Tennis: Clay king Nadal has Paris in his sights
Such was Rafael Nadal's determination to defeat Roger Federer in the Madrid final, on the evening they resumed their rivalry after a year's interruption, that after he lost his footing during one rally, he performed a sideways roll, twisting in the orange dust behind the baseline in an attempt to get back into position.
Nadal, coated in the clay of La Caja Magica, would go on to defeat the world No 1 and last season's champion, though it was a pity that such an entertaining match, which reminded everyone what they had been missing, ended with the rarest of sights, a Federer air-shot, after a bad bounce.
In the moments after his 6-4, 7-6 victory, Nadal was back on the clay again, this time lying down on his stomach and lovingly kissing the court surface, so he ended up with granules around his mouth and all over his face as well.
There had been plenty of pre-match conjecture about the altitude of the Spanish capital, about whether the thin air would benefit Federer's attacking game, but they could have played this on a clay court in the Alps or the Sierra Nevada, and Nadal probably still would have beaten the Swiss, the reigning French Open champion. Nadal is, quite simply, the best clay-court player of his or any other generation, and so the Majorcan, the champion in Monte Carlo and Rome, completed the treble of this season's dirt-court Masters. And his victory also meant that he became the most successful player in the history of the Masters, as this was his 18th trophy on all surfaces. But what this result confirmed was that Nadal, the French Open champion on his first four visits to Roland Garros between 2005 and 2008, but who experienced his first ever defeat last season when he lost to Robin Soderling, is going to take some stopping in Paris, where the second grand slam of the season begins on Sunday.
When tennis comes down from altitude, for the sea-level tournaments at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, this result will be hugely significant. Last season, Federer beat Nadal in the Madrid final, and then went on to have the greatest summer of his life by achieving the Paris-London double.
The Nadal of the 2009 clay-court swing wasn't the real Nadal, since he was dealing with the pain in his knees, and with the thoughts in his head, as his parents' marriage was being discussed by divorce lawyers.
In the opening stages, they were both a little edgy. But there was soon some spectacular stuff, including some brilliant drop-shots from Federer, who was appearing in his first final since the Australian Open. In the first set, Nadal was the better player. Twice he was a break up in the second set, twice he lost that advantage. Still, from 2-4 down in the tiebreak, Nadal won the shoot-out 7-5. (© Daily Telegraph, London)