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The Problem-Attacker 02/05/2008 - 3:44 PM

[All photos by our very own Rosangel! - PB]

You know who I've been thinking about a lot lately? Rafael Nadal. I suppose this is because of the progress Novak Djokovic made over the past eight or so months, as well as the degree to which Jet Boy has been spinning his wheels over the same period.

Rafa5_3So how big does Roger Federer's win at Wimbledon last July look now? To me, plenty big - if not as a career-shaping encounter then as a huge missed opportunity for Nadal. I'm open to the idea that Rafa hasn't been quite the same player since that loss.  Certain matches stay with a player much like a lingering cough or cold sometimes remains with us so long that we forget what it's like not to have it.

To attribute Nadal's results in the second half of  last season, and so far in this one, to that Wimbledon final would be presumptuous, unless Jet Boy indicated otherwise. But unlike, say, Federer's recent loss to The Djoker in Australia, there's some distance now between us and that Wimbledon final. It looms fairly large in the rear view mirror, although it's more useful as a reference points for events of the recent past than as a predictor for future ones.

Anyway, I've been thinking that Jet Boy is in a bind. A pattern has been emerging over the past few years, and it suggests that Rafa isn't as well designed to compete in an 11-month season as in a six- month one. Throw in Rafa's increasingly frequent struggle with injury and the case becomes even more persuasive. The long year presents special problems for a player whose game is nothing if not "effortful" and whose zest for combat denies him the use of cruise control.

I wrote some time ago that Nadal is a child of the sun and south, while TMF is a man of the chill and hard north. I stand by that, and believe that the actions and sensibilities of both men bear that out. We are each the sum of history, of particular times, places and antecedents, albeit subject to subversion to greater or lesser degrees - and with greater or lesser consequences.

In an earlier era still dominated by Anglo venues, values and game theory, Nadal would have been deemed a "novelty" - an exotic, volatile, idiosyncratic and unorthodox challenger who was as formidable in his natural environment as a leopard on the veld, but as lost on unfamiliar turf as that same leopard in the boreal forest. The game once was choc-a- bloc with such characters, right into the early Open era. You could call them "provincial" contenders ("provincial" really being more about surface and surroundings than specific geography; remember that for a long time European clay was considered an aberration). Of course, when the "provincial" contenders made the long trip abroad, they often floundered. So let me ask you this: if you had to cast TMF and Nadal as the city mouse and country mouse, is there any doubt over who would play who?

We resist this kind of thinking today for fear of causing offense and stereotyping. We also like to think of tennis as a "one world, one game" enterprise, dedicated to a level global playing field. This reinforces certain strivings for "fairness," never mind the big theme of the brotherhood of man. So we conveniently forget that a playing field is only level in a meaningful way if the athletes bring the same skills and mind-set to it.  Of course, man certainly is more adaptive than a leopard (and you underestimate the powers of a leopard in any environment at your peril). But it's easier to understand people if you see them through the naturally imposed filters.

Hence, Rafa's clay-court game is still a clay-court game, even when it's played on grass, just as a leopard is a leopard even if it kills a stag on an Alpine peak - something of which a leopard is more than capable. The hard bits for the leopard are navigating the foreign terrain and habits of its prey, and whatever degree of instinctual confusion it experiences while so doing.

Rafa4_3Okay, that's a pretty highfalutin' comparison. There are on-the-ground aspects to consider as well. Practically speaking, all players are subject to conditioning, which is why it's usually important for them to establish winning traditions on various surfaces or at a variety of venues early in their careers. Nadal has accomplished this, on a large scale, with his Wimbledon performances and Masters shields.

Yet you could argue that Jet Boy has achieved that mainly on the strength of his fighting spirit and exuberant athleticism; in this interpretation, those have overrun the built-in controls and determinants. In theory, Nadal should not fare nearly as well as he has on those faster surfaces, but then the New York Giants weren't supposed to win the Super Bowl. One of the main reasons we love sports is because of their potential for sedition; we love to see theory ruined and expectations blown up. It tends to reinforce our hope that anything is possible in a way that poses no threat to our equally strong conviction and hope that it is not.

One critical aspect of Nadal's nature is that the non-clay tournaments in which he does well tend to be different from the clay events in which he shines only in the particulars having the most to do with technique and strategy - areas that are of lesser importance to Nadal's genius than others. That is, he does well at events that suit him, in some temperamentally  rather than purely technical way.

Nadal's performance at Wimbledon last year was impressive to me because he kept his desire and spirits up despite the rain and gloom, not because he managed to cobb together a passable game to go with his mental and emotional strengths. The further Nadal gets from the warmth of the sun, the breezes that wash over a court, and the smell of freshly watered clay, the less well he does. Come the Paris Indoors, and he's a mess of conflicting signals - never a good thing for a predator. I think he responds to environment in as significant a way as he does to surface speed, and I know that's a pretty radical notion.

The most puzzling aspect of Rafa's resume is his relatively poor performances at the sunny, warm, colorful US Open. But in this, he's similar to many other players who are essentially provincial. The American major has proven to be a formidable stumbling block for many players from outside the U.S., and often for reasons obviously having nothing to do with the surface - and everything to do with the full menu of New York's famed distractions. In fact, Roger Federer's ability to overcome the habitual European fear of the American challenge is a particularly powerful testament to his versatility and underscores the degree that he has transcended whatever provincial urges once defined him. His most valuable asset in that regard has been his cool temperament; he took measure of the event and then tailored his approach and game to ensure a good fit.

TMF is a problem-solver; Rafa is a problem-attacker.

That suggestion may ring true for those of you who are familiar with all those studies about how little boys tend to try to break through walls while little girls are more likely to navigate around them. Nadal's greatest strength, as well has his most outstanding weakness, is his boyishness. This is a lingering condition that all but defines him to many of us. It is why so many people love him, and why disliking him has always seemed to me a little like disliking a kid brother. Rafa is the Little Engine that Could, never mind that he what he "could" do is blast a tennis ball through your forehead with such force that it would leave a volleyball-sized exit wound on the back of your skull.

But for all his bellicose instincts (does anyone else spank the ball as gleefully as Jet Boy?), he continues to engage us with incredible charm and insouciance. We all know how Uncle Toni insists that Rafa not get a swelled head - that Toni makes Rafa carry his own bags, and has him sweep the court after practice. We all know that the photo ops of Nadal tend to produce images of Rafa blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, surrounded by Spanish journalists in some press room, rather than shots of him with a dude all in black on one side, and a ranking fashionista on the other.

Rafparis_3 Nadal has resisted, or is impervious to, sophistication. If Federer is the game's ambassador to the world, Rafa is its poster boy; frankly, I'm amazed that nobody has come up with a comic strip character based on Nadal yet; instead of lugging around a football or a security blanket, he could drag around a tennis racket. We love TMF for his skill, we love Jet Boy for his exuberance. If there is a caveat to that, it's this: Going forward, it may be increasingly difficult for Rafa to rely on exuberance (and in him, even his stamina, strength and will seem subordinate to it) to the same degree he has so far in his career.

What got me thinking along these lines has been Djokovic's progress. Another man of northern inclinations, Djoker has matured as a player at an amazing rate. I get the sense that he's measured up his mission with a cold eye and concluded, "I can do this. This is what I need to do to make this happen." Yet when I try to come up with a comparably simple (and perhaps simplistic) formulation for Nadal, I come up only with: "I go and play my game and I fight, we see what happen, no?"

That approach is disarmingly honest and touching. And like any child - or, in this case, manchild - Nadal does "touching" very well. I'm not suggesting that Nadal would benefit from an intensive course of Tennis Technique and Strategy, 101. It's too late for that, and the elements at play here go much deeper. The boyishness of Nadal, which has always been such a great source of his appeal, may also hold him back. A comparison with Bjorn Borg seems in order here. Borg, at 16, played like he was 23, and at 25 he played like he was 23. Nadal at 16 played like he was 18, and at 21 he plays like he's 18.

Of course, you can reduce the line items on Nadal's resume to X's and O's. Sure, he could flatten out his forehand, play more from inside the court on hard courts and really force the action. But it would be naive to assume that Nadal and his team haven't thought about that; it's more likely that Nadal's game has changed so little because: a: it works, and, b: he has a temperamental disposition to play the way he does.

Hail, at some deep level, he may enjoy playing the way he does too much to bother with all the rest of it. Leave that to the "students of the game" and to those who are more inclined to calculation. This kid is having fun in a way he has not outgrown yet.

Whatever the case, Nadal is only 21, and - injury aside - he's got plenty of time to figure things out. I've always liked my youth young, if you know what I mean.


