Richard Jago in Miami
Tuesday March 30, 2004
Roger Federer predicted last week that Rafael Nadal would succeed him as world No1 within three years. On this evidence it will happen quicker than that as the 17-year-old Spaniard overwhelmed the top-seeded Wimbledon champion 6-3, 6-3 in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.
Nadal's performance was spectacular. He struck the ball with a remarkable sense of freedom, served like a dream and hit forehands with such colossal pace and spin that they reared up and lurched forward unpredictably.
And Nadal bounced about the court as though trampolines were below his soles. "I'm not surprised," sighed Federer, who had been below his best. "That's what youngsters do," said the Swiss, all of 22, to laughter all round.
Federer certainly had his excuses, though he did not volunteer them. He suffered heat exhaustion after playing Tim Henman in 40C at Indian Wells a week before and had been unable to prepare for Miami.
But the world No1 said of Nadal: "I've heard a lot about him and I think this is not a surprise to anybody."
But it was a surprise to an American crowd. Many had not heard of the Spaniard, who entered this event as world No34, yet most stayed late into the night to watch him, thrilled by a sense of being present at a star's emergence and roused by his adrenalin-charged gestures.
At the end Nadal performed a jig reminiscent of Jimmy Connors. "This year I'm playing with more confidence," he said through an interpreter. "I'm winning because I have raised my level and I believe I belong to the top. But I probably never served like this in my life."
Nadal created his first break point in the fifth game, jumping on a short approach by Federer and leathering it past him. He converted with his next hit, a deep and fast return, forcing Federer into a half- volley drive which sailed long.
Already Federer was showing signs of losing confidence. Too often Nadal was able to strike balls when positioned inside the court, and Federer did not come forward as much as he might.
One break also decided the second set. From 40-0 in the sixth game Federer missed two forehand drives, received one ball which skidded unplayably off the line, was passed by an amazing Nadal forehand from well behind the baseline and struck another forehand of his own long. That was effectively the end.
March 2004, , that was when Andy was #2, and Rafael was #35, now he is number 2
But man, 3 years is after all a pretty long time for Nadal to be conent with being #2.
But Roger could be right after all, if he still stays #1 for the whole year next year, he will likely make the new record for being the longest running #1 in ATP history.
Is anyone here hoping that Nadal disrupt that and get to #1 before Roger and make history?