2011 French Open: Revisiting the Rafael Nadal Versus Roger Federer Final

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IJune 9, 2011

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05:  (L to R) Runner up Roger Federer of Switzerland and Champion Rafael Nadal of Spain pose following the men's singles final match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The 2011 Roland-Garros will be remembered for a long time. It's not everyday you have a classic match in the semifinals, which was the case with the Roger Federer v. Novak Djokovic masterpiece, as well as a great final between perhaps two of the best players of all time, Federer and Rafael Nadal.

It's also worth pointing out that it's the first time since 1996 that the weather was perfect during the whole tournament. (If we forget the 10-minute rain delay break during the final, which did not affect the players.)

By now, many have seen at least some highlights of Rafael Nadal winning his sixth Roland-Garros title at the expense of Roger Federer.

Yet it was the Swiss who took the best start, leading 5-2 and even getting a set point.

I had to replay the final three times to understand why Nadal is so good against Federer, and came to the conclusion the Swiss is not able to keep the same rhythm for four hours against the world No.1.

There is definitely a mental aspect that comes into play for the 16-time Grand Slam champion.
When Federer leads 5-2 with a set point, he is able to close the game and the set against 99 percent of the players.

But not against Rafa.

The key points of the final are numerous so let's try to analyse them.

The first thing that that comes to my mind is how steady Rafa was in his focus compared to the many ups and downs of Roger.

The high times Roger went through were all in the first set, until 5-2, and also in the third set.

The length of Federer's weaker moments helped Nadal win: seven consecutive games lost from 5-2 to 5-7, 0-2 at the start of the match, a bad period which cost Federer a first set he had in his hands.

The former world No.1 also hit eight consecutive unforced errors between 6-5, 15-0 and 4-0 in the tie-break which cost him the second set.

For Nadal, it's all about mental regularity. You could compare the Nadal and Federer match with two different planes. One flying at the same altitude with the same rhythm, and the other facing some turbulence but managing to avoid it for a brief period of time.

Nadal was dominated when Federer was on a strong period, but he took the lead each time the Swiss suffered a let-down.

It's also to be noted that when Rafa was up on the scoreboard he looked very confident, as a player who was remembering all the good memories of his previous battles with Federer.

Each time Roger had an opportunity to really take the lead, he broke down, almost like the respect he has for a rival who beat him so often was taking over. He seemed to be panicking, going from bad choice to bad choice, like those crossed charges to the net from too far back. He committed error after error, getting rid of the ball as if he lacked any solutions.

At the end of the day, Nadal handled the emotional pressure of the final better than Federer. He was steadier and in better control of his emotions.

Contrary to the match between Federer and Novak Djokovic, which was a direct confrontation of speed on the baseline, the duel between Nadal and the Swiss was a tactical one.

Rafa had his usual plan in order to push the Swiss into bad play He relentlessly attacked Roger's backhand with high balls, which also pushed him out of the court so Roger was forced to play shorter and Nadal could make him run from side to side. In most of these cases, Nadal won the point, not letting the Swiss get back in the rally because he was late each time.

Elsewhere, time was also a factor in the match. Federer knew that the more time that passed, the more his opponent would take the advantage. He had a very tiny margin for error, which put even more pressure on his shoulders. And even when he came back in order to win the third set, he completely ran out of steam in the fourth. He can't last as long as his rival.

Nevertheless, the Swiss reassured his fans during this event. Faster, crushing and efficient again on his serve, he erased the decline theory. He played an amazingly intense match in order to beat Novak Djokovic in his semi-final.

Meanwhile, the Serb, victim of some pride issue, wanted to beat Federer at his own game by taking the ball early and fighting from the baseline, without any game plan. And so he let the Swiss show us how well he's still able to play.

This is a good sign for the rest of the season, because if Roger can play like this on clay, grass and hard courts could help him to be a true contender at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.
Even though people were announcing there was Nadal-Djokovic on one side and Federer-Andy Murray on the other, the Swiss showed he is still capable of fighting at the top.

As for Nadal, he once again surprised many. 

He went through some tough times during the tournament; he was knocked down during the first week with four losses against Novak Djokovic and was especially down after his last two losses on clay where he has always been the undisputed King. He looked to be losing his tennis.

Pushed by John Isner in the first round of the Open, he played short, without great timing and made unusual mistakes. He was even saying he couldn't win the tournament. The way he fought back to life shows once again how brave he is.

Nadal succeeded in rebuilding his confidence, which had fallen so low. Point after point, by fighting in all his matches, day after day, he worked his basics again and again until it went better. Instead of giving up as most of players would do in that situation, stopping to train and hoping everything will come back in matches, Rafa worked harder, sweating until the result came.

 He used this tough period to grow up once more. He rediscovered his best level but he has still not resolved the Djokovic issue. The problems caused by Nole are still the same and Nadal will have to find something new if he wants to keep his world No.1 ranking. If not, history will repeat itself.