Best of Three: Nadal, Serena roll into French Open
1. Rafa rolls on. The Rafael Nadal 2013 Clay Domination Tour continues apace. Nadal took the Italian Open on Sunday, one week after winning the Madrid Open. In the Rome final, he met Roger Federer -- he of the shorn locks -- for the 30th time and won for the 20th. The score: 6-1, 6-3. And it never felt that close. Nadal is to clay what Louis C.K. is to an open mic in front of a faux brick wall. It's his milieu and everyone else is playing for second place.
"Rafa was just too good today," Federer said after falling to 2-13 against Nadal on clay.
Remember how the talk during the Australian Open was whether we would ever see Nadal again and, if so, if he would be uncompromised? Since his Feburary return, he is 36-2 with six titles, two runner-up finishes and nearly $4 million in earnings. He's also seized the top spot in the Race to London, where the top-eight players for the year will play in the ATP World Tour Finals in November.
"I'm playing much better than I dreamed of a few months ago,'' Nadal said. "I'm doing the right things to play well.''
2. Super Serena. Here's a scary thought: Nadal might not be the most dominating player in tennis. You'd be within your rights to submit Serena Williams for this mythical title. Williams continued her anabasis on the women's game last week. Like Nadal, she backed up the Madrid title by winning in Rome.
Ridiculous stat of the week: In five matches, she lost 14 games. In the final, she crushed Victoria Azarenka -- the world's No. 3 player and, notionally, the player most likely to beat Serena -- by the Nadal score of 6-1, 6-3. Williams hasn't lost since February (she's on a career-best 24-match winning streak that includes four titles) and it doesn't look like that's happening anytime soon.
3. Bring on the French Open. We'll issue our French Open seed reports in a few days, but let's take a moment to acknowledge the strange state of tennis right now. Nadal is simply tearing through draws and now goes to Roland Garros, where he has lost once match since his debut in 2005. Yet he's set to be seeded fourth (or third if Andy Murray withdraws).
Yes, Internet trolls and assorted other Stakhovskys, we all know how the rankings system works. We all know that the rankings reflect points and Nadal's seven-month absence forestalled his points haul. Still, there is something peculiar about a player with his credentials seeded so modestly. Insofar as seedings are supposed to be predictive, are we really to believe that as many as four players are better choices to win than Nadal? It's unlikely to matter much; Nadal ought to win. But it's still not a good look.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic -- whom most would have picked to win the event not long ago -- is suddenly backsliding. Murray might well miss the event because of a back injury. Federer is looking decidedly mortal on clay. And David Ferrer threatens Nadal the way Bing threatens Google.
And compared to the women, the men are a citadel of sanity. Williams is the overwhelming favorite in Paris. Barring injury, it's hard to concoct a situation in which she doesn't win. Yet she lost in the first round last year. She has won the French Open only once and -- get this -- hasn't even been beyond the quarters in a decade.
Maria Sharapova, a career Slam winner and recent No. 1, is the defending champ. Yet she is, at best, a dark horse, not least because she hasn't beaten Williams since the Paleolithic Era. Azarenka won the previous Slam, but she, too, looks to be little match for Serena, especially on clay. A former player recently surmised that if Justine Henin came out of retirement tomorrow, she would be the most likely contender to win after Serena.
All of which is to say, bring on Paris, odd times and all ...