May 2, 2010

Master Class

It wasn't long ago that detractors were saying Rafael Nadal's fifteen minutes at the top of the tennis world were up. He had lost ignominiously in the fourth round of the Grand Slam that had come to be his second home. A knee injury kept him from defending his 2008 Wimbledon title. Before Monte Carlo he hadn't won a championship since Rome last year> And even though he'd made at least the quarters of every tournament he played since Paris, he was clearly suffering a major downturn.

To them, I say, "Ha!" (accompanied by a gesture that's not befitting of a lady).

Nadal began to silence some naysayers when he did recapture the trophy in Monaco, becoming the only player in the Open era to win the Rolex championship in six consecutive years. But it wasn't until this week, when at twenty-three he surpassed Roger Federer by winning his record-tying seventeenth Masters 1000 title, that Rafa really showed he was back.

All week he was in top form, dismantling tough players in Philipp Kohlschreiber, Victor Hanescu and Stanislas Wawrinka in back-to-back matches. He struggled a bit against Ernests Gulbis in the semis, dropping his only set of this clay court season, but handily earned the right to meet countryman David Ferrer in the title match on Sunday. The pair endured two rain delays, but ultimately it was the more experienced Nadal, playing in his twenty-third Masters final, who was victorious. He was strong on serve, getting eighty percent of his first shots in and denying David the only break opportunity he had.

It was an impressive victory, and one that draws him even with Andre Agassi who captured his seventeenth Masters trophy in 2004 at the age of thirty-four. And I know I jinxed myself by saying this before, but if Rafa stays healthy there's room for him to win many more before his time is up. Of course Roger Federer, who won his sixteenth in Cincinnati last year, is clearly hot on his tail.

But more importantly, Rafa's latest championship proves he's still in the game and, hopefully, will jumpstart the rivalry between two of the greatest in the sport. It's been a while since he and Fed have met, and these days it looks like -- if Roger can make it far enough -- it will be a fun fight to watch!

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