Monday, June 6, 2011

Of Records and Streaks...

Another Grand Slam has passed and this French Open turned out to be quite exciting.

The men's draw further elongated the gap between the top four and the rest of the pack. And a lot was at stake for the No.1 and No.2 seeds as they entered Roland Garros with the most important one being the No.1 rank. Novak Djokovic's sizzling start to 2011 meant that the claim to the top spot was almost entirely on his racquet going into the tournament. His back to back victories over clay master Rafael Nadal put the Serb into an unprecedented top dog position despite the second seeding. And Rafael Nadal was coming in shaken, to say the least, losing in Madrid and Rome, his fortresses.

Meanwhile, Swiss maestro Roger Federer was after a very long time entering a Grand Slam as an outside favourite, an underdog. Not that he had had a poor season, but by his Himalayan standards, it was surely below average. And it doesn't help to run into someone as inspired as Djokovic, thrice, in the semis. Any other player would be glad to be at No. 3. But for Federer, surely it was unfamiliar territory?

The rest of the male tennis players also had a lot to prove. While the likes of Berdych, Soderling, Ferrer and the others were doing well to go deep into the other tournaments, they had to prove they are Grand Slam material.

Eventually, as the tournament reached its business end, it was Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray who lived up to the billing, giving their stakes a true shot. Nadal had overcome his shaky start well enough to hold his nerve in three tight sets over Murray in their semi-finals, thereby ensuring atleast half of what he had to do to hold the No.1 rank. But all eyes were on the match of the season. Unbeaten this year Djokovic and had a lot to prove Federer. If Djokovic won, he would claim the top rank. If Federer won, he would answer the critics and find himself in a Grand Slam final.

And what a match it turned out to be. The seventy-minute first set just showed what the match meant to both players. Long rallies, hard hitting, extremely good defence and a lot of controlled aggression. Absolutely electric tennis. 7-6 it read, 12 games and a tie brake worth a match in itself. And with the crowd behind him, Federer ran away with the second. Djokovic seemed to have woken up a bit in the third and rallied to take it with a break. The fourth started of with both players giving their all. Djokovic drew first blood but Federer cut back in immediately. Djokovic even had a chance to serve his way into the fifth set but Roger found the right time to up the ante and in the following tie break, served nervelessly to end Novak Djokovic's scintillating start to 2011. He fell one match short of McEnroe's record and of claiming the No.1 ranking.

And perhaps it drained Federer a bit too much before the final against a man who was aiming to equal Borg's Open Era record of 6 Roland Garros titles and to preserve his berth at the top. To Federer's credit, he put up a tough fight with three tight sets, but lost his way in the fourth to hand Rafa a record equalling sixth French title, his tenth Grand Slam in all.

King of Clay? But of course!

A rather fitting end to the clay court season and promises an exciting month on grass ahead.

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