The mystery as to how Robin Soderling beat Rafael Nadal two years ago here at Roland Garros grows by the day. The more matches you watch of the world's No. 1, the more you realize that Nadal winning at the French Open might be the safest bet in sport's history. Seriously, he's that good.
It doesn't matter who he faces or what the conditions are, Nadal is going to wear you down, grind it out and defeat you mentally and physically before the final score even shows up on the scoreboard.
Roger Federer was the latest victim, an opponent who Nadal has chewed up and spit out on three previous occasions on the Parisian red clay. This match seemed different though and was a testament to just how formidable Nadal truly is.
Federer came out looking relaxed and confident coming off a dominant performance of Djokovic and having constructed the perfect game plan. With a positive mindset and booming serve, Federer initially took it to the Spanish bull.
Nadal looked caught off guard as Federer raced to a 5-2 first set lead. Then, as he always does, Nadal came storming back. At first it seemed that Federer was partly to blame for allowing Nadal back in the match. But when you step back and analyze the match statistics and how it went down, you realize that Federer's hot start wasn't sustainable.
It's like if someone had dared examine Bernie Madoff's investment results. A 200 percent return can only last so long. Similarly, Federer's scorching start just couldn't hold. Serving close to 85 percent for the first serve, we all knew it was only a matter of time before Fed came down to earth and Nadal capitalized.
Nobody can serve at such a prolific clip for an entire match and given that was Federer's biggest weapon and what he was relying on, he was doomed. Just like that—after saving a set point—it happened. Nadal was in control with a 2-0 lead.
Federer fought on admirably and almost pulled off his own stirring comeback, but Nadal is simply too dominant. It's like trying to building one of those maddeningly frustrating do-it yourself construction kit desks from IKEA. It's hopeless. As many home improvement dad's know all too well, here is how it goes down.
You buy the set and are excited for the challenge. It's a good test of character, and completing it will really prove to your wife and kids that you are indeed a capable handyman. Then you read the instruction manual and your confidence builds. How to beat Nadal: Huge serves, go for broke on every forehand and keep the points short...In the fine print, which we all overlook reads "Good luck sucker."
You create a false sense of belief that you can do this. At first everything goes smoothly. Then just when you feel it wasn't as daunting a task after all, everything falls apart. (This would be right around 5-2). IKEA forgot to include the screws, the corner piece doesn't fit right, you bash your finger with with the hammer. Suddenly you begin doubting yourself. You are dejected and the more you struggle the more the damn desk seems to be defeating you. This would be around the eight straight games Nadal reeled off.
It becomes some sort of intimidating and menacing ordeal that controls your mind. It's so difficult to assemble you begin to respect both the desk and the few carpenters who have successfully managed to assemble it.
You want to quit, but you dutifully continue on. After all, rarely have you failed at any challenge (16 grand slams). After a refreshing shower you are back at it and again believe. But everything you try the desk rejects. Finally after a good effort you succumb.
The desk lies in pieces unassembled on your floor, but even your family can't criticize you. They know the beast that is that damn desk, and they respect it to. Eventually you settle for a pre-esembled desk that you have delivered and accept the fact that yeah some things (or people) you will just never be able to master.
Federer is the world's second best clay court player, but the difference between him and Nadal is just so great you would have no idea. Fortunately for Federer, that one mysterious loss by Nadal to Soderling allowed Federer to at least get one French Open trophy.