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Pebble in the Shoe 05/04/2009 - 4:37 PM

by Pete Bodo

At some point, the superlatives fail you, and just putting them down on paper makes you feel like a phony because they're not supposed to roll off your tongue (or fingertips) left and right. They're called "superlatives" for a reason - and dispensing them as if they were gummy bears seem, well, contrary to the whole notion of the superlative. So what am I going to say about Rafael Nadal, now that he's won his fourth Italian Open, and pulled ahead of all those other legendary players who once trod the golden clay of the Foro Italico?

Just this: Nadal might make us re-think how we view tennis history, and our collective baseline for greatness. That's what I found myself thinking this morning, trying to digest the full meaning of the news that Rafael Nadal had just won his third clay-court tournament in as many weeks, and bagged his 15th Masters Series title, moving ahead of Roger Federer - and just two titles shy of Andre Agassi's record 17 wins in those blue-chip events. All this, at age 22.

Rafa A few years ago, I wrote a post noting the odd (and counter-intuitive) way tennis in the Open era keeps churning out players who are are instantly hailed as unique talents of unprecedented dimensions, or once-in-a-lifetime grade champions. The claims hold water only if the "lifetime" in question is that of a dachshund. In my own career, I've seen half-a-dozen players singled out as potentially "the greatest," only to have someone come along in their own time to show the boast premature.

As I got my bearings in the game, I came to the realization that everybody can't be the greatest, ever. Some of this talk was just hype, some of it just an outpouring of enthusiasm. But there was also this uncomfortable disconnect at the bottom of it all: how could the game be that much "tougher," the standard so much higher, and the the players so much better when tennis keeps producing players who dominate, and accumulate major titles at a clip that puts many of their talented forebears to shame?

Pondering this, I came to one conclusion: the magic number that separates the top dogs from the not-quite-great is seven. If you've bagged seven or more majors, you're right there in the first rank with the best players ever, and whomever the GOAT is. Check out the theory; I'm pretty confident it's useful.

The other issue I resolved in my mind has to do with players of historic importance who did not get to play in the Open era. Our standard of judgment might be very different if, say, Pancho Gonzales had been able to play all the majors through the best years of his career. By refusing to allow professionals to compete at the Grand Slam (or other ITF sanctioned) events, the tennis establishment ensured that we would never have a truly accurate picture of the game's past, or establish a self-evident baseline for greatness. Hail, Pancho Gonzales, with his great grass-court game, might have won 20 or more majors (remember, he wa a force on the tour into his 40s) in that period with three of the four majors were on grass. How would we feel about Sampras, Laver, or Federer then? And how about Laver, the onlhy player ever to record two Grand Slams, one each in pre-history (the amateur era) and the Open era.

It's just something to think about. Anyway,Bjorn Borg had the entire world spellbound and lying on its back with four paws in the air until John McEnroe suddenly came along. Pete Sampras made us forget McEnroe (as well as McEnroe's own nemesis, Ivan Lendl), but then along came Roger Federer, piling up Grand Slam singles titles so fast that at one time, a fan could predict that Federer would wind up with 20 majors and not get laughed out of the room.

And then came Nadal, to perform one of the most visceral and graphic reputation demolitions we've ever seen. The Nadal vs. Roger Federer rivalry started as a charming pas de deux, danced out on clay (where Nadal led) and grass (where Federer led) with great discretion, politesse, and a ritual formality that did not challenge the status quo - that is, the notion that Federer was safely advancing toward GOAT-hood. Oh, Nadal might be remembered as the "go figure" guy - the exotic dude with the crazy strokes who just happened to present Federer with problems no other player could articulate. Sheesh, Roger lost that semifinal at Roland Garros to that kid Nadal, with the clamdiggers and ugly strokes. . .Go figure.

This theme was simple: Nadal was the pebble in Federer's shoe - more of an irritant than threat. And it was a good thing that Federer had some push-back from him, because you wouldn't want the prospective GOAT's journey to be too easy. So what if Nadal's  prowess on clay, even two, three years ago, made a powerful statement about Federer's mortality? Sampras never won the French either, and many pundits felt that his collection of 14 major singles titles wiped out whatever caveat his failings at Roland Garros suggested. So let's say Roger never wins Roland Garros, but ends up with 16, 18 majors. . . surely he has to be the GOAT, right?

Right. Or is it? Over the past year, the pebble in the shoe has become the boulder on the chest. Maybe it's just me, but everything Nadal has accomplished in the past 12 months has seemed just as relevant to, and a comment on, Federer's quest for Goathood. It all goes back to the perceptive line Mats Wilander dropped at the U.S. Open of 2007: How can a guy be considered the greatest player ever if there's a guy he can't beat in his own era?

Almost everything Nadal has done since I first published that remark (I paraphrased it here, but it's very close to the original) has underscored the oxymoron at the heart of this rivalry. Nadal's success couldn't be more damaging to Federer's case if the express purpose of Nadal's existence were to besmirch Federer. That realization has helped me understand why fans are so polarized when it comes to this rivalry, and it's made me question if this really is a "rivalry" at all. Rivalries usually involve two parties who are more or less equal; this rivalry has never quite conformed to that model, at any number of levels, including the head-to-head (in which Nadal has a disproportionate lead, 13-6).

Up to this point, I haven't thought of Federer vs.Nadal as a rivalry as much as a chase - the saga of the upstart Nadal trying to lift his game sufficiently to catch Federer. It only became a rivalry last summer, when Nadal proved that he could take the measure of Federer on a surface other than clay. Those last two majors in which the men met in the finals represented major no. 14 and 15 for Federer. Is there a more telling fact when it comes to the dynamics of this rivalry? I hope this isn't the case, but this rivalry might be less about two stars on a parallel track than two trajectories - one rising, one falling - that happen to coincide for a few brief and glorious Grand Slam moments.

Sometimes it doesn't seem like either man is eager to engage in a rivalry - for instance, can you imagine Federer and Nadal doing anything like those "guerrilla tennis" television commercials featuring Sampras and Agassi?  Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, they knew how to use their natural rivalry as a way to simultaneously exploit and enhance each other. Their rivalries took on a life of their own, and they added up to something that was far more than a sum of the parts.  I haven't sensed that kind of synergy coming from Roger and Rafa. To me, Roger has basically tried to pretend that Rafa doesn't exist, and Rafa has tried to pretend that he's just a humble, hard-working lad, trying to improve his game.

A few hours ago, I filed a post for ESPN on Federer and how he'd be best served if he looked ahead to the next few weeks as a time of opportunity (and no, I did not write the teaser caption on the tennis home page). I understand that Roger is holed up in Switzerland with the mysterious Monsieur Pierre Paganini, and not because they're collaborating on a violin concerto. Nadal hasn't officially dropped out of the Madrid Masters yet, and I'm very curious to see exactly what he's going to do. When you analyze how playing - or skipping - Madrid might affect Nadal, or Federer, you begin to see how shoehorning an event of Madrid's status into the ATP tournament schedule has far-reaching implications.

