Tennis: Nadal crushes Federer's dream

By Bill Barclay

Rafael Nadal ripped Roger Federer's grand slam dream apart at the seams this morning when he retained his French Open title and became the first man to beat the Swiss in a major final.

The extraordinary 20-year-old Spaniard inflicted a 1-6 6-1 6-4 7-6 defeat on the world number one, ending Federer's bid to be the first man for 37 years to hold all four grand slam titles at once.

Federer's quest to win the elusive claycourt grand slam goes on and he had only himself to blame. The 24-year-old committed 51 unforced errors and by the end his backhand technique in particular was in tatters, bereft of timing and the source of a stream of free points for Nadal.

The Mallorcan, who also beat Federer in last year's semi-finals, slammed away a forehand volley to confirm victory and threw himself to the ground, a Y-shaped emblem of triumph in the dirt.

"It's incredible," said Nadal, who has taken his unbeaten record on clay to 60 matches.

Last year he earned his maiden grand slam success with victory over Argentine Mariano Puerta in the Roland Garros final but he said: "I think I prefer this year's title.

"Roger is the most incredible player that I know." Standing next to him, Federer looked anything but, his loser's dish tucked under one arm and a distant look in his eyes.

"He deserved to win," said the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion. "I was close this year. I tried. Obviously it's a pity but I will come back next year."

It was Federer's first defeat in eight grand slam finals and thwarted his bid to join Rod Laver and Don Budge as the only men to hold all four grand slams at once.

Federer's status as the world best player is also under serious threat from Nadal. The Spaniard has won four finals against the Swiss this year and six of their seven encounters in total, including two on hardcourt.

The match was billed as history in the making but for long periods it was a forgettable stream of unforced errors.

Tennis is a non-contact sport but Nadal makes it feel like one. The Mallorcan has the presence of a claycourt colossus, with biceps like cannonballs and a venomous look in his eye.

Yet after bounding on court like a boxer he made a terrible start. Federer took the first set in 37 minutes with Nadal committing mistake after mistake.

Both men seemed inhibited by the sense of history accompanying the match and the second set was the mirror image of the first. This time the Swiss was the one making all the errors, most of them on his backhand.

In the third set a billowing wind began to nag Federer and Nadal started to use the angles effectively. A break for 3-2 proved decisive and the champion squatted at the baseline roaring his delight when Federer slung another awful backhand long at set point.

The Swiss immediately lost serve and the fourth set quickly ran way from him. Error after error flowed from his backhand, leaving Federer rubbing his brow in disbelief.

Nadal still had to serve out his victory though, and when the moment came at 5-4, Federer applied some pressure and a wayward forehand gave him the brief respite of a break back.

Four consecutive errors in the tiebreak from the top seed gave Nadal the chance to serve again for the match and a big first serve brought him victory.

Nadal is the first man to retain the claycourt grand slam since Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten in 2001.

- REUTERS

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