Clayfeet no moreOrganisers of the French Open were thrilled to bits yesterday: Roger Federer launched the best possible advertisement for the event for free, by serving up a reminder (I had forgotten) that the Last Baseline begins next week. He did so by winning the Hamburg Open beating Rafael Nadal in the final. This was an event that registered on the Richter scale, not so much because the clash was on clay, but because of an unusual 6-0 drubbing in the final set. As Nadal (gracious as usual in his losing speech) would imply, that was quite something.
The outcome has naturally sent everyone into a tizzy. It didn't seem that way in the first set yesterday, when Federer seemed unable to send a ball into play and seemed Roddick-esque (sorry Andy) against the Rafa serve. The first game of the second turned out to be the decider: Federer hung on grimly, at times appearing to lose it all in a blaze of frustration, and then just about holding serve. From then on, inexplicably, the hamhanded demon of Federer's play and the efficient angel resident in Nadal switched places. Federer went after Nadal's forehand, and the unforced errors for the Spaniard raced past the meister's. Perhaps it has been a long clay-court season already for the younger man.
But remember this was only a 3-set affair, and breaking Nadal over 2 weeks and 5 sets will be the ultimate test for the all-time-greatest-in-waiting. Federer will know that from last year, when he came within a set of doing the improbable. The only worry now is whether the script will hold true. My suggestion: play the tournament but irrespective of whether Nadal or Federer win or lose their preliminaries, put them in the final. Please, oh please. The good thing is that I'm sure neither player would even consider such a rubbish suggestion, preferring instead of slide the hard old-fashioned way.