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Posted by dnrood 02/05/2008 at 11:25 PM

Roger's time at the top has been great for tennis and you couldn't ask for a better ambassador for the game. He is sophisticated yet humble and his game is simply amazing.

But ask Roger this, "When your time at the top ends who would you like to see be No. 1?" I think most fans would say he would like to see Rafa attain that mantle. Not just because he seems to like Rafa, but because he sees a guy that will continue his tradition of being humble, respecting the history of the game, and being an intelligent advocate for the game. Rafa may not be as sophisticated or worldly wise as Roger, but he is no ingrate or simpleton either.

It is tennis' great privilege that their two biggest stars are also there most respected athletes. Not all sports can say the same, i.e. baseball, cycling, football. It still remains to be seen how some of the younger stars of tennis will handle fame, but Roger and Rafa have a track record of being able to handle it just fine.

Posted by Anonymous Canadian 02/05/2008 at 11:30 PM

CM, you said you are attracted to quiet confidence but did not like Sampras? How come? I would see him as a quiet confident type..

Also interesting that you freely admit to wanting someone to beat Sampras at the time, while you are now defending Federer at all costs and cannot understand why some people don't idolize him the way you do...

Well, I guess all this shows is that emotions are not always logical and we cannot rationalize our KADisms (or lack thereof).

Posted by TennisRone 1000 (recently blue, still not Byron Black) 02/05/2008 at 11:37 PM

Sampras had more of a hang-dog look than a confident look, IMO. He had confidence in himself, but I don't think you could always tell that by his body language. Borg was certainly more statesman-like in his appearance. As was Edberg and TMF these days.

Posted by CM 02/05/2008 at 11:42 PM

I have often stated that I find it funny that I love the quiet confidence of a tennis player and yet didn't like Sampras. But then, I'm the same person who likes chocolate pudding, likes pie crust, but can't stand chocolate pie!! Go figure!

Actually, the reason I didn't much like Sampras was because I wasn't a big fan of serve/volley. Plus I don't much like big servers. Now, I don't mind players that can play the net when they need to or can serve out of trouble occasionally...but I just don't like a tennis game that is mostly serve/volley or mostly big serves. Also...even though Sampras didn't show alot of emotion, I never liked the 'hang-dog' look he often had oncourt (same with Lindsay Davenport).

As for loving that some kid (Federer) beat Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001...that was mostly due to someone stopping Sampras from tying my beloved Borg's record of 5-straight-Wimbledon titles. So ironic that my new beloved turned out to be the one that ended up tying it. That's why the 2007 Wimbledon was the most precious match for me. To see my two favorite players sharing that record and hugging after the match??? Oh man...one of my favorite sport moments ever.

Posted by CM 02/05/2008 at 11:43 PM

OMIGAWD TennisRone...we both used 'hang dog' to describe Sampras' look oncourt. How funny is that???

Posted by TennisRone 1000 (recently blue, still not Byron Black) 02/05/2008 at 11:49 PM

What are the chances CM? :-D I like your precious sports memory. That's pretty wild to see your cherished players share a similarly cherished record...what an account.

I preferred the pat Rafter serve/volley style to the Sampras Serve/volley style. Although, I've grown to appreciate the Sampras serve over the years. i don't think we truly appreciate how dominating and precise it was over the years.

Posted by Siggy, waiting for TMF 02/05/2008 at 11:54 PM

(Assuming this is OT thread, as I have not been banished to Siberia yet...) Wow, looks like Hilary came through in CA by a larger margin than anticipated! (Sorry, Don YBJ!)

Good night everybody! Gotta get ready for... notsosuper wednesday! ;)

Posted by Tim ($3.03 today on Starbucks!) 02/05/2008 at 11:55 PM

I think Djoker's very short honeymoon with the crowds ala the US Open is already over.... Oz proved that... no crowd is gonna cheer for a cocky in your face No. 1 with a bland playing style, just never gonna happen ... Agassi and Sampras never ever were cocky on court, they just showed up and dug in and played ... Federer is exactly the same...

Posted by TennisRone 1000 (recently blue, still not Byron Black) 02/05/2008 at 11:55 PM

'Night Siggy! *closing hug* Have a pleasant tomorrow.

Posted by CM 02/05/2008 at 11:56 PM

Ah...I really liked Pat Rafter too, despite a serve/volley game. Same with Edberg. Again...both guys kind of quiet oncourt but fantastic sportsmanship.

BTW, my heart broke that Rafter never won Wimbledon....

Posted by TennisRone 1000 (recently blue, still not Byron Black) 02/06/2008 at 12:02 AM

I have to agree with you Tim...I think Djoker has kind of worn out his welcome a little bit. Rafa showed up first with the defensive/aggressive combo...and while he does hit some nasty CC strikes, the overall style is not exactly to die for. But....he is kind of fun/entertaining to have around. He's kind of attractive to another entirely different set of fans.

It's funny how Agassi was never really demonstrative on the court...yet was very flamboyant outside of it for some time. Very interesting study in contrasts.

Posted by TennisRone 1000 (recently blue, still not Byron Black) 02/06/2008 at 12:04 AM

I felt good for Goran CM, but that Rafter loss definitely took a piece out of my heart. He was such a natural to win that tournament...a shame he never was able to make it. Especially after defeating Agassi twice...amazing accoplishment, I thought.

Posted by TennisRone 1000 (recently blue, still not Byron Black) 02/06/2008 at 12:13 AM

'Night all!

Posted by Sylvia in Texas 02/06/2008 at 12:13 AM

Wow. Pete this article is extroardinary, at times I forgot I was reading about tennis. I used to be a casual reader but its articles like these that have made me a daily reader. Thanks.

But yes, I do believe Nadal plays with his heart on his slee...um, you know.

Posted by SCT 02/06/2008 at 12:15 AM

"It's funny how Agassi was never really demonstrative on the court..."

Really?

http://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99feb13/sports.htm#3

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE0DC1F38F932A3575AC0A966958260

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20021102/ai_n12650457

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE1D6123AF931A3575AC0A966958260

Posted by Aussie Ange 02/06/2008 at 12:18 AM

CM: I didn't really want Goran to win Wimbly against Rafter and not because he was an Aussie but bcs I loved Rafter. If Goran was playing anyone else I would of been absolute thrilled for the guy and said about time.

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 02/06/2008 at 12:43 AM

Pete,

I need to read this at least another time to fully digest it, but a few things come to mind (and heart for me)right off:

1. I find your comment about Rafa just having too much fun doing battle the way he does to really change his game interesting - I actually find that appealing. I mean, look where it's gotten him at his tender young age, and it's fun to watch.

2. This being both Oscar and election season, I had a thought tonight that maybe those of us who see Rafa potentially being relegated to number 3 because of Djoko have it all wrong. If Djoko and Fed were to "split the vote" on hard/grass titles, and Rafa continued to dominate on clay (far from a given, I know), with an occasional win/place/show on hard courts, couldn't Rafa overtake number one? Not likely, but I for one would be happy for him.

3. I have a feeling that Rafa is such a warrior that he will make the changes he needs to make when he has to make them to find a way to win over the long haul. And I think he'll be more successful at doing so than, say, Lleyton Hewitt.

4. Have things really been that bad for him? I mean, he was injured at the US Open and did make it to the Aus Open semis - his best-ever show there. His box scores at the slams over the past few years have more Ws, Fs, and Ss in them than those that most players at his age do, even some of the all-time greats.

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed - Still No. 1 02/06/2008 at 12:45 AM

Jamie: I guess I read a different article. I found it condescending, patronizing, and insulting to Rafael Nadal. North vs South? Playing for the love of the sport with no thought to what he's doing out there? I know you watch clay court matches so you know better Mr. Bodo.
Only Northern Europeans have the ability to reason and think while Southern Europeans are happy go lucky children? My oh may where have I heard that sort of thing before?

At first when I read the article, it did come across as being very patronizing, but I would ask that you read it again, and then look at how Roger plays and how Rafa plays. They are 2 polar opposites. One who was trained in the classical style of tennis and the other who was trained in the more agressive style of tennis. One of the things that used to irk me about how people describe the WS game was the fact that they used to describe it as ball bashing. The thing about it is that you have to first realise the beginnings of tennis. It is an elitist sport played by ladies and gentlemen. This aggressiveness that is now seen in the game was not a part of early tennis. You need only look at matches that were played in the early 19th century to see that both men and women served at less than 90 mph during those times. Now 90 mph is a weak second serve. The game has evolved and the way game is taught and played has also evolved. Some of us love it, most of us dont. Me, I love what I am seeing now. It is good to see people have so much control of the ball and of their power on the racquets that they are able to control the ball in really long rallies. It shows a certain physicality about the sport and the talent and fitness of the people who play that they can accomplish so much with a racquet. I believe in some ways Pete was complimenting Rafa on the fact that despite the fact that he has been taught a grinding style of play, where every point is valuable and should be won, he has changed his game to the point where he can now be considered on par with Fed.

