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Rivalry! 01/30/2009 - 3:01 PM

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by Pete Bodo

Alright. Now that we've all stopped hyper-ventilating over the Rafael Nadal/Fernando Verdasco bull fight (personally, I had trouble telling the bull from the matador through long stretches of that one), let's just wipe our brows and take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to have yet another Nadal vs. Roger Federer Grand Slam final.

In fewer than three full years, we’ve been awarded six Grand Slam finals pitting Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal. By comparison, the last pair of players who had anything like a comparable rivalry, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, met in Grand Slam titles a grand total of just five times – and that’s in an 11-year span (compared to the mere 37 months during which Nadal and Federer have had at each other).

Any of you Nadal fans who aren't air-kissing your beloved Federer fans are ingrates; you Federer fans who aren't sacrificing furry little animals before Nike posters of Nadal are clueless. It's about time y'all realized that nothing in sports is better than a great rivalry, and a great rivalry can only exist between equals - or players close enough to being equal that the differences are academic, especially when they meet.

Rivals2 What? The outraged Federer fan might say. Roger is 24 hours from equalling Pete Sampras's Grand Slam singles title record. How dare you make that comparison! I'll tell you how: Nadal is 12-6 vs. Federer, 5-2 in Grand Slam play. It's a fact, get used to it. It underscores the validity of the hall of fame quote Mats Wilander uttered when he told me, at the height of the "Wilanders" controversy, "It's weird that Roger may be the greatest player ever, but that there's one guy in his own time who he can't beat."

On Sunday, Federer gets another chance to chip away at the inconvenient truth of the record.

So what we've seen created, in just over three years, is an all-surface, all-continent battle between perhaps the greatest player who ever lived and someone who might have been - fairly -  called a "provincial" player until it turned out he wasn't. The speed at which Nadal morphed from upstart into understudy into nemesis was remarkable. And while it may be irritating to TMF's fans, and the source of serious complications in Federer's life, Nadal's maturation into an all-around player has accomplished some things that no number of Grand Slam titles (not 15, not 22, not 38) could really do - heighten the awareness and appreciation of his abilities, add a measure of heft (the kind that can only come from one source - a guy you don't own) to his reputation, and provide him with a unique, personal yardstick by which to measure - and demonstrate - his worth.

We think of great rivalries as consisting of two components: Bird and Johnson, Sampras and Agassi, Namath and Unitas. The truth is that a great rivalry is a unitary thing, organically produced by two individuals. It exists independent of the individuals, even though it could not exist without the principals. A rivalry is an entity as well as a state-of-being; great rivals are Siamese twins, each tries to beat the other's brains out, but he's sustained by the same hot blood and leaves his counterpart showered in equal glory. Pete Sampras, it turns out, was right - we have proof of it right before our eyes: Nothing, but nothing, is as good for tennis as a great rivalry.

And there's more. I think we can all agree that we've got perhaps the greatest player of all time playing against perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all-time (an item that seems to be traveling southward on Nadal's resume, as in: Other Interests and Hobbies: Greatest Clay-Court Player of All-Time). We all love Andre, but Nadal has shown us what the Sampras-Agassi rivalry might have been, had Agassi's attention span in tennis been more consistent. If anything, Federer and Nadal are on track to be the next. . . Chris (Evert) and Martina (Navratilova).

Rivals In fact, some of the the parallels are striking, in a trans-gender kind of way: you have the mercurial "talent" pitted against the worker; the artist with the one-handed backhand matched with the bludgeoning double-fister; the slashing, attacking stylist dug in against the dogged, recalcitrant defender; the unsophisticated, un-intellectual athlete squaring off against the world citizen (oh, how often, upon hearing Martina air some vaguely political grievance, have I rolled my eyes, murmuring, . . Oh, please, Martina. Spare me.Thank God the comparison only goes so far. . .)

If they keep rolling down this path, can the day be far off when Federer and Nadal share a bagel (as Chris and Martina once did) while they wait to play yet another Grand Slam final?

I'm going to enjoy these finals - pass the lox.


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Posted by crazyone 01/30/2009 at 03:07 PM

*So what we've seen created, in just over three years, is an all-surface, all-continent battle between perhaps the greatest player who ever lived and someone who might have been - fairly - called a "provincial" player until it turned out he wasn't. *

OK, I'm going to ask the question. Even though I'm a Federer fan and it hurts to ask. How can we (or you) consider Federer the greatest player ever when he has such a bad record against his rival?

And can't Nadal turn into the GOAT himself? If he wins the AO he has the best chance to turn in the calendar slam of anyone since Rod Laver, probably (though the USO will probably still elude him).

Posted by Ryan 01/30/2009 at 03:20 PM

Hmmm...your comment about Martina's politics...Jon Wertheim wishes Venus were MORE political. Why isn't she entitled to speak politics just like anyone else? I guess I'm a little more curious about your general stance on this issue, Pete.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 03:21 PM

The worst nightmare as a FedKAD is that this match turns into the launching pad for Nadal's GOAT career and Fed's goes down in flames.

Posted by Ryan 01/30/2009 at 03:21 PM

Crazyone--

Pete Sampras had trouble against Wayne Ferreira, but no one held that against him. At least when Roger has trouble, it's against the current no. 1.

