Years go by but never look alike. After a 2009 that was
owned by Roger Federer, 2010 was without doubt all about Rafael Nadal. The
Spaniard won back the number one spot in the most beautiful way after winning
three out of the four Grand Slams on offer.
Behind those two, the outsiders started to confirm the hopes
put in them. After Djokovic, Murray and Del Potro, it was Soderling who began
to suggest he could come in between those two giants.
Nadal: The invincible
Rafa enjoyed an outstanding year. Injured for six months in
2009, he had to retire during the Australian Open against Andy Murray because
of another knee injury. He came back for the American tour, but he really began
to rediscover his game by the time the clay season started.
He won every event he played, achieving a never seen before feat
by winning the four main events on clay in the same season: Monte-Carlo, Rome
Madrid and Roland Garros. It's also worth noting that he only lost 14 games in
Monte-Carlo, an average of 2.8 games lost per match.
In fine form and totally relaxed after the clay season, he
doubled the stakes by winning Wimbledon. In September, he triumphed at the US
Open for the first time, largely because he was able to adjust his game to the
surface due to a better use of flat shots and a new-found quality serve -a result
of a recent technical work.
Then in December, he capped his success by reaching the
Masters Cup final, one of his first really great performances indoors.
What strikes me about the Majorcan is his ability to continually
adjust to the situation in order to win. He wins the French Open by defending a
lot and mainly because of his physical strength, his heavy topspin and his
talent for not making unforced errors.
At Wimbledon, he succeeds by becoming far more offensive and
he uses the slice on his serve very well. And then at the US Open, he finds
more speed on his serve, plays faster and with fewer effects. He also gets to
the net more often.
Nadal manages to keep all those abilities which give him his
strength, but he also has one of the most important things in that sport in
order to win: the ability to adjust.
This ability is enhanced by an extraordinary culture of
winning, like a second nature. Because of that, he always ends up finding
answers to all kind of situations.
In 2011, unless he gets injured, it would be unusual not to
find him in the last four of every Grand Slam - and winning some of them. The
Spaniard gained a great deal of confidence last year; he proved a lot of things
to himself and he also understood how important it was to pick a lighter
Even if he's the kind of player whose needs to play and win
a lot, he can often rely on his amazing fitness and his fighting spirit to
avoid an early fall at Grand Slams. The further he goes in an event, the better
Actually his worst enemy is himself with this plethora of
matches. But with his increasing maturity, he now understands better those
issues and so deals with them better. He's more serene and that leads to him
making better choices. That is why we can imagine him achieving as much as in 2011
as the previous year.
Federer: Down and up
Unlike Rafa, Roger Federer went through a nightmare in 2010.
Number one in 2009, winner of two Majors - claiming the French Open for the
first time and breaking Pete Sampras's record - and a finalist in the other two,
he nearly lost everything in 2010.
Beyond the results, the Swiss didn't look involved in his
game. He wasn't fit enough - which is usually one of his biggest strengths -
and he wasn't really inspired on the court because he was not offensive enough.
Feeling he needed something to get back into the fight, he
decided during the summer to hire Paul Annacone, the former mentor of Pete
Sampras. It was a good call. Since then, not only have the results improved,
with wins in Cincinnati, Basle and at the Masters Cup, but we have also seen the
offensive Roger again, quick on the court and creating a lot.
He's once again looking mentally fresh and enthusiastic and he
is dictating points once again and there is no doubt that his excellent second
part of the year saved his season. But let's not forget an amazing statistic
for a 'disappointing' year by Roger's standards: he has now reached 26 Grand
Slam quarter-finals in a row.
Yet he will have to overcome a huge obstacle this year
again: Rafael Nadal. If the Spaniard wasn't around, I would have no doubt about
the Swiss's capacity to take back those Grand Slams. But the Majorcan is around
and he stands in Roger's way.
Paul Annacone has succeeded in his first task: putting the
Swiss back into the right path. We'll now get to see if he finds an answer to
help Roger beating Nadal in the main events. Anyway, the year to come looks
thrilling from this point of view.