CM- I am sorry but as soon as Fed retires and the WS are gone, that is it for me for tennis for now. I really do not see anyone in the Top 10, 20 or 30 in either tour who really does anything for me. There is a certain boorishness that is creeping into the game from both players and fans that is slowly but surely turning me off the game. Whilst I love tennis and watch more for the sport rather than the personalities, it is really annoying to see so-called professional athletes resorting to all sorts of under handed tricks just to win a match. The fact that message boards are lit up all the time discussing shrieky v squeaky, when the so-called heir apparent tanks sets, has all sorts of injury timeouts to throw off opponents, it is enough to make you want to scream - oh sorry that is for the forte of the players now.

Posted by Moderator 02/06/2008 at 12:57 AM

Well, it looks like the Mod Squad was occupied with Super Tuesday while a bunch of posting was going on here.

Being serious for a minute, I think this is meant to be an on-topic thread - posted by Pete, raising the issue of Nadal's prospects this year. I'd encourage posters to try and stay relevant to the topic (for example, if you think Djokovic is emerging as a serious threat to Nadal, that's on topic. Going back to the Super Bowl - not so much).

Posted by abbey 02/06/2008 at 01:03 AM

rolo, re your no. 2. that has been my view/hope too since last year. and i'm sticking to it. ;)

and thank you for your no. 4. i think that bears repeating over and over again as people tend to forget or dismiss his accomplishments. but i guess that's easy to do when you're up against and just behind probably the greatest ever.

Posted by Manolo 02/06/2008 at 01:59 AM

Nice to see people talking about driving cars... I need to learn how to drive... quickly... :(

About Fed/Nadal personalities, I find them quite similar in many ways. Both are respectful, honest and smart. I find those qualities very much likeable in people. And the fact that their games are so different makes it very appealing to watch on court.

Additionally, they like each other so much I can just imagine a Senior Final between Fed and Nadal going like this:

Fed(On deciding tiebreak): You take it...
NadaL: No you take it...
Fed: No you take it...
Nadal: Lets both take it...
Umpire: ??? What???

Ok. Need to sleep now. See ya all tomorrow.

(BTW I am a "nice guy" who just happens to have tendencies towards rock, irony, sarcasm and nasty jokes)

Posted by Nadal&FedererFansUNITE! 02/06/2008 at 02:11 AM

Nice piece although I DON'T agree with everything you say. Rafa looks to be doing good so far this year. Finals in Chennai, SF in Australia..that's a huge improvement for him. And he's a tactical genius on court! He's always improving and he WILL become the next No.1. I wish both Rafa and Roger the best of luck this year, and I hope they keep Djokervic in his place, which is 3rd!

VAMOS RAFA & ROGER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
USA LOVES YOU!!!!

Posted by zonie 02/06/2008 at 02:21 AM

Just now getting a chance to read Pete's post. Nice job, Pete.

It does a good job of distilling what makes him unique. His boyishness is one of the traits that attracts me most as a fan.

I think those of us who are fluent in Spanish and read publications from Spain, see some more depth in Nadal. While his english has improved a lot, his comprehension and his vocabulary are still very limited and hearing him respond in spanish to questions posed to him in spanish is much more enlightening.

Posted by jason 02/06/2008 at 02:51 AM

Are you kidding me? You can not be serious!! Nadl has done better than the year before. He made it to the paris indoors final,still made it to the semis in the master cup, and now, the semis in austrila. He was injured at wimbledon,or he would have definitely won. ( up to that point Fed. never served better, and playing his A game ... and was losing ) He was even injured at the French Open and still won it. The 2 times that he lost to Djok. on hardcourts ,he was injured.He has beaten Agassi on hardcourts,top 5 hard player over the last 15 years, he has beaten fed. on hardcourt ( Dubai ),top 3 hardcourt player over the 20 years . What more do you want from this kid? I may be the minority, but if nadal is healthy, and djok. is healthy, I think nadal would win 7 out ten times on a hardcourt.

Posted by Carrie 02/06/2008 at 03:45 AM


Monolo- you are a male?

Aren't you about the same age as Beth's Missy? Hmmmmm...

Posted by Kerry 02/06/2008 at 03:48 AM

I cringe at placing players into neat categories. The usual Federer = brains & Nadal = heart for example. Nadal deserves more credit for his tactical play. And Federer has displayed enormous heart during intense pressure filled emotional moments.

A few comments here liken Federer to the perfect boy their mothers want them to date. A lot of others talk about how his pefect tennis make him difficult to relate to or be drawn to.

Yet I find it intesting that a man who is so clearly blessed with unattainable gifts has so many people who are so deeply drawn to him despite them not being able to relate to that talent. I think it's the fact that he often displays a "boy-ish goofiness" and on many occasions a vulnerability when he breaks down in tears. I think these human qualities bridge the gap between him and tennis fans. And although he posseses many admirable qualities, which make him seem "pefect", he still mantains a real and human quality that draws people to him. Everyone here sort of jokes about the ferocity with which Federer fans "defend" him. But the fact that this man elicits such strong reactions is telling. That sort of reaction comes from the connection the fans have with the person, not the player.

And the outward displays on the court don't always tell the story of what is going on inside the player. Nadal seems to play with hunger, and fight, and heart, and blood sweat and tears. The man he is playing on the other side of the net could be just as feircely fighting on the inside without such an obvious display on the outside.

Am I right in thinking that Uncle Toni said once that they couldn't make drastic changes to Rafa's game style because he would lose too much in the process? So perhaps they chose the option of tinkering around the edges in the hope that these small improvements would be enough without the need of a radical overhaul.

What I don't understand is why he doesn't play the way he did at Indian Wells 2007 more often. I remember how AWESOME he was in full flight, attacking and fearsome. I thought he had taken a huge step forward and would be a force on hard courts for the rest of the year.

Can someone explain, why he has not played that way since? Is it because he reverted to his defensive style during the clay court season and had such a difficult time finding his way back? I'm just puzzled as to why it feels as though that never happened?

I too have the feeling that Rafa's career could be following the path of Lleyton Hewitt. His body and his game style could make his time at the top limited. He has trouble with a lot of players on hardcourt. He practically kills himself to collect ranking points during the clay season. Thanks to Djokovic's rise he is no longer the clear-cut successor to Federer. I have the feeling this year will be huge for him one way or the other.
I am not writing him off. But I still feel like it could be a bumpy ride for Nadal fans.

Posted by abbey 02/06/2008 at 04:44 AM

"He practically kills himself to collect ranking points during the clay season."

another misconception which i feel should be sorted out. 2005 aside, his schedule is very lean. in 2006, his only clay non-master/non-required event is barcelona, his "home" tournament. in 2007, he only added stuttgart because they felt going straight to the american hard courts swing right after his loss in wimbledon was a mistake the previous year. he needed that winning groove back which i think paid off. he just manages to collect a lot of points on clay coz really, he practically wins them all.

Posted by Kerry 02/06/2008 at 04:49 AM

"He practically kills himself to collect ranking points during the clay season."

The reason I said this was that interview of his that was translated into English recently, where he talked about the pressure he feels to earn a lot of ranking points on clay because unlike Federer, he can't accumulate them steadily through the year. He said if he didn't have those points he wouldn't make it to Shanghai. He said he felt so much pressure during this time that he said he felt like his head would explode. Perhaps killing himself was a bit extreme but from his own words, it's something close.

Posted by abbey 02/06/2008 at 05:10 AM

kerry, i see now where you were coming from. i guess i interpreted that statement differently. it's just that there were lots of comments here before about his scheduling which i think were wrong.

Posted by jason 02/06/2008 at 05:12 AM

Nadal played nearly the same in 2005 against agassi in the 2005 montreal final as he did in2007 indian wells. he has the ability, but I suspect injuries dictate his playing style on hardcourts. ( with the exception against Blake... he too defensive, trying to let blake loss a match than being the aggressor ) . I am not convinced that his legs are 100%.

Posted by Jo 02/06/2008 at 05:17 AM

It's really disgusting when woman over 35 want to date the No.1 and No.2 player in the world. Get a life ladies.

Pete - will you marry me?

