The great thing about the grand slams, over say the normal three set Masters tournaments, is that it is over five sets, and it in some cases creates a sort of FA Cup atmosphere. The little guy against the superstar, I can think of many matches down the years at Wimbledon which have been a bit like that.
Yesterdays match between Nadal and fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar, was a bit like that, even though the score was 3-0, it felt a lot closer and Nadal was lucky to win in straight sets. Andujar played well above himself, and it made for an exciting game, but this was mainly due to the third set, the set which would not have been played if this was a Masters match. Nadal was 5-1 down, and faced three set points, but he battled back and ended up saving eight set points before winning the set and the match, in a tiebreaker.
I am not sure what to make of Nadal’s game; as I said yesterday, Nadal has amazing will power and determination and it showed in that third set. If this was Wimbledon we would say this was a normal sort of situation, as he has had to face some massive battles in the past there. But this is Roland Garros, Nadal is god there, he hardly ever loses a set, hardly ever is tested, yet now he has been tested twice and does not seem his usual focused, calm, self. He made lots of unforced errors yesterday, more than you usually see from Rafa, he seemed to hit the ball long more than often and you have to wonder if the ball has had to leveling affect on his game.
As long as I have watched the French Open; it always seemed to me, especially when Rafa was playing Federer that the French crowd would prefer Rafa to lose. The Parisian’s do not seem to have taken to Rafa, as other countries or tournaments have. Normally a player as successful as Nadal has been at a Championship, is loved and revered, now I am sure he has plenty of fans in France, he just does not seem to have as many as other places. Or maybe it is the weirdness of Roland Garros.
You could go all conspiratorial and say that the French have deliberately changed the balls to make it easier for others to beat Rafa. He likes things to be the same, he is a little bit OCD with the way he handles tennis, and maybe just maybe, this change and the fact he has not been as convincing on clay recently, losing to Djokovic means the French Open is now harder for him to win.
We all know Nadal has the heart of a lion and will not give in, he will fight all the way, but after seeing how someone who I have never seen play before, who is just inside the top 50, give him a real run for his money. This may give the likes of Soderling in the quarters, and Murray if he gets there into the semis, a real change of an upset. I know yesterday I did not think that would happen, but hey anyone can change their mind.
I will say it has made the French Open far more exciting this year, not so much the games, great tennis matches are great on any surface and the French Open has had a fair few in recent years. It is more to do with the expectancy, now others have a chance of winning, not just Nadal. The courts are playing like red hard courts covered in dust, the balls are faster and it has made for a different sort of French Open.
One commentator was saying they think that it might now be as fast as, or faster than Wimbledon, and maybe there is a bit of jealousy between the top championships. Let’s be honest Wimbledon is classed as the more prestigious to win, it has had the great finals recently as well, mainly due to the fact they realised they had to slow their courts and balls down, to make it more of a contest between equals. Maybe the French Open has speeded up for the same reasons.