Posted by jpark 01/30/2009 at 03:24 PM

crazy1- While reading that part of the article, I assumed the Fed fans will immediately bring up the fact that they've met on clay 9 times (or whatever it is). A number that skews in favor of Nadal.
While you can say that, Nadal fans can claim (and proudly) that Nadal has had to beat Federer in EVERY one of his grandslams. That's hefty.

Posted by Grant 01/30/2009 at 03:25 PM

"How can we (or you) consider Federer the greatest player ever when he has such a bad record against his rival?"

A simple rule of boxing is styles make fights. And as opposed as I am to GOAT debates, the idea of being the GOAT isn't that you're indestructable, just that you're the best overall.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 03:26 PM

Jon Wertheim is another radical leftist who only wants athletes to be outspoken in favor of left-wing causes. If heaven forbid an athlete is a Republican(Sampras) he should STFU.

Posted by robbyfan 01/30/2009 at 03:28 PM

The saddest part of this rivalry to me is how many Slams Andy Roddick would have won by now with these 2 not in the picture.

Posted by Lousy hacker with awefule shots 01/30/2009 at 03:28 PM

I love the rivalry we are blessed with. Rafa's HC game has improved to another level. I want Rafa to win, but Fed played so well for his last 2 matches. Fed seems stronger than he's been in over a year. Roger also has the advantage of an effortless QF win, a 3 set Semi win, and an extra day of rest. If Rafa can recover from a long match in the short time he has, it promises to be one of the greatest Slam finals of all time! Maybe better than Wimbledon 08! First HC Slam title for Rafa or tying the record of 14 GS titles and avenging Wimby's loss for Roger? I cannot wait for the stellar tennis to unfold and reveal the answer!

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 03:30 PM

The first set is key for Federer. If he comes out in imperious form then it's all over for Nadal. If he comes out in Wimbledon 2008 form, spraying his forehand everywhere it will be another 5 setter.

Posted by jpark 01/30/2009 at 03:31 PM

"Any of you Nadal fans who aren't air-kissing your beloved Federer fans are ingrates; you Federer fans who aren't sacrificing furry little animals before Nike posters of Nadal are clueless. It's about time y'all realized that nothing in sports is better than a great rivalry..."

Like that part Pete. Honestly, Fed and Nadal KADs are quite fine on this forum (save for Tigerlady(?) or whoever that is). It's the folks over at the mothership that are pretty extreme. Let's just say a LOT of comments at RF.com have me hoping that Roger never reads them.

Posted by puran (Lurker Emeritus) 01/30/2009 at 03:31 PM

This is a topic Mr. Bodo has touched upon in the past as well. I agree, without Nadal, Federer might have been looked upon in the past as having mastered over a weakened field. This is what Fed's recent remark during one of the AO pressers relates to, I think.

In addition, Nadal very much has the chance to become the GOAT. His serve is very much a potent weapon now, which automatically makes him a threat in future USO/AO. Wimbledon he has already won, and the lead up to last year's Wimbly suggests he is going to be a strong contender for that as well. The RG is of course his domain, and no challengers there.

Thus, provided he remains injury free, over the post-Fed 20 majors(Nadal is 5 years younger than Fed), Nadal could easily end up winning 10(4 RG, 2 each of the rest--not a stretch) or so of them. I am very much inclined to go out on a limb and predict Nadal as the GOAT, if someone can assure me he will remain injury free.

Posted by Grant 01/30/2009 at 03:33 PM

"The worst nightmare as a FedKAD is that this match turns into the launching pad for Nadal's GOAT career and Fed's goes down in flames."

Really? Because my worst nightmare involves a freak accident that cuts Fed's career short. I guess I didn't sign on as a fan because of some need to cheer for records being broken and for my guy being the BESTEREST EVERS but instead because I like Fed and enjoy watching him play :/

Posted by Lousy hacker with awefule shots 01/30/2009 at 03:33 PM

jpark- I would also like to point out that in 5 HC meetings, Fed only has the margin by 3-2. I would also like to point out that the 2 HC matches that Rafa beat Fed were in the early part of the season, while Fed's victories came near the end and at the end of the season. If Rafa is going to beat Fed in a HC GS, it's going to be the AO and much less likely the USO. Both players fresh, I would bet on Nadal. As it is, I'd take my $100 and put $51 on Roger with $49 on Rafa... :)

Posted by puran (Lurker Emeritus) 01/30/2009 at 03:33 PM

"looked back upon in the future", I guess that's what I meant.

Posted by casually interested 01/30/2009 at 03:33 PM

I agree. I did not want this match-up. I don't care for Nadal at all. He has stopped Roger from a lot of records and streaks - countless finals wins in row (Nadal stopped that), winning French Open at least twice, breaking Borg's record at Wimbledon and of snatching his no. 1 rank.I hated their match at Wimbledon last year because Nadal is now firmly in Roger's head. Will he allow him stop him from tieing Pete's slam record at least for the meantime? No, I did not want this match-up AT ALL!!

Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 03:33 PM

Has Rafa ever missed an overhead?

Posted by Rob 01/30/2009 at 03:34 PM

Nadal needs to start owning Fed on hard courts before we can make any broad-based statements about "owning."

