Those were the words Nadal used to describe his loss to Federer today. And you know what? He was speaking the absolute literal truth. Roger Federer looked brilliant today. For a moment, I even allowed myself to hope.
It is hard to believe that this is only the second time that Federer has beaten Nadal on clay. Then again, it’s actually not hard to believe because Nadal has been that dominant, that unbeatable. I watched a couple of hours of the match he played against Djokovic yesterday. After Djoko won the first set, I took a break and went and did something else. I may have started folding laundry -- yes, it’s been a weekend of banal housecleaning. When I got back to the TV, it was to discover that both players were locked in a brutal second set tiebreak. I remained transfixed ‘til the end.
Although Nadal was wearing a leg bandage, it was Djoko who started seeming the worse for wear by the third set. Sheer guts got him to another tiebreak. But it was nerves that may have lost him the match in the end. And while Djoko did not burst into tears upon losing like Federer did in Australia, his disappointment was equally palpable. I found myself thinking that he must know what it feels like to be Federer, to play your absolute best, to basically do just about everything right, to have match points on your racket, and still turn around and lose the match. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how these guys keep going.
Having learned the hard way that you simply never count Nadal out -- certainly not in front of his paisanos, certainly not in front of Spanish royalty, certainly not with Uncle Toni sitting there looking increasingly pissed off in the audience -- I honestly, truly expected him to beat Federer today. So thoroughly did I expect this that I did not even bother to watch the match live on the Tennis Channel. I watched Dinara and Carolina instead. I don’t get why Wozniacki keeps getting the kind of results that she has. But I get that her consistency is what has made her finally break through to the Top 10. She is the first Dane to do so. I wish her style of play did more for me.
So after yawning through the women’s match, I went back to folding laundry. I figured I couldn’t be more bored than bored. And when during a brief email break I discovered that Federer had beaten Nadal, I promptly made some popcorn and sat down to catch the repeat. (Laundry could wait).
And let me tell you, it was one of the best tennis finals ever between these two. Both men seemed trimmed down, streamlined, as if they each has shed a few pounds. Nadal’s ass no longer filled up my TV screen. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Nadal served well. He has a penetrating kick serve to the backhand that is a beauty to behold. He plays it so confidently, so effortlessly. But in the end Federer served better. His down-the-line serve was brutally on point. Nadal's usually reliable returns-of-serve started to fail him. And in the second-to-last game of the second set, Federer played a down-the-line on the second serve that totally caught Nadal off guard. It was a defining moment of the match.
Both men also moved well and played superb ground strokes. But Federer’s improved down-the-line forehand (to Nadal’s lefty backhand) is probably the single stroke that won him this match. I didn't understand yesterday why he had used it so much against Del Potro since it was a shot that potentially favored the Argentine's big forehand. (It didn't actually). I got why today -- Federer was warming up for the match that mattered.
The commentators mentioned several times that Nadal was not pleased with the odd bounce of the Madrid surface. And in his post-match interview, Nadal did indeed make a point of saying that the Madrid court bore no relation to Roland Garros. In other words, this loss to Federer means nothing. Come Paris we will see who is the real clay king.
And you know what? He may be right. Maybe the surface in Madrid favored his opponent. Maybe he will get revenge on the terre battue. But for now, for today, Federer finally, gloriously, wonderfully beat Nadal in front of Nadal’s own homies on clay. The shoe is on the other foot. Let me savor the moment for as long (or as briefly) as it lasts.