• Chris Wilkinson

Rain can't stop Nadal's reign in Paris

Chris Wilkinson June 12, 2012

If there was any doubt before, Rafael Nadal has now confirmed once and for all that he is the greatest clay court player of all time. His record on the clay speaks for itself - he has 52 wins from 53 matches at Roland Garros after winning a record seventh French Open title in Paris.

Although Novak Djokovic winning the 'Nole Slam' would have been the more impressive feat, for me the real story is the rivalry between the two of them.

Nadal had lost the last three grand slam finals to Djokovic - last year Djokovic had Nadal's number but the world No. 2 has shown he is prepared to change and adapt his game to get better. Nadal has had to up his game to keep up with Djokovic and those two are pushing each other.

After struggling with a knee injury in Miami, Nadal has dominated the clay season and has been playing as well as he has ever done. Of course he didn't do the Masters hat-trick like he did two years ago, but Madrid was a blip and the blue clay was always going to be unpredictable.

It was always going to be difficult for Djokovic to maintain the standard he set last year, but he won the Australian Open and made the final of the French so it is not like he has done badly. He is still the best player in the world and with those guys there is a very fine margin between winning and losing - remember he was just one point away from losing his quarter-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

"Having the Monday final just hammers home how important it is that the French Open get a roof installed on one of the show courts."

Of course, it was not ideal that the players had to return on Monday to finish their final. In an ideal world the final should probably have been pushed forward a bit on Sunday to make the most of the weather, but the organisers are tied by TV schedules and when the final is being broadcast all over the world it is not easy just to push the start time forward by a couple hours.

The TV broadcasters pay a lot of money for the rights to show the tennis so that has to be taken into account.

But the problem with the weather is that it threatened to completely undermine a wonderful sporting encounter. When play started there was a real buzz on Court Philippe Chatrier but with the rain delay and then the uncertainty whether play would continue the atmosphere was destroyed a little bit.

Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay court player of all time © PA Photos
Enlarge

Having the Monday final just hammers home how important it is that the French Open get a roof installed on one of the show courts. The US Open has had a Monday finish two years running now and the French Open need to keep up with the likes of the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

It looks like a roof is in the pipeline and could be in place in a few years but with so much interest in tennis at the moment it is imperative that matches get played and we don't end up losing a couple of days to the weather at the grand slams.

Andy Murray made the French Open semi-finals last year and he will be disappointed not to match that this year. I thought the influence of Ivan Lendl would start to show in Paris but it really hasn't happened. Obviously he had a bit of a problem with his back, but he was outplayed by David Ferrer in the quarter-finals and hasn't really shown any signs of progress on the clay this season. I want to see him being more aggressive, getting up the court more and to keep his focus better when things aren't going his way.

In all honesty I can't see what difference Lendl has made but it will be interesting to see how the next few weeks pan out and how well he does on the grass.

Federer never really had much of a chance of winning Roland Garros and his best chance of a grand slam this year will come on at Wimbledon. Federer is not getting any younger and the danger is that he won't be able to keep up with the others for much longer. Both he and Murray need to step up to the mark and make sure they don't get left behind.

I don't think any of us would have predicted Maria Sharapova winning a career Grand Slam a couple of years ago, but her win in Paris just goes to show what an incredible competitor she is. Her movement on the clay has improved beyond recognition. While in the men's game it is one of two or three players who are likely to win, the women's draw is always wide open, and Sharapova's cause was certainly helped by Serena Williams' first round defeat and the likes of Victoria Azarenka and Li Na both fell quite early.

The star of the show in Paris was definitely the Belgian David Goffin, who became the first lucky loser to reach the fourth round of a grand slam since compatriot Dick Norman in 1995. Goffin, who saw off Radek Stepanek, Arnaud Clement and Lukasz Kubot en route to the last 16, took a set off his childhood hero Federer - a great story and one to watch for the future.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Feeds Feeds: Chris Wilkinson

Chris Wilkinson Close
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.