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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wimbledon Thoughts

It's difficult to figure out, for tennis naivetes like me, which aspect of Federer's game elevates him over his opponents. Gasquet, who was pure brilliance in sending Roddick off the tournament in the quarter-finals seemed to be pretty pedestrian in his performace against the No.1 in the semi-finals. This is where Nadal helps me; for without a player of his caliber, I wonder if Federer would ever put his full potential on display. Yesterday, the centre court at Wimbledon hosted a visual feast, which was served relentlessly by the top two players in the world where even after gorging in for more than three hours, everybody asked for a little more.

Though Roger & Rafael are now becoming a predictable pair at the big finals, the joy of watching them in action hasn't abated. The growth of Nadal on grass is particularly impressive - he's proving to be the only person who can make Federer sweat for his title (speaking figuratively, of course - he rarely perspires). Federer usually keeps delivering the ball to the opponent's backhand before he goes for the winner, so that in the rare event of a match entering the fifth set, the other guy's shoulders start drooping. Nadal, whose shoulder power is well known (I'm not saying he flaunts his flesh) didn't easily succumb, though I have a faint feeling that when he started grunting to answer Federer's returns, his precision was beginning to erode.

After three magnificent sets of top-class competitive tennis, Federer found himself in a situation one would rarely believe - down by four games to zero on a grass court. His frustration increased when most of Nadal's challenges to official calls resulted in Nadal's favour. He took longer strides to take the hard ones; and after smashing or slicing the tough one, he would send the ball directly into the nets or out of the court. Though he lost the set 6-2, I wouldn't call it tame. Federer must have decided to save his energy for a fresh set rather than continue to battle without any competitive edge. Nadal wasn't bad in the final set; it's just that Federer came back roaring. There was the precision of a Rolex gear (oh, the Swiss!) in dispatching the ball to the unreachable corners of the court.

Some might call Federer's resort to his service strength as un-gentlemanly. I don't listen to them. Whenever he was lagging, he punched the ball which would just swish past Nadal like a Ferrari. At the end of the match, he had 20+ aces to Nadal's one - which is another testimony to Federer's skill to position himself to reach for a service. Both players played some spectacular passing shots, cross-courts, slices and drop-shots (Federer's trademark topspinner was missing). Most of the time the younger player was a bit more aggressive in trying to reach every ball he thought was reachable, the senior, when he saw that a ball was out of his reach, judiciously didn't spend a franction of a calorie trying to get near that ball.

Both Nadal & Federer started the match chasing one of Bjorn Borg's records - it was the Lord & Master who equaled Borg's record of five successive victories at the Wimbledon. Federer said that Nadal deserved to win the match as much as himself and joked that he was able to conquer the Spanish bull when he's still young and before Federer's too old. The French title still eludes the man; observing Nadal's maturity as a player, it's going to be more difficult, not only for Federer, but for any player to beat Nadal on clay. There are some places where Nadal can't be tamed; for everywhere else, there's Federer.

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The women's singles championship match turned out to be a damp squib. Marion Bartoli's gritty victory over Justine Henin's gracious tennis in the semi-finals promised an interesting clash with Venus Williams. The young French girl was probably too nervous to let the big event sink into her; there was a big competency gap in the way Venus and Marion played. So many unforced errors and their inability to convert ample chances into winners makes one brood for some consistent players at the top level in the womens professional tennis. There are so many from Serbia, Russia and other eastern European countries but their glory seems to be short-lived. With the exception of Henin, most of the women play a very erratic game (that includes the No.2 Sharapova).