Rafael Nadal Again! Who else can it be, at Rolland Garros, when Rafa is in full cry?
The King of Clay won his 13th title registering his 100th win at the Rolland Garros, and won his 20th Slam title to equal Roger Federer’s Record! What a player he is! His first title here was in 2005 as a 19-year-old - the youngest champ at this tournament. And now at 34, he has won his 13th title more easily without losing a set. He made short work of Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2-, 7-5. Such was his mastery this time that he never lost a set in the tournament. And in the final, he just brushed aside the world no.1 and foiled his bid to close on the Grand Slam title race.
The roof that made its appearance this year was closed just before the start of the play. Then everyone - from tennis lovers to experts - started discussing which player would benefit from the indoor conditions. Rafa was fired up right from the beginning and destroyed the top seed in the very first set 6-0, making his intentions clear. He just raced through the set, winning game after game, breaking Novak’s serve three times. Novak posed some resistance, but could not control the game and lost the second 2-6. Though he broke Nadal once, Rafa broke back immediately and took a 2-0 lead.
In the third set, both were going neck and neck till 5-all. Nadal held his serve in the 11th game, and then broke Novak’s serve to win the title grandly. Just as he started the match with a break, he ended it with a break. With his running all over the court, he returned almost everything and also made Novak run from corner to corner. Even on clay, Rafa was rushing to the net, and that added to his prowess. We should also not forget his terrific topspin shots and acutely angled services. It is not that Novak did not put up a fight, but on clay, he was not his usual self and looked helpless. He could not cope up with Nadal’s variations. When he broke Rafa’s serve in the second set, he did not hide his joy, and it looked as if the match would go the distance. It didn’t turn out that way as Rafa stole the show!
We saw what Nadal could do when he is fully fit. He is prone to injuries and had to withdraw from many matches in his long career. Nadal’s class was never in doubt, but injuries made him take a break on multiple occasions. Yet he came back renovated every time and continued chasing his friend Federer for the title race. Three years junior to Roger, this feat was possible for him. And now he has done it!
Novak, junior to Nadal by a year, joined the race sometime later. But he came near with his terrific form and fitness and closed on the duo by capturing 17 titles! Novak was looking towards the second Grand Slam win of his career this time. But Rafa made sure that he never comes near it.
After the match, Rafael Nadal said, “You merely adopted the clay; I was born in it, molded by it”. (Nobody has any doubts about it!)
The French Open Tennis Tournament has a new women’s champion.
She is Iga Swiatek. She is the fourth teenager woman to win the French Open without dropping a set. In the final, she easily defeated Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 to win the first career title without dropping a set in the tournament. Iga is also the first Polish to win any major title in the open era of tennis and is only the second unseeded woman in the Open Era to win the French Open, after Jelena Ostapenko in 2017. Moreover, she is the youngest (19 years 132 days) women's French Open champion, since Monica Seles (18 years 187 days) who has won in 1992.
Among all players, Swiatek is the youngest winner at Roland Garros since Rafael Nadal, who won his first title in 2005 at the age of 19. However, she had tasted previous success at Roland Garros, winning the girls' doubles title with Caty McNally in 2018. She is a diehard fan of Nadal. Kenin and Swiatek were playing the final here for the first time.
In the final, lasting just under an hour and a half, Iga had full command over the game most of the time. The rivals fought the first set keenly and were breaking each other’s service. Still, the superiority of Swiatek was never in doubt as she made Kenin run all over the court with her nice placements and smashed her high returns. In the second set, Kenin broke her service in the first game, and it seemed that a keen fight was on the card. However, Swiatek won the next six games in a row. Iga was returning almost every shot by Kenin. She never let Kenin lose and always kept her under pressure. And though her serve was broken again, she never let her opponent lose, making her run all over. Swiatek dropped only 28 games in seven matches at Roland Garros with her run to the final, including a first-round win over 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, and a last-16 trouncing of top seed Simona Halep.
