TENNIS - Paris, in defence of their crowns.jpg

TENNIS – Paris, in defence of their crowns

AS WIDELY anticipated, the two currently leading exponents of the sport, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, reached the final for another mouth-watering showdown in Paris. The Swiss world number one enjoyed the easier passage during week two of the tournament, dismissing Croatia’s Mario Ancic in straight sets in the quarters, before benefiting from David Nalbandian’s withdrawal in their semi-final. In contrast, the young Spaniard, going into last Sunday’s final unbeaten in 59 encounters on clay, had to overcome tough opposition in the form of Lleyton Hewitt and Ivan Ljubicic to get there. The 20-year-old’s only respite came, when quarter-final opponent, Novak Djokovic, was forced to retire injured when trailing 4-6, 4-6.

Nadal and Federer had met six times before Sunday’s match, with the Majorcan leading 5-1. Last year’s final, on hard courts in Miami, had provided the Swiss with his only win to date, and even that success had been achieved over five sets. In order to cement his position as the best player in the world, if not of all time, Federer simply had to win this clash. He began with conviction, drawing on his full repertoire of shots to break his opponent’s service twice in taking the first set by a sensational 6-1 margin. But Nadal merely shook his head and levelled the match with a 6-1 demolition of his own. The belief was visibly draining from Federer’s features as the third set too went the Spaniard’s way to the tune of 6-4, and a last superhuman effort in the fourth proved insufficient, the tie-break wrapping up Nadal’s defence of the title he won here for the first time last year. Federer may be the best, but Nadal is the King of clay.

In the ladies draw, former world number one Martina Hingis’s comeback trail led her into the quarter-finals, following a three-set victory over up-and-coming Israeli teenager, Shahar Peer. But there, number two seed Kim Clijsters proved too strong, the Belgian coming through 7-6, 6-1, to set up a semi-final encounter with Justine Henin-Hardenne. In the other half of the draw, 17-year-old Czech starlet Nicole Vaidisova, was the surprise of the tournament. Having accounted for Venus Williams and Amelié Mauresmo, the 16th seed looked to be on the way into the final against Svetlana Kuznetsova, before displaying signs of youthful inexperience to throw away a safe-looking second set lead. The experienced Russian came back to win in three, and faced an awesome Hennin, who had made short work of Clijsters. Ninety-six minutes later, the 24-year-old Belgian emerged the 6-4, 6-4 winner, retaining the title she had won the previous year without dropping a set.

From a Portuguese point of view, 18-year-old Estoril Open sensation, Pedro Sousa, gave some reason for optimism in the junior event. The young talent eliminated France’s Kim Botti before reaching the quarter-final by beating world number one Donald Young 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. Slovakia’s Martin Klizan then proved too good, dropping only two games in a one-sided match.    

The season continues on grass at Queen’s this week with the Stella Artois tournament in preparation for Wimbledon.