Posted by RAFA FTW 02/06/2008 at 05:35 AM

Rafa is a prime example on what an athlete should be like. He should write a book about him from his prospective and not from his uncles'.

I hope Rafa goes number 1.

Rafa.... WE SPEAK YOUR NAME

Posted by RAFA FTW 02/06/2008 at 05:35 AM

Rafa is a prime example on what an athlete should be like. He should write a book about him from his prospective and not from his uncles'.

I hope Rafa goes number 1.

Rafa.... WE SPEAK YOUR NAME

Posted by damian 02/06/2008 at 06:50 AM

great article, love it, please write more.
and andrew, if nadal does not dominate on clay this year, i think he will drop out of the top three, regardless of other surfaces, because he has 2 tms wins to defend and a final, and a french open, and that is a lot of points, put together with a wimbly final and a miami title, nadal has a lot of work to do, but as we've allready seen last year, he can definately rise to the challenge

Posted by codepoke 02/06/2008 at 07:35 AM

It seems maybe the length of time it takes Rafa to get to a drop shot should be called a Nanner-second.

Regarding this, Pete:
boys tend to try to break through walls while little girls are more likely to navigate around them.

My teacher once told my mother that given the task of getting from one side of the wall to the other, I would most likely dig a tunnel under an unlocked door. I'd succeed, to be sure, but I'd probably not even try the knob before I started digging.

Ah, the memories.

Thanks for another great article. I look forward to reading the comments at some point, but calling Rafa one-dimensional is never happily accepted.

Posted by Triple Threat 02/06/2008 at 07:37 AM

nice post pete. i always read blogs/editorials in this site but i am too shy to comment. but on this one...let me write something.

indeed, i think rafa & his camp already knew changes that has to be made: serve, playing inside the baseline, flattening the forehand & backhand. at times, rafa seems to be executing these stuffs (indian wells & wimbledon 2007) but on most occasions, he reverts back to his defensive style---meters behind the baseline, just waiting for the opponent to err.

i like rafa way way more than roger and now djokovic. why? first, he made federer's dominance twistedly interesting. isn't every year that we wait & watch when will federer win that elusive french open & complete his career grand slam? for 3 years he was always coming short of achieving calendar & career grand slams because of the mallorcan boy.

i also think rafa is an underrated tactician. unlike fed who has lots of weapons to hurt varied playing styles, rafa has less so he has to use his mind & consistency to beat his opponents. last wimby i was touched by how fed praises nadal, that how many people underrates rafa, even mentioning that rafa will win his wimby crown someday. that's very touching. i think rafa is improving a bit but not on the level that everybody expects him to be. well, many people is expecting he should be challenging fed in all surfaces but as events go, this is not reality. (now djokovic is providing the "other" challenge.)

a boy as he is, nadal will be maturing up one day to finally realize things that he must do. though he already achieve much at a young age, he must believe he is more capable of winning non-clay slams & tournaments. i hope that djokovic's win in oz open will be an eye-opener for him. kidna inspired him to step up a level higher. i would really want him to be the next no. 1 before djokovic does because he deserves it being the longest no. 2 befind fed nonetheless.

nevertheless, i will prefer rafa maintaining his style to win the french open for 2-3 more years than overhaul his game to suit all surfaces. it will be more interesting if he can win on grass & hard courts while maintaining his topspin-loop play. (most players hit the ball flat & hard...kinda common in the spectator's eyes.)

Posted by GVGirl 02/06/2008 at 07:53 AM

I so enjoyed this post Pete. With Djokester winning the AO, Rafa has been lost in the shuffle, so to speak. Last I looked he was still a solid #2.

I worry about Rafa's health. Having knee and foot problems at 21 is scary. I hope to be able to enjoy watching Rafa for the next decade. I love the fighter in him.

One thing that I love about Rafa and Roger is the respect that they have for one another.

Posted by Tari 02/06/2008 at 08:10 AM

Great thoughts on Roger, Kerry. Thank you for that. :)

Welcome to you (not sure if you've poste before), and to Triple Threat. :)

Posted by jason 02/06/2008 at 08:15 AM

On clay, Rafa is a great tactian. But usually,once aplayer get " on top of him" on other surfaces, like hard, he does not think his way through the match. I thought that changed during 2007 wimbledon when he beat Youzny and Berdych..back to back.

Posted by 70's tennis fan 02/06/2008 at 08:25 AM

The good news..I have my Wimby tickets!!!! Yeay!!!

Even better news..they are for the last day, Sunday 6th!!

And the bad news...for Court 1 !!!!!

I will be in the only place in the UK where you CAN'T see the mens final!!!!!

Posted by Rosangel 02/06/2008 at 08:45 AM

I have just been looking again at the spring/summer schedule. Basically, because of the truncation of the schedule Olympics, Rafa will have to defend three clay titles (Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and a final (Hamburg) in four straight weeks. With one week off he will need to defend Roland Garros, then go straight to Queen's (QF to defend). Then, if he follows the pattern of earlier years will play an exo tournament in London the following week as further preparation for defending a Wimbledon final, which comes the next two weeks. Then, directly afterwards, is Stuttgart, where he has to defend a title. That's ten weeks with only two weeks off. Sometime between Hamburg and Roland Garros will, I guess, come this year's "Battle of the Surfaces" exo.

If he can defend all those points (3,655) with that type of schedule, it will be a major achievement. Last year at least there was a gap in between the Barcelona and Rome tournaments, and also between Wimbledon and Stuttgart. (It will also be a headache for me, because I have to plan to attend all those tournaments, one after another).

This doesn't make me any more impressed with the idea of tennis as an Olympic sport - something that doesn't make much sense to me anyway. I much prefer Davis Cup. There's pressure on other players too, but the clay/grass season looks brutal for Rafa in particular, with so much at stake.

Over the same period (including Estoril) Djoker has 2425 points to defend). Federer has 2,625, with all points earned leading to a net gain gain in Estoril and ?Halle.

Prior to the start of the clay court season, Rafa has 700 points to defend, and Djoker has 1,035 to defend. Rafa has added Rotterdam to his schedule, but that may not help his ranking points unless he gets more than 55, as his total currently includes the full 18 tournaments. Djoker could pick up points in Marseille, but his total also includes the maximum number of tournaments, plus, that will be next week after he's played Davis Cup.

Posted by Rosangel 02/06/2008 at 08:51 AM

That second sentenece should say "truncation of the schedule due to the Olympics".

Posted by ptenisnet 02/06/2008 at 09:06 AM

nanner-second:

I wish I had thought of that.

Posted by Maplesugar 02/06/2008 at 09:33 AM

I have really warmed to Rafa. I think Fed paved the way a little for me. If he can like and respect his most ardent rival, why can't I? I think Rafa is a good guy, and he's great for the game. I've always understood his appeal. Now that Djoker is on the scene, I've a bit worried about Rafa's progress. This piece substantiates my concern. Go, Rafa! Go, Roger!

Posted by cmac 02/06/2008 at 10:02 AM

I am extremely offended by this characterization of Rafa!

Posted by RedTennis 02/06/2008 at 10:15 AM

***does anyone believe that any of the up and comers who have been up and coming will endear themselves to the present fans of the game or invite new fans to the game the way Fed has. If so, who and why?***

Great question...Fed's sportsmanship is undeynable.

someone made the point that Djoko breaking through has unified Fed and rafa fans. I completely agree. While I am a Fed fan I love how Fed wants Rafa to be #2 and not Djoko. I think he is a threat to both of them and they together want to keep him away. Unfortanetly its not as if they are plsying doubles against him.
I'm still reserving judgement for Djoko but the game has definetly gotten more intersting since its no longer a sure thing that Fed will finish # 1. That being said I think he will..but if Rafa doesn't play as good a clay season as the last two years I see Djoko taking the # 2 ranking.

Posted by Voks 02/06/2008 at 10:15 AM

"I go and play my game and I fight, we see what happen, no?"

This seems to me like a pretty accurate description of Rafas mentality. On one hand, this enables him to employ that fantastic die-hard attitude on court, whitch is the important ingredient in his point construction and overall strategy, especially on clay. It also contributes very much to us describing him as a fighter, one who will suffer for win and joy for his fans. When you add to this his low-key demeanor off court ("humble" and honest answers to press, low key public appearance, "kia", and ancient generation cell phones) he does indeed appear as what he really is - 21 years old kid, who earns his bred hard and fair. In that sense, he really is genuine, and I respect him for that very much.

