Roger Federer proved himself a man for all seasons, all courts and just about anything else the tennis world can throw at him by winning a title that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal felt was unwinnable.
Federer battled through a close encounter Sunday to beat Tomas Berdych 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 in the final of the MutuaMadrid Open.
It was Federer's fourth title of the year and the first to be won on blue clay. The championship takes him back to No. 2 in the world, above Nadal. So much for those who felt the great man's slide was irreversible.
Much the same could be said for those who never expected to see Serena Williams winning titles again. The former world No. 1 crushed the current top-ranked player, Victoria Azarenka, 6-1, 6-3, with a typical display of power hitting from the back court. Williams then insisted that the idea she didn't like clay was a myth.
"I absolutely love clay," said Serena, who had won her previous tournament at Charleston, S.C., on green American clay. "I grew up on clay. I have won the French Open, but some of my results on it haven't been stellar. But I like it more than grass, which is weird. So, hopefully, I can start doing better."
Azarenka has lost to Williams in five straight meetings and has beaten her only once in eight attempts. She admitted that Serena was the better player. There was little else to say.
Federer and Berdych staged a battle royale for a crowd that included Princess Elena and actor Will Smith, whose movie "Men in Black III" was being premiered a few yards away on the Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Court.
The big Czech, who has refused to join the bandwagon of criticism over the blue courts, got off to a great start and dominated the first set with his big forehand. But Federer, flicking his wrist, created a terrific angle on a forehand to break in the second game of the second set and, having changed the momentum, never quite relinquished control again, despite being broken when he served for the match at 5-3 in the third.
Berdych had allowed him to get in that position in the strangest way. From 0-40 down in the previous game, he hit the lines with three consecutive aces to get back to deuce and then promptly served two double faults. No accounting for that.
In the 12th game, the Czech dug himself out of 0-40 again, but on the next point, Federer defended brilliantly on a court that is not supposed to favor defenders -- as if to prove he could handle anything -- and forced another error. The next match point was enough for the Swiss, who was gracious enough to mention Nadal in his oncourt speech. What Rafa was thinking as he prepared for the Rome Masters at the Foro Italico can only be imagined.
For his part, Federer professed himself to be surprised at winning a title immediately after a six-week layoff.
"I was very realistic coming into this event and was just worried about getting through the first round," he said. "But I had been playing well before the break, so it didn't take much to get the confidence back. And I was forgetting how great a record I had in Madrid."
It was his third title in Madrid in an eight-year span, during which he has never lost before the semifinals. The victory also allowed him to draw alongside Nadal with 20 ATP Masters Series titles, the most ever.
Federer said he is not certain of playing in Rome this week.
"But I will travel there tomorrow and see how the body feels on Tuesday," he said. "I have to be sure to make the right decision with Roland Garros coming up."
After endless discussions and arguments, it appears that the color of the court is not the culprit, as far it being too slippery. Many players have pointed out that these courts at the 4-year-old Caja Magica have always been slippery and often produced bad bounces. This has been almost entirely the result of the courts being dug up every year on orders of the Madrid government agency that oversees the property because other events are staged here.
But the fact is that you can't build a proper clay court in the seven weeks tournament director Manolo Santana and his team have been given. It does not provide enough time for a court to settle. In an attempt to improve the bounce situation, they pressed the under soil much more than in previous years. It worked for the bounce but, inevitably, made the clay slide faster over a hard surface that did not absorb as much water.
All of this had nothing to do with the color of the court. It would have been the same had it been red, green, black or blue. If Nadal and Djokovic come to accept this, they will be back next year, despite pronouncements to the contrary. Having seen the fuss it has all caused, the city of Madrid has relented and will allow the courts to sit there for the next 12 months -- more than enough time for them to play properly.
"(What) has impressed me most about Roger has been his ability never to get disturbed by things he can't control," said his coach, Paul Annacone. "He just realized these courts were tricky, and he had to get on with it."
That he did. And he won.