Breakfast in Paris: Nadal Wins the French Open Again

Not Paris exactly. More like Jerry’s Famous Deli in West Hollywood which is adjacent to Beverly Hills, both of which are surrounded by the city of Los Angeles. A group of tennis fanatics who frequent Peter Bodo’s Tennis World, a popular blog, got up before sunrise on a Sunday morning and drove to Jerry’s Deli for the 6am broadcast of the French Open men’s final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Except for European soccer crazies and Formula One fanatics, who else does that?

Among us we had a former journalist who’d seen McEnroe play Becker in Davis Cup, a sixteen-year-old (here with her mother) who had her picture taken with Nadal, and a resident pro: our organizer Hank Moravec. Hank played qualifying at the U.S. Open when it was on clay at Forest Hills. Now we know why his online handle is Dunlop Maxply.

A woman named Gloria settled in and immediately requested a three set victory by Nadal so she could celebrate and be on her way. She had things to do. Early on it looked like she’d be disappointed. Federer had three break points on Nadal in the fourth game of the match and an incredible five more in the sixth game but came away empty. Even the mighty Federer couldn’t get over that disappointment. He lost his next service game at love, squandered two more breakpoints, and Nadal had the first set.

Federer improved his first serve and imposed his forehand on Nadal in the second set and it allowed him to get to the net. He broke Nadal in the middle of the set and that was all he needed to even the match at one set all. Gloria would have to wait.

But not too long. In the third set, Nadal lifted his game to the point where Federer lost his serve and the set despite an 88% first serve percentage. Nadal’s strategy was clear: send 90% of the balls to Federer’s backhand and that included the serve. Nadal did not hit one first serve down the middle to the ad court.

Federer’s strategy? He wanted to attack but that was difficult. The ball kicks up higher here in Nadal’s private corner of the red dirt world than it does at Hamburg, the site of Federer’s only victory over Nadal. It’s tough to attack when you’re swatting at flies with your backhand.

And then there was Hank’s theory and we were off on a live version of the anonymous thread that pops up daily on the Tennis World website. These people know their tennis! According to Hank, Nadal and Guillermo Canas are unique on the tour because they are so defensive that they don’t give Federer anything to work with. Hank started tracking points. When he saw a rare point where Nadal was aggressive and tried to hit corners and angles, he pointed out that those angles gave Federer opportunities to hit offensive shots. It’s much harder to hit winners from the middle of the court after all.

I wondered how Nadal held serve so effectively with that softy serve and Hank had a good theory for that too. Nadal’s first serve averaged only two miles per hour more than Justine Henin’s serve when she beat Ana Ivanovic in the women’s final on Saturday. Nadal uses spin and location to confuse his opponent but Hank thought that Federer was also being stubborn. Federer mishit so many returns because he was going for too much instead of just getting the ball in play.

Nadal’s exceptional play continued into the fourth set and he broke Federer one more time. With Nadal serving for the match, the former journalist playfully leaned over and asked whether I thought Nadal’s serve would go to Federer’s backhand. It did, of course, and then the match was over and Nadal had his third straight French Open title. Like many people in the tennis world (except for Gloria), we were sad for Federer but not surprised.

After a multilingual award ceremony featuring three-time French champion Gustavo Kuerten, we stood around in the middle of Jerry’s Deli trying to figure out if Nadal gets the number one ranking at the end of the year if he wins the ATP Race. Anyone know the answer to that?

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See all of our French Open coverage:
From Roland Garros: The Women’s Final
B**tch and Singe Dept: Henin Tops Williams at the French
How Far Will Maria Sharapova Go?
B**tch And Sing Dept: At the French Open
Suicide Pools and Richard Gasquet
B**tch and Sing Dept: Springtime in Paris
Serena, Roger and Posh Spice
Familiar Final at the French Open (French Open preview)