Nadal draining all the suspense
PARIS -- Over the past two weeks, the speculation of Rafael Nadal's dominance at Roland Garros turned as the tournament progressed into hard prediction. On Friday, Nadal transformed prediction into fact.
That Nadal finished David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 was impressive and often breathtaking. That he hasn't dropped a set during the French Open is frightening in a best-three-of-five tournament. That he is 51-1 in his career at Roland Garros and has a chance to earn his record-breaking seventh French Open title is obviously spectacular.
Nadal, who will play Novak Djokovic (who defeated Roger Federer 6-4, 7-5, 6-3) in Sunday's final, is a master at the height of his power. What is most remarkable about his run to the final is not so much the inevitability of his quest but how he has demoralized otherwise terrific tennis players. Ferrer is the sixth-ranked player in the world and one of the four greatest clay-court players in the game today. He played the same kind of active, attacking power tennis -- in fact, better against Nadal -- that he did in defeating Andy Murray in four sets but still won just five games against Nadal.
"He played better than me all the time. It is difficult to say something. I tried to do my very best," Ferrer said. "He was better than me in that moment. He played very, very good. I didn't have a chance."
Ferrer is the latest victim of Nadal's furious chase of his championship. Nicolas Almagro, whom Nadal defeated in the quarterfinals, played ferociously against Nadal. Almagro did not win a set, yet he stepped off the court knowing he played perhaps as well as he could play. Afterward, Almagro said he was "pleased" with his tennis, which is not usually a common response after getting beat 7-6, 6-2, 6-3. In the round of 16, Nadal brutalized the 15th-ranked player in the world, Juan Monaco, 6-2, 6-0, 6-0, as though Nadal were dominating a club player.
The fourth game of the first set Friday decided the match and underscored just how formidable Nadal has been in this tournament -- and underscored what kind of pressure Djokovic will face. Leading 2-1, Ferrer pounded backhands at Nadal and then put him away with a forehand volley for a break point and a chance to lead 3-1. Nadal responded with a vicious forehand rally that Ferrer absorbed before Nadal ripped a forehand winner. An ace gave Nadal a game point when he actually looked human by first double-faulting and then netting a backhand to give Ferrer a second chance at a break.
Nadal and Ferrer then came to the net and exchanged terrific drop shot volleys, in which Nadal prevailed with a forehand volley for a second deuce. Unhinged, Nadal blasted two service winners for the game.
At 2-2, Nadal then won 19 of the next 22 points. Ferrer was broken at love in his final two service games of the set.
Talk is the grist of sports, especially with so many days between matches, but the court is where the game is played. Sara Errani is playing for a championship Saturday. Ferrer took out Murray. Djokovic and Federer both nearly went down before rallying in the quarterfinals.
Nadal, however, has drained the suspense out of this tournament with his driven play. Each moment -- beating Ferrer in a 30-shot rally in which he returned a ball from a sitting position and still won the point -- bolstered his position while leaving his competition in a state of despair. If it all sounds like hyperbole, consider this: Nadal has yet to face a set point.
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