Rafael Nadal has edged Roger Federer in a unique exhibition match in Majorca on a customised half-clay, half-grass court.This content was published on May 2, 2007 - 20:20
Two-time French Open winner Nadal defeated four-time Wimbledon champion Federer 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 on Wednesday in an absorbing match on the Spanish island where Nadal was born.
The 20-year-old Spaniard, on a 72-match unbeaten streak on clay after notching up titles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona last month, adjusted better to the mixed surface in a match that was probably the most bizarre tennis challenge since Billie Jean King beat Bobby Rigg in the Battle of the Sexes back in 1973.
The split court, which needed 19 days and €1.2 million (SFr2 million) to be built, gave a clear advantage to the player on the clay side, with the higher bounce giving them more time to line up their shots and move their opponent around the court.
The two players were at their most vulnerable when serving from the grass end of the court as the ball tended to sit up for their opponents and give them time to attack the serve.
The match was played as a best of three sets with the usual changes of side. But changeovers were extended to two minutes instead of the usual 90 seconds to give players a chance to swap their footwear for each surface.
In front of a sell-out crowd of nearly 7,000 at the Palma Arena, Federer struggled to adapt to the mixed surface and made an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors early in the match.
Nadal took full advantage to break his serve when the Swiss was serving from the grass and went on to take the opening set 7-5.
The Swiss upset the established routine by breaking Nadal's serve in the opening game of the second set when the Spaniard was on the clay and found his rhythm to take the second set 6-4.
The two players exchanged breaks early in a high-quality third set and it was level pegging right through to the deciding tie-break.
Federer, who is on a 48-match unbeaten streak on grass, looked to be heading for victory after going a mini-break up, but the tenacious Nadal fought back hard to gain the upper hand, eventually winning through 12-10.
The organisers had experienced problems with the grass side of the court after the original turf had failed to cope with the indoor location and then fell victim to a plague of worms.
As a result they decided to lay a brand new surface the night before the clash, transporting in 400 square metres of putting green grass from a local golf club supplier.
In general, the mixed surface stood up well, although the grass side gave some odd bounces in the latter stages.
Apart from the innovations to cope with the novel surface, the match showed little other sign of being an exhibition with both players clearly determined to claim the honour as the first winner of the "battle of the surfaces" which will be played out at the same venue for the next two years.
swissinfo with agencies
Federer hasn't lost on grass in four years, a 48-match run that includes four straight titles at the All England Club in Wimbledon.
Nadal has won a record 72 straight clay-court matches, including two consecutive titles at Roland Garros in Paris, where he beat Federer in last year's final.
Nadal holds the overall career edge against Federer at 7-3. He beat the Swiss 6-4, 6-4 in the Monte Carlo final on April 22 to extend his clay-court record against Federer to 4-0.
On grass, Federer leads 1-0, having beating Nadal in four sets in the Wimbledon final last year.
Federer has yet to equal Pete Sampras's record of 14 grand slam titles - he has ten.
He still needs to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam of all four majors: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. The 2007 French Open begins on May 27.
The Swiss has many other records under his belt. This includes the highest number of ranking points at the end of the year – 8,370 in 2006 – and the most prize money in one season $8,343,885 (SFr10,135,000), also in 2006.
Earlier this year Federer beat the record for the longest unbroken reign as world number one, overtaking Jimmy Connors' 30-year-old milestone of 160 weeks. Federer has been in pole position since February 2, 2004.
In April Federer became the first living person to be honoured with a special stamp by the Swiss Post.
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