In the final of the Rome Masters, an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) ranking event worth some €2,427,975 according to the tour, Rafa Nadal finally beat world number one Novak Djokovic. It had taken the Spaniard seven attempts in the final of a ranking event, but in doing so this time he has returned to world number two, overtaking Roger Federer, and has given himself a boost as they head for another major.
Djokovic beat Nadal in the record longest final at the Australian Open earlier this year. In that hard court affair Nadal was beaten in the sixth grueling set. Now, though, Djokovic has fallen to his rival on clay.
The Serbian has actually not won an event on clay all season and with the Roland Garros clay event beginning in Paris on Monday 28th, Rafael Nadal is installed as heavy favorite for the major.
It is great for tennis to have such strong rivalries, and with Federer and Andy Murray coming up behind these two there will always be intrigue, but it is hard to look past the Spaniard for the crowning clay event.
This throws up lots of interesting directions for tennis. If Nadal does as he is expected and romps to victory in Paris then he and Djokovic will have a title each, this year. Then Wimbledon will be opened up. Murray will have a huge amount of pressure on him, being the only Brit with a chance, Federer will perk up and both of the number one and two will want an upper hand.
As for the Olympics, it is all up in the air. Sweden’s Robin Soderling will not be representing Sweden at the Games, but the top players in the world have a nice spread of allegiances and will all experience rare and new motivations, beyond money.
Djokovic from Serbia, Nadal from Spain, Federer from Switzerland, Murray from the host nations, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from France, Tomas Berdych from the Czech Republic, Juan Martin Del Potro from Argentina and Mardy Fish from the USA are all in the top 10 and all will feel differently towards playing for a gold medal.
It will be fascinating to see unfold, but there is also an obscene amount of tennis to be played first. Just enough time for rivalries to strengthen, desperation to increase and sweat to pour by the bucket load. The tour is hard. It gets harder when titles are on the line.