Power and the glory
Barry Cowan says Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal is playing some of the best tennis of his career.
Last Updated: 07/07/10 7:13am
For overall quality and drama, this year's men's tournament at Wimbledon was as good as I've seen.
From the word go when Alejandro Falla pushed Roger Federer to the brink, we saw the top players tested but winning - a formula that makes any Grand Slam compelling viewing.
While the women's draw couldn't match that intensity, it was only right that the best player by a distance came out on top. Serena Williams was nothing less than immense and, just like men's champion Rafael Nadal, I very much doubt this will be her last Grand Slam title.
The Championships also demonstrated why grass is now the most exciting surface to watch men's tennis on, offering a balance between aces, winners, rallies and points won and lost at the net.
Seven of the eight quarter-finalists were taken to five sets at least once before reaching the last-eight, the exception being Andy Murray who got there without dropping a set. It was quite simply incredible tennis.
I dread to think how much Nadal would cost in the transfer market if he was a footballer such is his pedigree and proven will to win.
I refused to write him off at the beginning of the year despite his history of knee problems and even though at that stage of the season he wasn't able to produce his best tennis under pressure.
Since winning April's Monte Carlo Masters his form has been nothing short of phenomenal and, if the evidence of the last fortnight is anything to go by, he's moving around the court as well as ever.
He takes more care with his schedule these days and is reaping the benefits. Nadal won't play for Spain in this week's Davis Cup quarter-final clash against France and he will also miss one of the two Masters events that lead up to the US Open.
At the age of 24 he has already recognised the limits he has to impose on himself if he wants to win Grand Slams aged 28 or 29. That, as well as the continuing development in his tennis, must worry his rivals.
Nadal is still the unbelievable athlete he was five years ago but he now has the serve and backhand to complement his awesome forehand; if, as Murray found out, you don't hit every shot with purpose he has plenty more in the armoury to punish you these days.
Just as importantly, the intensity is there in his play too. He still has the drive to go out there day in, day out and perform at the highest level as Tomas Berdych found to his cost on Sunday.
I first saw Berdych play in 2005 and I said back then that he was going to win a Grand Slam and be a top-five player. I stand by that today even though I had my doubts at the start of this season.
He progressed well up until 2007 but then started to show a tendency to feel sorry for himself if things didn't go his way; it looked as though his best days might be behind him.
The last three months have erased those doubts. He proved he is no flash in the pan by reaching the final of the Miami Masters, where he looked a much stronger player and one who has worked hard on his net play too. He hit a couple of incredible volleys to put a dagger through the heart of Federer last week.
Berdych performed well below his best in the semi-finals of the French Open but I still felt he would get to a Grand Slam Final sooner rather than later; I also felt he would have to experience at least one before he was able to play his best tennis.
We shouldn't forget that Federer's first Grand Slam victory came at Wimbledon in 2003 against Mark Philippoussis, while Nadal's came in 2005 against Mariano Puerta, who hadn't won one either.
These days most guys have to try and win their first Grand Slam final against either a Federer or a Nadal who have done it many times before, Novak Djokovic being a rare exception in the 2008 Australian Open.
A Grand Slam still eludes Murray but he can at least take great heart from his performances in Wimbledon, where success or failure in his semi-final against Nadal hinged on a couple of crucial points.
In those situations there is no doubt in Nadal's mind - he goes after the situation and really attacks it whereas at times Andy appears uncertain whether he should be aggressive or wait for his opponent to miss
That approach won't win you Grand Slams, the way the men's game is going. Murray does realise that as we saw at the start of the year, when he played his best match on tour against Nadal in Australia.
If he can play the same way he did in that semi-final in the lead-up to the US Open and in the early stages of the next Grand Slam, then he will definitely play the heavyweights in the later stages with more belief.
He'll need it too because Federer remains a genuine Grand Slam threat.
The way Del Potro, Robin Soderling and Berdych have overpowered him in the last three Grand Slams will worry the Swiss, but the more people that people write him off the more determined he will become to prove them wrong - he's a bit like Pete Sampras, in that respect.
Power is also proving a telling factor in the women's game, where Serena Williams remains head and shoulders above everyone else if she's fit.
Her final performance against Vera Zvonareva was stunning and showed that these days you've got to be an unbelievable athlete with a great first serve to compete in the women's game. There's no hiding place - if you don't put the work in you are going to get found out.
Williams, who now has 13 Grand Slam titles to her name, is capable of serving consistently at between 115mph and 120mph, which piles so much pressure on her opponents.
After a decent start, Zvonareva simply wasn't able to play her best tennis when she needed to because she knew there was no room for error.
At present Serena may well be in the best physical shape of her career and, if she remains motivated, surpassing 18 Grand Slam titles - the tally notched by both Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert - is definitely a realistic target.