Majestic Nadal brings Berdych crashing back down to earth
Monday 05 July 2010
It was a moment of pure joy, one that typified the character of a player who combines sporting brilliance with a natural warmth and a boyish joie de vivre that make him a crowd favourite the world over. After a consoling word for Tomas Berdych, the man he had just beaten, Rafael Nadal performed a forward roll that might have come straight from the school playground before leaning backwards and bellowing out a great roar of celebration.
This may have been one of the less memorable Wimbledon finals of recent years, but that was clearly of no concern to the Spaniard. Twelve months after his troublesome knees had denied him the chance to defend the Wimbledon title he had wrested so dramatically from Roger Federer in 2008, Nadal needed just two hours and 13 minutes to claim his second All England Club championship, winning 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
It was a hugely popular victory. Not only is Nadal a wonderfully entertaining player and a remarkable athlete, but he is also a sportsman whose humility and grace are appreciated by all.
To have come back so strongly after a year in which he struggled with injuries and went 11 months without winning a title is an extraordinary achievement. He has only just turned 24 and if his knees hold out in the years to come he could go on to surpass even the records that Federer, his great rival, has been breaking with such regularity.
Berdych had beaten Federer and Novak Djokovic, the world's No 2 and No 3 players, en route to his first Grand Slam final, but a victory over the world No 1 never looked on the cards. The 24-year-old Czech did not break serve once and when the pressure mounted on his own, the 6ft 5in giant was brought crashing to earth.
The conditions could hardly have been better – a warm and sunlit afternoon was disturbed only by an occasional breeze – but in truth the match was short on entertainment. The Wimbledon public has undoubtedly been spoilt by the last four men's finals (three Nadal-Federer encounters and last year's marathon between Federer and Andy Roddick), which all provided both high-quality tennis and engrossing drama; this, in contrast, was a contest that lacked either variety or a competitive edge.
While Berdych has a booming serve and huge ground strokes, he is a one-dimensional player, with little subtlety to his game. With Nadal adopting his traditional position at the back of the court, the match became a baseline war of attrition. Neither man played serve-and-volley once and there was barely a lob or drop shot all afternoon.
Nadal clearly saw no need to change his tactics. The depth and quality of the Spaniard's ground strokes meant Berdych was unable to strike the ball with his usual power from the back of the court, while his defence – which he can so quickly turn into attack – was outstanding. The Spaniard's serve has been a weakness in the past, but Berdych seemed unable to read it. The quality of some of Nadal's second serves, in particular, was stunning.
Berdych, who moves well for such a big man but does not come close to matching Nadal's athleticism, was never going to win a baseline slugging match. When he did come forward, the Czech showed a reasonable touch at the net, but he seemed to lack the confidence to do so often enough. Most crucially of all, the big man's nerve went at the crucial moments. He may not be the fragile character he once was – at one stage you wondered whether he was from the Choke Republic – but the pressure of playing in his first Grand Slam final seemed to get to him.
For long periods, nevertheless, Berdych held serve with apparent ease. He started confidently enough, dropping only two points in his first three service games, but at 3-3 he was broken to love thanks to a combination of his own carelessness and Nadal's brilliant returns. Two games later Berdych's three missed forehands helped his opponent to another break and the first set, which took only 34 minutes.
Nadal's most difficult service game followed immediately. As the Spaniard's level dipped momentarily in the opening game of the second set, Berdych forced his first break points. The crowd, clearly wanting more of a contest, sprang to life in support of the underdog, but Nadal defended his ground with the iron resolve that has become his trademark. A forehand winner behind a big first serve saved the first break point, a swinging second serve out wide saved the second and on the third Berdych managed to put a forehand into the net.
An uneventful second set, in which the crowd became increasingly subdued, appeared to be heading for a tie-break until Berdych served at 5-6. Having dropped only four points on his serve in his first five service games of the set, the Czech promptly handed Nadal four more on a plate. Two wild forehands and a missed volley gave the world No 1 three set points, only one of which he needed, Berdych missing the target with another careless forehand.
In the third set Berdych, at last, started to appreciate that his best chance of breaking Nadal's serve would be to attack the net at every possibility. At 1-1, those tactics forced his last break point of the contest, but it came and went as fast as it took him to dump a backhand into the net.
When he served at 4-5, Berdych bravely fought back from 0-30 down to 40-30, but at deuce another ragged forehand gave Nadal match point. The Spaniard converted it in appropriate fashion, cracking a winning forehand crosscourt pass as Berdych moved into the net.
Nadal's immediate reaction to victory was to fall flat on his back but he was soon on his feet, shaking Berdych's hand, before performing that forward roll. It is a celebration we may well see time and time again in the years and months to come.
Nadal's Grand Slam Triumphs
2005: ......... French Open
2006: ......... French Open
2007: ......... French Open
2008: ......... French Open, Wimbledon
2009: ......... Australian Open
2010: ......... French Open, Wimbledon
Australian Open: ......... Quarter-finals
Indian Wells Masters: .....................Semi-finals
Miami Masters: ......... Semi-finals
Monte Carlo Masters: .....................Won
Rome Masters: ......... Won
Madrid Masters: ......... Won
French Open: ......... Won
Queen's Club: ......... Quarter-finals
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