IF (a big if given Nadal's long match and limited recupe time) Nadal pulls this one out, then I'll start to be a believer. BUT I expect Fed to win in straights ... and then everyone will be saying how great Fed is, the GOAT, etc.

A fickle place, the tennis fan's world.

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 03:35 PM

>If he wins the AO he has the best chance to turn in the calendar slam of anyone since Rod Laver

You mean of anyone since Roger Federer.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 03:35 PM

casually - actually it was Nalbandian who stopped Roger's 24 finals in a row back at the 2005 YEC final.

Posted by Christopher 01/30/2009 at 03:36 PM

Much as I hate the GOAT debate, I don't think there's a problem with having one guy who gives you so much trouble. Now if Nadal and Fed end up with a similar number of slams, that's another story.

I always remembered that Wilander quote, Pete, but I thought it went something more like "Could Federer be the best of all time if he's not the best in his time?" Somehow that seems to be a better question.

Posted by Ryan 01/30/2009 at 03:37 PM

whoa, fedfan. ugh.

Posted by Beckham 01/30/2009 at 03:37 PM

Pete, it's basically matchups, the spinning FH to the Fed's BH gives him serious problems and so far he hasn't found an answer to it yet. And probably never will. And he did get masaccred at the FO F last year. So there's that.

I don't know why people keeping saying how great this rivalry is, for my money they haven't exactly played any "great" matches the clay ones are all blahhh, the HC ones just as mehhh, the grass ones were just as bad, save for last year, which I still don't think is the greatest match ever played, but everyone has their own meaning of the word...when it comes to point construction and playing on a high level the whole match...Safin/Fed 2005 SF Oz beats it hands down...but that's just me...which is why Nalby/Federer is still my all time favourite matchup whether the Fed wins or loses, the endless spinning FH to the Fed's BH is just tedious and boring to me, but hey, why stop a winning strategy, no???

And No, not everyone needs to agree with me...and I also know it's not that simple, but when you come to the crux of the matter that's it...It's not weapon to weapon ala Fed/Nalby (Fed's FH against Nalby's BH) it's more like weapon to weakness ( Rafa's FH against Fed's weakness)...which is why there's always a high amount of UFE's no matter how well/bad the Fed is playing...

Posted by jpark 01/30/2009 at 03:37 PM

casually interested: I feel sorry for you more than anything else. To not be able to appreciate this rivalry and both players.

Posted by kudosrafa 01/30/2009 at 03:38 PM

rafa has just been amazing in the amount he has improved over the years. i recall a time when people were saying that he could only play clay but that's clearly been disproved. i really love his mindset, where he never gives up. such an inspiring person. i think that this rivalry has been great for the sport, and as a die hard novak fan when choosing btwn roger and rafa, i would just love for rafa to win. to me he's probably the most mature, composed and dedicated player on tour and we all have to greatly respect that.

Posted by puran (Lurker Emeritus) 01/30/2009 at 03:38 PM

@Sher,
well, Roger hasn't won the RG.

Posted by Divesh 01/30/2009 at 03:38 PM

I have a gut feeling that Nadal will recover by Sunday night and crack that hard court title he has always wanted.

Posted by Ryan 01/30/2009 at 03:39 PM

Christopher--Federer is the best of his time. He just happens to match up poorly against the 2nd best player of his time. If Nadal were the best of his time, he'd win every tournament in sight 4 years in a row--and I guess he could. We'll just have to see!

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 03:39 PM

Very simple - if Fed loses this match he's 2-6 against Nadal in grand slams and he is NOT the best of his time. It will give credence to those who have called him a "transitional champ".

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 03:42 PM

Roger Federer can't play tennis on his own, he needs an opposing partner. As does Rafael, who has pushed himself to improve so he can be an equal on the court. This fact is never as evident as now that we are heading for the first hard court final between these two.

I wanted this final from the begining, regardless of the outcome. Obviously, I'm rooting like crazy for Roger.

But, Pete, despite the b*tching going on in the previous posts, I think you'd be surprised by how many fans like both players.

Posted by Lousy hacker with aweful shots 01/30/2009 at 03:43 PM

FedFan-2007: Even if Fed loses, He is the best of his time-237 weeks at #1 is better than anyone else has ever done and cannot be disputed. Fed will beat Pete's 14GS titles; he's got at least 3 years of damn good tennis left in him, if not more. The only question at this point is if Rafa continues to improve, how many Grand Slams will he win? 18? 20?

Posted by Ryan 01/30/2009 at 03:43 PM

FWIW, I like Roger in 4, maaaaybe 3 on Sunday, but I can't wait to watch.

Fedfan, you don't really seem like much of a fedfan! His accomplishments are not in vain.

Posted by puran (Lurker Emeritus) 01/30/2009 at 03:43 PM

> "he's probably the most mature, composed and dedicated player on tour"
Great point kudosrafa. I am a Fed fan, and did not like Nadal at all, until the last RG blowout. Nadal's humility and composure has won me over, and now if Fed is out of a tournament, I would support Nadal.
Nadal's comments are always humble and measured, on the other hand sometimes I find Fed's comments a bit churlish. Wish it weren't so.

