It took a little over a year to recapture the form that enabled Rafael Nadal to win the '09 Australian Open in a scintillating match against Roger Federer, but today, with a 6-4, 7-6 dispatching of Federer in Madrid, Nadal once again stamped himself as the king of clay, and Federer's chief rival.
It was a deceptively close two-set match—check the stats—but a match Nadal won because his typical brilliance on clay and sensational defense outstrips Federer's complete game. (SB Nation also notes that Fed literally whiffing on match point didn't help.) And Nadal, this year, isn't dealing with the knee pain that sideswiped him after his triumph Down Under in 2009. That's allowed him to become the first man to win three clay-court Masters events in a year, and break Andre Agassi's record for most Masters wins in a career.
It's a foregone conclusion that Nadal will be the overwhelming favorite when play begins at the French Open in a week. But he's also moved back into Federer's rear view mirror. That has something to with Juan Martin Del Potro's wrist injury and Novak Djokovic's illness, to be sure, but with those two players ailing, Nadal now stands as the only healthy man who has beaten Federer in a major since 2006, and he will probably duel Fed all summer.
Tennis thrives when the Federer-Nadal rivalry is revving, and with Rafa finally feeling and looking like the tireless counterpuncher who ruled Roland Garros for four straight year, anything less taking place this summer would be a disappointment.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.