Are We Snoring Yet?

Seems like only yesterday when tennis fans were complaining that Roger Federer won too much on every surface except clay. This week we can point the finger of blame at Rafael Nadal, who has ended up dominating on clay this season. And the season is barely under way. He snagged the Monte Carlo crown against Federer last weekend, and followed that up with his 72nd win on clay in Barcelona over Guillermo Canas this past Sunday. The score was 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal has run away with the clay. No other man has even – ever – come close. Now only one woman stands in his way. The Iron Maiden herself, Chris Evert, had a 125 match winning streak on clay. Nothing to sneeze at, that record. But right now Nadal looks like he’s ready for a good sneezing attack. Anything is possible with this kid. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we are seeing the two best players EVER, Nadal on clay, and Roger on everything but clay? But is this going to make any of us very happy?

If it’s not good for Federer to hold sway completely, is it any better that Nadal runs through everyone on clay? Probably not. This pair of ne’er-do-wells are staging their own private parties and they aren’t sharing the loot. It’s not nice when people don’t want to share. Shame on you guys we say.

Some people suggest the level of their competition may be lacking. But when you consider that guys like Roddick, Blake, Davydenko, Ljubicic and Robredo have been camped out in the Top Ten for a while, such is probably not the case. And now a whole new flock of people are looking to muscle their way into the party. Novak Djokovic has reached Number 5 in the world, and while his game certainly looks very steady we need to give him a little more time to see if he can consolidate his rise. Ditto Andy Murray, who is hanging on to #10 but lately has had a back injury.

There are a ton of guys who can go out and dominate other top players on a particular day. The problem lies in what they do the day after. Can they back it up? Not many of them can. It’s a hit and miss affair. Which leaves the accomplishments of Mssrs. Federer and Nadal looking even more amazing. Because they do back it up. And we end up being both amazed – and a little bored. I don’t know about you guys, but I am entering the Love/Hate stage of my relationship with Rafa and Roger.

I was really hoping Canas could have turned that around on Sunday. Each time I see him play the memory of that drug suspension fades. He asserts himself more strongly in the consciousness of tennis fans. I like the brass of this guy. Even when he’s pulled wide on a shot he’s able to return the ball, and with mustard on it. Were Nadal not around, Canas would probably be the most consistent retriever in the game today. He had problems earlier in the tournament with hand cramping and foot problems, so for him to show up was a good thing; for him to play at the level he did was a really good thing. But it still wasn’t enough. Nadal was just too dominant.

Canas should not feel discouraged at all by his showing. He knows now he can create chances for himself. Like in the opening game alone, when he had two break points against Nadal. He has to get better at closing the deal when he gets opportunities like that. He also has to make sure his serving game stays firmer. A 57% first serve ratio is not going to get the job done. Unfortunately he also came to realize – doesn’t everyone – that his chances would be better if he weren’t so attached to the baseline game. So Canas started to be more aggressive in the second set. Not exactly serving and volleying, but moving forward once he got a ball that wasn’t already half-way down his throat. The problem was that this tactic is not a comfortable choice for him, it exudes a bit of desperation, and by the time he used it the match was running out fast.

Maybe next time he meets the lad from Majorca Canas will begin the match playing aggressively, rather than relying on that tactic to bail him out when it’s too late.

A quick note: As if to remind everyone on the planet of tennis that they are the two hottest players since sliced bread hit the toasters, this week Roger and Rafa are playing in a hybrid sort of exhibition match on the island of Majorca. Half the court will be grass, the other half clay. So we presume Roger wins nearly all the points on the grass side while Rafa gets the clay ones. And the rest of the guys are left holding the bag.

Are they like rubbing it in, or what?

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