On the other hand, that same mentality might be limiting factor to his overall game. As Pete wrote, its hart to thing that his camp didn't think to alter his game by adding flatter strokes and all that, but in order to win consistently, on regular bases, you need that sort of thinking that MTF is expert at, and that Djokovic looks like learning fast - "I can do it by doing this and that". In my ming this difference in mentality between was evident at the end part of last season and at the start of this one. After Vienna, Novak said to himself: "Im tired, and I want this season to be over as soon as possible", while before AO, he said: "I can do it". Thats the same mentality as Feds, apart from Fed being far, far more experienced, and I dare say, more talented for. Rafa goes to every competition thinking: "Play my game and fight hard".

Posted by colts2008 02/06/2008 at 10:16 AM

What does Nadal need to do to improve? Why hasn't accomplished more on hardcourts yet? Does he have the capacity to improve?

These are interesting questions, and I credit Bodo for raising them, but he's forcing the issue. In an attempt to play the shrink, he has made this way too complicated. Nadal's game was built to excel on clay. The way he plays the game is a testament to this. However, his ability to dominate on the dirt transcends what can be taught in terms of technical form or tactics. Nadal is blessed with the natural physique and emotional capacity to maximize his skill set on this surface. In other words, Nadal was born to play on clay. But he has already proven that he is more than just a clay-court player. Because Nadal has been ranked #2 in the world for almost 3 years and has been so devastating on clay (won 105 of last 107 matches), we forget that he is only 21. He's been improving on other surfaces every year. Let's put some of his results in perspective. He's only played in 4 Aussie Opens, losing in the 3rd and 4th rounds to an in-form Hewitt as a 17 and 18 yr old. The last 2 years he lost in the quarters and semis to Gonzo and Tsonga, talented players on fire in the tournaments-of-their-lives to date. He's won 3 Master Series hard titles in Indian Wells, Montreal, and Madrid... finalist in Miami and Paris. At Wimbledon, he's not only been the runner-up the past 2 years, but he's been the ONLY player to seriously challenge Federer there in 5 years. And while his results have been disappointing at the US Open, one could easily argue that it's a product of in-experience on hardcourts, burnout, and injury.

And this is where the questions for Nadal reside. Can he stay healthy throughout the course on an entire year? His demanding schedule, his results, and the way he plays the game may necessiate some adjustments in the future. But that's to be expected for someone who is only 21. Given the progress he's already made over the past 2 years, it's hard to believe that Nadal won't continue to re-tool his serve and develop it into more of a weapon. He will learn to flatten out his forehand (we've seen it in flashes at Wimbledon), and he will learn to drive the ball deeper into the court. Nadal generates so much nasty spin that he can get away with hitting short balls on clay. The same is not true when playing on hard courts. These are the lessons he will learn from his loss to Tsonga.

Furthermore, the emergence of Djokovic over the past year has not been at Nadal's expense. Djokovic and Nadal have vastly different games, and their progress is independent of one another. To insinuate that Nadal's game has plateaued simply because Djokovic has made significant strides (by finally beating Federer at a major and winning his first grand slam) is a mistake.

Posted by colts2008 02/06/2008 at 10:17 AM

What does Nadal need to do to improve? Why hasn't accomplished more on hardcourts yet? Does he have the capacity to improve?

These are interesting questions, and I credit Bodo for raising them, but he's forcing the issue. In an attempt to play the shrink, he has made this way too complicated. Nadal's game was built to excel on clay. The way he plays the game is a testament to this. However, his ability to dominate on the dirt transcends what can be taught in terms of technical form or tactics. Nadal is blessed with the natural physique and emotional capacity to maximize his skill set on this surface. In other words, Nadal was born to play on clay. But he has already proven that he is more than just a clay-court player. Because Nadal has been ranked #2 in the world for almost 3 years and has been so devastating on clay (won 105 of last 107 matches), we forget that he is only 21. He's been improving on other surfaces every year. Let's put some of his results in perspective. He's only played in 4 Aussie Opens, losing in the 3rd and 4th rounds to an in-form Hewitt as a 17 and 18 yr old. The last 2 years he lost in the quarters and semis to Gonzo and Tsonga, talented players on fire in the tournaments-of-their-lives to date. He's won 3 Master Series hard titles in Indian Wells, Montreal, and Madrid... finalist in Miami and Paris. At Wimbledon, he's not only been the runner-up the past 2 years, but he's been the ONLY player to seriously challenge Federer there in 5 years. And while his results have been disappointing at the US Open, one could easily argue that it's a product of in-experience on hardcourts, burnout, and injury.

And this is where the questions for Nadal reside. Can he stay healthy throughout the course on an entire year? His demanding schedule, his results, and the way he plays the game may necessiate some adjustments in the future. But that's to be expected for someone who is only 21. Given the progress he's already made over the past 2 years, it's hard to believe that Nadal won't continue to re-tool his serve and develop it into more of a weapon. He will learn to flatten out his forehand (we've seen it in flashes at Wimbledon), and he will learn to drive the ball deeper into the court. Nadal generates so much nasty spin that he can get away with hitting short balls on clay. The same is not true when playing on hard courts. These are the lessons he will learn from his loss to Tsonga.

Furthermore, the emergence of Djokovic over the past year has not been at Nadal's expense. Djokovic and Nadal have vastly different games, and their progress is independent of one another. To insinuate that Nadal's game has plateaued simply because Djokovic has made significant strides (by finally beating Federer at a major and winning his first grand slam) is a mistake.

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 10:28 AM

Ros...there is no doubt that the schedule from now through the US Open is going to be soooo difficult for all the players. I mean, it is basically nonstop for everyone. We could see alot of different players winning or if someone wins alot...a few withdrawals...

Posted by pau. 02/06/2008 at 10:32 AM

I find it really strange - almost as strange as someone thinking the thoughtful pensive Nadal is just some sort of naïf primitive force - that Roger Federer be called a 'problem solver' when he fails abominably every time he is faced with problems on court. As many of us have long argued, he is a purely instinctive player who because of his superior technical skills and sublime movement has generally over the past few years had few if any problems to face on a tennis court - where he has been virtually unchallenged, apart from by Nadal. In fact, the main reason why he cannot solve his major problem - really beating Nadal on clay - is because he is not nearly as patient nor is he anywhere near as good a strategist as the very bright 'courtwise' Spaniard, whose claycourt game is a superior kind of chess masterclass for all his opponents. Roger was also heading for defeat at Wimbledon last summer until Nadal's knees went and he was given the opportunity to gather his panic ridden thoughts together - mentality, that's another of the myths about Federer, who is extremely suspect mentally when really put under pressure... when he has to face problems, in other words.

Posted by zonie 02/06/2008 at 10:37 AM

Colts2008: I like your perspective and have to say that I agree. One thing that I think illustrates how hard Nadal is working on improving his hard court game is that he has chosen to play hard court tournaments this spring instead of the South American clay court swing where he would be the heavy favorite. He could more easily gather points there to defend his #2 spot, but he has chosen to meet the challenge head-on and play Rotterdam and Dubai instead.

The fact is that there are quite a few players who can beat Nadal on hard-courts at any given time, but yet he has managed every year to win at least one HC masters tournament which is a lot more than most of the other fellows have done. Add to that the fact that he has reached the final at Wimbledon two years running. Right now, out of all the current players, he has the second best resume and he is only 21.

Posted by Snoo Foo 02/06/2008 at 10:37 AM

did i overdose on lsd or was there a watercooler last night with a video of angry roddick on some uk talk show? or was it all just a pathetically mundane tennis(world) dream?

"if you had to cast TMF and Nadal as the city mouse and country mouse, is there any doubt over who would play who?"

aren't they both country mice? the mouse who can't drive would be the city mouse, right? Cuz he relies on public transportation? And TMF owned the cow, so he's a country mouse? friends (?) with a golfer = country mouse, friends with an nba dude = city mouse? how about playstation mouse and creme rinse mouse? or fishing mouse and fashion mouse? am I taking this too literally? Or is nanner supposed to be the unsophisticated one cuz his english is bumpy?

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 10:38 AM

***CM- I am sorry but as soon as Fed retires and the WS are gone, that is it for me for tennis for now.***
________
Yummy, I understand. Believe me, I went through quite a funk when Borg left the game, mostly because it was so sudden and he was so young. It actually ticked me off because I felt he was quitting because of J-Mac. Now, I know there were other things involved but at the time, I was hugely disappointed that Borg didn't rise to the challenge. Anyway, I lost my passion for tennis even though I still liked to watch it. Who knew it was going to be another 20 years before my passion would re-ignite... And I imagine that after Roger retires (many years from now), it will be another long time before I feel that way again, if ever.

