The parallels between Rafael Nadal’s thrashing of Roger Federer and the Boston Celtics assault on the LA Lakers made me wonder…what four factors account for dominance on the grandest stage?
A. Homing device – Nadal lost ZERO sets at the French Open this year. He also completed the second most lopsided French Open Championship ever, dropping only four games to the world No. 1 and a player who I always thought of as, well, a machine. Poor Roger met his match and appeared merely mortal on Rafa’s home, his beloved clay that seems to pump up his muscles, increase his speed, and supply the Spaniard with a unrivaled level of confidence. Meanwhile, the Celtics energy in the Garden is so stimulating that despite the blown 20+ lead, they still had enough to close out game two, thanks to great shooting and sharing of the ball. They shot over 50 percent and had 31 assists on 36 field goals.
B. Halting the run – As mentioned, the C’s were able to eradicate the biggest turnaround in NBA Finals history in the fourth quarter. They also squashed a Laker run mid-way through the game and then trounced LA with a blitzkrieg of their own. And Nadal, who was nearly perfect in the first set 6-1, was able to hold off Federer in the second set 6-3, just when it looked as though the Machine was getting into his regular rhythm.
C. Holding on to the ball – Simply put, Nadal recorded only 7 unforced errors. Federer had 35. And that helped Rafa cruise to a 6-0 third set victory. The Celtics’ primary ball-handlers totaled 24 assists (Rondo had 16) and just 7 turnovers. And Rondo did not have one turnover going into the final quarter.
D. Hitting the best where it counts – Not that 2008 MVP Kobe Bryant says he and his team are going to beat Boston and not that Federer has ever guaranteed his first French finish, but look out – maybe the motivation to beat the best in the game is what is necessary for near perfect play. Both Boston and Rafa played better this time around than the last, in energy and execution. The game two Celtics would have beaten the game one team while the ’08 Nadal would have taken out the ’07 version.
By the way, new No. 1 Ana Ivanovic’s performance in Saturday’s women’s French Final should also be highlighted. She was a different player this year than last, demonstrating focus, calmness, and skill as she won in straight sets. Her conclusion: she stayed in the moment instead of thinking about results.