Because Madrid is a Master Series event, Nadal is automatically entered. Will he withdraw? It's like a game of chess, sometimes, and some guys take more time than others, and not just because they need to adjust an undergarment.


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Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 06:44 PM

QBagel,

I disagree with you there.How did Roger get breaks in the US Open?

Its not his fault that Rafa did not reach the final. He was really eager to meet Rafa (the only time i heard him say so) because he knows the fast surface suits his game.

He beat a healthy Djokovic fair and square.

He beat Murray fair and square. Its not his fault that it was Murray's first slam final.

So, how did he get breaks?

Posted by Sam 05/05/2009 at 06:46 PM

imjimmy: Got it.
FWIW, in his bio with Bodo, Sampras considered Stich his toughest opponent.

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 06:47 PM

Pete's record against other No. 1s that coincided with this peak:

Yevgeny Kafelnikov (11-2)
Thomas Muster (9-2)
Carlos Moya (3-1)
Marcelo Rios (2-0)
Gustavo Kuerten (2-1)

Other No.1s from earlier in Pete's career:

John McEnroe (3-0)
Jimmy Connors (2-0)
Mats Wilander (2-1)
Ivan Lendl (5-3)
Stefan Edberg (8-6)

Chang was never No. 1 by the way.

Posted by tennisforthebest 05/05/2009 at 06:52 PM

I don't agree with people saying Fed is playing or played in a weak competitive era, same is true for Nadal too then, who has won a grand slam besides Fed and Nadal, Djokovic, thanks to mono otherwise he couldn't have even won that. Does that mean Nadal is playing in a weak era too where we don't have a good clay courter. Fed was way too better than his competitors so we shouldn't say that the competitors were weak rather we should say Fed is way too better than his competitors, same is true for Nadal, as his clay court game is way too superior than his competitors and so is unbeatable on clay, but do you guys really think that he can win 3 slams per year like Fed did? The reason is not that Nadal is playing in a tougher era so he won't be able to win 3 slams like Fed did and Fed did that because Fed had less competition, its because Fed's game being way too better than his competitors, it was only clay where he couldn't do it. Nadal was able to beat Fed in grass and on hard court but a lot of it has to do with Fed digging a grave for himself and letting Nadal take the opportunity, but where Nadal is dominant like Clay you can see the score how brutally he defeated Fed. Also if Fed can bring his form back he can still win 1 or 2 slams easily per year, again not because the competition is weak its because the other players' game is not as complete as Fed's is, he doesn't have the game to beat Nadal on clay but I still think on other surfaces he can beat Nadal.

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 06:59 PM

"QB, I'm not sure how often you frequent this blog, but I'm prolly the biggest Sampras KAD around here, and even I have to say you're going a tad too far. Unless we have different ideas of having a tough time. How many Slams (outside of RG) do you think Fed would've won in the 90s?"

I post from time to time. Most times I don't have the energy to mess with it, but I read enough to know you are a Sampras KAD.

That said, I'm basing my opinion on his performances when he overlapped with 90's tennis values. I'm not being mean, but there's no stats with which I can build Fed's resume from that time. His first six years on tour, when compared to other all-time greats, is alarmingly poor. There's just no way to sugar-coat it.

How many would he have won? Oh, I don't know. The game was quite different then.

Posted by Corrie (not Carrie or Cory) 05/05/2009 at 07:07 PM

"Weak era" opens a can of worms. Agassi won AOs against Clement, Enquist, and I think, Kafelnikov (speaking from memory) and his one FO against Medvedev. Sampras won against Moya (AO), Pioline (twice - at Wimby and USO) and Fed against Gonzo, and Bagdhatis. Even Rafa got one FO against the Argentine whose name escapes me he was so ungoatlike. So some wins are like that, it's just not worth arguing about.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 07:09 PM

"His first six years on tour, when compared to other all-time greats, is alarmingly poor. There's just no way to sugar-coat it."

LOL...is that true? I never followed Federer before 2004. Does anybody have stats of Sampras and others with Federer until the age of 22?


Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 07:09 PM

ladyj

"Its not his fault that Rafa did not reach the final. He was really eager to meet Rafa (the only time i heard him say so) because he knows the fast surface suits his game. He beat a healthy Djokovic fair and square. He beat Murray fair and square. Its not his fault that it was Murray's first slam final. So, how did he get breaks?"

I also said he had to be good to captilize on his good fortune, too. Good fortune doesn't mean you'll win.

Where do we start ... Beijing throwing off the schedule, Djokovic/Roddick distractions, a rain delay that gave Fed an extra day of rest which Murray didn't enjoy after playing a greuling match against Rafa. Didn't face Rafa.

It's not to say it's illegit. Hardly. Just that he needed some help. Think about it ... straight up, the guy wasn't beating Murray or Nadal for most of that year. Djokovic had beaten him in Australia. He's been dominated by these guys for the last two years running now.

I don't seriously think you'll see him beat both Djokovic and Nadal or Murray in the same draw again unless he has help.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 07:10 PM

suresh, of course there’s no universally accepted way of judging the GOAT. That’s what makes it so fun! And like I said, if this debate doesn’t entertain you then there’s really no point for you to participate, but you do acknowledge the educational and practical aspects of these discussions, no?

I know I’m repeating my previous point, but let’s say there’s a novice who’s just discovering classical music. Now I may prefer Poulenc’s minor piano piece to a Mozart piano sonata or a Bach concerto, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend the Poulenc over Mozart/Bach. Why? Because almost all experts agree that the latter is a greater piece than the Poulenc and I agree with the assessment. This is why I distinguish between taste and judgment.

FWIW I frankly don’t care about someone’s taste unless I already value his/her opinions, so maybe that’s why I don’t find the innocuous liking/disliking talk as enticing as the GOAT debate. Even so, it comes back to another point I made earlier: There’s no escaping the ranking implication in any kind of debate. And like I said it’s the strokes that make the players, so I don’t see why ranking the players themselves should be treated any differently as long as we keep the personal discussion to a minimum.

And I’m fully aware of the difficulties of GOAT discussions because of the things you just mentioned, and again I say that’s why they are more interesting than the mere preference talk. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a few points of agreement. For example most of us agree that Sampras had a better serve than Fed, or that Borg was probably faster than any player who’s played the game. And I think most of us would also agree that McEnroe at his best wouldn’t have been a pushover even in today’s era, given how well he performs in exhibitions against current players. Of course a few would disagree, but at least we can narrow down our criteria until it comes to a point where reasonable people can disagree over who was better in what. To bring up my previous analogy, political parties argue all the time and often never reach agreement, but we don’t say all the policy discussions re, say, the best way to refinance mortgages are pointless.

But again what’s most important is that these debates should be fun, and if they don’t amuse you as such at least others should be allowed to have a good time, no? I’ll stop it right here.

