Just watched a great match, the Rome semi-final between Nadal and Davydenko. Three hours 40 minutes, with the first two sets decided on tie-breaks – not because neither player could break the other’s serve but because they broke each other consistently. (Note to self: should have used a Broke-back Mountain pun in the last post.) Stunning stuff all the way through. Davydenko was superb – he played Nadal on clay better than anyone I’ve seen, pushed and bullied him all around the court, and looked the better player for a large part of the match. For once I wouldn’t have minded if Nadal had lost.
But he won, and this match was a reminder of what an extraordinary achievement his clay-court winning streak is. It's so common to see him pull off seemingly effortless straight-sets wins on this surface that we forget the levels of discipline and stamina required for each match. (A similar epiphany occurs on those rare occasions when Federer loses, on any surface.) Btw, read this excellent piece by Rohit Brijnath on Nadal.
The downside is, Rafa has looked weary at various times in this tournament, and after this marathon I doubt he’ll have enough left in him to beat Fernando Gonzalez in the final (Gonzalez won his semi-final in just over an hour). More importantly, is he going to be burnt out for the French Open, and if so, could that be Federer’s big opportunity?
P.S. A nugget of wisdom for Nadal fans, from personal experience: soundproof your rooms. If you watch every match he plays, your family will eventually start to wonder about the grunting sounds that emanate from your room. (This is also where I request the ATP to arrange an exhibition match between Nadal and Maria Sharapova. Then we can close our eyes and imagine we’re listening to rhinoceros porn.)