x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Nadal gets his due on Wimbledon grass

The first Spaniard to win two All England Club titles completes his injury comeback since 2008 with an easy win over Berdych.

Spain's Rafael Nadal send in a whipping forehand return to Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
Spain's Rafael Nadal send in a whipping forehand return to Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

LONDON // Tomas Berdych had suggested in outplaying Roger Federer, the defending champion, and then outclassing Novak Djokovic, the new world No 2, that he had the capabilities to go all the way to claim the most coveted title in tennis. Rafael Nadal had suggested otherwise as he ruthlessly destroyed the challenge of Andy Murray, the British No 1, to reach yesterday's final. The Spaniard's powerful message always seemed the more likely to ring true. So it proved in front of an expectant, but ultimately deflated Centre Court crowd, as Nadal found devastating answers to all the questions Berdych asked of him, raising his game when it mattered - as he had done so brilliantly in disposing of Murray - to ensure that the final was settled in straight sets. Viewers of this annual summer showpiece had been spoiled in the last three years with Federer and Nadal locking horns in two nail-biting five-setters, winning one apiece, before Federer regained the title in a 16-14 final set thriller against Andy Roddick 12 months ago. Hopes were high of another classic, but those hopes were sadly misplaced.

Nadal, who did not need to rise to the level he reached against Murray, was troubled only occasionally in carving out a comfortable 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 result, which he greeted by falling flat on his back and then performing the silliest of forward somersaults. It was a thoroughly justifiable victory roll, though, for the injury-prone Nadal because he has proved himself here to be the world's top player again - this time by a distance. Relieved of the top ranking by Federer after failing to defend his maiden Wimbledon title, Nadal regained the honour by re-establishing his King of Clay reputation at Roland Garros last month and now he can lay claim to being the new King of Grass. Federer, six times the Wimbledon champion, cannot argue with that after departing meekly to Berdych with some of his 16-major-winning aura lost. Nadal is now halfway to that total and, still only 24, has time on his side to go well beyond the treasured mark of his career-long main rival. Fitness permitting, and that is a big proviso. Nadal's knees remain the most worrying barrier to continued grand slam success. They troubled him again here, not that you would know it, such was his remarkable movement around the two show courts and occasionally unbelievable shot-making. Nadal, who made an untypically large number of 21 unforced errors during the 2hr 13min contest which was affected by a capricious breeze, was in no mood to dwell on the negatives from his return to dominance. Richer by £1 million (Dh5.57m) and enjoying a rankings boost of 2,000 points - which takes him well clear of Djokovic - Nadal said yesterday: "This is amazing for me. It's a very important and emotional moment for me because it has been very difficult for me to get back to my best. "In the second half of last year my main concern was not to lose in the first round of tournaments. I knew I wasn't ready to win them but I had to stay positive and get myself ready for 2010 which is what I've done." Berdych, who will rightly take great encouragement from the best month of his career - semi-finals in the French Open and a first grand slam final to follow - pinpointed the clear edge Nadal has over lesser mortals. "The big difference between us was that when he got a chance, he just took it," said the tall Czech, referring to the match-defining running forehand down the line which set up the first break of serve for his opponent. Berdych, who surrendered the crucial second set when his most destructive forehand weapon let him down with three uncharacteristic errors, added: "He gave me a chance in the second set and another in the third but I couldn't take mine. "That shows how strong he is when it really matters," he said. The missed opportunity in the third set for the 12th seed came when he held his fourth break point of the match in the third game. As in the preceding set when the other three were squandered, Nadal averted the danger and then waited for the irresistible moment to make the clinching break with a trademark forehand crosscourt winner. After a maiden grand slam final, the first here for a Czech since Ivan Lendl in 1987, Berdych will move up to eighth in the world when the new rankings are published today. "I can play well on all of those surfaces, which is really important for today's tennis, I think this is my biggest weapon." wjohnson@thenational.ae