Posted by imjimmy 05/05/2009 at 07:10 PM

""Even Rafa got one FO against the Argentine whose name escapes me he was so ungoatlike""

Mariano Puerta. But to do that, Rafa had to defeat El Numero Uno (TMF) in the SF. So it wasn't one of 'those wins'. that you talk about.

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 07:16 PM

"LOL...is that true? I never followed Federer before 2004. Does anybody have stats of Sampras and others with Federer until the age of 22?"

Ah, young in the ways of the Force, I see. :)

Of course you didn't follow Fed before 2004, there was nothing to follow ...

*cymbal crash*

But seriously, just go to the ATP World Tour site and pull up Federer and Sampras' records from their early years. Then check out all the other all-time greats' marks from early in their careers before they became No. 1. It's all there in black and white ... or is it blue these days?

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 07:22 PM

QB, right, Chang was never no. 1. My mistake.

As for the main issue, no one would argue that Fed's 1st yrs weren't poor by his standards, but the fact is that Fed was a relatively late bloomer. Guessing how he would've fared in the 90s by his performance back then makes as much sense as, I dunno, using Rafter's stats before '97 to predict how he would've ended up as a player thereafter.

Posted by Corrie (not Carrie or Cory) 05/05/2009 at 07:26 PM

True imjimmy, so far, Nadal has only had to conquer that "man of the weak era", Roger, which shows how silly the weak era thing is, because I simply do not see those Fedal finals as weak era hangovers.

I don't agree that Roger pre 2004 wasn't worth watching, that's ridiculous. I saw him win Wimbledon in 2003 and the year end Masters and he was really great in both. And he had many fine matches before 03, including beating Sampras, but he just wasn't as confident and consistent. He had huge pressure on him as the next big thing and he found it hard to get over the initial hump of winning.

He now seems to have reverted back to his confidence and consistency problems.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 07:29 PM

"t's not to say it's illegit. Hardly. Just that he needed some help. Think about it ... straight up, the guy wasn't beating Murray or Nadal for most of that year. Djokovic had beaten him in Australia. He's been dominated by these guys for the last two years running now."

I have to disagree again, Qbagel.

Murray has never won a five setter against Federer.

A day off dosen't make any difference...look at AO 2009, Nadal played two five setters a day apart...he dosen't use that excuse, Murray might as well not.

Granted Djoko defeated Fed in AO 2008, but AO 2008 is questionable. I have yet to see Djoko defend a title, whereas Fed has defended numerous titles multiple times. He is the more consistent player. In fact he is so consistent that he has reached SFs of GS what 19 times? That's not good fortune, that's hard work! In a five setter, experience favors the Fed, not Djoko or Murray.

Its a pity Nadal did not reach the final. The fast US open courts favor Fed's offensive game.

It was the fast courts that gave Fed his 13th slam!

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 07:35 PM

NP,

Actually, Federer bloomed at the time most players do.

I'm not venturing a guess, so much as I'm saying that 1) I could only be speculative, but 2) based on what I do have, I'd have to speculate wildly in terms of success.

As for Rafter ... in a general sense, you're right, but his lack of slam success at a certain age was a dead-giveaway in terms of whether he'd be an all-time great in the way Bodo suggests (7 or more slams). It was clear he wasn't joining that league a while ago ... after, oh, the age of 22. ;)

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 07:37 PM

ladyjulia, I agree that a day off doesn't make that much of a difference, but the timing does matter. By the time of the USO most players, especially the top ones who've been grinding all year, are naturally fatigued more than in the beginning of the year, so a day off at the Open can indeed make a difference. For one thing how many times have you seen Rafa gasping for breath after a not-so-extended rally, as he once did while playing Murray last year? But lemme say for the record that I think it was the 1st-time jitters that got to Murray in the final, not physical fatigue.

Posted by Tom 05/05/2009 at 07:39 PM

It looks like I am late to this discussion so this may have already been covered.

It seems that blogs are the modern day version of talk-radio. People calling into sports shows all day and disecting every game, event, player, etc. Most of this focuses on the negative or endless speculation. "Sure, New England may have been 16-0, but could they beat the 1972 Dolphins?" It also relies heavily on short-term memory. Every new player is the greatest of all-time. Each weekend brings the college football game of the century. The other day, they were debating whether the Bulls/Celtics series was the greatest playoof series of all time. It's interesting how many 20 year olds thought so. Of course much of this is manufactured hype by the media.

Back on point, what is the purpose of the GOAT discussion? Why can't we focus on the here-and-now and appreciate what we have been watching? We are fortunate to live in an era of excellent tennis. Federer had an amazing run and now Nadal has come on and established his superiority on a number of surfaces. Murray and Djokovic have also come onto the scene quickly and it is possible that one of them may threaten for #2 or even #1 someday. That doesn't diminish what Federer accomplished nor will it diminish what Nadal has accomplished. Who knows what Laver or Sampras could have accomplished given modern equipment, a different mix of opponents, modenr training and tournament scheduling? Let's just enjoy what has been an extremely entertaining couple of years of tennis. There's no point to a GOAT discussion other than amusement over a couple of beers. It carries as much weight as who will the the "next Michael Jordan?"

As for Federer, his eventual decline was inevitable. At some point, you become a fraction of a step slower and your opponents learn how to solve your game. Federer's recent performances have been poor, including Rome where he failed to put Djokovic away when he had the opportunities and then descended into a number of errors. People make a lot out of his "outburst" in Miami. Roger dismissed it as part of tennis. That outburst was inevitable as well. It's easy to be gentlemanly and a good sport when you are winning every match and opponents are literally laying down for you out of fear. It's harder to conduct yourself in that manner when you are losing and, worse, playing poorly. I would like to see Federer step back, get rid of the on-court blazers, sweaters, knickers (or whatever Nike designs to make him look foolish) and come up with an improved strategy to capitalize on his current skill-set.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 07:44 PM

NP,

If that's the case, lets tip our hats to Federer for smart scheduling. It still isn't good fortune in that case as Qbagel says.

Nobody points a gun at Rafa to play that many tournaments.

Murray has not defeated Fed in a five setter ever. Period. It took Nadal 41/2 hrs at Wimby and another 41/2 hrs at AO to defeat Fed in a GS final other than Clay. Murray has even less experience than Nadal.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 07:45 PM

QB, I know, but it's still true that Fed did bloom relatively later than most GOATs. In fact Lendl is the only one I can think of who got his 1st Slam at a more advanced age.

Anyway, since you've admitted you're being wildly speculative I won't press you further. We just disagree on the level of success Fed would've had in the 90s.

Posted by imjimmy 05/05/2009 at 07:46 PM

ladyjulia: Murray has beaten Federer 4 times consecutively since the UsOpen. That means he's taken 2 sets off Federer 4 times successively, while not having been able to take a single one in the UsOpen. So it does seem reasonable that the UsOpen match was the exception, not the rule.

It's a big ask for anyone to beat the #1 and #2 player on consecutive days, least of all for Murray who was experiencing his best slam result at Flushing last year. Let's see what happens in their future GS meetings.

