Does anybody have a spare air ticket to Paris, and maybe
even some tickets to the French Open men’s final that they can throw in? World Cup, World Schmup! For this
correspondent, Roland Garros is looming as the
international sporting event of the year.

Why? Well, Rafael Nadal, the Spanish
teenager, beat Roger Federer (again!) overnight in a five-hour five-set final
in Rome, after saving two match points.

Nadal’s achievement already this year is
breathtaking. By winning overnight, he equalled Guillermo Vilas’s all-time Open
Era record for the longest winning streak on clay, taking his 53rd
consecutive match. He also happened to equal the record for the most career
titles (16) by a teenager, matching Bjorn Borg. Those are handy names even if
Nadal said afterwards that he would have to do “a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot for
comparisation (sic) with Borg, no?”

In winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona and now
the Italian Open, he has moved to 17-0 on clay in 2006, and more to the point,
repeated his wins of last year – he is also the defending French Open champion.
Nadal is no fluke and only needs to show his stuff on more surfaces to emerge
as a rival for Federer’s top ranking.

But all these records so nearly didn’t
happen. Federer may now be 1-5 against the kid, but he’s learning all the time.
In last night’s match, the Swiss charged the net at every opportunity and
almost pulled it off, even having Nadal down 15-40 at 5-6. Two forehand errors
let Nadal back in and the Spaniard ended up winning the match in a fifth-set
tiebreak for the second year in a row. The final scoreline was an exhausting 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5).

Federer would have
been annoyed to lose but, then again, he makes no secret that it’s the Slams he
cares about. He said afterwards that he feels he is getting closer to Nadal
every time they meet on clay, and the scoreline reflected that.

Bring on Paris.

Peter Fray

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