Michael Burgess ' Opinion

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: Roland towards greatness

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Rafa Nadal's record at the French Open is unrivalled. Photo / Michel Spingler
Rafa Nadal's record at the French Open is unrivalled. Photo / Michel Spingler

Whatever the result of tomorrow's final between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, two things seem certain: We will never again see such dominance of a single event by an individual and the rivalry between Nadal and Roger Federer is over.

Remember where you were in the autumn of 2005? Tana Umaga was still All Blacks captain, Barack Obama was an unknown Illinois senator and Brian McClennan was the controversial choice as new Kiwis coach. And an 18-year-old Nadal turned up in Paris as one of the players to watch. Ranked 50 in the world when he played in Auckland earlier that year, wins in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome had seen his ranking skyrocket to five by the time the French Open started.

In his first match on the Roland Garros clay, he dispatched German Lars Burgsmuller, the world 96, 6-1 7-6 (4) 6-1. Nadal got stronger with every round, beating Federer in the semifinals and unseeded Argentinian Mariano Puerta in the final.

He has won 51 of 52 matches in Paris - his only defeat coming in 2009 to Swede Robin Soderling.

Over that span, his victims have included Lleyton Hewitt (four times), Soderling (twice), David Ferrer (twice), Djokovic (three times), Juan Martin Del Potro, as well as Federer on five occasions - including three finals.

The Paris crowd took a long time to warm to Nadal, instead preferring the elegant style of Federer, but in recent years have come to embrace their champion.

Last Friday, the 26-year-old recorded his 50th match win in the French capital, becoming just the fifth male to achieve the mark and the youngest (Federer was almost 31, Andre Agassi was 33).

He is also yet to drop a set at Roland Garros this year, the fourth time he has achieved such a feat.

So where does Nadal's feat rank? In the tennis world, there have been some similarly impressive streaks; Federer reached seven consecutive Wimbledon finals, while Pete Sampras won seven times at SW19. Lendl made the US Open final every year from 1982 to 1989 and Sampras also made the decider in New York on eight occasions. But Federer didn't win in London until his fifth attempt, while Sampras came up short four times until triumphing in 1993. Lendl lost five of his eight deciders in New York and Sampras three of his octet. No one, not even Bjorn Borg, has dominated a Grand Slam in such spectacular fashion from his first bow and it is impossible to imagine it happening again.

Meanwhile, the once in a generation rivalry between Federer and Nadal has probably been consigned to the history books.

The pair met a record eight times in Grand Slam finals (no other duo has managed more than six) between 2006 and 2011. But the Djokovic-Nadal duopoly is already assuming legendary proportions. Tomorrow's match will be the fifth major final the two have contested in less than two years and the fourth in a row (an open era record). It may never reach the special heights of Federer and Nadal - there is less mutual respect between the two and too many questions over the gamesmanship of Djokovic - but it is the new clash of the titans in tennis.

- Herald on Sunday

Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

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