Posted by imjimmy 05/05/2009 at 07:50 PM

""Murray has not defeated Fed in a five setter ever. Period""

That's because they played a 5 setter only ONCE in their 8 meetings. Unfortunately for Murray, that match happened to be a Slam Final ( and that too his first slam final).

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 07:50 PM

"Murray has never won a five setter against Federer."

As a point of fact, neither has won a five-setter against the other. (Hint! hint!) :)

"A day off dosen't make any difference...look at AO 2009, Nadal played two five setters a day apart...he dosen't use that excuse, Murray might as well not."

Murray played the next day. Nadal had an extra day in Australia as did Federer at the U.S. Open. Without the rain delay, Federer would have had to come back the next day to face a much younger opponent.

"Granted Djoko defeated Fed in AO 2008, but AO 2008 is questionable. I have yet to see Djoko defend a title, whereas Fed has defended numerous titles multiple times. He is the more consistent player."

Career-wise, yes, but their careers were not at issue in this discussion. It was about where they are currently. Remember, since Novak's turned 20, he's 4-3 against Roger.

"In fact he is so consistent that he has reached SFs of GS what 19 times? That's not good fortune, that's hard work! In a five setter, experience favors the Fed, not Djoko or Murray."

Nobody disputes overall that he puts in a lot of hard work. But I maintain my position that Federer was both good and fortunate ... at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Now as for five-setters, meaning matches where they actually play for five full sets, you might be alarmed at learning that Federer's 11-11 in his career in those situations. And you'll notice he's faded in three setters against Djokovic and Murray and in five setters with Nadal. I can't say this builds confidence going forward.

Posted by Sam 05/05/2009 at 07:52 PM

"It seems that blogs are the modern day version of talk-radio."

Good comparison, Tom. And you're spot on about the short-term memory aspect and media hype.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 07:53 PM

ladyjulia, Fed actually played more matches in '06. Of course you could say that only shows Fed's style of play is less physically demanding than Rafa's.

As for Murray, I say let's wait until he actually meets Fed at a GS. I keep telling people that Murray has been a different player ever since Wimby '08, and it's too premature to say Fed still would be able to win if they were to meet at a Slam today.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 07:56 PM

Sam, actually many media figures weren't afraid to say "Hold on!" when others were claiming the Celtics-Bulls series was the best ever. I certainly don't think it was the best series ever played in terms of pure basketball, but the excitement value was still sky-high.

Posted by Sam 05/05/2009 at 07:58 PM

NP: Agree - I meant in general there is a tendency among the media to overhype more recent events.

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 07:59 PM

NP,

"I know, but it's still true that Fed did bloom relatively later than most GOATs. In fact Lendl is the only one I can think of who got his 1st Slam at a more advanced age. Anyway, since you've admitted you're being wildly speculative I won't press you further. We just disagree on the level of success Fed would've had in the 90s."

That's cool. Maybe later on, we'll get a chance to go into it more fully. I might surprise you ... or not. :)

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 08:04 PM

NP, imjimmy, and Qbagel..

okay, I don't have very convincing arguments against Murray's loss at US Open.

The only one I have is that it takes an exceptional 4 GS winner full five sets to defeat Fed in a GS final twice. A rookie needs much more than a day's rest in my opinion.

Yes, Fed has screwed up his numbers in five set play and he does have confidence issues, but his game was much better in the SF and F of US open than it has been lately.

All said and done, I agree Murray is a future no.1, but its not like he is going to defeat Fed and Nadal in 5 setters and win the rest of 3 slams this year. But, in a career H2H, Murray will lead because he is 7 years younger. He hasn't even peaked yet.

All I am saying is that Fed deserved his 13th slam, it wasn't luck.

Posted by Frank L. 05/05/2009 at 08:05 PM

Imagine if Andy Roddick played in the 1920's instead of today, especially with a 155 MPH serve. He could have easily beaten Henri Cochet in the French Open final in 1926. Instead, Couchet beat Rene Lacoste. Too bad!

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:06 PM

Gotcha, Sam.

Sounds good, QB. Look forward to it.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:09 PM

ladyjulia, I wasn't trying to dispute your point. I agree Fed deserved his 13th Slam. Just wanted to show Murray is now a dangerous opponent for Fed, yes, even in a 5-setter.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 08:17 PM

NP...I will agree with you there.

Danger...yes. Favorite to win...maybe not this year.


Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:21 PM

ladyjulia, you just had to open that "favorite" can, didn't ya? :) I won't rehash what I've said about the issue, but to wit, there doesn't need to be a single favorite to win. I actually maintained that Murray was the fave to win this year's AO, but if others disagree, fine. 2nd favorite, 3rd favorite, I can understand. Just don't say he doesn't deserve to be a favorite. That's fair, no?

Posted by suresh 05/05/2009 at 08:25 PM

NP, thanks for your comments. I fully agree that everyone should do what they enjoy and I am the last person to tell anyone what to do. Enjoyed the chat with you and look forward to more.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 08:27 PM

NP...okay let me put it this way..

He is not The favorite to win in a Fed-Muzz clash at GS. In a GS, among 128 players, sure he is a favorite.

He does deserve to be one of the favorites, after all he is No. 3 in the world and he didn't get there by twiddling his thumbs.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:33 PM

NP yet again, suresh. Same here and look forward to more as well.

Posted by imjimmy 05/05/2009 at 08:37 PM

Murray is bad matchup #2 for Federer. Murray beat him as early as 2006 in straight sets,( then again in Mar. 2008) when he was not even close to the player he is today. Of course after the Us Open. he's handily beaten Federer 4 times successively. Plus he's not peaked yet. With a winning 6-2 h2h against Federer, I think Murray should start as a favorite whenever they meet.(except on SW 19) You can only take so much from one G.S victory.

In fact Murray has a recent winning streak against Nole too. Perhaps, Rafa is the only one, who he hasn't dominated as much in the last 9 months or so after Wimb 08.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:39 PM

ladyjulia, as imjimmy noted that USO final should be considered the exception. Again, let's wait until another GS encounter between the two. :)

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 08:43 PM

imjimmy, it's almost scary how Murray is beginning to dominate. Even Rafa had lost their last 2 meetings before winning the next two, though their H2H isn't so illuminating as 2 of these matches involved dubious conditions (winds in IW and Rafa's injury in Rotterdam).

Posted by justmytype 05/05/2009 at 08:43 PM

I love Roger's will, his poker face, his determination. But Rafa is power mixed with compassion. He seems to love his rivals as much as he respects them. His humility and humanity put him over the top for me. Great read and great analysis. Thanks....

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 05/05/2009 at 08:47 PM

Pointless as it is, I love this.

As for the now dead Fed serve discussion. I would say that your first serve percentage in sets where you are up a break or late in any set is the big statistic, not just overall in the match or the tournament. I will try to look some of this up, but for example in the serving game against Djokovic up 3-1 I think it was 0 for 4 first serves in. That's just ridiculously bad. I would bet you could watch every match of Sampras and McEnroe and certainly for that matter Nadal and you would not see such a collapse.

