Very interesting article on Rafa's win yesterday and what it means to Federer, Djokovic and other contenders for Wimbledon title. The last paragraph is very interesting about the L.T.A reputation for mucking things up. One quibble I have with the article is it's inaccuracy on Nadal's record in A.O. This year he lost in the semi and not as the article says, didn't go past the quarter-finals.
Nadal blasts aside Djokovic to prove grass credentials
· Spaniard looks to go one better at Wimbledon
· Federer's five-year reign under threat from Serb too
* Steve Bierley at Queen's Club
* The Guardian,
* Monday June 16 2008
* Article history
Anyone searching Rafael Nadal's tennis bag yesterday afternoon would probably have found traces of the red clay of Roland Garros still lurking in the corners. Astonishingly, only one week after winning his fourth consecutive French Open title in Paris, the Spaniard captured his first grass court title, defeating Serbia's Novak Djokovic 7-6, 7-5 in an Artois Championships final of such white-hot intensity that it was tempting to view the result as the forerunner of Nadal's first Wimbledon title.
"The last two years I have reached the quarter-finals here and went to Wimbledon and played very well. This year I won, so you never know what may happen this year," said Nadal. "When I was young my goal was to play at Wimbledon. It has always been very, very special to me and to have played in the last two finals has been a dream. Now my dream is to win the title."
Across the North Sea Roger Federer, the five-times Wimbledon champion, who extended his undefeated grass-court record to 59 matches when he won the title in Halle just before Nadal's triumph, would not have been surprised. His last defeat on the surface came in the first round of Wimbledon against Croatia's Mario Ancic six years ago, yet Nadal came within a couple of shots of beating the Swiss world No1 in the final over five enthralling sets at the All England club last year. Federer is well aware of the threat.
So the heat will be on him again, perhaps doubly so, for he will not want to have Djokovic on his side of the draw when it is made on Friday. The reigning Australian Open champion, who defeated Federer on Melbourne's hard courts in this year's semi-finals, was within a point of a 4-0 lead in the opening set here and served for the first set in the tie-break.
It was a final bursting with brilliant tennis and the Serb, at 21 a year younger than Nadal, came close to succeeding. He and Nadal have been vying all year for the No2 spot behind Federer, with Nadal staving off Djokovic's concerted attack during the clay season and beating him in the semi-finals at Roland Garros. Meanwhile Federer has been faltering, all of which promises an enthralling contest between the three at Wimbledon in a week's time. Nadal has been beaten in those last two finals by Federer, and Djokovic reached his first Wimbledon semi-final last year, losing to Nadal.
It is difficult to imagine anybody else getting a look in. France's Gaël Monfils snatched the fourth semi-final place in the French Open and many will hope Britain's Andy Murray might have a similar run on grass. However, as things stand, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are a class apart. Federer will remain the favourite.
Tournaments like Queen's, coming just before one of the majors, are used by the players to gain confidence and hone technique, especially here where the lurch from clay to grass is violently quick. But once the semi-finals are reached the competitive animal kicks in and Nadal and Djokovic badly wanted to win.
Djokovic had the better start yesterday, hitting the ball wonderfully cleanly and leaving Nadal to chase in vain. Had the Serb gained a 4-0 lead in the first set there might have been a different ending. "I had a lot of chances but he managed to come through," he said. "Partly that was my fault, partly luck as well. I should have been a little more aggressive." The problem for all Nadal's opponents is that the Spaniard's level of intensity and aggression rarely falter.
It is only on the hard courts of the US and Australia that the unforgiving nature of the surface is more than Nadal's occasionally vulnerable body, notably his knees, can take. He has never got beyond the quarter-finals of the US or Australian Opens, the principal reason why over the last three years he has never managed to knock Federer off the No1 spot.
But now he will believe he can at least end Federer's dominance on grass and by doing so this may lead to him taking over as the world No1, although Djokovic has equal ambitions in that direction. Initially the Serb looked the fresher but Nadal was ultimately implacable. He is the first male Spaniard to win a grass-court title since Andres Gimeno in 1972 and the first player to win both the French Open and this title since Romania's Ilie Nastase in 1973, when it was called the London grass court championships.
The Lawn Tennis Association, the sport's governing body in Britain, is poised to take over the running of this tournament next year. The LTA is renowned throughout the world for turning Wimbledon's golden profits into base metal. It is to be hoped they do not muck up this event too.
This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday June 16 2008 on p9 of the Sport news & features section. It was last updated at 00:14 on June 16 2008.
* guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008