The sensation of the clay court season, which drew to a close in Paris last weekend, Rafael Nadal, already winner of five tournaments before the French Open this year, celebrated his 19th birthday on the day of his semi-final encounter with World No.1 Roger Federer.
To all intents and purposes, this was the real final, preceeding the official version on Sunday. Nadal launched into his blistering ground-stroke rhythm from the word go, never allowing his opponent to find his feet. A 4-1 first set lead was quickly converted into a 6-3 win and, although Federer hit back in the second, taking it 6-4, Nadal ran out the easy winner, chalking up the next two sets 6-4, 6-3 to leave the Swiss master stunned. Now, only unseeded Argentinean fighter Mariano Puerta stood in the Spanish teenager’s way to lifting his first Grand Slam crown.
Puerta fought like a lion, belying his lowly ranking. An epic first set went to the Argentinean, the next two to the irresistible Nadal. Puerta had three set points when serving at 5-4 in the fourth, but Nadal levelled, held and then broke Puerta. A new king was born.
Federer and Nadal now start their Wimbledon preparation in Halle, Germany.
The ladies competition proved to be a bit of a non-event. The stars, either injured or out of form, dropped like flies, leaving the now injury-free Justine Henin Hardenne to face 30-year-old Mary Pierce in the final. The home fans did not have much to cheer. The French girl’s 6-1, 6-1 demolition lasted exactly 62 minutes.
One bright light on the horizon may be 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva. The Bulgarian Nick Bolletieri protégé made it into the quarter finals, where she was narrowly beaten 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 by Elena Likhoutseva.