Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dirt-y Questions (Part One)

Rafael Nadal has won 76(!) straight clay court matches following his victory this week in Rome. Can anyone stop this racehorse on the dirty stuff?

Answer: I think yes, but it'll take a lot - from both sides - for it to happen. First, Nadal must be off, way off. The guy has such great presence on clay. He's at home, this is the stuff that he was raised on, that his game was honed for. He's like a kid in the sandbox: comfortably moving from side to side through the puddles, cracks and volcanoes. Yet, if a giant-killer has his A-game gripped tightly with his racket, we've seen a vulnerable Nadal on any surface.

What Federer and the rest of the field must remember is that Nadal thrives on the dramatic points - the points where he can grind, scramble and get a little dirty before fist-pumping and knee-kicking his way to the changeover. Neutralizing Nadal is the key.

How is this done? The serve certainly has to go off for Rafa, and that backhand (which can yip at times) has to be a little off. From there on out it's up to the fellow on the other side of the net. As of no surprise today, Gonzalez didn't even make a dent in Nadal's clay armor. Gonzo shows us what sort of game doesn't work against the two-time French winner.

But now the rest of the tour is wondering: what does work?

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