Steve Bierley | The Guardian
A recent article in one of America's leading tennis magazines had the
temerity to describe Rafael Nadal as "one-dimensional". It can only be
assumed that the writer does not watch the game much, although the United
States has always been a little grudging towards players considered as
clay-court grinders. No doubt the attitudes across the Atlantic will change
now that the 22-year-old Spaniard has added the Wimbledon championship to
his four consecutive French Open titles.
Nadal, unlike Roger Federer, who has won the last four US Opens, has yet to
build up a big following in New York, principally because he has not gone
beyond the quarter-finals in five attempts and last year lost in the fourth
round against his countryman David Ferrer, the world No4 in this week's
The top three in those rankings remain as they were, headed by Federer, with
Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion, tucked in behind.
Any one of this trio may finish the year as No1, although there were many
after Sunday's astonishing men's final at the All England Club prepared to
hail Nadal as the "unofficial" world No1.
He now holds a 12-6 career lead over the Swiss (9-1 on clay, 2-3 on hard,
1-2 on grass). This was their 14th overall meeting in a final, with Nadal
now leading 10-4, and their sixth meeting in a grand slam final with Nadal
4-2 ahead. Counting from the 2005 French Open, when Nadal won the title for
the first time, 13 of the 14 majors have been won by either Federer (eight)
or Nadal (five), the one exception being in Melbourne this year when
Djokovic, the 21-year-old Serb, broke through, beating Federer in the
Such statistics, underlining the mighty battle that has been raging at the
top between Federer, the world No1 since February 2004 and Nadal, who has
trailed him as the No2 since July 2005, were part and parcel of the
aftermath of what is generally perceived to be the best Wimbledon men's
singles final, in both terms of quality and drama, of all time. Yet barely
had the feast been digested before two questions were being asked: Can Nadal
do what Federer has failed to do, namely win all four slams? And is Federer
a spent force, having won 12 majors since the first of his five Wimbledon
titles in 2003, but none this year?
Before attempting to answer, it is worth emphasising that both players came
through Sunday's match with tremendous credit. Their rivalry is immense but
the respect they have for each other is of the sort encountered, post fight,
outside the boxing ring. The BBC viewing figures peaked at 13.1m, close to a
50% share of the overall television audience.
To nobody's surprise Nadal yesterday pulled out of this week's clay-court
tournament in Stuttgart, though it was typical of the man that he flew to
Germany in order to make the announcement in person that his right knee, a
cause of concern throughout the Wimbledon fortnight, was not up to playing.
Obviously he was exhausted after becoming the first man since Bjorn Borg to
win the French Open and Wimbledon titles back to back. However his knees,
which have strapping support for every match, remain a worry, particularly
on the US concrete hardcourts that are murder on anyone with the slightest
Nadal was suffering from tendinitis at the US Open last year, and the
hardcourts almost jolted him into submission, or as near to submission as he
ever gets. "It's like putting miles on a car. Eventually the car will wear
down, and Rafa is not the lightest guy out there," said Pat Etcheberry, a
Florida-based fitness coach who worked with Pete Sampras and Justine Henin.
"All that constant pounding puts strain on the knees."
On the plus side Nadal has significantly improved his serve, which is giving
him more free points, while his overall game is also developing, as was only
too obvious against Federer. It is not so much that the Swiss has faded but
that Nadal is constantly improving – and that has shaken Federer's
Toni Nadal, uncle and long-time coach, monitors his nephew's physical
condition constantly, while modifying his style. There will be the
opportunity perhaps to ease his schedule between the slams, and this should
help prolong the Spaniard's career although many still fear that he may
prematurely burn out.
Nadal has been compared to Borg, who left the sport at the age of 25. But
Borg was a different character, his exit having more to do with loss of
desire. It is hard to image Nadal ever losing his competitive edge, assuming
his body does not break down.
As for Federer, he is still only 26, so he has time on his side to win three
more slams and beat Sampras's record of 14. But should the US Open title
slip from his grasp in September then that record will look an awfully long