Roger Federer made it to his second final this season at the Madrid Masters.
The player that was the first to find the clinks in the Federer armour, the same bloke who has inflicted five successive defeats on the former world No. 1.
The same man who has snatched Roger's beloved Wimbledon title and his World No.1 ranking away from him. Rafael Nadal—the man that seems to constantly stand in the way of Roger and the history books that beckon him!
Nadal was coming off a gruelling four hour marathon match against Novak Djokovic. Federer in comparison had a fairly straight forward victory against Del Potro to advance to the finals. But Federer also came into the match having not yet won a tournament this year.
He had in fact not beaten Nadal in their previous five meetings, and the last time they met on clay Nadal totally annihilated Federer in the finals of Roland Garros in 2008!
Serious questions were being raised about Roger's game and his state of mind, and if he had it in him to beat his younger nemesis. Rafa, on the other hand, came into the finals having won all the previous Masters 1000 titles on clay this year. He was hoping to sweep all the four Masters Series events on clay for 2009 and few would have bet against him.
Roger Federer had other plans.
They got onto the court and their demeanours were contrasting as ever—Roger seeming calm and collected and Rafa seeming restless and rearing to go. Roger showed a confidence he probably did not feel too much and Rafa possessed his usual boundless energy that was no doubt lower than normal, after a long match the previous night.
The match got underway with no major surprises.
Each player was holding his serve and stroking the ball well. Nadal seemed a little flat but appeared to have no major trouble at the beginning of the first set. Federer was keeping up well with Rafa by serving consistently and holding serve.
Two of his biggest problems against Nadal in the past have been a faltering serve and his inability to convert on his break point opportunities. Once he started losing points there, his game used to just fall apart.
Yesterday, however, Federer just appeared more confident than he has against Nadal in quite sometime now. It was as if somehow he managed to push Rafael Nadal out of his head, and play the kind of tennis he should be playing against him.
Roger kept up the attack by keeping the points short when he could and did not get into many energy sapping slug fests with the Clay Master. He came into the net and volleyed quite well, and even though Rafa passed him a couple of times with some absolutely blinding shots, he kept the pressure up.
Nadal did have some chances to go ahead with a few breakpoints on the Federer serve, but he failed to convert those. Eventually Roger managed to carve out a break point of his own at 4-4 in the first set and converted. From there he took the first set quite comfortably, serving it out in the next game.
The second set followed the general pattern of the first with both players holding serve. In the past few months we have seen Roger's level of tennis fluctuate wildly during the course of a match. He seemed to lose his way after winning the first set and never manages to recover somehow.
Fortunately, yesterday we saw none of that. Roger was determined to win and after breaking Rafa's serve at 2-2, he held his own, in spite of a few more break back opportunities for Nadal. Eventually, he served out the match at 5-4 and won it on his second match point with an ace.
Finally Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal!
While it is quite doubtful that this victory of Roger's will cause too much major panic in the Nadal camp, it will be a bit unsettling for Rafa to have lost to a man he's been defeating so consistently over the past year, and that too on his favourite surface.
Of course to add to that, there's also Novak Djokovic who has tremendously improved his clay game and has been pushing Rafa throughout the clay season. If there's one thing you can count on, it's that Rafa and his coach Uncle Tony will have a gruelling one week of practice, training, and planning in the build up to Roland Garros.
For Roger Federer, this victory is a much needed confidence boost. While it is true that he was helped by the fact that Nadal was tired, plus the altitude and the faster clay might have swung things a bit in his favour, the fact remains that Federer beat Nadal.
And the way Rafa has been playing lately, that is quite a feat. To add to that, he's beaten him on clay which is Rafa's favourite surface, and in front of his home crowd and that is quite something.
Federer could not have hoped for a better tune up to the French Open that begins next week.
With the second Grand Slam of the year only a week away, all eyes will be on Roger and Rafael to see how they react to this encounter.
Will Rafa be able to improve his game still more to remain peerless on the red dirt of Roland Garros and claim a record breaking fifth consecutive title, keeping the option of a Calendar Grand Slam this year open?
Or will Roger take back his positive performance in yesterday's final and finally hit upon a strategy to defeat Nadal on clay and claim his record equalling 14th Grand Slam and complete his collection of a title at all the four slams?
With the likes of Djokovic, Murray, Verdasco, and the rest of the field biting at their heels, none of the other players have as much to gain from a victory at Roland Garros as do Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal!
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