Nadals defeats Federer in Madrid Masters, plus a misguided French Open prediction

Ahh, some tennis news. I know how you’ve all missed it, consumed by the exciting NBA Playoffs, the equally exciting but less-publicized NHL playoffs, and the full swing of the baseball season. Well, tennis exists, and though American soccer may not in your eyes, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are here to remind you of their sport.

In extending their cordial rivalry on Sunday, Nadal edged Federer 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the Madrid final to capture a record 18th Masters title, thereby making the Spaniard 15-0 on clay for the season.


“I’m very happy with everything so far this year. I think I’ve returned to my top form and that’s the most important thing for me,” Nadal said. “Am I favorite to win at Roland Garros? I was last year and I lost.”

Nadal, hampered by nagging knee injuries last season, reversed the result of the 2009 final — the last time he and Federer faced each other — to win in Madrid for a second time and move one Masters title ahead of Andre Agassi and two in front of Federer.

“The most important thing is winning at home; winning in Madrid is a dream. After that, I think about the ranking,” said Nadal. “Against this opponent, it’s always going to be difficult.”

The next big tournament is the French Open, which begins May 23. Most think Nadal and Federer will once again meet in the final, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Fed falters in an earlier round. (Yes, this is all a chance for you to make me eat my words). I’m calling it Nadal and, um, Fernando Verdasco in the final. See, I can throw that out there willy-nilly because most of you probably don’t know who Verdasco is.

So: Nadal beats Verdasco in straight sets at the French Open.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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Decade Debate: 6 Greatest Sports Rivalries

The word rivalry is defined as “competition for the same objective or superiority in the same field.” Rivalries exist in all facets of life, but they are no more apparent than in the world of sport. With the end of the decade looming, here are the six most intense rivalries of the last ten years.

6. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson

Competition between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson may not produce the mystique that Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus once did, but their rivalry has been exciting nonetheless. Without Tiger Woods, professional golf’s popularity would be a mere morsel of what it is today. The man has won 14 majors, holds his own tournament (the AT&T National), designed two beautiful courses, is the only golfer with his own video game, and garners public intrigue on the same level as world leaders. Still, his status as figurehead of professional golf wouldn’t have any merit without some stiff competition. Enter Phil Mickelson, Tiger’s only adversary with any staying power. When Mickelson won the 2000 Buick Invitational, he also officially ended Tiger’s streak of consecutive tournament wins at six. Over the years, Mickelson would hire Butch Harmon, Tiger’s former coach, and joke about Tiger’s use of “inferior equipment.” Still, their rivalry always remained amicable, even as Phil won his first major in ’04 (The Masters), the PGA Championship in ’05 another Green Jacket in ’06. During this year’s Masters, Tiger and Mickelson were finally paired together in a major event. Trudging down the final back nine at Augusta, the two golfers put on a show that thankfully lived up to the hype. –- Christopher Glotfelty

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U.S. Open Update: Everything taking its course

The third round of the 2009 U.S. Open has nearly finished amidst the surprisingly welcoming weather at New York’s National Tennis Center. So far, there haven’t been many surprises. The top 16-ranked men all advanced rather seamlessly. Serena and Venus have had an easy time as well. Unfortunately, they are in the same draw and will likely meet in the semis. The other top female players are, as always, playing below their rank, as upsets and narrow victories are happening left and right.

This has been a topsy-turvy U.S. Open for the women: No. 8 Victoria Azarenka’s 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 26 Francesca Schiavone on Friday came a day after No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 5 Jelena Jankovic were upset. All told, 11 of the 20 highest-seeded women are gone, and the third round is only halfway done.

No. 1 Dinara Safina made it to Saturday’s third round, but barely. She needed more than 4 1/2 hours to get through two three-set victories.

The best men have faced no such problems: No. 3 Rafael Nadal’s 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory Friday night in the last match of Day 5 means the men seeded 1-16 all reached the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in the 41-year Open era.

Once again, the lovely Ana Ivanovic failed to perform well in a Grand Slam, losing to Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round. Maria Sharapova, however, has advanced to third round and is currently in the third set against American Melanie Oudin. It would be great to see the former No. 1-ranked star face Serena or Venus in the finals.

Will Roger Federer ever win another Grand Slam?

Yes. People forget the bulk of cold hard facts when discussing Roger Federer’s struggle to win his 14th Grand Slam. They attribute factors such as age, Rafael Nadal, and certain losses to young players as the end-all proof that the Fed Express has derailed.

Federer is only 27, which apparently means 90 in tennis years. It’s easy to associate Federer with aging talent such as Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, and Marat Safin because they are all former No. 1’s in their late twenties. It’s unfair to lump Federer into this talented, albeit inferior, bunch. Federer has won 13 Grand Slams. These guys are nowhere near that pinnacle. By capturing one more, Federer will surpass Pete Sampras as the most decorated player in the Grand Slam era. Keep in mind that Federer’s style of play is usually compared to that of Sampras. What I find interesting is how similar their careers have been as well. They both went pro as teenagers, then dominated for five years in their early twenties. Sampras never won a French Open – neither has Federer. Sampras won at least five championships at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open – same with Federer. Their careers are eerily similar when you compare statistics. One fact remains, however: Pete Sampras won the U.S. Open at age 30. I don’t see why Federer can’t do the same.

Oh, that’s right. Rafael Nadal. Federer can’t seem to beat the Spaniard. At 24 22, Nadal has already amassed seven six Grand Slam titles and is actually the true contender to win more Grand Slams than anybody in the sport’s lengthy history. Nevertheless, the guy has just begun to win hard court tournaments. His victory at this year’s Australian Open over Federer proved that Nadal has broadened his game. Everyone who witnessed his epic match against Federer at Wimbledon last year knows he can play on grass as well. The true test, and Federer’s saving grace, will be at the U.S. Open, which Federer has won five consecutive times. It’s the only Grand Slam Nadal hasn’t won, but it’s definitely within his reach. Remember, even though pundits like to compare Federer with Sampras, they absolutely love to compare Nadal with Andre Agassi. While Federer and Sampras were better players overall, Agassi was the last to win all four Grand Slams in his career. Nadal is more than capable of the same feat.

Bottom line is yes, Roger Federer will win another Grand Slam. Will he get two or three more? I doubt it, but it goes without saying that Fed could easily remain one of the top-five ranked players on the ATP Tour for the next few years. Sampras retired at 30, at a time when many believed he had a couple solid years left. Still, he did so as the most successful tennis player of all time. There wasn’t much need to continue if there wasn’t anything else to prove. Sampras could not predict the likes of a young Roger Federer breaking into the game, quickly accumulating three Grand Slams a year. It’s unpredictable because it’s a phenomenon. Nadal and Federer are both phenomenons. Fortunately, Roger Federer knows this about his rival. He can’t bow out now, not when he’s so close to the Grand Slam record.

From this point on, it’s a fair assumption that Federer will never again win the Australian Open or Wimbledon, or ever win the French Open. But mark my words: Federer has one more Grand Slam in him. It will solidify his stature as the best player tennis has ever seen. This moment will eventually come at the U.S. Open.

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