Someone up thread said that maybe its now a bad habit being picked up in early rounds. I can say that Fed's first rounder in Indian Wells, which I saw, was as lackluster an affair as I can remember seeing him play.

As for someone slagging off Safin and claiming that having to beat Djokovic today is a tougher ask. Please. Get a grip. We don't know the future, but Djokovic at the moment is not trying to get into the GOAT discussion, he's trying to elevate himself from the Kafelnikov class.

Safin, headcase and all, played some of the greatest tennis, on the day, I've ever seen. His AO 2005 was one for the ages. Of course, he may have wasted much of that potential, but in terms of quality it really was there.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 08:51 PM

Allright, lets wait.

I agree though ...statistically in the H2H, that the US final is an outlier.

Didn;t they play in another GS though? In the 4th round of Wimby once?

But if the data consists of only GS matches played and won by both, my money will go with Federer's experience in five setters between the two.

As you guys say, lets wait.

*Can't stand the suspense...Wimby come soon!*

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 08:53 PM

MY bad, their GS category consists of one data point.

Posted by CL 05/05/2009 at 08:57 PM

Dunlop Maxply -have you followed the saga of the Fed bad back = Fed bad serve discussion(?) I tend to think that any discussion of Fed's serving woes w/out that background, (no pun intended), is like discussing Long John Silver's performance in the 400 meters w/out mentioning that he had a peg leg.

Totally agree that with the exception of the Kiefer match, Fed's IW AND Miami performances were about the most "lackluster" I have seen him produce over an extended period. Perhaps more hair products could restore the shine.

Posted by CL 05/05/2009 at 09:00 PM

I have a question - if your hobby is discussing a subjects which are zombie equines; i.e GOATs and Fed vs. Rafa, are you also guilty of beating a dead hobby horse?

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 09:03 PM

ladyjulia, the USO final was their only encounter, but let's say they did in an early round in Wimby '07 and Fed was able to win in 3 comfortable sets. Would you say that's a good indicator of how Murray would perform today? No, of course not. What happened in the distant past doesn't matter much. What's important is that Murray's tennis moved up a notch or two since Wimby '08, and we all know how he's been dominating Fed since then, except at the USO.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 09:04 PM

I meant to say, the USO final was their only GS encounter, but let's say they did meet in an early round in Wimby '07 and Fed was able to win in 3 comfortable sets.

Posted by NP 05/05/2009 at 09:12 PM

Anyway I've definitely wasted more time than I can afford today, so I'm off for the nite. Later, folks. Good discussions, at least for the most part.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 09:19 PM

NP,

His current form does come into the equation. But so does experience in playing five setters, especially if your opponent happens to be a 13 GS winner.

I am not saying that Murray will never defeat Fed at a slam. All I am saying is that he is a threat, but still needs to establish that he can survive playing five hours with a 13 GS winner.

I don't even know whether he has the fitness to hang with Fed for five hours. He was visibly tired during his three hour win at the tennis masters cup where he needed eight matchpoints to win against Federer with a bad back.

His recent wins have come more easily, so I haven't got the chance to see what happens with the Fed over 5 hours.

As you say..insufficient data...lets wait and watch!

Posted by BlueDog 05/05/2009 at 09:21 PM

Qbagel-

I suspect you may be a lawyer by trade. I come from a family of 'em. I admire your careful construction of an argument to support a belief. Citing of dates when beneficial to your stand, no mention when not. Subtle slight of accomplishments, no mention of other players' match caveats. I read your posts and it makes me tired thinking of the effort it would take to enumerate the disagreements I have.

Much easier to just let NP do it ;)

Posted by ladyjulia 05/05/2009 at 09:22 PM

NP...gnite!

We shall continue the discussion when Muzz plays Fed in a GS next.

It was fun discussing here with everybody...I hope Rafa and Roger keep up their level and give us more fodder.

Posted by nathan 05/05/2009 at 09:48 PM

From last year Roland Garros till now, nadal has got 3 grand slam titles and olympic gold medal. I don't know what else do you need to define Rafa as one of the best players in history. Nobody want you to be Rafa's fan. But, please, be objuctive. Federer is the best. He doesn't need you to prove that by demeaning other player's achievements and effort. Nadal get 6 titles now, then you give 7 as a criteria. Sounds so personal. If you cannot come up with establishing comments anymore, please shot the blog.

Posted by streams 05/05/2009 at 10:15 PM

Blogs the modern day equivalent of talk back radio? ahhhh get me outta here!

Another great thing about Rafa's career which I think stands as a huge credit in the 'historical records' is not just the FO - Wimbledon double, but the French - Queens - Wimbledon treble with Olympic Gold coming quick on the tails ... 3 different surfaces in one year - beat that!

Posted by frances 05/05/2009 at 10:16 PM

oh gosh oh gosh still with the GOAT thing- i for one just don't bother this topic..this discussion will always end indefinitely.

just few pointers

- lots of TWbers talks about how RAFA skews the H2H againts because of his claycourt wins-- Heck how can you explain his almost perfect stats on clay in the past four to five years-- those wins must come from somewhere and those wins mostly would come from the "someones" who plays good as well. I never thought of CLAY as less dominant than hard or grass- as a matter of fact I consider clay as one of the toughest courts to play simply because i just enjoy watching point construction and the necessary skills to play the game (sliding, patience etc) It's a subjective preference but there it is.

- So the Muzzah is well discussed these days and I have no oppositions-he has his own merits!!!He's earned it- playing very confident and dominating in the hardcourts strongly back-up with his dedication to improve his fitness. But at the same time I still will not dismiss Djokovic over him even though djoko have lost 3 consective times not to date since their meeting in canada last year. djoko was a solid #3 for almost two years and almost became #2 last year; muzzah has been playing solid high level tennis for less than a year... so until muzzah will defend his #3 ranking 'solidly' by the year-end or who knows even move higher.. i will just sit back and relax on how things will unwind; remember he was teh favorite to win the AO '09 and the new possible threat on clay...but anyway... he's for sure one to look forward to see how he will progress.

-Just a comment on "roger pretending that rafa does not exist"- see ironically i feel the opposite. TMF no question pre 09 the second best on clay and in an effort to be better he hired one of the best in the field to improve his game on clay because he acknowleges that RAFA is there to challenge him. Even in Rome 09 it was discussed that TMF brought with him a lefty to train with .. hmmm i wonder why:P As a matter of fact I even started to think that maybe what happen to Fed is he got sooo obsessed with solving the RAFA mystery that he forgot to worry about the other contenders.. hahahaha that was totally out of the box so TWbers just dismissed that thought.

