Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal have much in common. Their nerves of steel, their 'road-runner' inspired quick feet, their hunger to succeed, and, most importantly, their unyielding minds. More so, the two share a genuine camaraderie off the court.
All these reasons were the perfect recipe for me to expect a gritty duel on the red dirt of Paris.
The match began under clear skies, but Lleyton Hewitt's path to victory became more foggy by the minute.
It was established fairly quickly that Nadal was in good touch. There was going to be no “getting into the match gradually” for him. He was already into it.
The first set was a hasty affair, wrapped up at 6-1 in Rafa’s favour. And a break was firmly secured in the opening game of the second set. This worked as a much-needed wake up call for Lleyton as he won the next three games in a row.
However, his joy was short-lived. After that point in the match, everything Hewitt did, Nadal did better. The second set was a mediocre 6-3 for Hewitt.
The crowds at Philip Chatrier saw plenty of venomous shots from Nadal. But the way he broke Hewitt to go up 4-3 in the second set was just breathtaking.
What looked like a simple wrist flick from Nadal at maximum stretch was by far the best winner of the match. And it was hit well enough to drill a hole in Hewitt’s heart.
The third set was no different. After racing away for a 3-0 lead, Rafa made it clear it was not about simply winning the match anymore.
He wanted to make a statement.
The last few games were was as ruthless a display of power, speed, and offense as I have ever seen. Not only was Rafa striking every single ball with viscous spin and accuracy, his forehand today was beyond lethal. It looked as if he could hit winners from anywhere he wanted.
The last set finished the same as the first—6-1.
In Hewitt’s defense, he did not play a bad match at all. On the contrary, he played very intelligently but was comprehensively outplayed ball for ball. His shot selection and execution were great, but he was dispatched with disdain.
His spirit was strong and he won every rally at least thrice to win the point, but it was STILL nowhere close to enough. He mixed up his shots as much as he could to retain the surprise element.
Although you can flummox Nadal for a few games on his favourite surface, you aren’t going to outwit him.
The numbers speak for themselves. What did Hewitt have to show for his courageous display? Five games. That’s all.
A dialogue of Pirates of the Caribbean came to my mind: "Take what you can, Give nothing back." Our pirate sure seemed to believe in that philosophy today.
It might not have been a battle-royale like I thought it would be, but Nadal’s victory today sends an ominous message to the locker room.
He might not have been terribly sharp in his two previous matches, but he is in sublime touch now. He can bring his "A" game when he wants to, but is still content winning matches comfortably at 80 percent capacity.
Anybody looking for any weaknesses in his game (his knees or his mental outlook), do NOT rest assured; they seem nothing more than figments of your imagination.
The commentators mentioned Kevin Kim today who once said, “Playing Nadal is like crossing the Sahara desert—all you can see is sand, hills, and no respite.”
I think Hewitt might agree with Kevin tonight.