Monday, June 06, 2011

A Very Focused and Grounded Rafael Nadal Wins 6th French Open


"A big personal satisfaction, especially when you started [the tournament] without playing your best.  Finally, I was able to play my best when I needed my best.
"[The French Open] always is the tournament where I feel that I have more chances to win. This is my biggest chance of the year [to win a Grand Slam]. I know if I win this tournament, my season is fantastic. I then can play with more confidence and less pressure." 
--Rafael Nadal, after winning the 2011 French Open over Roger Federer.  
Nadal beat Federer without playing his best tennis throughout the tournament.  So, he had to deal with it and accept his less than stellar playing.   
"The real Rafa is both the Rafa who wins and the Rafa who plays well, and the Rafa who suffers and doesn't play that well," Nadal said. "You have to face this situation."
Typically, Nadal is exceptional at Roland Garros in Paris -- 45-1 for his career, and the same number of titles there as Bjorn Borg -- but the Spaniard already also has shown that he is much more than the King of Clay. And Sunday's victory only will raise more questions about whether Federer truly deserves to be called the Greatest of All Time if he is not even the Greatest of Right Now.
Nadal leads their head-to-head series 17-8. That includes a 6-2 advantage in Grand Slam finals and a 5-0 edge at the French Open (in the 2005 semifinals, and the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 finals).
Nevertheless, this is not what drives him.  

"When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it's not very interesting to me," continued Nadal, who would have ceded the No. 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic with a loss Sunday. "I'm very happy with what I have, with who I am. I'm not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I'm among the best. That's true. That's enough for me."
But, does Nadal have Federer's number?  Toni Nadal, Rafael's uncle and coach, spoke plainly after Sunday's match.
"The game of Rafael is not too good for Roger," Toni said, adding that Federer's "mentality against Rafael is not the best."
On Sunday, Federer raced to a 5-2 at the outset, but blew a set point by missing a drop shot that landed barely wide.  That seemed to unnerve Federer and open the door for Nadal. 

Nadal then won seven games in a row. Later, when Nadal went up a break in the third and led 4-2, the match appeared over, until Federer charged back to force a fourth set.
But Nadal once more assumed control, winning the last five games, then dropping to his knees and leaning forward with his hands covering his eyes.

"I was able to play my best when I needed my best," Nadal repeated. "For that reason, today I am here with the trophy." 

Excerpts from ESPN.com (June 5 & 6, 2011).


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