Posted by streams 05/05/2009 at 10:18 PM

o, nathan i hadn't seen your comment just before mine ... ha ha same thought re rafa's 2008 - one of the best years in tennis ever. if it hadn't been for Roger's incredible years prior to 2008, rafa may have got more credit for what he achieved last year. so muc of rafa's 2008 was seen in the context of Roger's demise rahter than standing alone as an amazing tennis year for an emerging champ. over time I'm sure Rafa's career will be spoken of as amazing in its own right, not just as a subtext to the Federer story. (Fed's story IS amazing, both are amazing)

Posted by Ross 05/05/2009 at 10:25 PM

FWIW, just a reminder that GOAT herd member Rod Laver was also a late bloomer, winning his 2d-5th majors against his own weak-era competitors at age 24, before having his deficiencies revealed when he joined the big boys. He was, of course, a long bloomer, as well.

Posted by frances 05/05/2009 at 10:39 PM

Speaking of skewed results-- since it it mostly argued that Nadal's H2H results are skewed over his opponents, I wanted to ask an OBVIOUS QUESTION BUT SURPRISINGLY BARELY DISCUSSED.

HAS ANYONE SUGGEST THAT TMF'S STATS WERE SKEWED?

I guess I'm just thinking out loud and I did mentioned before that the Hardcourts cover 70% of the tournament.(Please note that the stat is an estimate, I'm sure the likes of Rosangel, Master Ace etc can provide the better number but I am confident that I am not that far off)

Simply look at a perfect example:

One of TMF best years is 2006.

WIN:LOSS ratio is 92-5 (95%)

BREAKDOWN:
64:2 on hardcourts (includes 2 carpet)
12:0 on grass
16:3 on clay

Let us remember that the the number of wins on clay most likely cant be above 30 wins just because of how the tournament is scheduled.

Can one argue the TMF's H2H is also skewed to more HC wins?

I am purposely not inlcuding grass as a topic just because it barely covers less than a month of play required.

But anyway had the Clay court be the dominant/preferred surface.. things would have been so interesting now wouldn't it:P

IMAGING TMF being call as a HardCourt Specialist and RAFA called as the GENIUS!!! WOW !!! THAT JUST SOUNDS SO OUT OF THE BOX!!!!

i must be really tired to have these ideas.

good nyt everyone!!!

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 11:09 PM

LJ on Murray.

"Danger...yes. Favorite to win...maybe not this year."

Agreed.

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/05/2009 at 11:12 PM

BlueDog

"I suspect you may be a lawyer by trade. I come from a family of 'em. I admire your careful construction of an argument to support a belief. Citing of dates when beneficial to your stand, no mention when not. Subtle slight of accomplishments, no mention of other players' match caveats. I read your posts and it makes me tired thinking of the effort it would take to enumerate the disagreements I have. ... Much easier to just let NP do it ;)"

Cool.

But there's a whole lot of stuff I left out.

Hopefully I'll be here when you're ready. :)

P.S.: I'm not a lawyer by trade, but kind of close.

Posted by Andrew Miller 05/06/2009 at 12:11 AM

Federer needs the practice in Madrid. He is usually pretty good when he just finishes a tournament with a strong result before heading into a major, and to me Federer's game is built on "grooved" ground strokes, and the only way to that platform is through practice, and what better practice than a Masters in a country that probably wants to see him play.

Otherwise: to me it's hard to look at Nadal as less than a tremendous phenom who is also peaking very, very young. His achilles heal is there in plain sight: a game built on a lot of scrambling. Uncle Tony can smooth out Nadal's shots and end points quicker, but Nadal will not be able to get Nadal to NOT go for every ball, which will take it out on a lot of Nadal's body. That's just the way it goes: everyone breaks down because of HOW they are.

To me...every era has a player who, helped by some events and taking advantage of trends and those events, gets propelled into the spot they find themselves, plus many supporting contexts like a great coach, a work ethic like no other etc. But there are still developments happening and not all of them are favorable to Nadal.

The roof closing at Wimbledon is, at first glance, less favorable to Nadal and slightly more favorable to his leading opponents. Nadal's SUCCESS on clay (the overwhelming success) is slightly more favorable to opponents, as they might run into a Nadal that has broken down because of the success. It's just the way it goes: strengths are also weaknesses. Nadal's ability to get to every ball doesnt mean he SHOULD GET TO EVERY BALL (it may be prudent to actually reach fewer balls in Nadal's case). Nadal's penchant for passing shots may work less in his favor with a little less time, given the roof possibility at Wimbledon. Nadal's opponents NOT peaking yet also bodes slightly less favorably for Nadal.

Sometimes, dominance is not a good thing. Just ask the guy Nadal displaced to assume the top. Once your buffer is gone...gravity happens.

Posted by Sam 05/06/2009 at 12:11 AM

Ross: Better to bloom late than not at all.

Posted by imjimmy 05/06/2009 at 01:26 AM

""imjimmy, it's almost scary how Murray is beginning to dominate. Even Rafa had lost their last 2 meetings before winning the next two, though their H2H isn't so illuminating as 2 of these matches involved dubious conditions (winds in IW and Rafa's injury in Rotterdam).""

I agree NP. Murray's form after Wimb 08 has been one of the biggest success stories in tennis recently:

-He seems to own Federer recently, by winning all of their last 4 meetings
-He seems to own Djokovic recently, by winning all of their last 3 meetings
-Before the clay season: His win loss record after Wimb 08 ( 57-7) is the best on the tour. ( for 2009: 26-2 again the best)
-He was the first person to capture 3 ATP world titles this season
-His recent record against Rafa is fairly neutral ( 2 -2 each since Toronto masters), but is biased on Murray's side, if we include the exho match which Murray won. Plus he's the only player that can make Rafa uncomfortable, and besides Nalbandian, the one player who can toy with Rafa when on song.

For all the talk about Murray not being successful in the slams, consider his results after Wimb 08 -- Slam final at Flushing ( lost to a vintage Fed, who's not been the same player since) and R4 lost to a in the Zone Verdasco (who almost took out the eventual champion). Based on Murray's recent results against the top players, and his ominous form, I would think the he should be #2 sooner rather than later. And as for the matchup against Federer in a GS, Murray would be the favorite given the lopsided 6-2 h2h.

Posted by Rosangel 05/06/2009 at 02:34 AM

So this discussion is still going on? I picked up on a couple of points.

1) ladyjulia - you say that Djokovic's AO2008 win was questionable. So it's apparently OK to indirectly use the "mono" excuse, while having an extra day off before your US Open semifinal can be dismissed as no big deal? I'd say either we make no excuses, and call a win a win, or everybody can introduce their own qualifications to anybody's win:) So if we're going the excuse route, the way I see it, the winner of the second semi - Murray or Nadal - was always going to be at some disadvantage because of scheduling. Nadal was also placed at a slight disadvantage vis-a-vis Murray in the semi, because it was initially played on Armstrong Stadium, which Murray had had a chance to play on but he hadn't, having played all his matches on Ashe up until then. Nadal is world number one - he should have had priority in the schedule, not Federer. I know the mess was partly related to TV coverage - but it was a mess all the same - everybody and his dog knew that the rain was likely to disrupt the second semi. I was there and suffering through it, so I feel entitled to a strong view on the issue. I'm not saying that this is the reason that Federer won in New York, but he did catch a lucky break or two (a bad line call that deprived Murray of a break of serve in the actual final also comes to mind).

