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Waterworks: The Agony of Defeat February 01, 2009 - 12:01 PM


I had planned to post a roundup of profound or amusing athlete quotes (predominantly the latter) as my final Aussie Diary entry from Melbourne. But after tonight’s dramatic men’s final – and the emotional awards presentation that followed – it doesn’t seem appropriate to do so. So I’ll save those inanities for when I’ve returned Stateside.

In the meantime, I’ll offer just a few short thoughts on a match that was long on tension and significance. First, I’m surprised and impressed that Federer rebounded from his catastrophic third set to win the fourth. In that fateful (for Federer) third, the 13-time major champ had triple break point with Nadal serving at 4-4 and failed to break. In Nadal’s next service game, at 5-5, Federer had three more break points, and again failed to convert any of them.

After he lost the third-set tiebreaker, I would not have been shocked to see Federer go quietly in the fourth. But he recovered and was able to send the match to a deciding fifth set—a development that shouldn’t have surprised me, given that he’s proven himself to be a resilient competitor many times in the past.

The fifth set itself was a disappointment. Unlike the deciding set of the 2008 Wimbledon final, which was played at a ridiculously high level, tonight’s fifth set saw Federer struggle. He looked stooped, fatigued, broken. His serve, which had been a key weapon in his semifinal defeat of Andy Roddick, let him down against Nadal – particularly in the fifth. Serving at 2-5, Federer was broken for the seventh time to end the match. Championship point felt anticlimactic, and the atmosphere in the packed arena was oddly subdued. For all of Nadal’s brilliance, it was discomfiting to see Federer bowed.

Then came the trophy presentation and Federer’s emotional reaction. As the runner-up began to address the crowd, he was overwhelmed by tears, and had to retreat to the back of the podium in order to regain his composure. The emcee presented Nadal the winner’s trophy while Federer gathered himself. Then, in one of the most poignant moments of the night, Nadal went back to put his arm around Federer, his respected rival, to ask him if he were ready to speak.

Federer, still crying, returned to the microphone and gave some very gracious and brief remarks, thanking Nadal, the tennis dignataries (including Rod Laver himself) who were on hand for the occasion, and the crowd. His voice quavered particularly when he said the word “legends,” a reminder of how much the history of the game – and his place in it – matters to Federer.

We’re not used to seeing superstar male athletes weep (Paul Pierce’s outpouring at the Boston Celtics’ ring ceremony being one recent notable exception), but again, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Federer so affected by his loss. He’s not the stereotypical alpha male, by any means, and he’s been emotional in both victory and defeat before. Tonight, as he cried, I wondered what he was feeling. Crushing disappointment that he didn’t get to magic number 14? A fear that he might not ever tie or surpass Sampras’ record? Sadness that his days of playing otherworldly tennis in hard court majors (the 2004 U.S. Open final comes to mind) may be behind him, and that he has, for the time being at least, been eclipsed by Nadal? Intense relief that the tension of the past two weeks, and the past four-and-a-half hours, had finally broken?

None of those thoughts, it turns out, were on his mind. Federer said afterwards that his tears were merely his reaction to being beaten. He is a genius with a racquet, to be sure, but he is foremost a competitor.

“In the first moment you're disappointed, you're shocked, you're sad, then all of a sudden it overwhelms you,” he said, the strain still evident on his face. “I love this game. It means the world to me, so it hurts when you lose.”


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Posted by Mark February 03, 2009 at 04:36 PM

We are lucky to have two top athletes, top of their games, who also are avatars of civility and sportsmanship. I hope Roger gets his head together, more so we can enjoy many future match-ups of these two titans.

Posted by Apollo February 03, 2009 at 04:47 PM

I think Roger should skip Roland Garros, work on that portion of his game that Rafa has no clue of - serve and volley, then take ownership of Centre Court once again in victory

Posted by Mr. Tej February 03, 2009 at 06:36 PM

I would like to say, Federer, that your emotions let people adore you more. Nadal has defeated you, but ur 13 grand slams make you #1 always. And I respect that.