Posted by Tari 02/06/2008 at 10:38 AM

LOL, pau...the funny thing is, there is some really interesting possible insights in your post. But you can't quite get over your Fed hate to make it worth my responding to. A pity. :)

Cue the "weak era" debate... ;-)

Posted by Tari 02/06/2008 at 10:40 AM

Bravo, Snoo. :)

Posted by JR 02/06/2008 at 10:41 AM

"This being both Oscar and election season, I had a thought tonight that maybe those of us who see Rafa potentially being relegated to number 3 because of Djoko have it all wrong. If Djoko and Fed were to "split the vote" on hard/grass titles, and Rafa continued to dominate on clay (far from a given, I know), with an occasional win/place/show on hard courts, couldn't Rafa overtake number one? Not likely, but I for one would be happy for him."
I'm leaning that way, Rolo.

Re: stick shifts. I bought my first when I was middle-aged, with only a theoretical knowledge of how to drive it. It was an exciting several days.

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 02/06/2008 at 10:45 AM

Snoo,

You weren't hallucinating. (At least not totally.) There was a post titled The Deuce Club w/links to A-Rod pressers for a brief time last night.

Posted by creig bryan GCT 02/06/2008 at 10:46 AM

So what happened to it?

ks

Posted by Pete 02/06/2008 at 10:47 AM

Jamie, others - don't think of it as "generalizations" or "stereotypes" (both of which are pejoratives in today's culture), think of these thoughts as attempts to connect the dots. Perhaps because I'm not a kid anymore, I think finding connections and patterns is far more interesting than trying to break them down or deny them. I am a generalizer by nature, although I think I've learned pretty well not to allow any generalization about anyone to overshadow that critical component of individuality (I think my post makes that clear, too). Denying the value of generalizations seems silly, unless those generalizations are inaccurate, inappropriately prejudical, or applied as a kind of endgame (rather than starting point) of a discussion. De-construction in general always seemed to me an aggressive, negative practice and habit, leading only to paralysis. Maybe Pynchon was right with all that entropy baloney after all.

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 10:49 AM

***Jason wrote:...Nadal has done better than the year before. He made it to the paris indoors final, still made it to the semis in the master cup, and now, the semis in australia. He was injured at wimbledon, or he would have definitely won. (up to that point Fed. never served better, and playing his A game ... and was losing ) He was even injured at the French Open and still won it. The 2 times that he lost to Djok. on hardcourts ,he was injured...***
____________

Jason, you can't keep using the 'injury' excuse. Was Nadal sometimes maybe not 100% when playing...sure, but you can't blame his losses fully on that. Would Nadal definitely have won Wimbledon if he didn't have some sort of knee issue? No, that is not a given...Roger didn't go away in that 5th set. This is similar to Novak saying that he would have been in the Wimbledon final if he wasn't injured...meaning that if he had been 100%, he would have beaten Nadal. What...Nadal was just going to rollover and play dead? I took exception to Novak saying that because it gave no respect to Nadal and I feel the same way about your comment on Fed.

You can find a million examples of players not having their "A" games that could be explained by a possible injury or an illness. But you cannot use that as excuse to dismiss the winner. Did Roger have his "A" game against Novak in Aussie? No...but even if he did, it doesn't mean that he would for sure beat Novak. Roger even said that if he had pulled out that first set, it might have been a different match...but he also said that it didn't mean Novak wouldn't have come back and still won the match.

We can always give extenuating circumstances to explain outcomes for our favs...but we shouldn't discount the winners. They play well and deserve to win.

Posted by tennis Girl 02/06/2008 at 11:04 AM

RAFA is the BEST!!! WHATEVER YOU say!!!

Posted by JR 02/06/2008 at 11:05 AM

Sania is starting to look a lot like Gaby to me.

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 11:06 AM

***LOL, pau...the funny thing is, there is some really interesting possible insights in your post. But you can't quite get over your Fed hate to make it worth my responding to. A pity. :)***
__________
Exactly Tari. I find it so amusing when some posters say that Roger is mentally weak or a bad sportsman - considering it takes huge mental toughness to win so consistently and be #1 for 4 years running. And the fact that Roger continually gets voted the Sportsman of the Year by his fellow ATP players. They can't see past their hate.

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 02/06/2008 at 11:07 AM

Hi Kerry!

Wow, your 3:48 a.m. post was terrific! Well said. Every player expresses himself in a different way. Just because Roger is generally pretty quiet on court doesn't mean he is less intense or lacks emotion. Although I understand some people find it harder to connect to someone who is more reserved on court. But as you pointed out, an awful lot of fans do connect w/Roger. Thanks for saying it so eloquently. :)

zonie,

I think Rafa is a victim of his own success. You are spot on ... by almost anyone else's standards, he has done very well on HC. But compared to his stellar FO triumphs, his HC results seem disappointing by comparison. Just as Fed is criticized for his "failures" at the FO. They've set the bar so high for themselves. Take those criticisms as a backhanded compliment. And I don't understand all the doom and gloom about Nadal's '08 season. After all, his semifinal showing at the AO was his best ever. :)

Posted by franklin 02/06/2008 at 11:09 AM

Last year, Rafael Nadal had 'the best year in his career'.

This year he has made his best start to a season ever, he is closer in points to Federer than he has ever been and is about to break the 6,000 point threshold.

So, I think we can expect much of him in 2008, including perhaps even a brief sojourn in that Nº1 spot.

We can begin to talk about Djokovic as being in the same league as Federer and Nadal when he has been in the top five for two or three years... while nobody doubts his talent, he has yet to show he is as consistent as them.

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 11:12 AM

***We can begin to talk about Djokovic as being in the same league as Federer and Nadal when he has been in the top five for two or three years... while nobody doubts his talent, he has yet to show he is as consistent as them.***
____________

Exactly. Dismissing Roger and Rafa just because Novak won the AO just doesn't make sense.

Posted by Rosangel 02/06/2008 at 11:18 AM

I'll have to politely disagree that Djoker's breakthrough has unified Fed fans and Rafa fans as a kind of counterpoint to the Djokovic threat.

I think each person can speak for themselves on this front. Some of us are enjoying the Djoker's progress on its own merits, whatever we think about the other two players - or other opponents that he may face.

On a slightly separate tack, I'm struck by some of the comments I see - not just in this post, but from time to time it comes up on the blog - from people who say they are drawn into the game by one or other player, and think they will (or may) stop watching tennis after that player or those players are no longer around. I don't want to oversimplify - there are different nuances when different people say this. However, no wonder we sometimes get wildly differing viewpoints.....

Even if the Top 3 were all kidnapped by aliens from outer space, and Kolya the Obscure, by default, became world number one, I can't imagine not wanting to watch tennis - at least, men's tennis. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the other approach - just can't imagine for myself being drawn into watching a sport by a single personality. I certainly grew up watching Borg, but never only Borg. Had that been the case, I guess I might have stopped watching after 1981. I'll make a big effort to see my favourites while they are around - but I know that there will always be new favourites coming through, as the game rolls on.

Posted by codepoke 02/06/2008 at 11:23 AM

> nanner-second:

> I wish I had thought of that.

WooHoo! I haven't "made it" yet, but I still feel like somebody now. :-)

Posted by Siggy, waiting for TMF 02/06/2008 at 11:23 AM

Pau, I second Tari's response to your post. Roger has yet to solve the Nadal (on clay) riddle.... no doubt you are aware that various experts on this board have suggested a whole range of possible solutions to the matchup problem Roger has with Rafa on clay, all of which Roger (and Mirka) really ought to read and take into account ASAP.

As for how much of his tennis success owes itself to pure instinct rather than mental prowess and work ethic, you may have a point there, too. I mean, when you listen to Beethoven's 9th, the way he so painstakingly constructs every point (oops, I mean, movement) to create such sublime structural unity, you just know he whipped it out just like that, it's such... pure genius, you know?

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 11:24 AM

***I'll have to politely disagree that Djoker's breakthrough has unified Fed fans and Rafa fans as a kind of counterpoint to the Djokovic threat. ***
___________

Okay...except you, Ros! LOL! Just kidding. :)

Posted by SwissMaestro 02/06/2008 at 11:33 AM

NYC residents that post comments in this blog. This coming saturday Feb. 9th at around 9.30 PM some of us will be meeting at Bar-89 in Broom St. in downtown Soho for drinks before heading over to a party at 'La Esquina' lounge (corner on Kenmare and Lafayette Sts). You all are invited, ask for SwissMaestro and I'll know you all come from this blog.

Steve, Pete, Tom, Rosangel - You all are invited too.