2) Quadruple Bagel - one point that ladyjulia is correct on is that it was Federer who had an extra day of rest in Australia, not Nadal. The latter did play two five-setters at an interval of 24 hours. The AO deliberately scheduled the two men's semis a day apart. Yet again the world number one ended up on the wrong side of someone's scheduling decisions. Given the way the trophy ceremony was conducted (introducing the loser as "everybody's favourite champion", and looking disappointed that he lost really isn't the way to go when you have a new AO champion to hand a trophy to), some people could be forgiven for thinking that the AO organisers deliberately handed Federer the easier break at that stage of the tournament. Though as I understand it, the draw being played upside down had something to do with the previous year's finalist Tsonga having requested a late start because of recovering from injury, and nothing to do with favouritism. It was just a lucky break that Federer proved unable to capitalise on. As Pete said at the time, the AO organisers really owed Nadal a vote of thanks for turning up as he did in the final.

Posted by Rosangel 05/06/2009 at 02:42 AM

Oh, and I agree that Murray should be currently considered the favourite against Federer on any hardcourt, over best-of-three or best-of-five. He made it plain after his win over Federer in Madrid that he'd dissected what happened at the US Open, and made it his business to be more aggressive in his court positioning and shot selections. The jury is out on other surfaces vs. Murray, though if Federer's current form continues, he won't be reclaiming his Wimbledon title this year, and even has Djokovic to worry about in Halle, where he normally wins.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/06/2009 at 02:49 AM

About Rafa's return of serve - Tignor has interesting things to say about it, with which I agree.

It doesn't look like a strength maybe, he doesn't tend to go for the spectacular - but considering the way Rafa plays his points and the game, getting the ball back into play with a solid stroke seems like a reasonable and effective tactic to me.

If he can't break or trouble the opponent on serve, he also - generally - has the mental strength and belief necessary to keep his own serve and to play well in a TB, as against Karlovic at Queen's last year.

Sam!!! *waves* Agreed about the media hype and the nature of blogs - I know I fall into those traps as much as anyone, LOL.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/06/2009 at 10:02 AM

Rosangel,

"ladyjulia - you say that Djokovic's AO2008 win was questionable. So it's apparently OK to indirectly use the "mono" excuse, while having an extra day off before your US Open semifinal can be dismissed as no big deal?"

My apologies...I called it questionable in the context that he can do it again this year...I did not mention mono, and as Fed has already said, Djoko would have won that day even if Fed was healthy.

We were talking about whether he can repeat that feat at a GS and I merely said that I have yet to see Djoko defend a MS title, leave out a GS all together. Based on that, if he meets Roger or Rafa in a GS match, and based on the consistency shown by Rafa and Roger in the past four years in GS play, I would put my money on them to win against the Djoko and Murray.

Again, I am not saying that they will never win against Rafa or Fed in GS, all I am saying is that they haven;t shown the consistency yet by beating Fed or Rafa in GS matches. The GS ,as Fed says, is a different animal.

Again, I should have elaborated the context. Djoko won that day. What is questionable is his consistency in GS against Rafa and Fed. Bad wording and apologies for that!

Again, Murray being a rookie would need more than a day or two of rest while facing the 13 GS champion on a fast court.

That said, in the next two years, I expect things to be different.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/06/2009 at 10:16 AM

"He made it plain after his win over Federer in Madrid that he'd dissected what happened at the US Open, and made it his business to be more aggressive in his court positioning and shot selections"

Then shall we agree that Murray lost, not because of the scheduling, but more because of his tactics?

And as AO shows, a lucky break dosen't bring a slam. Fed brought his A game to the SF and F of US open. If his opponents couldn't match him, its not that he got a break.

Somewhere, experience has to count,right?

That said, Fed's game is in shambles right now, but if he gets to the SF of MS tourneys with a 30% serve and a nonexistent FH, isn't it experience that is getting him through the matches or is he catching breaks there too?

Posted by ladyjulia 05/06/2009 at 10:24 AM

"Federer's current form continues, he won't be reclaiming his Wimbledon title this year, and even has Djokovic to worry about in Halle, where he normally wins."

This is true..his current form is nothing short of atrocious.

Current form has to be some part of the equation when trying to decide who is going to win in a GS match, but I disagree that it should be solely based on that.

Ofcourse, I expect that Fed will show up in the GS with a first serve and a working FH. However, in AO, he had 50% serve and still pushed Rafa to 5 sets. My gut feeling is that it is experience that is getting him through these matches.

Its interesting times.

Posted by imjimmy 05/06/2009 at 11:17 AM

""However, in AO, he had 50% serve and still pushed Rafa to 5 sets"""

Against a visibly tiring Rafa, who was struggling to move, was half a step slower and whose footwork was off because of the heavier legs. (And Rafa's game is heavily dependent on his footwork and shot positioning) No prizes for guessing what would have happened if Rafa were 100%. For that loss Federer has only himself to blame. He had the perfect break from the scheduling committee and Hott Sauce to win his 14th GS.

""Again, Murray being a rookie would need more than a day or two of rest while facing the 13 GS champion on a fast court.""

What do you expect from Murray in his first slam final? For someone who's never been close to those slam results before in his career, Murray had the unenviable task of beating the world #1 and #2 on 2 consecutive days. If he would have pulled that off, I suspect he would have been #1 already.

My point was just that Murray's dominated Federer in all of their matches. He was beating Federer in 2006 and early 2008 when he was not even the shadow of a player he is now. After the Us Open he's beaten Federer 4 times on the trot. What does he have to do to convince everyone that he can do so in a best of 5 set match? It's not his fault that he faced Fed in only 1 best of 5 set encounter, and all of the other(7) matches were best of 3 sets. Federer himself said that against him, Murray does not have to go for lines (or play low % shots) to win. And that's what makes Murray calm on court.

As I said before Fed's GS victory over Murray was the exception (not the rule). Murray is (and has been for sometime) a bad matchup for Federer. Next time they meet, it would be naive to assume Fed as the favorite. A 6-2 h2h (with 4-0 recent h2h) does not lie. Murray is no longer a rookie now. He knows how to handle the big stage.

Posted by Tom 05/06/2009 at 11:25 AM

I don't know why you all are debating who the Greatest Player of All Time is. Serena Williams said it was her. Richard Williams agreed. That's settled.

Enough with the Federer/Sampras/Laver/Nadal arguments. It's Serena. Just ask her.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/06/2009 at 11:47 AM

imjimmy,

"He was beating Federer in 2006 and early 2008 when he was not even the shadow of a player he is now."

Murray-Fed H2H before the US Open was 2-1.

I still don't see it as translating to Murray beating Fed in the US Open final 2008 if he got a day of rest.

If Fed plays like he played in the later stages of US open, I would put my money on him rather than Murray. But that is just an opinion.

