/ 20 May 2007

Federer ends Nadal’s winning streak on clay

Roger Federer produced an astonishing turnaround to beat Rafael Nadal for the first time on clay courts in the final of the Hamburg Masters on Sunday.

His 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win over the French Open champion underlined his belief that he has a chance of winning in Paris in three weeks’ time and to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time.

It was Nadal’s first loss on clay in more than two years and ended his record-breaking 81-match winning streak on this surface.

But it required an amazing twist for it to come about. For an hour of the match Federer, whose form has been in a slump, looked a beaten man.

He was quickly behind, and after being outplayed in the first set, was almost a break of serve down in the second. But after averting the crisis, Federer’s level went up so far so fast that he took eleven of the next 12 games and the match.

It suggested that for Federer, who admitted to having been affected by his decision to part with coach Tony Roche last weekend, the match was played as much with the emotion as with the risk-taking brilliance of his tennis.

Federer nevertheless made a discouraging start. He could only get five first serves in during an opening service game of 14 points, and in his second service game he was broken.

The world’s most fluently versatile all-court player played all but one of these rallies from the back, almost certainly a legacy of this game’s opening point in which Federer was beaten at the net by a sensational flat pass down the line from Nadal.

It got worse for the world number one as he dropped serve again to go 1-4 down, during which he attempted one wildly ambitious forehand drive from very wide out on the backhand side, which missed, and mis-hit a backhand drive completely at game point.

Nadal was playing his usual relentless weighty rear court game, varying the angles but taking few chances, and the rewards were coming unexpectedly fast against an uncertain opponent.

Federer got a warm round of applause from the crowd when he opened the second set with his best service game thus far, but then he sunk to a new low, from which he seemed unlikely to recover.

First he unaccountably launched a smash into the net from half way up the court, which would have given him two break points, and it made the crowd groan. Then, having allowed Nadal back to parity at 1-1, Federer sank to 15-40 on his serve.

But recover he did. Perhaps it was a feeling that things could not get worse which made it possible, for Federer attacked his way freely and impressively to four points in a row, two of them won from the net.

After this he sprung to life. Immediately he broke Nadal’s serve for the first time, pummelling three fierce forehand winners, one of them with a return of serve that Nadal could not even lay a racket on.

And then he broke Nadal again in the eighth game. By this time the clay-court king was beginning to look disconcerted by the penetration of the Federer attacks and was making uncharacteristic errors of his own.

Federer was playing unbelievably at that stage. His ground strokes were just as forceful, but with far fewer errors, and after Nadal had put a forehand wide at the end of a long rally to drop serve at 0-2 in the final set, it was clear the character of the match had altered.

Federer also came in to the net more, although on the most crucial point of the final set, the point which opened the door to a double break of serve at 4-0, he hesitated to come in.

At the second attempt he did so, however, and his second volley elicited the passing-shot error from Nadal that he had been hoping for.

”I don’t have pressure,” Nadal had said before the final. ”If I win or lose tomorrow [Sunday] I will arrive at the French Open with good preparation and the same confidence — the work is done.”

The correctness of that assertion will now be fully tested. — AFP