Posted by zonie 02/06/2008 at 11:35 AM

Tangi: right on.:)

Posted by Voks 02/06/2008 at 11:39 AM

Tim ($3.03 today on Starbucks!)wrote: I think Djoker's very short honeymoon with the crowds ala the US Open is already over.... Oz proved that... no crowd is gonna cheer for a cocky in your face No. 1 with a bland playing style, just never gonna happen ... Agassi and Sampras never ever were cocky on court, they just showed up and dug in and played ... Federer is exactly the same...
...............................

Maybe a bit off topic but I'll be forgiven. I think that is not tru. Oz did not prove that. It proved two evident things. Firstly, that Federers fans (as any other players fans) do not like those players who so soundly win against him, especially because this is a new experience. Keep in mind that when you buy tickets for Grand slam finals, you want your man to be there, but since he got "outsted" two days before, its natural to go "against the kill'a". Also, every tournament has its darling. At the USO it was Novak - the challenger, at the AO it was Jo - the challenger. Hence the anti-Novak crowd. Add to that, typical "Balkan boy on top of the worlds" mentality, or what you would no doubt call arrogance, you get 20k minus entourage fans cheering for the Frenchman.

Secondly, at the AO we saw that Novak cares more for his tennis, then for his appearance. That is, IMO, the reason why he ain't gonna disappear into oblivion. Plus, if you remember USO, if one thing that guy knows how to do, it is to "charm the fans". For what ive seen and heard of him, hes more than capable to recognise what must be done in order to do that. Besides, I would not be surprised to find that he is reading this as we are writing it (he actually sad that he likes to surf the net).

As for Agassi, well, the guy had character, as does Novak, and I like them both for that.

Posted by Sher 02/06/2008 at 11:39 AM

[Nadal's performance at Wimbledon last year was impressive to me because he kept his desire and spirits up despite the rain and gloom, not because he managed to cobb together a passable game to go with his mental and emotional strengths. The further Nadal gets from the warmth of the sun, the breezes that wash over a court, and the smell of freshly watered clay, the less well he does. Come the Paris Indoors, and he's a mess of conflicting signals - never a good thing for a predator. I think he responds to environment in as significant a way as he does to surface speed, and I know that's a pretty radical notion.]

I've been saying for a while that Nadal's style is influenced by how he wants to win. He's never going to push himself as hard at USOpen as at Wimbledon simply because there's a different level of desire there. There's something about hard courts & especially indoor courts that puts a slight damper on the competitor inside him, and at the top of the game just a slight difference means a lot.

Posted by MrsSanta 02/06/2008 at 11:51 AM

I find the stereotypes to be so viciously drawn that they have completely drowned the subject. Plus the Rafa as a purely instinctual Harry Potteresque country bumpkin simply responding to the vagaries of the big ball in the sky construct is kinda gross.

Maybe there's no longer anything interesting to say about Rafa.

Posted by The Original French(ie) 02/06/2008 at 12:00 PM

blahhhhhhhh citing Thomas Pynchon won't cut it Mr Pete !!!!!!!!! What's baloney (if I may) is cowardly hiding behind this "attempts to connect the dots" explanation.

Ok, first a disclaimer, I haven't read all the posts so I don't know whether Pete has written another comment before this one at 10:47AM but at at least I've read his ”op-ed” and I really don't like what it implies.

The problem with stereotypes is that it's just intellectual laziness. Not to mention that most of the times, it's also erroneous and superficial.

I am scarred to ask what Mr Pete thinks of, let's say Mexicans and Poncho Gonzales (yes I know he was born in LA) with that sort of, ahem, "connecting the dots" line of reasoning. It’s like these useless debates about nature v. culture. What does it really prove in the end?

So Rafa is all Mediterranean combative, instinctual "exuberance" while Fed is all Germanic "reasoning" and skills. If that were remotely true what about Haas and Berdych two beautiful specimen of "Northern" sporting showmanship? Both very logical and very unemotional winning machines as we have seen. What about Tim Henman? What does it say about him and his tennis results, that he was actually born onto the Sceptred Isle (bad teeth, humour, great volleys, no cojones to clinch the most important titles???). Was Henri Leconte-Riton, the way he was because he was French? (I would say yes, but well nevermind....).

and of course I won't even go into the sophisticate-city mouse (Fed) v country boy-country mouse (Rafa) angle because it is just risible. And I'm a Parisian girl.

It’s really too bad this sort of thinking is used because it ruins very interesting points: (1) the fact that Rafa has been ”spinning his wheels” while Djoko was progressing on every surface and getting better and better at winning during the most important moments and (2) the fact that Rafa has a temperamental disposition to play the way he does ---which has nothing to do with the cultural-”connecting the dots”-trope used in this op-ed).

I agree that after that loss at Wimbledon, Rafa was not the ”same” and did not perform as well as he could have. I don’t believe that his results are stellar because in comparison to Djokovic he has not progressed at all on hard courts. I agree again about grass and the way it suits his ”clay court game”, it’s luck in that way. His match against Tsonga is the proof of all that. Some posters said a few days ago, that he is still losing to hard court players he should not lose to. That’s so true. Meanwhile Djokovic won AO and was in the semis in Wimbledon. We didn’t really see what he was able to do because he was injured but Djoko said that he believed he belongs in the final. I believe it too, and it kind of ”bothers” me (I mean, I like Djokovic) because I don’t see the same realism in Rafa’s camp when talking about his next hurdles.

As for Rafa’s temperamental disposition and his playing style. It is true, the way he attacks the ball, the way he runs down his opponents, I could not see him doing something else but to his credit he is not ONLY that.The problem here is that what he does naturally is used as a screen to mask the lack of change in the way his training regimen is constructed. Thankfully, he has tactical skills and his net game is the proof that he has nerves of steel (he also almost ”solved” Fed’s game on grass, not too bad in my opinion) but these "proclivities" are not used enough to shape his game and that's a pity.

Djokovic is still a kid in my opinion. He is very mature and focused but he is younger than Rafa, that should not be forgotten. The Fed is not just a cold rational machine either, he is more interesting than that and he still has a lot to learn too, emotionally and tactically (clay anyone?) particularly with the new challenges coming this year.

All in all, I think this piece of writing takes a lot away from all the 3 players, in the name of?-- well of what? I don't know really.


Posted by Sher 02/06/2008 at 12:01 PM

Reading the posts here, I think you guys overestimate how much Roger likes Rafa. I'm sure that he went through periods where he struggled with himself because he hated the guy but yet couldn't find a good reason to hate him. Simple, provincial, I'm sure those were all adjectives that have occured to him, and they are the anthithesis of how he wants to see himself, and yet they're not significant enough to dislike someone. So at this point it's more of a case of him finally coming to a realization that Rafa is a good guy and he might as well get over his feelings and just learn to like him.

Posted by beth 02/06/2008 at 12:02 PM

good morning all
there is no OT post open to chat on at this time
I have nothing much to say anymore about Rafa or Rog , that I have not all ready said
CM- like you Borg was my first tennis love
I was a teenager , and he was on tv. My parents were watching . They said something to the effect that "his hair was too long , blah , blah , blah... horrible hippie radical blah, blah, blah... Never bring one of those into our home...blah , blah , blah "
I fell in love on the spot.
Then, I fell for the game and learned to play
but, it was Borg ( and his perceived , by my parents, bad boy looks ) that started it all
:)

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 12:03 PM

Voks, I'll say it again. There is a huge difference between cheering for someone and actively cheering against someone. Novak was indeed the 'darling' of the US Open and got alot of cheers in the final, but the fans were not actively cheering against Roger at all. In the AO semi between Nadal and Tsonga...the fans were definitely cheering for Tsonga as the underdog but in no way were they cheering against Nadal. In the final...the majority of the fans were actively cheering against Novak.

It had nothing to do with the fact that Novak beat Roger, that was deserved...it had every thing to do with how Novak acted in doing so - the slow-nodding and such. Novak did not endear himself to the crowd at all. And of course, he did the same kind of behavior to Tsonga.

I doubt Novak enjoyed winning his first GS with nearly everyone cheering against him. I would hope he would want to change that kind of reception.

Posted by Voks 02/06/2008 at 12:06 PM

"his hair was too long , blah , blah , blah... horrible hippie radical blah, blah, blah... Never bring one of those into our home...blah , blah , blah "

hahahaahahaha. can't stop. ... laughing
great.

Posted by creig bryan GCT 02/06/2008 at 12:06 PM

In some cases, polarity can be a good thing. Batteries, for instance.

Not so good for those who have to interact with PS sufferers.

