‘King of Clay’ Nadal wears crown again
Posted: Monday, June 7, 2010 2:46 pm
By: By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — Twice Rafael Nadal sprawled onto the clay he loves. He joined the crowd in applauding and shed tears of joy. Then the King of Clay posed for photos with the queen of Spain.
The celebration of Nadal’s fifth French Open title was exuberant but brief. It didn’t include plans for a party in Paris on Sunday night.
“Difficult to have a big celebration if you have to practice tomorrow,” Nadal said.
Wimbledon awaits. The year’s third and most prestigious Grand Slam tournament is only two weeks away, and Nadal wanted to begin his grass-court preparations Monday.
The switch in surfaces comes after he completed an undefeated clay-court season Sunday by beating Robin Soderling in the final at Roland Garros, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. With the win, Nadal regained the No. 1 ranking from Roger Federer, magnifying the stakes should the two meet in the Wimbledon final July 4.
Their rivalry has been dormant lately — they’ve met only once in the past year, and haven’t played each other in a Grand Slam tournament since February 2009.
There was no showdown at Roland Garros because defending champion Federer lost to Soderling in the quarterfinals. And there was no showdown at Wimbledon last year because Nadal missed the tournament with knee trouble after beating Federer in the dramatic 2008 final.
Now Nadal’s healthy again and riding a 22-match winning streak.
He’ll play the grass-court warmup event at Queen’s this week, and he’ll be seeded No. 1 at the All England Club.
Nadal figures the title in Paris helps his chances in London.
“Confidence always is the most important thing,” he said. “So winning here and winning the last 22 matches on clay is always very good preparation for grass.”
The victory at Roland Garros capped Nadal’s comeback from a tumultuous 2009, when he endured tendinitis in both knees and the separation of his parents.
That’s why the win left him sobbing — a ritual for Federer following a major final, but uncommon for Nadal.
“It’s the most emotional day in my career,” Nadal told the crowd in French during the trophy ceremony.
His slump last year included a loss to Soderling in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
He avenged that defeat and now has a career record of 38-1 in the tournament.
“Apparently my game is perfectly suited to this surface,” Nadal said. “I love it with all my heart, because it gave me so much joy.”
He became the second man to win the French Open at least five times. Next year he’ll have a chance to match Bjorn Borg’s record of six titles.
“rafa nadal best ever on clay…. period,” Andy Roddick tweeted.
Nadal said he’ll let others decide that.
“First of all, it’s going to be very arrogant if I say for myself I am the best of the history,” Nadal said. “Second thing, I don’t believe I am the best of the history. I try my best every day, and we will see when I finish my career.”
Nadal’s not inclined to rest on his achievements. He has been working to improve everything from his serve to his footwork, and Wimbledon will provide a test of progress.
The Spaniard hasn’t won the U.S. Open yet, either. And seven Grand Slam titles leave him nine behind Federer’s record of 16.
“To really be satisfied, I have to become the best tennis player of all time,” Nadal said. “That’d be really great.”
His play was up to that caliber against Soderling, a dangerous opponent because of his overpowering serve and forehand. Nadal robbed groundstrokes of their sting with dogged defense, chasing down balls all over the court and repeatedly extending rallies until Soderling finally misfired.
Soderling’s coach, Magnus Norman, said Nadal took his game to a new level.
“This was something special,” Norman said. “It’s unbelievable. You have to win the point three or four times.”
Nadal was at his best at pivotal moments, saving all eight break points he faced.
“It’s one of the best matches I’ve ever seen Rafael play,” said his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal. “Even if he makes the final of the U.S. Open, this will have been the most important match of the year, because it represents his return — returning to win the title at this tournament again.”