Posted by randomlurker 01/30/2009 at 03:44 PM

Beckham- I guess you didn't watch the same Wimbledon final I did if all you say was: serve, forehand to backhand, backhand to forehand, error. Rinse, repeat.
This may be blunt, but could it be you prefer Safin/Federer is because Safin never did anything close to decent after that win and Nalbandian will be a constant threat either?
And if it really is all about forehand to backhand, why doesn't everyone else just camp out at the center hashmark and hit to Roger's backhand all day? Roddick? Djokovic? other?

Posted by puran (Lurker Emeritus) 01/30/2009 at 03:45 PM

BTW, is this the CC?

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 03:45 PM

puran, ah I meant the phrasing...but whatever :) I don't believe in The GOAT.

Posted by shawnbm 01/30/2009 at 03:46 PM

If Rafa had been good enough to reach as many hard court slam finals as Federer did clay court slam finals, we may have an even head-to-head in grand slam finals between the two, but that is the way it goes. Kudos to both.

Posted by federerfan 01/30/2009 at 03:46 PM

my worst nightmare is fed coming in and doesn't play anything like his best and starts shanking forehands. Ofcourse, if he doesnt and gets spanked, he deserves it.
But rafa being rafa, i dont think ever came to RG finals not at his best and we saw what happens then and where fed measures.
I want to see the same, how does rafa measure against a inform fed on hards in a major final in a best of 5?
Fed has been good for the few matches but the big question for me is will he bring it, then i will have no qualms absolutely whatsoever, no matter what happens.
Even if rafa beats him in every pt and wins in straights bagelling the fed.

Posted by puran (Lurker Emeritus) 01/30/2009 at 03:46 PM

@Sher,
ah!

Posted by Grant 01/30/2009 at 03:46 PM

Lets say we were to change the rules of Rock-Paper-Scissors by adding Toddler. Scissors cut Paper, Toddler flushes Scissors, Paper covers Rock. Rock beats Paper and Toddler.

I'll give you time to think about it...

Oh hey wow it's possible to have a bad matchup and still be the best against the field, that was tough.

Posted by randomlurker 01/30/2009 at 03:47 PM

I meant to say "Nalbandian WON'T be a constant threat either"

Posted by rooruffneck 01/30/2009 at 03:47 PM

great point! The GOAT has nothing to do with being unbeatable. There are so many odd assumptions that come up with this topic. If there was a player who hardly ever lost a point, won three grandslams in a row but couldn't beat this one player....the GOATness of his play would be obvious- yes, very odd that he's so weak against one player. .....

Federer might not be the GOAT, but it's hard to argue against him once you've cleared the arguement of all the twisted little presumptions that clog up the conversation: If Nadal (i LOVE him) didn't exist and Fed did a couple of calander grandslams, it would be obvious in a way that it isn't when you stop remembering that undoubtedly Fed has been the second best clay court player in the world for a long spell now. But non of this matters. It's just fun.

Posted by federerfan 01/30/2009 at 03:48 PM

Pete : good post but you know, we always have to crib, so heres mine.
Why did it have to be a pic of evert holding up the trophy and martina with second place? I cant help but feel that martina is fed and evert is rafa in your comparisons later on.

Like i said, we always crib! :)

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 03:48 PM

This rivalry is neither a good, nor a beautiful one. To qualify as a rivalry, both players should produce the best of one another. I think to Agassi-Sampras, USO 1995 or 2002. Displays of brilliance. What did the Fed-Nadal rivalry bring to tennis, apart some treats for the number-obsessed fans who judge tennis champions by their stats ? Mind-numbing displays of relentless topspin duels which invariably end (in RG at least) with Federer unraveling. The matches between them are, in a word, tedious, tense, superfluous, and absolutely devoid of that exhilarating atmosphere which marks the truly historic matches. Federer-Nalbandian matches are symphonies, Federer-Nadal like endless repetitions of the same theme. I don't see how you can enjoy that.

Posted by Grant 01/30/2009 at 03:48 PM

Oops, I meant rock beats scissors.

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 03:49 PM

One difference between the rivalries of Evert-Navratilova and Sampras-Agassi compared to Nadal and Federer is that the former two"pairs" were each less than two years apart in age, whereas Nadal and Federer are five years apart.

Federer hasn't always had to deal with Nadal to get his GS titles (in fact, twice out of 13), but Nadal has always had to go through Federer (5 out of 5).

Because of their different surface strengths, I've tended to think of the Nadal-Federer rivalry as fairly unbalanced. Because of the way the stats work, I don't think it's unfair to ask the question - who validates the other's GS record more? Federer got to a number of finals that Nadal didn't, and won some before he was even seriously on the scene.

This week will in fact mark the first time the two have ever met in a hardcourt Slam.

Posted by jpark 01/30/2009 at 03:50 PM

"If Rafa had been good enough to reach as many hard court slam finals as Federer did clay court slam finals, we may have an even head-to-head in grand slam finals between the two."

We are about to get that answer on Sunday. Their hc record overall is afterall 3-2 in Fed's favor. Rafa made several hardcourt finals last year and Fed was the one not meeting up in the final. So this is the 1st one at a grand slam- this should answer the question.