Fair-weather tennis fans, anchored not by the sport, but by a particular player have no appreciation for the game. I can relate: I've no appreciation for soap operas; I only watched one, and only because I was drawn to a single, specific, magnetic actor. When the magnetism (and eventually, the actor) vanished, so did I. My love for tennis, however, transcends the bit players; I love the whole of the game. Still, one might call me a fair-weather sports fan: If it ain't tennis, I'm not really interested.

As for gear cars, I used to think everyone possessed the ability to improve Hand-Eye Coordination, with practice. I've since changed my mind: If you didn't get it during the formative years, you ability to improve it is somehow diminished, limited. Studying several scientific texts citing Agassi's HEC as it related to early brain signal routing and development, it seems the infant brain's wiring crew cannot be forced to wholly return to a particular site(in this case, the areas where smooth-eye pursuit is managed), after its build window has closed.

So, when I'd hear someone say "I can't play tennis: I'm too clumsy," or "I'll never learn how to drive a gear car, I'm just not coordinated enough," I would scoff. Not anymore.

ks

Posted by Siggy, waiting for TMF 02/06/2008 at 12:07 PM

Mrs. Santa, are you being ironic or sledgehammer subtle? Hit me over the head, literalist I am, I'm impervious to stuff like irony.

Mr. Bodo, have you by any chance read Guns, Germs & Steel, a Pulitzer-winning attempt to explain world history as seen through the prism of an environmental determinist? With all due respect, kind of apropos here, it's been accused of both brilliance and gross oversimplification.

Posted by Tari 02/06/2008 at 12:12 PM

"The Fed is not just a cold rational machine either"

Thank you, Frenchie. :)

I've been biting my tongue on some of this, because I mostly don't want to offend anyone...but the constant comparisons of Roger and Rafa are really tired. :( And, as I said to some friends yesterday via e-mails...I think Roger is dissed more than a bit by this comparison.

I think this accounts for my attempt to say yesterday that Rafa is not quite the country bumpkin, and btw, nowhere did I say anything in the least bit derogatory, there...it may have been my way of heading off the inevitable "Roger is boring" and "sophisticates are snobs" stuff. I find it offensive. Oh, well...we went there, anyway. *sigh*

I'm so tired of this...but now I'm going to make a vow in addition to my Djoko pledge. No Rafa comments beyond his tennis.

Posted by Evie 02/06/2008 at 12:13 PM

Some parts of this article are vague and uneasy pigeon-holing to me:

"Rafa's clay-court game is still a clay-court game, even when it's played on grass". Probably Rafa has both a "clay-court game" and a "grass-court" game, because I honestly did not "see the clay" when he played in Wimbledon. His "hard court game" could be a bit more confused and erratic, unlike the more all-court suited players like TMF and Djokovic.

"provincial" contenders. I do not think you should put Rafa in this as he is long-time tops in ranking and in the heart of so many fans. I think he is iconic as is Federer. He is natural, innocent, seems free of envy or malice towards others. I guess for me this is one area where you might say he is unsophisticated.

Boyishness: He still has boyish qualities, as I think Novak and Andy Murray, Gasquet still have. Why not?

Dependence on family for emotional support: Probably true. This is a factor on the degree and quickness at which anyone matures and tries to do things outside his comfort level and experience. It will be hard to change Rafa.

Posted by Snoo Foo 02/06/2008 at 12:13 PM

Maybe it's unilateral but based on anecdotal evidence, by which I mean my own perzpective and zero statistics, over the past few weeks TMF fans (*not all of them! by all means I certainly don't mean every single roger federer fan! but enough to make an impression on me!*) seem to have softened on the nanner with a sort of at-least-he's-not-nole philosophy. It's funny.

Posted by beth 02/06/2008 at 12:16 PM

creig-I learned to drive a stick shift in my mid 20's.
Does that make me a savant?
I am so excited. Cause you are right-I don't know of too many who can say the same

Voks - I think that pretty much sums up a lot of teens /parent communication

Posted by creig bryan GCT 02/06/2008 at 12:18 PM

> "...I'm so tired of this...but now I'm going to make a vow in addition to my Djoko pledge. No Rafa comments beyond his tennis..."

Exactly, Tari! Leave all the BS about King's lives, picking, head-nods, estranged kin, wine sniffers and (woe is me) lifestyles out of the game. Time!

ks

Posted by beth 02/06/2008 at 12:25 PM

sorry , Tari
did not mean to offend
just that is how I feel about the persona of the two guys
I am sure Roger is a wonderful person, and without question , he is a great champion
I cannot help it that I do not find him exciting

Snoo - you are right - we do seem to be united in our hope that Nole does not succeed at the expense of either of these two

Posted by MrsSanta 02/06/2008 at 12:30 PM

Siggy I'm being literal.

Nole has been a spectacular coalition builder.

Posted by Voks 02/06/2008 at 12:33 PM

CM wrote: It had nothing to do with the fact that Novak beat Roger, that was deserved...it had every thing to do with how Novak acted in doing so - the slow-nodding and such. Novak did not endear himself to the crowd at all. And of course, he did the same kind of behavior to Tsonga.
I doubt Novak enjoyed winning his first GS with nearly everyone cheering against him. I would hope he would want to change that kind of reception.
..........

You just blew my laugh away. :-)
Well, you are right that his behaviour in semis had something to to with that. If you didnt follow tennis, you might actually wonder whos got 12 gss under his belt there.
Im not going to justify him, dough I might. But, you are missing the whole picture there. Did you reed the ozzy papers before the finals? I did. It was not much more pro Tsonga than it would have been if Novak behaved during semis in the "Im sorry Ive won" manner - for reasons I suspect had much more to do with Tsonga and french tennis lobby than Novaks overjoyed reactions to Fed match. Of course this is all debatable speculation, but I cant escape the impression that claims in the line of "he blew it, from now on, hes always gonna be booed" have more to do with (hardcore) Feds fans emotions being hurt. If you've read my post, you've noticed that thats what Im referring to between the lines.

Posted by Tari 02/06/2008 at 12:34 PM

I'm sorry too, Beth. I didn't meant to make you feel badly. :( I know that I probably started this with my comments about the "simple life" stuff. :( And I'm probably being oversensitive.
That's definitely me, there. :)

Posted by Snoo Foo 02/06/2008 at 12:35 PM

I hope Mrs. Santa was being dead literal cuz I was about to say word. and to TOF too. and Tari, and evie, and pierre, but especially TOF. But since I am on double secret probation ¡Ya basta!

oy I read this "wine sniffers" as wife sniffers. send coffee.

Posted by Sherlock 02/06/2008 at 12:41 PM

Tari, thanks for saying that, but I don't think it's a problem. Talking about these guys beyond tennis is completely natural. Has always been and will always be with individual sports. People are drawn to Tiger by more than just his golf. John Daly hasn't won anything in ages, but still draws a crowd. About 10% of discussion about Ali was his ring prowess.

Posted by Evie 02/06/2008 at 12:44 PM

What you've analyzed above about city and country is so good Snoo. Do add more as your way is unique, appealing and complex.

Posted by Sher 02/06/2008 at 12:44 PM

Voks, I think Tsonga exerbated Djokovic's problem by being very likeable.

Actually, I wonder at the reception the crowd of Paris would give to a match up of Djkovic/Nadal. They've never been particularly warm towards Rafa...I know in the case of Djokovic/Federer they'll side with Roger because of the history thing.

Posted by CM 02/06/2008 at 12:45 PM

Voks, all I'm saying is that Novak obviously got the fans against him and just beating another player is not going to cause that. I'm not writing off Novak or believe that he will be forever booed for the rest of his career. But I would think he would want to change that reception the next time...and it all in his control.

Posted by 02/06/2008 at 12:46 PM

Bit tired of Federer being painted as the robotic detatched guy at the top and the players that attempt to beat him as the charasmatic/endearing/emotional/underdogs. It's a bad movie with a simplistic plot line. The guy used to have a temper, he controlled it which led to him racking up a ridiculous amount of trophies, he breaks down in tears, he fights, he cares.

Posted by Mel 02/06/2008 at 12:46 PM

Could you please translate?
Who is the "Jet Boy"?
What is "TMF"?
I am lost. Please help.

Posted by 02/06/2008 at 12:46 PM

The Federer fanboys need to stop kidding themselves. Roger is never gracious in defeat, ever. He growls, he scowls, he rarely compliments his opponents, he dismisses them and calls them names. This is why it's such a huge joke whenever the media tries to tell us how "classy" Federer is. That's the biggest lie ever told in tennis. You can always tell what a man's true character is when faced with advertsity. Roger's character doesn't look very classy when he loses.

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