ATP Tennis 360

January 3, 2010 7:09 AM

Abu Dhabi verdict: Nadal promoted, Federer not

The Capitala World championship has been only an exhibition tournament, so it has only slightly more value than the summer friendlies in the football pre-season. But the short time separating players from the Australian Open prevented players from considering it only as an occasion for impromptous experiments. More clearly, they rehearsed for the first seasonal slam, testing legs and strokes, focus and arms.

Rafa Nadal and Robin Soderling, the two finalists, were fully promoted. "I've played my best tennis since the Roland Garros" said the Mallorcan after his 76 75 victory over the Swede who defeated him in Paris. He's right. Rafa showed to be unmistakably fitter and faster than he ever was after the injury who forced him out of Wimbledon. And the difference from his standards in the recent World Tour Finals in London is someway bewildering. Rafa has again deep srokes, has found again his forehand topspins, his perfect perception of his body related to the ball and the court. We saw Rafa approach more frequently the net, mainly in the semifinal against David Ferrer, who despite the defeat for a set confirmed his raising form started in his Davis Cup final come-back against Radek Stepanek.

Nadal was pushed to extract the best from his top hat by a Robin Soderling who attacked mainly with his outpowering forehands, often played inside-in from the advantage side, on Rafa's backhand. But the Spaniard refused to crack down and showed great accelerations from the right beside a resurged consistence on his serve. The Spaniard saved two set points at 5-6 in the first set in the final (the first thanks to a winning serve) before closing the tiebreak 7 points to 3. Decisive the minibreak to 3-2, the first sign of a break in the match, with a forehand crosscourt winner.

When in the second set Rafa broke to 4-2 the match seemed close to his conclusion. But Robin Soderling, who had lost the third tiebreak out of the five played in his three matches at Abu Dhabi, did the best to come back. The match was all but an exhibition, probably because of the personal rusts dating back to Wimbledon 2007 when the Swede, during a match lasted for five sets and five days when he wasted an advantage of two sets, imitated oncourt Rafa's habit to touch his pants before serving. After the final, anyway, the handshake was sincere: they buried the hatchet.

The rallies continued to be exhausting, every point arrived after hammering duels from the baseline and Soderling counter-broke to 3-4 and saved three, not consecutive, match points at 4-5: the first two approaching the net with as many forehands before closing the point thanks to a backhand volley, the third after an outstanding backhand bouncing on the line. Nadal didn't cease to be aggressive on Soderling's serve, and was rewarded at 5-6 15-40 when Soderling's volley died on the net.

Roger Federer, instead, was not so clearly promoted. The recordman for match victories in the Grand Slam tournaments in the Open era (84.52%) headed to the first 2010 major in a slightly stuttering way. In his "adoptive home" tournament, whose friendly nature became evident for the clock that the Swiss wore on his wrist during the third place final he won 61 75 to David Ferrer, the world number one showed the same childish face of the last months. Against Soderling he lost for the fourth time out of the last six matches when forced to the third set. It's a sign of his frailty exploded after the 2008 Wimbledon final and the 2009 Australian Open final, when Federer refused someway to battle when the match arrived at his closing stages, as he displayed again against Del Potro at Flushing Meadows, against Tsonga, Benneteau or Djokovic last fall.

Because despite his being one of the greatest champions of his era (and probably ever) he remains, deep inside himself, an adolescent searching for appraisal.

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