Posted by Contracturado. 01/30/2009 at 03:51 PM

3 classics:

2006 Rome F; 2007 Wimby F; 2008 Wimby F

Posted by federerfan 01/30/2009 at 03:51 PM

or we could end the GOAT debate taking Rafa's word for it and assuming Roger is in agreement, since he has not countered it!
Just saying :)

Posted by Contracturado. 01/30/2009 at 03:53 PM

As "The Ring" would put it:

2006 fight of the year: Rome Final

2007 fight of the year: Wimbledon Final

2998 fight of the year: Wimbledon Final

Posted by jpark 01/30/2009 at 03:54 PM

federerfan: I was just about to bring that up! I was going to say Rafa says Roger is the GOAT, so that's that.

Posted by the measure of greatness 01/30/2009 at 03:54 PM

the debate for the GOAT Is pretty stupid in my opinion. i dont think a person needs to be labeled as the GOAT; it is just important for us to give credit to each of the players for their wonderful achievements. as far as rafa and fed go, i see no one as better, i just find it so intriguing how they manage to keep up such a high standard of play. it's remarkable!
as for rafa, i love how he never gives up and always gives it his all. He works so hard, and never seems to let any point slip. Add incredible fitness and powerful weapons, and you've got yourself a remarkable player. in my opinion no one deserves this title more, if only because of his resilience whenever faced with danger on the court.
when he was playing roger at Wimbledon, and was up 2 sets to love, he looked like he was going to be smooth sailing after that. but it was clearly not that easy. at the 5th set, after losing 2 more sets against roger, my uncle said: "I guess he's just going to have to accept that he wasn't destined to win this title. watch! point after point as magnificent as rafa plays, roger replies."
If rafa had thought to himself, "this is over. i am tired. there is nothing more I can do" then he would never have been able to take that title. 9-7 in the fifth and rafa never gave up. i think thats the reason why i respect him so much. you rarely find that kind of character anywhere.

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 03:55 PM

It seems as if some people are taking match duration, number of games played, and circumstances, as an objective way to measure the quality of a match. You get the impression they don't watch the match themselves, they just wait till the end and then run to their Excel spreadsheets.

Posted by 01/30/2009 at 03:56 PM

"Nadal needs to start owning Fed on hard courts before we can make any broad-based statements about "owning."

IF (a big if given Nadal's long match and limited recupe time) Nadal pulls this one out, then I'll start to be a believer. BUT I expect Fed to win in straights ... and then everyone will be saying how great Fed is, the GOAT, etc.

A fickle place, the tennis fan's world."


This is completely true. I also agree Fed in straight sets. Rafa has a weak hard court game (well disguised) and Fed is going to show us just that.

Posted by Chris 01/30/2009 at 03:57 PM

Excellent article! I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Nadal fan, but I still want to see him play Federer in the final of every major (even if he's going to lose some), and I truly want to see Federer break Pete Sampras' grand slam record. In fact, at the times during the match that I was sure Nadal would lose to Verdasco, I consoled myself by thinking that I could fully root for Federer in the final. It amazes me that anyone's admiration for either of these players would lead them to dislike the other. They're both such amazingly talented and classy people. You only have to look at Andy Roddick's behavior in the semifinals to realize how true that is.

Posted by Rob 01/30/2009 at 03:57 PM

Jpark - this would only answer the question if both players were fresh ... w/ reasonably similar recupe time. NOT SO - there is no way Rafa will be 100% after 5+ hours and 1/2 of Fed's recovery time.

Conversely, Rafa winning will prove more, for the same reasons above.

Posted by Contracturado. 01/30/2009 at 03:57 PM

The fight of the year has to be dramatic.

Look up "The Ring"

Posted by Beckham 01/30/2009 at 03:58 PM

Random lurker: to qualify as a great rivalry both players should bring out the best in each other...and Fed KAD or not Rafa does not bring out the best in the Fed...spinny FHs that lead to BH shanks and errors, I think we will both agree is not the best of Fed...all credit to Rafa, it's a winning strategy, will always be one, why stop, no???

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 03:59 PM

"Jpark - this would only answer the question if both players were fresh ... w/ reasonably similar recupe time. NOT SO - there is no way Rafa will be 100% after 5+ hours and 1/2 of Fed's recovery time.

Conversely, Rafa winning will prove more, for the same reasons above."

A clever move, starting already with the excuses before the match has even begun. Did you know Nadal played every day for six months last year without even showing signs of fatigue ?

Posted by Peter Dobo 01/30/2009 at 03:59 PM

By way of explanation, we were separated at birth.

Ross, great question, and that says it all. One of the reasons I love Rafa.

I used to rate Rafa a 9 and Fed a 10 (emotional rating and respect). Now I rate Fed an 11 and Rafa 11.5, give or take a tenth.

That is to say, this rivalry is the greatest ever, anywhere, in any endeavor, because of who these men are and how they play. The other rivalries pictured are like a good hamburger with catsup compared to Kobe beef with an opium reduction sauce (Rog and Rafa).

In world gone completely insane, where the least honorable and most arrogant of us have insinuated themselves to be in charge of virtually all money and government, pretty much worldwide - these guys show, in so many ways, what the artful, athletic, decent, hardworking and humble side of humanity has to offer. Humility in the face of staggeringly extraordinary accomplishment, which is the opposite pole to what we generally see among the glitterati worldwide.

