Editorial

Prevailing in Paris

There is a tendency among tennis fans to take Rafael Nadal’s clay court dominance for granted. Ever since he won his first French Open in 2005, the Spaniard has single-handedly drained out almost all the suspense that Paris may have otherwise offered. On Sunday, when he held aloft the Roland Garros trophy for the 11th time in his career, after defeating his touted heir apparent Dominic Thiem, it was more of the same. The 32-year-old, ranked No. 1 in the world, was the overwhelming favourite ahead of the tournament and during the course of the two weeks there wasn’t an inkling of any change as Nadal lost just one set in the capture of his 17th Major overall. The victory pulled him level with Margaret Court for the most number of titles at a single Grand Slam tournament and made him only the second active men’s player — Roger Federer being the other — to win three or more after turning 30. The men’s field today is diminished and the oft-repeated argument is that with Federer absent and Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka severely compromised, there was only so much that Nadal had to do. The truth, however, is never as simplistic. Probably no current player has changed gears and made as many tactical switches as Nadal, and it explains why along with Ken Rosewall and Pete Sampras he remains the only one to have won slams in his teens, 20s and 30s.

When Nadal arrived on the scene, he was deemed a player with a limited arsenal, stamina and muscularity his standout qualities. In his 20s he improved as a shotmaker, slicing and volleying better as he recorded five final appearances at Wimbledon from 2006 to 2011 and won two of them. As he neared his 30s, he elevated his serve and added more aggression to his game, especially on the forehand side. Now it is his backhand — once a liability — that stands out. With age, Nadal has tended to get more anxious and tight, and even choked on an occasion or two. But what has separated him from the rest is his courage on big points, the ability to loosen up and summon a winner when required. The hard-earned win over Thiem — despite the scoreline suggesting a routine straight sets affair — was yet another example of how Nadal has reinvented his game. On the women’s side, it was the turn of Simona Halep to reassess and recalibrate hers to claim a first Grand Slam title. The Romanian World No.1 had in fact lost three prior finals, including two in Paris, each of them in three tight sets, calling into question her mental make-up. On Saturday against American Sloane Stephens, she appeared down and out until midway through the match, before gaining a second wind to triumph.


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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 4:52:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/prevailing-in-paris/article24138549.ece

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