What do the Australian Men’s Cricket Team and Rafael Nadal have in common when it comes to the year 2007? It was the year when the Ricky Ponting-led Australian side won a third consecutive ODI World Cup, while Spain’s Nadal completed his hat-trick of French Open titles. The two also shared sheer dominance in achieving those feats.
While Australia won all of its 11 matches by a margin of at least seven wickets or more than 50 runs, the sets won-sets lost scoreline for Nadal at Roland Garros read an astonishing 21-1.
Nadal’s 2007 clay court season prior to French Open
After a rather disappointing start to the year in which he crashed out of the Australian Open in quarterfinals and managed to win only one title on hard court - Indian Wells Masters - Nadal resumed from where he had left on clay the year before.
He clinched the titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona without even dropping a set. Even in Rome, barring an epic three-set semifinal against the then World No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia which he won 7-6 (3), 6-7 (8), 6-4 in three hours 39 minutes, he hardly broke a sweat.
Here's a compilation of Rafael Nadal's 13 French Open Titles
However, he probably stretched himself a little too far by playing in Hamburg, where he lost the final to World No. 1 Roger Federer. During the tournament in Monte Carlo, Nadal and Federer had shown their support for the German Open when talks of that event being downgraded from Masters level to a 500 one were doing the rounds.
The 6-2, 2-6, 0-6 defeat to the Swiss maestro had snapped the swashbuckling Spaniard’s 81-match unbeaten streak on the surface that had started in 2005. It was Federer’s first win over Nadal on clay and also Nadal’s first ever loss in a final on clay. Comparing his preparation for the Roland Garros of ‘07 with '06, Federer had said, “The only difference is that I know now that I have defeated Rafa on clay in Hamburg, so maybe that will help me get on the right track.”
According to The Guardian , Nadal might not have even played in Hamburg. “The irony of it (Federer’s post-Hamburg win comment) is that Nadal would probably have pulled out of the tournament in Hamburg had he not stood shoulder to shoulder with Federer in Monte Carlo in announcing to the world that what used to be known as the German Open was, like Monte Carlo, too important historically to be downgraded from its status as an ATP Masters Series event, as was being threatened”, the UK-based publication had said in a piece on the eve of the 2007 French Open final.
2007 French Open
Second-seeded Nadal started his campaign with comfortable straight-set wins over Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, Italy’s Flavio Cipolla and compatriot Albert Montanes in the first three rounds. Just like the year before, Nadal’s fourth-round opponent was two-time Major winner Lleyton Hewitt of Australia but this time, the World No. 2 did not need an extra set to reach the last eight. In an all-Spanish quarterfinal, Nadal beat 1998 French Open champion and his present-day coach Carlos Moya 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 before coming up against the then World No. 6 Novak Djokovic. The Serbian was hoping to reach his maiden Grand Slam final and had won against Nadal earlier in the year in Miami. Nadal faced a stiff challenge from Djokovic for the first two sets but eventually progressed to his third straight French Open final with a 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 scoreline.
On the other hand, top-seeded Federer had to fight a determined Davydenko for a 7-5, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7) semifinal win that came after three hours. As expected, it was going to be a rematch of the 2006 final.
After the defeat in last year’s final, Federer had said, “I tried, and I cannot do any more than that.”
"Obviously it's a pity, but life goes on. I'll probably hear for years that I missed my opportunity, but I have no choice but to accept it. It is still my goal to win here, and once again I got one step closer. Unfortunately on this occasion I did not play the match I wanted to or hoped."
One year later, he had his chance. Once again, not only was he looking to clinch his maiden French Open title to become the sixth man in Open Era to have won all four Majors but he also had another shot at being the first male player since Australian legend Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four at the same time. The psychological barrier of beating Nadal on clay had also been lifted with the victory in Hamburg.
What actually happened though was way worse than 2006. In the final, Federer failed to convert 16 of his 17 break-point opportunities and had more than double the number of unforced errors than his counterpart. Nadal won the final 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to become the first man to lift the trophy in Paris for three years in a row since Swedish great Bjorn Borg, six-time French Open champion, who achieved the feat between 1978 and 1981.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Rafael Nadal - Stamping his class on clay
“Before 2007, I was surprised how Nadal was beating Federer,” Moya told atptour.com on the fifth anniversary of Nadal’s 2007 triumph.
“I don’t think 2005, 2006, that Nadal was better than Federer, even on clay. I thought it was more of a mental thing. But he was finding the right way to play Federer, to hurt him, to hurt his game.
He added, “In 2007, I started to feel that Nadal was a better player than Federer on clay. That was the first year I felt that Rafa was controlling the match, controlling the point, and the way he was losing that set against Federer was because he was not playing at his best. When he was playing at his best, he was finding his way to beat Federer.”
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