french open championship

Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal’s legendary rivalry continues, Na Li the big winner, Novak Djokovic is mentally flexible – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Mission Accomplished

Despite his lacking confidence and putting in some of his most shaky performances at Roland Garros in recent memory, Rafael Nadal, as he has done so often, found a way to cross the finish line on final Sunday. After being just a set away from losing in the first round to John Isner, the Spaniard buckled down, surrendering only one additional set en route to the title. And while his play may not have been as sharp as some of his previous title runs, in many ways, this win was the most impressive one of all. It not only ensured that he would retain the No. 1 singles ranking for the time being, but more importantly, it tied him with tennis legend Bjorn Borg for most men’s singles titles at Roland Garros with six. It also moved him up the list of all-time greats with this victory representing his tenth overall Grand Slam singles title. Hats off to Rafa for putting together another fine two weeks in Paris, and let’s see how much he can use this win as a springboard to further big results throughout the summer.

 

Happy Returns

Nine years ago, Na Li was convinced she couldn’t make it in professional tennis and left the game to attend university. But on the final Saturday of the French Open, the charismatic Chinese woman proved to herself and the rest of the world that she had made the right decision in returning to tennis, as she not only won her first major singles title, but the first singles championship for a Chinese player, man or woman. It was evident from the start that she had learned from her first final appearance in Melbourne, and it was admirable the way she was able to right the ship after her second set wobble. At 29, she is unlikely to garner several more Slams, but with her game and the new-found confidence and belief that come with securing her first major, it’s certainly not out of the question that she may hoist up other major singles trophies. Be sure to keep an eye on her as the season progresses.

Mixed Bag

Though he fell short in the final match, this year’s Roland Garros saw what could be termed a mini-revival in the career of Roger Federer. The Swiss Maestro cruised through his matches until he reached the semifinals – where he was supposed to lose. Djokovic had owned Federer in 2011, but on that Friday, Roger Federer played one of the best matches he’s played in years to remind everyone that he still has plenty of game left in the tank, earning a hard fought victory in four scintillating sets to reach the final. As he took to the court in the final, he appeared the most relaxed he’s ever been when facing Nadal at this stage, and he ultimately did play the best match he’s ever played against Nadal on final Sunday in Paris. But in the biggest moments – particularly at the end of the first set – it was plain to see that Federer is still Nadal’s pigeon, at least on the Parisian clay, as the doubt crept across his face and into his game. Hopefully this loss won’t linger, and Federer will instead take away all the positives from the French Open fortnight as he heads into the heart of the summer season.

One to Watch

Although he had never even reached the final in Paris, having not lost a match all season, Novak Djokovic went into Roland Garros as one of the heavy favorites. He fought his way through a tough draw to reach the semifinals where Roger Federer stood between him and history. Had Djokovic beaten Federer, not only would he have reached his first Roland Garros final, but he would have secured the No. 1 singles ranking and tied John McEnroe’s 42 consecutive matches for best start to a season. In the end, the combination of that pressure and more so the spectacular tennis coming off the Federer racquet proved too much for the Serb, as he saw his streak and Paris hopes come to a halt one match shy of the final. Shortly thereafter, Djokovic announced his withdrawal from Queen’s, citing tendinitis. His knee issues this year are well documented, but most would surely be in agreement that his withdrawal is more about having to mentally recover from what was truly a devastating loss considering what all was at stake. Djokovic appears to have the type of personality that would allow him to quickly bounce back, but be sure to watch for how he comes out of the gates after suffering his first defeat of 2011.

This One Might Take

Earlier this week, the return of Team Williams was announced, with both sisters scheduled to compete in the Eastbourne grass court tune up for Wimbledon. As always, it’s safest to assume an attitude of “I’ll believe it when I see it” when it comes to either of these two making a return to tour tennis, but this one definitely has more of an air of certainty about it. All eyes will be on the Americans to see where their games are after extended layoffs. But even if either Williams – who are both currently ranked outside the top 20 – should crash out early, it won’t matter. Rest assured that they will still be considered favorites (albeit not heavy favorites) to win the title at SW19. Their ability to flip the switch on little to no match play is well known. Besides, Venus Williams has always appeared indifferent to what others have thought of her and her game, and for a drama queen like Serena Williams, defying the odds to come back from a year of injuries and successfully defend her Wimbledon title is not a challenge to back down from, but an opportunity to be relished.

Federer Wins 61st Title To Overtake Agassi

Roger Federer is back in top-of-the-world form heading into the U.S. Open.

The Swiss star played up to his No. 1 ranking Sunday, beating Novak Djokovic 6-1, 7-5 for the Cincinnati Masters title and plenty of confidence heading into the Open, which he has won each of the last five years.

Federer’s win Sunday gave him a 61st career title, which, according to the book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, moved him ahead of Andre Agassi into seventh place alone for most men’s singles titles won in a career. He is now one tournament title shy of equaling Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas, who each won 62 titles, and jumping into tie for sixth place all-time. He is five tournament titles shy of overtaking Pete Sampras and his 64 titles and moving into fourth place by himself. Jimmy Connors holds the record with 109 singles titles, followed by Ivan Lendl with 94 and John McEnroe with 77.

Federer’s goal in Cincinnati was to work off the rust from a brief layoff during his stellar season. He won his first French Open championship and an epic Wimbledon match against Andy Roddick for his record 15th Grand Slam title, then took time off to become the father of twin daughters.

He dominated at the outset against Djokovic, who hadn’t dropped a set all week. Federer breezed through the opening set, but encountered more resistance in the second, having to save a set point as he served at 4-5 down.

But it was saved with a fine service and in the next game he broke Djokovic for the fourth time in the match.

Federer duly served out the match to love, claiming his third Cincinnati title as his Serbian opponent netted a return after one hour and 30 minutes.

Joked Djokovic after the match in the trophy ceremony, “The closest I was about to get to the first place trophy was now…Unfortunately. I was born in the wrong era.”

Federer will seek his sixth straight US Open title in New York, starting August 31.