If you were asked to make a list of Australia’s most successful current athletes, it’s unlikely anyone would include a world champion by the name of Jason Belmonte.
Rafael Nadal has cemented his place as one of the greatest tennis players of all time by winning a record breaking eighth title at the French Open.
Nadal defeated fellow Spaniard and good friend David Ferrer in straight sets in what was the first all-Spanish Grand Slam final since 2002.
However despite the scoreline he was made to work hard for the victory, as seen in an evenly contested first set.
Ferrer, making his Grand Slam final debut at the ripe old age of 31, showed no signs of nervousness when he opened the match with a love hold.
The first four games went on serve until Nadal appeared to take the early advantage when he broke to go 3-2 up.
Ferrer then broke back to level the set, but then from there it would be all Nadal, taking three games in a row to take the first set 6-3.
Nadal’s domination continued until he put himself into a position to serve for the second set at 5-1 up, until a protester briefly interrupted the match protesting about France’s controversial same-sex marriage laws.
This, I believe, was the first time since the 2002 Wimbledon final in which a men’s Major final match was interrupted.
On that occasion, Lleyton Hewitt destroyed David Nalbandian to win his second (and presumably last) Grand Slam title.
The interruption allowed Ferrer to briefly get back his game, as he broke to reduce the deficit to 5-2 in the second set, before Nadal broke again to take the second set 6-2 and thus take a two-set lead.
The final set followed a similar script to that of the first set, that was until Nadal broke to take a 5-3 lead.
From there, the younger of the two Spaniards served out comfortably to take his eighth French Open title in nine appearances in Paris, and his 12th Major trophy.
The French Open title also caps off a phenomenal comeback from Nadal, who twelve months ago was forced to concede the defence of his Olympic gold medal which he won in Beijing in 2008, as well as the US Open title after a series of knee injuries sidelined him after a shock second round dismissal by Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon.
Despite his continuing successes though, Nadal will this morning wake up to find out that he has been bumped back down to World No. 5 – courtesy of Ferrer’s run to the final, which will place him at World No. 4 for the third time this season.
However, Nadal will have barely anything to defend for the remainder of this season – though he has a quarter-final to defend in Halle and only a second round loss at Wimbledon to defend.
After that, he can continue to pick up rankings points at will.
His title will also make him one of the big threats for the title at SW19 – though he is unlikely to reclaim a place in the Top Four before the seedings for the third Major of the year are released next week.
Given his history on the grass courts, though, SW19 organisers should consider seeding him in the Top Four, even if it is at the expense of David Ferrer, who last year made the quarter-finals after defeating Andy Roddick in the third round.
This would spare Nadal a quarter-final confrontation against Federer, Djokovic or Murray. I’d hate to see any of these match-ups occur before the semi-finals, as one heavyweight would have to feel the full force of the Nadal comeback trail.
David Ferrer has not lost any friends in his French Open final defeat – he has vowed that he will come back and try again to break the stranglehold of Major domination by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – with only Juan Martin del Potro (2009 US Open) and Andy Murray (2012 US Open) being able to poke holes into their dominance.
Ferrer should be proud of his performance in the match, even if he lost in straight sets – it was a decade’s determination of never giving up that got him to the championship match in the first place – at his 42nd consecutive Grand Slam tournament from his debut at the 2003 Australian Open.
Nevertheless, his run in Paris should also make him a contender for London, the only Grand Slam tournament in which he has yet to break the quarter-final barrier.
Now that the clay court season is over, bring on the grass and Wimbledon. The year’s third Grand Slam tournament begins on Monday, June 24.
Next week I will have a full detailed preview of the year’s third Major, and identify all the contenders and pretenders for the titles.