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Can Nadal stop champion Federer?

The classic duel between the gritty Spaniard and the world champion will ensure that Wimbledon 2006 will not be a one-way road, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2006 12:46 IST

When the battle for the French Open was hotting up, eventual champion Rafael Nadal made a very significant statement.

The defending champion, fondly called Rafa, said that the final could signify the changing equations in the world of tennis.

The 20-year-old went on to win the final against Federer, and the championship, but did it really signal the power shift? 

One can be inclined to go with this view as that Final on clay was the fourth consecutive victory by the Spaniard over Federer in this season, and he has been the only player to beat Federer in 2006.

Incidentally, all four of Federer’s losses in 2006 have come against Nadal.

Nadal’s dominance over the years

 Year Federer  Nadal 
 2006 0 4
 2005 1 1
 2004 0 1

Federer - a clay pigeon for Nadal!

 Surface Played Federer Nadal 
 Clay 4 0 4
 Hard 3 1 2
 Grass 0 0 0

But the important piece of this stat is that this is the very first time these two champions will be meeting on grass, not a very familiar territory for Nadal though he has done well to reach the final.

Nadal’s show in Wimbledon 2006 has been an astonishing improvement; if one takes his performance in his last three grass court tournaments.

Nadal’s last three Grass Court Tournaments

Year  Tournament       Lost    Opponent    Score 
 2005 Halle, Germany 1st round Alexander Waske (Ger)6-4, 5-7, 3-6 
 2005 Wimbledon, England 2nd round Gilles Muller (Lux)4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6 
 2006 Queen's Club, England  Quarterfinal Leyton Hewitt (Aus) 6-3, 3-6 (Retd)

Even Federer knows it and said it in as many words in the post-match conference. “I guess I don't need to think of playing against him (Nadal). I need to focus on me playing on grass, my style of play, playing aggressive."

"It's going to be only easier on grass to do that than on clay where Nadal can cover much more ground, when he can play further in the baseline”.

Also, after the heartbreak of the French Open final, Federer can take heart from the fact that in four losses to Nadal this year, he took the first set in three matches before Nadal stormed back.

Nadal is becoming some sort of slow starter against the defending champion. On the fast and slippery grass of Wimbledon, the first set  could turn out to be critical.

If Federer gets the first set right again, as he has done in 2006,  he could be next to impossible to be beaten in his quest to become only the seventh player in Wimbledon’s history to win 4 titles on trot.

First set Honours (A rising Federer) >>