With regard to whether athletes ought or ought not to express political ideas, they can do what they want. I'll simply plug my ears, like Bodo. Rafa and Rog are, once again, your models in that department.

Enjoy the final, by Jove. Clash of the Titans, part XXI.

Posted by Ryan 01/30/2009 at 03:59 PM

federerfan--well, Chrissie was the claycourter! :P

Posted by randomlurker 01/30/2009 at 04:00 PM

Pete's post was never meant to re-hash the GOAT debate. Let's just settle this already. Fed is the GOAT. 13 slams to Rafa's 5- hey even Rafa says that.
This post was meant to appreciate the rivalry. I thought even if we didn't have the same favorite, EVERYONE would agree it's the greatest rivalry in sports. But I am shocked to find that not all agree on it. To each their own.

As for the final- it's early in the season and he has lots to play for so I do think Rafa will recover. I have absolutely no idea who will win. If I had to put money on it, I'd say Fed in 4.

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 04:04 PM

Besides, I watched the SF Nadal-Verdasco, and I do feel sorry for Fernando. Such a shame, playing such beautiful, aggressive tennis and being outlasted by dogged defense. This match almost made me ill.

Posted by daryl 01/30/2009 at 04:04 PM

"Martina air some vaguely political grievance, have I rolled my eyes, murmuring, . . Oh, please, Martina. Spare me."
Petie, you get wackier and wackier the more you write, and the more I read.

Posted by Rob 01/30/2009 at 04:04 PM

Vincent - Excuses? Not at all. My point is valid: Rafa will not be 100%. I can't imagine it's physically possible to recuperate from such a match so quickly.

AND even if both were fresh, I'd pick Fed in four sets based on his form.

Sheesh.

Posted by randomlurker 01/30/2009 at 04:05 PM

"to qualify as a great rivalry both players should bring out the best in each other...and Fed KAD or not Rafa does not bring out the best in the Fed"

Beckham- So when you say that Rafa brings out the weaknesses in Fed therefore it is not a great rivarly, you are actually complimenting Rafa in the best way! Fed either has not brought his best or not been allowed to bring his best therefore this is not a rivalry on the level of McEnroe-Borg who were 7-7 rather it is not a rivarly because the lopsided-ness similar to Roddick-Federer.

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 04:05 PM

"Rafa has a weak hard court game (well disguised)".

So well disguised that in 2008 on HC he won the Olympic medal, won the Toronto Masters, got to two HC Slam semis for the first time, and collected more ranking points on the surface than any other player.

I guess there are plenty of "hardcourt specialists" (the most prolific category of players on the tour) who would like their own "weak hard court games" to be that well disguised.

Posted by Lousy Hacker with aweful shots 01/30/2009 at 04:07 PM

"Rafa has a weak hard court game (well disguised) and Fed is going to show us just that."

Weak enough last year to win the Gold Medal, a masters tournament, make it to the AO and USO semi's, Miami Masters Final, and the finals in the AO this year... Yeah, that's pretty weak.

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 04:07 PM

"Vincent - Excuses? Not at all. My point is valid: Rafa will not be 100%. I can't imagine it's physically possible to recuperate from such a match so quickly.

AND even if both were fresh, I'd pick Fed in four sets based on his form.

Sheesh."

Yes. You can't imagine. Like last year noone could imagine Nadal would manage winning MC, Barcelone, Rome, RG, Queens, and Wimbledon in a row. In fact, it's been three years Nadal has done the unimaginable. Time to update, no ?

Posted by Kiwi 01/30/2009 at 04:07 PM

Great piece Pete that I think is so true. I admit I am a Nadal fan but more due to his attitude towards the competition. You can't help but admire the courage dicipline and belief it must have taken to improve so many aspects of his game so quickly that he can now compete on all surfaces. So many people have said it couldn't be done but he just doesn't give up.

Nadal could be a champion in many sports, it was just tennis that he chose. Where as with TMF you feel that tennis chose him, he has a girft for the game that is so effortless you have to appreciate his talent and his achievements.

I realise this is probably entirely wrong but that is why I love to see these two compete against each other. They are both fair honest talented individuals, but coming into the battle with two very different approaches. The born artist versus the competitor.

I hope the final will be as epic as wimbledon but I would like to see Nadal come out on top, largley to loose the tag that he can't play on hard courts but also because it is always encouraging to see hard work can pay dividens if you want it badly enough.

A great rivalry - absolutely.

Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 04:07 PM

I think that that degree of importance placed on Roger-Rafa h2h is a bit much, considering Nadal, up till this year, has never made it to a HC slam final, while Roger met him on clay each and every single time since Rafa emerged as a force on tour.

Every slam Final Rafa showed up to (except RG 05, I guess), Roger was there waiting for him, but that's not true for Roger, Rafa failed to show up for the HC slams - I dare say that it would have changed the h2h a little bit, and make it less lopsided.

I just find it absurd that Roger is being 'punished' for making it to clay finals on a constant basis for the past 3 year.

We'll see what happens Sunday, but I'm pretty sure Roger would take 14 home with him, his form was good enough, IMHO.

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 04:08 PM

Correction. Nadal hasn't a weak hardcourt game. Nadal has an ugly hardcourt game.

