French Open winner Rafael Nadal will feel unbeatable going into this year's Wimbledon, says Barry Cowan.
Last Updated: 08/06/10 10:55am
Rafael Nadal's fifth French Open title is rich reward for a year of hard work.
It is an epic achievement by anyone's standards but Sunday's victory must have tasted even sweeter for the Spaniard given his injury and personal problems of the last 12 months.
Winning that first Grand Slam is always the most difficult for any player simply because you don't know if you can do it.
But when you win the first one (especially at the age of 19 as Rafa did) you must think 'I'm going to win more, many more' and, indeed, Rafa did claiming five more between then and the 2009 Australian Open.
But in the period that followed - during which his parents divorced and he suffered from knee tendonitis - I'm sure there were dark times when he wondered if he would add to that tally.
During that period there were people criticising him left, right and centre but I always believed Rafa would come good again.
I felt he wasn't playing badly last year and he's carried that momentum into 2010 and built on it, playing great tennis for the first five-and-a-bit months of the season.
By winning at Roland Garros, he'll feel that he has now regained HIS title and in his own mind he'll feel unbeatable. Once Rafa and Roger Federer get on a roll and are high on confidence they are incredibly tough to stop.
That's why Rafa has generally done well at Wimbledon - because he goes from the claycourt season onto the grass having won tons of matches.
He'll be even more intent on winning this summer after pulling out as defending champion last year due to injury, but it will be tough because the big-hitters have really emerged at SW19 over the last couple of years.
Robin Soderling is a classic case of that; as regular readers will know, I thought before the French Open that the Swede had a very strong chance of winning Wimbledon this year.
After losing in the French Open final for the second successive year he'll have to dust himself down - literally - but I think he will come back stronger and be a massive threat.
Soderling played some great stuff in the first set of Sunday's Final and did well at the start of the second but paid the price for missing a couple of back hands down the line.
In contrast, Soderling's victory over Federer was the standout game of the tournament for me - I thought we saw some unbelievable tennis. I felt Federer played a great match, which shows just how much quality Soderling possesses.
Generally when Federer raises his level other players, with the exception of Nadal, aren't able to respond but Soderling did this time and that bears testament to how far he has come in the last 12 months.
Tomas Berdych also stepped up to the plate, blitzing Mikhail Youzhny to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final; the next step for him is to reach a final, which I believe is possible.
I don't see the Czech as the type of player who will get to a final and win at the first time of asking - I feel he might have to get a couple of experiences first before coming out on top; he has improved his game a lot but there is still plenty to do before he is capable of challenging the best in the biggest games.
Barry answers your questions...
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Hi Barry, as much as a like watching Rafa the story of the French for me was Francesca Schiavone winning the women's title. What did you think of her achievement and isn't it great to see someone apart from the Williams sisters win for once?! Sarah, Feltham
BARRY REPLIES: Hi Sarah, I think Francesca's victory gives hope to every player who is hovering between 20-30 in the rankings that if you hang around you never know if you'll get your lucky break. She had luck on her side in the sense that some of her opponents retired or couldn't handle the pressure but that's not to take anything away from her. It was a phenomenal achievement to come through and have the bottle to win. I'm sure deep down she didn't expect to win it at the beginning of the tournament but she took her chance.
Personally, I love to see players dominate in any sport because it raises the bar and challenges rivals to stand up and be counted. Tiger Woods did just that in golf and Federer has done the same in tennis - he's raised the level in the men's game out of sight. He's been responsible for fostering a new era in the men's game and Nadal's responded.
What the women's game really needs now are two players who can consistently challenge the Williams sisters for the top honours and improve the standard of play still further.