federer falters, ana self-annihilates

Posted on June 10, 2007

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Good thing I’m not the betting type. I would have lost badly over the weekend, having backed Roger Federer and Ana Ivanovic to win the French Open men’s and women’s singles titles respectively, but they were both beaten convincingly by their opponents Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin.

Even as Federer was denied his chance to make history by becoming the third man ever to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, he would probably have to do some serious analysis of how he fared during the match against Nadal, and find a coach, fast.

Federer showed that he was human after all, when he committed 60 unforced errors in the match (vs 28 by Nadal) and only converted one out of 17 break points (a miserly six per cent, compared to Nadal’s 40 per cent, or four out of 10). His serves and forehand, both usually instruments of terror were largely neutralized by Nadal. Federer’s crushing dominance against everybody else was brought to an abrupt halt at Nadal’s feet, who refused to be intimidated nor to give in even when he was down.

Perhaps the pressure was too much on Federer. Expectations for him had been so high coming into the tournament, as he seeks not only to win the only Grand Slam title that’s been out of his grasp but also to hold four consecutive Grand Slam titles.

Federer will certainly try again next year but as he will be 26 then, time might not be his best ally. Nadal on the other hand, has only just turned 21 and is likely to have a few more years to peak and stabs at other Grand Slam tournaments.

But Federer should take heart. He’s in the company of some illustrious tennis champions who have swept every other Grand Slam save the French Open — Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker. And 10 Grand Slam titles to his name is something no one can sniff at.

Still, being a champion is about being competitive. At least it will give Federer something else to aim for. “Obviously, if I would have won today — again, same thing happened last year — I would have had not many other goals to chase in my career. Like this, it stays open. And, eventually, if I get it, the sweeter it’s going to taste,” Federer told reporters after his loss.

As for 19-year old Ivanovic, her mental strength obviously needed more development, the way she crumbled in her match against Henin. But she is young and was perhaps hit by a severe case of nerves, of being in her first final in a Grand Slam tournament, and of facing the world number one and three-time French Open champion across the net.

She started bravely enough, breaking Henin at the opening game, but lost her footing and self-confidence after that and appeared in a hurry to end the nightmare.

But in time, Ivanovic will hopefully gain the experience and confidence in her abilities, and prove to be the champion that she has shown so much promise of being.

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