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 04:10 PM

Beckham, I'm curious, do you think you might like Federer-Murray better as a rivalry?

Posted by 01/30/2009 at 04:10 PM

***aggressive tennis and being outlasted by dogged defense***

Ah! That darn defense isn't it! Such a backward, low-class way of playing isn't it? If you're so against good defense now and then what do you think wins Roger his matches against the guy with the biggest serve in the game? His returns, his defense.
And let it be known that most of the points in the Verdasco/Nadal match ended with winners even after a supreme display of defense.

Posted by Jake Ian 01/30/2009 at 04:10 PM

Another interesting parallel between Navratilova and Evert: Evert was (pretty much) the dominating No. 1 from 1974-1981, then Navratilova turned-on the muscle and started beating the proud Evert like a bongo-drum. She put a huge mental, physical, and strategic juju on Evert.

Navratilova took the No. 1 ranking from her, spanked her 13 consecutive times, and nobody but NOBODY thought that Evert (the ~clear-cut~ World no. 2) would ever so much as beat Navratilova in a match again. She even butchered Evert on Evert's all-time great surface: clay--a 6-3 6-1 bashing in the French Open 1984 final.

WHULL...Hold on, kiddies. Evert, through sheer grit and God-knows-what sort of demonic psycho-persistence that lived in that woman's head, developed a stronger baseline game and a real netward approach.

She beat Martina in a classic French Open 3-set final in 1985 and, if that weren't astonishing enough, Evert (three years older than Navratilova) reclaimed the No. 1 ranking for a large portion of the year in doing so.

No one saw THAT coming. She beat Navratilova the next year in Paris, as well, even though Navratilova steered-through to regain hold of No. 1 by then.

Moral of the story: Federer is hardly to be counted-out. Ever. Or is that "Ever[t]"?

Funny--Federer has the sheer addiction to winning that Evert possessed, with the stunningly natural all-court shotmaking talent of Navratilova.

Nadal has the greater physical strength and imposing leftiness of Navratilova, with the metronomic grind-from-the-line and thread-the-needle grit of Evert.

A really good comparison, in many (but certainly not all) respects, these two rivalries. Good call, Pete.

Posted by Jackie 01/30/2009 at 04:12 PM

Thank you, Or!

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 04:12 PM

Or: part of my point (and only part) is that Rafa is a lot younger in tennis terms - he couldn't have been expected to turn up in all of the HC finals that Federer has been in. Part of the reason why this "rivalry" is unbalanced.

Posted by Rob 01/30/2009 at 04:12 PM

Vincent - Try posting something positive. Bitter doesn't suit you or this forum very well.

-

Signing off and looking forward to the final - Big kudos to Roger and Rafa for being great champions. We tennis fans are blessed!

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 04:12 PM

** Ah! That darn defense isn't it! Such a backward, low-class way of playing isn't it ***

Correction. Such an ugly way of playing.

Posted by Beckham 01/30/2009 at 04:12 PM

Random lurker: you can twist my words, however way you want, I don't think I said Rafa was a terrible player but until this matchup/rivalry actually plays where both bring their best weapons FH to FH, it doesn't fit my definition of the greatest rivalry going in sports...Roddick/Fed doesn't fit as a rivalry for the exact same reason it's strengths against weaknesses, the Fed's FH exposes Andy's movement and net game, I'm hoping Muzzah can be that against Fed, but it's probably never going to happen, as the Fed is what 6 years older than him??? By the time Muzzah is developed enough, the Fed will be too "old"...I've given up hope on Nalby (no offense to the Nalby fans), I used to be so optimistic...le sigh...

Posted by Ronin 01/30/2009 at 04:13 PM

You guys need to remember that when Rafa took Wimbledon & the #1 spot away from Federer, he was recovering from his bout with mono. Given that Roger made it through 3 of 4 Grand Slam finals, won 1 and made it through all 4 GS semi-finals is something to say for itself. The guy was sick for crying out loud and he still made it that far. Rafa did deserve where he is today though, he wasn't lucky but he worked his butt off and improved like crazy but I think we gotta give Roger kudos for what he accomplished last year despite his health issues. After watching him systematically dismantle Roddick I just have one thing to say: He's baaaaaaaaaaaaack! The mack daddy of all tennis his in the house!

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 04:13 PM

Or, word on your 4:07!

Posted by jpark 01/30/2009 at 04:13 PM

Or- That's a fact, no getting around it. They've met on clay more often. But their hc record is only 3-2. Not the larest margin. Rafa was in the Miami, Toronto, Olympic finals last year. Roger was not. Foes both ways so we'll see Sunday won't we?

Posted by Maha (No. 14 is almost here!!!!!!!!!!) 01/30/2009 at 04:13 PM

OMG lovely post!!!!! It's true... there rivalry HAS given us all SOOO much more to appreciate in tennis.... whether we be Rafa KADs or Fedadorers.

GO ROGER!!!!!!!!!! Make HISTORY!!!!!!!

Posted by Tigress (Lucky 13) 01/30/2009 at 04:15 PM

Pete, what you say is so true. Federer-Nadal G.S. finals are historic occasions, and we should feel so fortunate and savor each one that comes our way. Borg and McEnroe met 4 times and never again after 1981. Any of these could be the last ever. But let's hope there are many more. I'm hoping for two more this year, at Wimbledon and USO. Hoping for a Fed-Djokovic final at the French Open.

