Rafa some distance ahead of the pack


Rafael Nadal underscored his claim to being the greatest clay court player ever, by defeating Novak Djokovic in the French Open finals last Monday. It was a decisive victory and it is clear that Nadal has worked on and removed the imbalance between the techniques of the two best players on the planet. At the moment, there is no player who can stay on the clay court with Raffa. Djokovic tried, after losing the first two sets quickly, winning the third and being a break up in the fourth, but even Mother Nature was against him as the skies opened up and the two had to come back on Monday to finish the match. Nadal, in the meantime, had gotten over his nerves and the fourth set was over quickly by virtue of a nervous double fault on match point.
Maria Sharapova regained the number one ranking in style, beating Sara Errani of Italy with a bit to spare. Sharapova, in the recent past, had been beset by injuries and technical flaws in her serve. But these are all a thing of the past and the re-crowned queen of tennis should look with some confidence towards Wimbledon. Of course, the Williams sisters will be lying in ambush in South London and when Serena is on her game, she can make short work of anyone, including the elegant Maria. So where does that leave Roger Federer, the erstwhile king of the sport? He dutifully reached the French semifinals, only to choke the match away to Djokovic. People say that it is the nightmare of having to face Nadal that makes Roger so hesitant even before he gets to that stage. Certainly, he has lost his nerve against the top two and it would take some serious upsets in the Wimbledon draw before Roger can fancy his chances of winning his seventeenth major title.
When you are number one, as Roger was for several years, all the upcoming players are modeling their games just to beat him. Nadal and Novak have succeeded and Roger seems to be scrabbling at the bottom of his bag of tricks. This summer is extra special for Federer. He has never won an Olympic gold and would be desperate to do that on his favourite Wimbledon center court. He would also be aware that the Wimbledon grass represents his best chance of winning his seventeenth major and staying ahead of the rampaging Nadal. The favourites at Wimbledon and the Olympics would be the same, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. Andy Murray seems to have lost the plot and his coaching relationship with an increasingly grim looking Ivan Lendl may not last the summer. With other, powerful players nipping at his heels and his self-belief eroding, it would take a superhuman effort for Andy to be within shouting distance of any of the two titles. Players with chances of doing well this summer, would be Joe Tsonga, Milos Raonic, John Isner and the ever-promising but underperforming, Thomas Berdych.
All have the big games to do well on grass. But whether they have the requisite temperament is entirely another matter. Another player who could do well would be Fernando Verdasco, who has the big lefty game to go deep into the draw. Then there are David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka, two players who are consistently getting into the later rounds but lack that little bit extra to actually win something big. This column’s prediction for a dark horse would be the extravagantly gifted Tsonga, who has displayed maturity and a better counter attacking game in his recent outings. Should he put all this together for seven matches, he could beat anyone in the draw. But recent reports indicate that he has injured a finger and could be doubtful for Wimbledon, yet would play the Olympics.
Aisam Qureshi has finally settled in with his partner Jean-Julien Rojer and has been producing some good results. The duo should go deep into the doubles draw, but they simply do not have the firepower to win a major. But, should they get into the quarters and semis and have a bit of luck that could be all it takes for them to go ahead and win their first major. But for now, it is the giant Belarussian, Max Mirnyi and the veteran Canadian Daniel Nestor who would be the team to beat, followed by the Bryans. It remains to be seen whether Leander Paes will play with his Aussie Open winning partner Radek Stepanek. The two make an excellent combination and it was a mystery as to why Stepanek did not play the doubles in Paris. Should they play together at Wimbledon, they would be the team to beat. In Pakistan, Aqeel Khan continued his dominance over the domestic scene, winning two tournaments, each time over American college player Abid Ali. The tall and rangy Abid swept through the draws but found Aqeel to be too crafty. Abid has created some ripples in American college tennis and could be a future player for Pakistan should the PTF refrain from the previous regime’s policy of sidelining him. At the age of 17 he was Pakistan number four when the top three were all over thirty. Yet PTF did not see it fit to even invite him for trials – relentlessly victimized for being this writer’s son. The tyranny of Dilawar Abbas and Rashid with Arif Qureshi as their hatchet man will long be remembered. In other sport, Pakistan and SL are locked in an ODI battle, tied at 1-1 with rain washing out the third game. Pak’s batting, with too many new names, looks unstable and few batsmen look capable of building an innings. The bowlers have been splendid and have kept the team in contention. It is critical for players like Misbah and Younus to click as Umar Akmal et al are strictly hit or miss, with the sole exception of Azhar Ali.


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