tsonga possesses. The partnership with new coach Roger Rasheed seems to be paying off for Jo.
He’s made the semi finals of both the Slams this year with Federer his opponent in both – winning one and losing one. On clay, not his most favoured surface, he did reach the semis before falling to a very good clay courter in Ferrer. Wimbledon and the US Open will be more to his liking and we will be looking forward to him unleashing that explosive game of his.
Four Americans made the Round of 16 in the women’s draw for the first time in Paris since 2004, led by eventual champion Serena Williams. Of the others, Sloane Stephens continues to impress and the USA has a fine young player in the 19-year old to look forward to in the coming years.
The Old Guard
Tommy Haas and Tommy Robredo turned back the clocks during the tournament. Haas at the age of 35 made his first Roland Garros quarterfinal. He has had a superb season and continued his good showing at the French Open losing to top seed Djokovic in the quarters. Robredo became the darling of the masses as he came back, not once, not twice, but 3 times from a 2 set deficit to turn the tables and prevail. He eventually ran into another 31-yr old David Ferrer who stopped his run at the quarterfinal stage.
Not so promising
Federer’s concentration (or the lack of it)
Roger still has the shots and the skills that made him what he is. But, more importantly his concentration is off. And that is the biggest difference between the current Federer and the one of old. Multiple blips in concentration are a feature of his matches these days – it cost him two sets against Gilles Simon in Round 4 and the match against a much better player in Tsonga in the quarters. Roger even lost control multiple times while bouncing the ball leading up to his serve – a clear sign of how not so strong mentally the 17-time Grand Slam champion is these days. He will have to work on that if he harbours any hopes of defending his crown at his beloved Wimbledon.
The World No.1 was close, very close to becoming just the second person to beat Nadal at the French Open after Robin Soderling. It was also only the second time the Spaniard has been taken to a fifth set here after John Isner managed to do it in the 1st round in 2009.
Djokovic is the only player capable of beating Rafa on clay at present. The fact that he did not play to his best through the entirety of the match certainly did not help.
That resulted in 75 unforced errors, definitely not helping. He represents a clear and ever present danger to Rafa’s crown and he is getting closer – four sets last year, five this year. Remember how Nadal reigned in Federer at Wimbledon? He will be disappointed, no doubt, at having let a good opportunity slip, but he will know that save a loss of concentration on a few critical points in that final set, he was on his way to a great victory over his adversary.
On that note, time to say ‘Adieu’ to the red clay of Roland Garros and say ‘Hello’ to the green grass of SW19!
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