Rafael Nadal Dominates All Comers to Claim Tenth Roland Garros Title Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Rafael Nadal moved to #2 in the world by virtue of claiming his tenth title at Roland Garros. The legendary Spaniard showed why he’s the true king of clay over the last two weeks, not dropping a set and finishing off his journey with a thumping 6-2 6-3 6-1 win over an in-form Stan Wawrinka in the final. He dominated the former Roland Garros champion to finish the clay court season with a 24-1 record and four clay titles in the bag a remarkable feat for a player that many had written off after he dealt with some serious injuries in recent years and slipped down the rankings. Two of the games greatest ever players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have now claimed the two slam titles this season and head towards Wimbledon on a potential collision course, with a more neutral surface in New York at the US Open perhaps serving as the trust test of which player will be the season’s best.
Nadal moved well around the court and came up with some brutal shots, defeating Benoit Paire, Robin Haase, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Dominic Thiem to reach the final. His most challenging opponents on paper, Thiem, who upset Novak Djokovic to make the semifinals without dropping a set, and Wawrinka who didn’t drop a set before knocking off Andy Murray in a five set semifinal battle. Murray performed well to find form and reach the semis yet again, and Wawrinka remains a slam contender, but Rafa entered the tournament as a deserving favorite, and left it as a clear champion. Thiem has been coming into his own recently as well, and the French Open looks to be his best chance to win a Grand Slam.
Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus beat Santiago Gonzalez and Donald Young for the doubles title, The American Harrison rising quickly to become a top men’s doubles player, adding to his already successful 2017 season.
Few believed in Stan Wawrinka, myself included, at the start of the second week of Roland Garros 2015, but he dazzled all comers with his array of powerful, spinning forehands and backhands, and captured his second career Grand Slam title over the world #1 Novak Djokovic, who was gunning for a career grand slam, and his second slam of 2015.
Wawrinka came out rather cagey against Djokovic, who took the first set with superior execution, it was a close 6-4 with Wawrinka earning just one break point chance, and after the first set it was clear this match had all the makings of a classic just like their other five setters at the US Open and at the Australian Open. Wawrinka would fire back to win the next three sets, his backhand damaged Djokovic, making him stretch out and throwing off of his rhythm, as Novak was hitting shots that sat up into the hot zone for Wawrinka.
The Djokovic serve slipped up as he started to surrender break point opportunities (14 over the last three sets), while he broke just one other time in the match, a break Wawrinka clawed back in the 4th set. The match seemed destined for a fifth, even after Stan won the second and third sets, but Djokovic collapsed under pressure, and Wawrinka rose to the occasion, playing his peak game of power hitting baseline to baseline. It worked on the Roland Garros clay, and after coming in as a huge underdog, Wawrinka leaves Paris as a well deserved champion, having turned around his 2015 season and made it into something memorable.The final scoreline was 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4, as Wawrinka mostly dominated the last three frames in a surprise.
Prior to that, Wawrinka routined Gilles Simon on home soil in straight sets, and then he shocked his countryman Roger Federer, who came out cold, and never got hot in their quarterfinal. Wawrinka’s power flummoxed Federer and he never seemed comfortable against his good friend, Fed certainly tried, but he was lacking passion and spirit in his game, unlike in the previous round where he beat his rival Gael Monfils in 4 sets. In the semis Wawrinka surrendered a multitude of break point chances to surprise semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who was gunning for his second career grand slam final, but Tsonga failed to convert them as he won just won set off the Swiss and lost in four sets.
Prior to that, Jo had upset both Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori, ending their hopes in four and five sets respectively. Against Nishikori, Tsonga came out hot and won the first two sets, only to face a delay after a portion of the scoreboard in the stadium fell in the stands, he then lost the next two sets but rebounded to take the fifth.
The path for Djokovic went through Richard Gasquet as he beat the Frenchman with ease, and then he went through Rafael Nadal like a hot knife through butter, coming out hot, and playing unrelenting tennis against the king of clay. Rafa never really had a chance after losing the first set, and a disappointing 2015 clay court season ended with a whimper for him in the quarterfinal, as he lost for just the second time at Roland Garros.
In the semis Djokovic beat Andy Murray, who was in his third career RG semi, and playing his best ever tennis on clay. Djokovic was up two sets to love rather routinely, like most of their h2h meetings before Murray came alive, he started to win the long baseline rallies, and he took the third set. They went into the fourth neck and neck before the match was called due to impending thunderstorms. Saturday morning it resumed, and Murray promptly took the fourth set, but Djokovic redlined his game and slammed the door in the 5th, winning it 6-3 6-3 5-7 5-7 6-1, as it was a tale of two days of tennis. Murray previously beat Jeremy Chardy and David Ferrer to reach the semis, both in four sets.
Djokovic has to be questioning himself right now, after an incredibly strong 2015 where hardly anyone could beat him, he collapsed under pressure and fell to the blitzing power of Wawrinka, even after getting past Nadal, and Murray on clay. When it mattered, gunning for a title he had never won before, he couldn’t get the job done, and one has to wonder if his results could suffer the rest of the season out of mental anguish. He still is the world #1, and the probable favorite for Wimbledon, and the US Open, not to mention the remaining masters, but Wawrinka, Murray, and even Federer and Nishikori are still going to give him all he can handle and try to push him.
Wawrinka cemented that he’s been a totally different player since 2013, and with his second slam, he’s moved himself into the pinnacle of great players, rather than just a one-hit wonder. He always had the ability, and he remains a streaky player, but he showed once again he has the tenacity and the fire in the belly to win a two week tournament, that is best of five sets, not to mention he has won slams on two surfaces now.
Given Federer’s legendary status, he will never outgrow his shadow, but he deserves respect of his own, not as an also-ran anymore, but as a true star on the ATP tour, his backhand is a remarkable weapon, and the effortless power he hits with is envious. He’s far from a spring chicken at 30 years old, but he should have at least two, possibly 3-4 good years left on tour where his ranking should stay in the top 10.
Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, a successful veteran pairing upset the Bryan brothers for the doubles title. In mixed doubles American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who won the women’s doubles title as well, won the title with her partner Mike Bryan over Lucie Hradecka/Marcin Matkowski.