Posted by John February 03, 2009 at 07:37 PM

Like I said Fed is a sore loser. I would appreciate Fed more if he lost with grace. When he wins he acts like a kid jumping and crying etc... Fed has to realize what he has accomplished in his Tennis carrer. You would think for somebody who has won as much as fed would appreicaite a player like Nadal who has won on every surface now. Players like Roddick has won one grand slam ONE ONE ONE Roddick has won ONE grand slam ONE ONE ONE ONE ONE! I know Roddick works hard to win but he just comes up short against Fed. To see Fed cry like that after his dominace over tennis for 5-6 seasons is telling you what kind of person he is. He thinks he's god gift to Tennis. There will always be somebody better than you and that person is Nadal for Fed

Posted by Rina February 03, 2009 at 08:42 PM

I'm glad Nadal won, he so deserved it.

Posted by February 03, 2009 at 10:09 PM


Posted by February 03, 2009 at 10:38 PM

we have kids who likes to be first on the tennis blogs, farmer ted,kate and andre morrow. Just hoping you have fresh diapers on kids.


Posted by Mari February 03, 2009 at 11:23 PM

What a shame to take away all Rafa's just due by being a total baby. Just shows you Federer only thinks about himself - what an egotist. What a class act from Rafa!! Good Bye Roger - we need athletes with backbone.

Posted by Nida February 03, 2009 at 11:44 PM

No Not Again in Future Ferer.

Posted by Nida February 03, 2009 at 11:47 PM


Posted by Joe February 04, 2009 at 12:00 AM

RAFA, you are the best player on the world !!! the best as tennis player and the best as person!!!! GREAT NADAL!!!!

Posted by Tania February 04, 2009 at 12:06 AM

I was rooting for Nadal all the way but did feel sorry for Federer when he lost - no matter how much you win, a loss is still a loss and I think he knew the match was definitely his for the taking. I will still always be a Nadal fan - rooting for the underdog who might not be an underdog for very long. I admire Nadal's humility and self-discipline as well. In the press conference he mentioned that he is the same man before and after winning the match and that he was happy to win because there is no guarantee with all the amazing players out there.

Posted by Francis February 04, 2009 at 12:11 AM

In response to Master Ace, I hope Nadal wins the U.S Open before Federer wins a 14th grand slam(which I think he eventually win) and then we'll see how Federer handles that mentally.

Posted by Francis February 04, 2009 at 12:12 AM

In response to Master Ace, I hope Nadal wins the U.S Open before Federer wins a 14th grand slam(which I think he eventually win) and then we'll see how Federer handles that mentally.

Posted by Mahesh February 04, 2009 at 12:40 AM

I start this by Congratulating Rafa instead of discussing about the person who cried.

Common guys this is end of Rog's era...Leave him..Nobody is talking about Rafa who is going to be the greatest player of all times unlike Rog(No French Open).

I would like Rog to enter all the GS finals of this year so that it will be easier for Rafa to win all the GS.

Vamos Rafa...

Federer can not accept the greatness of Rafa...He cried coz of his ego..

Learn from this Humble man..Who did not celebrate very happily when Rog is crying.

Posted by Francis February 04, 2009 at 12:58 AM

I agree with Temsu jamir, NADAL thrashed Federer to tears, I mean- this guy Nadal is unbelievably though. Now Federer probably knows how Roddick feels.

Posted by Philip February 04, 2009 at 01:05 AM

Great article!

Roger's loss this time will only raise up his game at the next round against Rafa. Roger has time now to work on the mental aspect of his game plan. Physically he's there but psychologically, he has a lot to work on...

However, I'm still rootin' for Rafa to win the calendar Grand Slam in 2009. The big hurdle will be at the US Open, another hard court test to overcome for young Rafa.

Posted by Ed February 04, 2009 at 01:48 AM

As great as he is a tennis player, Roger needs some coaching badly. He can still improve his game. If he lost several grand slams because he couldn't convert break points, isn't it time to learn how to break that barrier? I hope Roger will come to his senses. Time is running out as he is not getting younger. Nonetheless, I'm still rooting for him to make 15 big ones.

Posted by quackie February 04, 2009 at 02:13 AM "off day"??? really? is that all you die hard federer fans (who are so unwilling to admit that maybe, JUST MAYBE rafa could be better than federer) can ever come up with anymore? tennis is a very physical sport as well as a MENTAL one and if federer was as strong mentally as rafa was, this match wouldve been as close as the nadal/verdasco match (or even as epic as the 2008 wimbledon final). if federer had the focus to match nadal's, he easily couldve bounced back in the fifth set (he, after all won the 4th 6-3-this shouldve given him confidence- as opposed to the other two sets won by rafa in which they were very close) instead of giving us a rather disappointing 6-2 fifth set.

