Inside the Clay King’s Game

Now the NY Times jumps on the Nadal/French Open hype bandwagon. Excerpts:

The French Open was once an annual rite of spring to determine who was the world’s best clay-court tennis player, but it no longer serves that purpose in the era of Rafael Nadal.

“It’s hard to think that’s possible,” said the American player Sam Querrey, “because I took a set off him on clay last year in Davis Cup, and I’m not a clay-court wizard. I think most people would have thought by now he would have gotten tired or someone just would have had an unbelievable day and he would have had an off day. But he just seems to pull it out.”

Exactly – every one has an off day and can be vulnerable. That’s why we have to remind ourselves to stay with colm.

“I think the Madrid result is one that is more important for Federer than for Nadal,” said the French veteran Fabrice Santoro, who will be playing in his 20th and, he insists, final French Open. “I think it will help Roger to have won in Madrid. I think he really needed that with Roland Garros and Wimbledon approaching, but I don’t think that’s going to rattle the confidence of Nadal.”

I agree completely.

“I think what he does really well is even if he’s 0-40 down on your serve or his serve, he still plays the points hard because he knows that every time you play a long point it may pay dividends in the fourth or fifth set,” said Ivan Lendl, a three-time French Open champion. “It doesn’t matter whether the score is deuce or 40-love, a long point is a long point. And I think he almost looks at it like, ‘Anytime I can play a long point with a guy, it’s like putting money in the bank or taking gas out of their gas tank.’ ”

That guy might know what he’s talking about. (Speaking of which, for those in the US with The Tennis Channel, they are playing the 86 Lendl/McEnroe final Friday night.)

“Nadal, in my opinion, invented new ballistics in the game of tennis,” said Ion Tiriac, the Romanian impresario and former player, who owns the Madrid Open. “Although I’m a big hunter and go hunt every year in Africa and all over and know something about ballistics, I cannot explain how that ball, even when it comes in the middle of the court and so low, Nadal can hit it with all the strength he has with his forehand and the ball still lands in the court.”

Unless he’s playing in Madrid…

“I started playing tennis again in October,” said Lendl, who had stopped for years because of back pain. “I’m experimenting a lot with different strings, natural and manmade, and there are some which spin the ball incredibly. In order to do it, you have to be very, very strong, because you have to swing very, very hard. That’s what Nadal is doing.”

Very hard or very fast?

Tiriac thinks Nadal hits the ball “faster, not harder” than any other player. “On a tennis court, Federer plays the piano; Nadal plays drums,” Tiriac said. “But his hands on the drums are much faster than Federer’s on the piano.”

Why do I feel like I should trust Lendl more?

Still, Federer’s convincing victory on Nadal’s turf should get plenty of attention from those who might play the Spaniard. With its rhythm shifts and attacking bent, Federer’s upset provides at least a template of how to beat Nadal on clay.

It certainly looks like a more enticing alternative than facing Nadal on his own terms on his favorite surface.

Everyone wants a magic formula. Let’s just hope that only works in the magic box.

4 Responses

  1. kefuoe says:

    I remember hearing commentators last year (Wimbledon?) say that the “running around the backhand” strategy is effective, but hard to do for 3 or more sets. Just like all the other matches where opponents come out blazing and playing really tough, it’s another story to keep that pace and energy up in a Slam.

  2. johanne says:

    I’m practically bathing in the mindframe of “best of 5 sets is totally different than best of 3.”

    *lather, rinse and repeat*

  3. faecoleman says:

    Yes me too Johanne!

  4. GD says:

    4 HOUR marathon against a man who ran him ragged, saving 3 match points, playin high altitude (extreme altitude), in hot fast conditions after a very long clay court season coming with all the pressure of a winning streak plus knowing that Madrid would mess him up For RG (prep wise), and then playing someone he respects most in tennis.

    Couldnt have been more perfect for federer, it SHOULD have been closer to 6-0 6-2, federer shouldnt have faced a break point. THATS how good rafa is. Oh and altitude on clay u have to be “more perfect” with ur concentration on the ball and ur footwork, if ur tired u suck at both and are gonna frame alot or miss long alot, remember when he was in trouble the swiss just got “one more shot back” (like the 07 wimbledon final he didnt do nething special he just blocked cos hes a pussy and let rafa f@#$ up). Thats all he did, so as long as hes focussed and is rejuvenated (hopefully cos hes had no rest) he can do this