Saturday, July 08, 2006

Wimbledon finals preview

The folks at the All-England Club call it Grass, and they're right -- for the first three rounds. Then the Grass becomes something approaching clay, but not quite. At this point, let's introduce Rafael Nadal. He is the Undisputed King of Clay, and he is in the final of Wimbledon, on a Grass court that looks less and less like grass every day. I suspect that young Nadal wears those long capris so he can carry some fine French clay in his pants. As he walks the lawns of the All-England Club, he shakes the wedgies out, and along with it some of his favorite surface.
No one gave Rafa much of a chance, especially after his tightrope performance against Robert Kendrick in round two. But he gained a few believers by the time he had dispatched Andre Agassi in his next match. He bows his head, and demurs gracefully to Roger Federer, the Undisputed King of Grass, saying that Fed is the best player in the world. That sounds a lot like what he said before the French Open final last month, just before he beat Federer like he was a red-headed Jonas Bjorkman.
Now, though, the tables are turned. Nadal seemed to be hosting Federer at his house, Roland Garros, where he was the natural, and Federer trying to mask his discomfort for the red stuff. At Wimbledon, Roger's at home, and Nadal still a novice. But something's amiss. Nadal isn't playing like he's never been to a Wimbledon final before. He's beefed up his serve, flattened his strokes when necessary, and is moving very nicely on the green stuff.
Almost everything, including the way Federer has handled his 'tough' draw, points to him holding up the trophy on Sunday. Nadal's dedication to training on grass, though, has gotten him through a tricky draw as well, and where Federer has been sublime, Nadal has bent under the pressure of some of his opponents. To borrow from 'A Knight's Tale,' Nadal has been weighed, and he has been measured, and he has been found wanting ... to win Wimbledon. Will he get it?
It will go five, and if you want to know who wins it, ask someone who didn't botch all her picks for this tournament. Seriously, enjoy.
As for the ladies, well, let's say I'll be sleeping in on Saturday morning. I've seen this script before. You've got to admire Justine Henin-Hardenne for her all-court game, despite her small frame. If she weren't a Euro flopper, like some of those World Cup bastards, I'd be rooting for her. But she is, and I won't. Independent of that, though, how about Amelie Mauresmo? You could just see it in her semi against Maria Sharapova, couldn't you? She wanted badly to crack under the pressure. Hell, she did, in the second set. She steadied herself and has herself in position to actually win a Grand Slam. Not like the Australian. She has a chance to prove to herself, and to the women's locker room, that she isn't a head case. There was a time when Henin-Hardenne mentally folded in tough matches -- folded, not flopped. But she learned to compete, and let's hope Mauresmo will, too. The women's world No. 1 shouldn't be someone who can't get her game face on for majors.
But like I said, I can see where this is going. One word of advice for Mauresmo: If you feel a sneeze coming on in that second set, and you're incidentally down a set and a break -- quit.

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