In beating Richard Gasquet 7-5, 6-1 in their semi final in Rome, Rafael Nadal has secured a place in his sixth consecutive final. He was runner up to Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid but won Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He now awaits the winner of Murray V Djokovic in tomorrows final. If Nadal wins in Rome he will have successfully defended his title and claimed his 20th Masters 1000 title.
Nadal, knowing his opponents brilliant backhand can be lethal tried to keep the ball going to the Frenchman’s forehand but Gasquet was reading Nadal’s play well early and held strongly in his two opening games.
Gasquet had chances to break in the fourth game but Nadal hustled and bossed him around using his forehand to get himself out of trouble and keep things on serve at 2-2. While Nadal looked to be the one doing the bossing, and forehand to forehand he was stronger, Gasquet played some phenomenal shots on his backhand with outstanding anticipation. Again Nadal found himself in trouble on serve. A big forehand and a ‘Vamos!’ signaled that once again Nadal had leveled at 3-3.
Gasquet’s backhand has long been one of my favourite shots in tennis but because of his tumultuous personal life and fluctuating form we don’t see as much of it as we should. He ripped his trademark shot time and time again, at times beating Nadal for pace and angle with seeming ease. Some of the shots he produced were nothing short of awe inspiring.
At 5-5 Nadal pushed, desperate to try and avoid a tiebreak where he would face brilliant shot making ability of the Frenchman that saw Federer come undone. A strong cross court, short angled backhand winner sealed the 6-5 lead for the Spaniard.
Nadal tried to run around his backhand and dominate with his forehand but left too much court open and gave the world number 16 a chance to break and force a tiebreak. To bring up set point Nadal had to win a 23 shot bruising rally that forced him to use every inch of the court before he closed out the set 7-5 after one hour of high quality tennis.
With a slight drop in intensity from Richard, Nadal drew first blood in the opening game of the second set. The signs were ominous for Richard, Nadal not having lost a clay court match when he’s won the first set since 2007 (Hamburg).
It wasn’t long until Nadal broke a subdued Richard again for a 4-1 lead. With an improved first serve percentage Nadal outplayed Gasquet who seemed to have run out of reserves having given so much over the last few days, it was almost like he gave up in the final game, realizing the inevitable was coming.
After one hour and thirty three minutes Nadal took the match 7-5, 6-1.
Nadal is so strong on clay that the Spaniard has not lost two consecutive clay court matches ever, not in juniors, challengers or on the ATP circuit – never.