April 19, 2014
Sometimes one spectacular result creates the enduring memory from a tournament – and it isn’t necessarily the eventual winner who makes the most waves.
So it was in Monaco when David Ferrer beat Rafael Nadal for the first time in a decade on clay.
However much we love Rafa, it was hard not to smile. It takes amazing determination to do what Ferrer did. He maintains his level, year after year, his game built on supreme fitness and tenacity. Ferrer is a fighter, but he knows deep down that when it comes to the biggest matches, he is almost always going to be beaten by the greatest players on the planet, who are just that little bit better than him. Sure, David is incredibly well paid and always receives a handsome consolation for being the Nearly Man. But this habitual frustration would still be enough to drive many men crazy.
That’s why there is cause for celebration when Ferrer does take a big scalp, especially when he achieves it so convincingly. The scoreline of 7-6 (1), 6-4 didn’t tell the full story of Ferrer’s dominance over Nadal in Monte Carlo. The underdog was 5-2 and two breaks up at one stage in that stunning second set.
So what on earth is happening to Rafael Nadal? Only he really knows. Towards the end of last year Rafa was unbeatable, so much better than the rest that you almost scoffed at Novak’s number one ranking. Nadal was the true king of tennis and we marvelled at his ever-improving game.This year Rafa is a mere mortal again. He has lost the aura of invincibility, opponents don’t fear him any more, not even on his favourite clay surface. He might not even win Roland Garros, which would be unthinkable. Any slip-up at the French would leave Nadal determined to make a big impact at Wimbledon – especially after last year’s early exit.
Prepare for some fireworks at the All England Club!
No one will savour the Wimbledon atmosphere more than Roger Federer, who achieved a remarkable psychological feat in Monte Carlo.
Who else would have remained so patient with himself and avoided a meltdown after so many missed chances? The Fed lost his first 15 break points before beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2-6 7-6 6-1. Mental strength eventually brought Roger to his 950th win and 50th semi-final. With 45 unforced errors and only two break points taken out of a possible 19 against Tsonga, we were reminded that Federer is a mere mortal too. Yet he still found a way to prevail that day, thanks to an ability to forgive his own imperfections.
Rafa Nadal is going to have to show similar patience with himself, until he can hit last year’s heights once more.
The unique Wimbledon stage beckons, and it usually brings out the best in the biggest stars. Want to see the greatest players of all time do battle at the best venue on earth?
The countdown has begun…