Commentary

What the result means for Rafa, Roger

Originally Published: May 17, 2011
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

PARIS -- After a topsy-turvy, nervy and sometimes brilliant French Open, there's relief for Rafael Nadal and renewed hope for Roger Federer. Here is what the result means for each.

Rafael Nadal

1. He's still the King of Clay: For the first time since he was just a teenage prospect in 2004, Nadal had lost two matches on clay in a season and came into the French Open as only a co-favorite along with Novak Djokovic. There was no showdown with Djokovic in the French capital, as anticipated, but after finishing with three convincing victories against No. 5 Robin Soderling, No. 4 Andy Murray and No. 3 Federer, Nadal will keep his crown -- and his status as the best clay-court player -- for another year.

2. He's the greatest clay-court player in history now, right? Bjorn Borg has long been the benchmark of clay-court excellence, but Nadal now has six French Open titles to equal the great Iceman and is just a day older than Borg was when he won his last French Open. Nadal has arguably faced better opposition, defeating Federer in the final four times. Nadal also has more overall clay-court titles than Borg.

The Swede ended with a 49-2 record at the tournament, and Nadal is now at 45-1. The two are equal in terms of clay-court events won as well, with Nadal at 30 and likely to keep going for a while. The Spaniard also recorded 81 straight wins on clay in the past, the longest streak on any surface.

3. He's still No. 1: Nothing less than a title would have allowed Nadal to remain No. 1 after this tournament, and that is exactly what he delivered. With Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to defend, he'll still have a tough time holding off Djokovic for the rest of the year, but started solidly.

4. He still has the upper hand against Federer: With the win, Nadal moves to 17-8 against Federer overall, 11-2 on clay and 6-2 in Grand Slam finals. Not bad against the man considered by many to be the greatest of all time in all respects -- except this. With Federer now 29, those numbers are unlikely to become much less lopsided.

5. He has less pressure at Wimbledon: Had Nadal lost this match, there would have been serious doubts about his chances for Wimbledon, and the tournament would have been a must-win for Nadal to show that he hasn't taken a major step backward this season after winning three Slams the year before. Now he'll be one of the favorites again, but under less scrutiny.

Roger Federer

1. He ain't done yet: He may not have pulled off the greatest win of his career in the final, but Federer did score one of his biggest wins for a long time by snapping Djokovic's 43-match win streak in the semifinals. It'll keep him in the conversation for quite a while, in contrast to the forgotten man he was entering this event.

2. He can still hang with these guys: Federer was still beating the guys he was supposed to beat this season, but had made little impact against the two players above him. He had lost to Djokovic three times, and Nadal twice. Now, after wrestling past Djokovic in four sets and taking Nadal to four on the Spaniard's best surface, he knows that he has enough game to be right there with them. On a good day.

3. He can still play on slow surfaces: During the past 12 months, Federer has enjoyed the most success and his biggest wins in the fall, winning the ATP World Tour Finals with wins over Djokovic and Nadal on a super-quick surface. He even seemed to be developing a complex about the speed of the court during this season, often referencing whether conditions would be quicker or slower when he played an opponent. With the form and results he showed during these two weeks on clay, it should tell him he can still be threat even when the courts are playing slowly.

4. He might be getting better: Week to week, the 16-time Grand Slam champ is no longer as consistent as during his dominant days, but there were times during this event when he looked as good as -- if not better than -- ever. "I can't believe how good my backhand has become," he said earlier in the tournament, the result of opponents constantly pounding that side. His forehand remains one of the best. And he is mixing up his game in ways he hasn't done since he was an undisciplined up-and-comer -- and now with much more success.

5. He can't match Nadal on clay: Even on other surfaces, Nadal is a bad matchup for Federer, and this was only magnified on Nadal's best surface. Federer played remarkable tennis during parts of the final, but pressed too much at other times. It was too uncertain a combination to overcome Nadal over the best-of-three sets on clay, as is usually the case. "He's the better on clay," as Federer told the crowd after the match. It shows on court and in the numbers.

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.