Posted by nycmidtown February 04, 2009 at 02:25 AM

I think people are missing an important point here. And i think it is that Federer has not had any major rival all this years he has been playing. Remember Sampras, Agassi, Lendl, Connors, Becker times..and many more...i was used to seeing top ten players having won at least one Grand Slam. In my opinion since Federer started to win all his titles there is been a vacuum of great players at the same caliber as him. Sampras, Agassi and others all retired at the same time. The only one now i will put at that level is Nadal, and it took him a couple years to get there. It took Sampras 10 or more years to win all his Slams. Thats why i think Federer is perhaps the most complete player who also had the least amount of players, compared to previous decades, to overcome.

Posted by Naza February 04, 2009 at 04:47 AM

Things may happen and I am very sory for this time,but the next time everything is going to be very well!!!I have a firm faith in Roger Federer!He is the best ever!

Posted by temsu February 04, 2009 at 05:00 AM


roger always seems to have a day off when he meets nadal.. isn't it funny and rediculous to suggest that..

Posted by Uaifo February 04, 2009 at 06:02 AM

I have watched Roger at his very best (look at the 2007 season) the man was simply Invincible!!! He played the most unbelievable tennis i have ever seen!!!!

I think his mono-nucleusis issues not only affected his physical condition, it also chewed away at his confidence with every loss he had due to it.

In the finals againsts Rafa, the Fed-Express i used to know would have won in straight sets!!!

I think he has simply lost his court confidence, especially when it comes to battling Rafa, one thing i'm sure of though, The Fed-Express will shine again!!!!

Posted by AA4SS February 04, 2009 at 06:17 AM

Man, there will never be a Federer again.
Nadal can not even think of peaking Tennis world for even half of the years as Federer did. Federer is a complete player, not just a power-game. Its always pleasure watching you Fed........

Posted by Orly February 04, 2009 at 08:39 AM

You put everything to the game Roger and that is important..
You are a normal person but considered as a CHIP athlete...
Cheer up !!!

Posted by pd February 04, 2009 at 08:40 AM

hahaha first

Posted by Orly February 04, 2009 at 08:40 AM

You put everything to the game Roger and that is important..
You are a normal person but considered as a CHIP athlete...
Cheer up !!!

Posted by Jose February 04, 2009 at 08:55 AM

Like Nadals Uncle said...It hurts when you lost your fame...

Posted by seb February 04, 2009 at 11:15 AM

I felt what u feel Roger. You could have done better during your younger days. It's the fact that every sportmen will have to face when you are gettitng older....

Posted by TEKIKO February 04, 2009 at 11:43 AM

I feel for you fed... I will forever be your fan. You are a true person.


do the Nadal/Verdasco Fitness program and diet =)

Posted by Julnick February 05, 2009 at 02:49 PM

Fed cried because he knew he could've won had he not given the 5th set to Nadal !

Posted by Crystal Kuykjendall February 06, 2009 at 04:15 PM

Rafa showed that HE, not Federer, really is the BEST in Men's Tennis. What heart, what stamina, what determination! Rafa delivered enough body blows to bring Federer to tears and that won't be Roger's last cry, either. He will lose to Rafa quite a few more times. Roger might still break Pete's record but I wouldn't bet on it. However, I fully expect Rafa to break Pete's record before he reaches the young age of 25! I can't wait for Roland Garros and Wimbledon!

Posted by Maha - Roger for the French...?????? May 24, 2009 at 08:19 AM

PEOPLE!!!! Anyone here???? Stream for Court 1? Hewitt-Karlovic?????? Court 6... no wait that's too much to ask. Philippe Chatrier????

Posted by † Hallelujah May 24, 2009 at 10:51 AM

I can't look at those ugly air jordans and not hear the sobs of teenage sweatshop workers. two thumbs down.

Posted by † Hallelujah May 24, 2009 at 10:52 AM

this post is ancient. why's it up on the front page?

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