Swiatek is the first Polish woman to reach the French Open Final in 81 years, and the first at any major since Agnieszka Radwanska Wimbledon eight years ago. “Congratulations Iga Swiatek! A fabulous showing for tennis,” Radwanska said.
In another upset at the Roland Garros, World No.131 – Podoroska, was able to conquer the 3-time Quarter-finalist of French Open Svitolina (world NO. 5). The final score was 6-2, 6-4. For the first time, Svitolina and Podoroska were facing each other. The Ukrainian was aiming for her first semi-final in the French Open. But, Podoroska thought otherwise. Her determination was visible throughout the game as she shocked the No.3 seed of the tournament. She is the first Argentine woman to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam in 16 years. Iga Stevatek then overcame Martina Trevison 6-3,6-1. Kenin easily entered Semis winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 against Collins, so did Kvitova, winning against Siegemund 6-3, 6-3.
Second seed Rafael Nadal survived break point twice in the first set to overcome the challenge of J. Sinner 7-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the quarter-final. This was his 100th match at Roland Garros. Diego Schwartzman also entered the Grand Slam semi-final for the first time. Coming back from 1-2 sets, Schwartzman shocked the third-seeded Dominic Thiem 7-6, 5-7, 6-7,7-6, 6-2 in a QF battle lasting five hours. In the other quarter-final matches, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic downed Pablo Carreno Busta 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, and Stefanos Tstsipas easily won against A. Rublev 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
It was then evident that Nadal and Djokovic will meet in the final, and that’s precisely what happened. Nadal brushed aside Schwartzman, who proved no match to him. He had lost the first two sets 6-3, 6-3. Still, Schwartzman tried his best in the third set and took it to tie-breaker. But that was all he could do, for Rafa won it 7-0. Rafa made Diego run all over with a variety of shots. Diego tried his best to return everything but ran out of steam. Before the tournament, Rafa was doubtful about reaching the final here. But once he was on the court, right from the first match, he was a confident man altogether. Clay courts give him additional confidence and power, it seems. He reached the final without losing a set, and that gives an idea about his superiority on clay. He is rightfully named King of Clay!
Novak Djokovic, however, was given a tough fight by Stefanos Tstsipas. The world no. 1 proved his ranking, winning in five sets (6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1)to set final with Nadal. The match lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes. Tstsipas won two sets continuing his good work, and won the next set as well. But in the decider, Novak almost played cat-and-mouse with him and won 6-1 to enter the final. He placed his shots in the corners with accuracy, and that proved Tstsipas’s undoing because he had, by then, no energy left to run around the court.
Fourth seed Sofia Kenin reached the women’s semi-final with a 6-4; 7-5 win over seventh seed O. Kvitova and set up a battle against the teenager I. Swiatek, who ruthlessly ended Podoroska’s march 6-2; 6-1.
Swiatek is the first woman after the war, to reach the final here. Earlier in between wars, Jedrzejowska, who was commonly referred to in the English-speaking world as ‘Jed’ or ‘Ja Ja’, had reached Wimbledon Final in 1937 but lost to experienced Dorothy Round of England. Later, she said she was afraid of winning. She lost the 1939 French Open final to Simonne Mathieu but had won the doubles title by teaming up with Mathieu against Yugoslav players Alice Florian and Hella Kovac.
And Just for the record. Andres Miles and Kevin Krawietz won the men’s doubles (6-3, 7-5), and Kristina Maldenovic and Timea Babos were women’s doubles winners (6-4, 7-5).
All in all, it was an enjoyable tournament in this gloomy atmosphere and made one forget the woes of Pandemic times, at least for some time. Another notable thing is that the tournament was played in the presence of spectators, though limited in number. The fear of the Covid virus spreading was proved wrong. No one was affected -players or spectators. This will give confidence to other organizers of other sporting events to allow spectators to their matches or tournaments. Let's hope that now at least, our players (who are eagerly waiting to go to the ground, courts or swimming pools, etc) will be allowed to practice, and play matches. We are waiting for it ardently!
A. S. Ketkar.
(The writer is a renowned sports journalist who previously worked with Maharashtra Times.)