Pete, you know very well that the 6-12 h2h is deceptive, because it includes 9-1 Rafa on clay (and 3-0 in clay G.S. Finals). Finally, we get a GS final on Roger's "homecourt" -- hardcourt surface. Wimbledon has become neutral due to Rafa's improved prowess on grass and the made-for-Rafa slowed down surface.

Actually, I'll concede it's the second on Roger's "homecourt", after the '06 Wimbledon final. So of the seven GS finals they'll have played, Rafa will still have the 'homecourt' advantage by 3-2-2.

Posted by Lousy hacker iwth aweful shots 01/30/2009 at 04:16 PM

" Nadal has an ugly hardcourt game."

Vincent - You make me want to see Roger lose the AO just to shut you up, and that makes me very sad and disappointed in myself.

Posted by clolob 01/30/2009 at 04:17 PM

you can "own" my ass!!!

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 04:17 PM

By the way, isn't it oddly appropriate that Rod Laver will be watching this final?

Posted by Grant 01/30/2009 at 04:17 PM

"I would like to see Nadal come out on top, largley to loose the tag that he can't play on hard courts"

Believe me, the tag is gone. People who don't realize that Rafa is a terrific all-court player are either not paying attention or lying to themselves. And even if he wins, there will still be a few people trying to discredit or lessen his accomplishments. That's how these things work, I'm afraid.

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 04:18 PM

Problem is, Lousy hacker, Roger lost Wimby 08, and I'm still there ;-).

Posted by Contracturado. 01/30/2009 at 04:19 PM

the number of slams won don't tell you the whole story:

Had Johhny Mac known that he'll be remember only by his three wimbys and four US opens he would have tried a lot harder to grasp an Australian Open. Same goes for Connors. Lendl and Jimbo held the nunber one ranking for an insanely amount of time.

I wonder if the WCT was consider a bigger tournament than the AO back in its day.

What about Muster? he won a awfull lot of tourneys in clay, is he only remembered on account of his 1995 RG win?

Posted by Beckham 01/30/2009 at 04:19 PM

Sher: I wish Muzzah had developed "faster," even when the Fed is losing and it's frazzling as hail, you can just see the cat and mouse game they are playing with each other, so refreshing as opposed to the tedious FH to BH rallies, unfortunately and hopefully, when Muzzah is taking no prisoners, the Fed will be too "old" in tennis years, though the Fed says he's going to stick around, I look forward to more Muzzah matchups...

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 04:20 PM

A better, more accurate formulation than "Rafa can play on hardcourts" would be "Rafa can win on hardcourts". There's a tiny difference.

Posted by 01/30/2009 at 04:20 PM

And Vilas? he was a better clay court player than a mere RG triumph suggests.

Posted by jpark 01/30/2009 at 04:21 PM

*goes* both ways, not 'foes'!

Whoa, this is getting ugly here. Well, I for one like this rivalry. It's up there with the best. Both have the utmost respect for each other and are gracious in defeat and humble in victory. May we see many more slam finals with these two. For what it's worth I think Roger is the GOAT. He's going to win 18(+/- a couple)and until someone beats that number there's no argument.

Posted by Contracturado. 01/30/2009 at 04:22 PM

It was Sampras surpassing Emerson's mark that causes that false historical perspective.

Posted by Beckham 01/30/2009 at 04:27 PM

Sher: not really, it's even more frazzling, the last time a great was present for the Fed tying a record he nearly lost and had his now infamous meltdown against hawkeye, I would not like to tempt faith a second time, left to me Laver and Sampras should both stay at home...lol

Posted by Lousy Hacker with Aweful shots 01/30/2009 at 04:28 PM

Wouldn't it be terrible if Rafa's "ugly" HC game is good enough to keep Roger from winning another HC slam? Might end his total at 13...

Posted by crazyone 01/30/2009 at 04:29 PM

Hey guys, thanks for your responses. I don't quite think Nadal is the analog of Wayne Ferreira though. I agree with most of your points but at the same time there's part of me that feels that the anointing of Federer as "probably the best of all time" when he hasn't "solved" the riddle (not necessarily winning all the time, but making the rivalry less, not more lopsided over time) of Nadal. Nothing can take away the fact that Federer is the ultimate combination of style+success, though...

And Sher, if Nadal is healthy I do expect him to take the French Open this year, which would mean that if he were to win the Australian, he would go farther than Fed did in terms of getting the calendar slam...(actually, Wilander also got the AO+FO...), but obviously Federer was quite close to taking 4 in a row :)

Posted by Corrie 01/30/2009 at 04:31 PM

I think Nadal has a huge advantage these days in that all the court surfaces except the US Open are so slow. I doubt that Sampras, if he was playing in this era, would ever get to 14 majors. I know you can't compare eras, but the slow uniform nature of courts these days does advantage Nadal. No-one ever seems to mention this.

I try very hard to like and admire Nadal because I hate the bigotry and nastyness of both lots of extremist fans. But his time wasting tricks on court put me off, and he even got a warning for coaching during this match. As part of my campaign to like him, I had thought he was growing beyond that - so it's back to square 1.

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