I can understand why the 6-2 H2H makes him a favorite for some people.

The only disagreement is that opinion that Murray would have defeated Fed based on a 2-1 H2H in the US open final with an extra days rest.

However, a win is a win like Rosangel says. Lets see what happens in the future.

Posted by imjimmy 05/06/2009 at 12:09 PM

""Murray-Fed H2H before the US Open was 2-1.""

Yes, but even then the lone Federer victory for Federer was in 2005 in the Thailand Open. Murray had beaten him the last 2 times they met before the UsOpen (including a straight set victory in 2006)

""I can understand why the 6-2 H2H makes him a favorite for some people.""

Actually the h2h would be 7-2 if we count the Abu Dhabi Exhibition match, where again Murray beat Fed.

""I still don't see it as translating to Murray beating Fed in the US Open final 2008 if he got a day of rest.""

I didn't say Murray would have won. It's a very hard task to beat #1 and #2 players in the SF and F to win your first slam title, when you play your first Slam final. How many players have done that before?

My point was that, the next time they meet, Murray will be all the wiser from the previous experience. It won't be his first slam final. And that combined with his recent dominance of Federer (and yes 4 consecutive victories is dominance) should make him the favorite.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/06/2009 at 12:30 PM

imjimmy,

sorry..i was trying to point that out to Qbagel, not you.. that since he said that Murray got a day less of rest , Federer got a lucky break because of that.

I kind of got mixed up with you, NP and Qbagel!

Well, since we all agree to disagree, everything's fine :-)

I look forward to the GS, esp. wimby!

Posted by BlueDog 05/06/2009 at 12:41 PM

imjimmy,

I agree with most of your points, but I wouldn't characterize the Murray/Fed H2H as 'dominance'. If you look at the match scores, you will see that from 2008 on, Murray has no straight set victories. The matches are close, and the outcome never feels inevitable (unlike Nadal on clay). Just as I don't think Fed dominates Karlovic, even though he almost always pulls out the win.

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 05/06/2009 at 01:12 PM

Rosangel,

I don't recall either of us making references about Fed's extra time in the Aussie this year, but it's a good point, though. Thanks for raising it.

Posted by BlueDog 05/06/2009 at 01:23 PM

QB-

Yes, I agree that the two days off at AO hurt Fed. I was afraid it would take him out of his rhythm, and sure enough it did!

It's all in the spin.

Posted by Andrew 05/06/2009 at 01:54 PM

When it comes to forecasting matches among the big 4 right now, two things stand out. One is Nadal's consistency, obviously on clay, but increasingly on grass and HC. The second is Federer's slump since start 2008. In that time, he's beaten Djokovic twice (once on a retirement) and lost three times (once while infected by mono). He's beaten Murray once, and lost five times. He's lost to Nadal five times.

On that basis, you'd have to rate Federer as at best 35% on any surface until shown otherwise, obviously lower against Nadal on clay: Nadal at 80% plus on clay, probably 70% on other surfaces, other factors being equal. Murray - Djokovic I'd probably shade to Murray.

Posted by BlueDog 05/06/2009 at 02:09 PM

That all sounds spot on, Andrew. Sadly.

I'm not sure how 5 setters figure into that math, but we'll see in the months ahead.

Posted by Frank L. 05/06/2009 at 02:10 PM

Tom was comparing blogs to sports-talk radio. I think I'd rather listen to Mel Kiper spend 45 minutes on ESPN discussing the 24th pick in the 4th round of the NFL draft than read one more post over whether Federer won because he ate 14 more calories of food the night before the US Open final or whether Murray lost because he got 8 minutes less sleep that day. Or was it the length of Murray's whiskers slowing him down that day or did Federer win because he wore a really nice jacket onto the court.

Posted by BlueDog 05/06/2009 at 02:13 PM

lol, Frank L.

Though, I think we can all agree it was the really nice jacket.

Posted by Sam 05/06/2009 at 02:45 PM

*waves to jewell*

LOL Frank L.

Andrew: One thing I find disturbing about the recent Federer-Murray matches is the final set scores. The losses back in 2008 both ended 7-5 in the third. However, the losses this year ended 6-2 and 6-1, respectively. I'm not sure how this will project to a best of 5 set match, but if I were to guess, I would give Murray a 55 to 60 percent shot of winning.

Posted by imjimmy 05/06/2009 at 02:49 PM

""Well, since we all agree to disagree, everything's fine :-) I look forward to the GS, esp. wimby! ""

ladyjulia : Thanks. I don't disagree with most of what you are saying. Just some minor things about who the favorite is once they meet. But that's something which is speculative. So it's all good :) And I look forward to a GS meeting of those two!

Bluedog: Good point about Murray-Fed matches being close. But yeah, the very fact he beat Fed 4 times in a row, is no mean achievement. I just think Murray's approaching scary form in the past few months. He's dominated Nole on hcs, (in those matches the outcome doesn't seem to be in doubt). He's also probably the only player who has some sort of a winning streak against Rafa recently. Unless Federer can get back to his US Open 08 form, I don't see how long Murray can be kept away from #2. So in my book, Us Open 09 would still be Murray's GS to loose. Unless of course something changes in the next few months w.r.t form of the big 4.

Posted by ladyjulia 05/06/2009 at 02:53 PM

Andrew...thank you for the analysis.
I wouldn't look into the mono thing too much. But it is for sure, that he is in a slump since IW.

The FO will be the first grand slam he will be playing since the slump and it will be interesting to see whether he can up his game. He says he peaks for the majors. As Blue Dog says, we will have more data by July.

Posted by Sam 05/06/2009 at 03:29 PM

My percentages for Federer-Murray were for hardcourts only, since they haven't played one another on other surfaces yet.

Posted by Rosangel 05/06/2009 at 03:56 PM

Maybe misread something you said, Quadruple Bagel. I thought there was a reference to Federer at the AO in your 7.50 "Nadal had an extra day in Australia as did Federer at the U.S. Open." in response to ladyjulia's point about Nadal's back-to-back five-setters.

Anyway, no big deal. It's been an entertaining discussion.

ladyjulia: sure, of course I agree that Federer won the US Open final because he was the better player on the day.

Posted by Tuulia 05/07/2009 at 12:12 PM

ladyjulia wrote "If that's the case, lets tip our hats to Federer for smart scheduling. It still isn't good fortune in that case as Qbagel says.

Nobody points a gun at Rafa to play that many tournaments."

The idea that Roger has a smart schedule while Rafa plays too much is merely a myth. Their schedules aren't that different, nor is there any real difference in the amount of tournaments. Last year Roger played in Estoril and Halle while Rafa played in Barcelona and Queen's. Both played in Dubai and the Olympics. Rafa played in Rotterdam early in the year, Roger played in Basel late in the year. Roger missed his normal pre-AO tournament, Rafa missed the Masters Cup at the end of the year. So, very little difference there.

Roger's "smart scheduling" was therefore the result of him losing early in Toronto, Cincinnati and the Olympics (singles), and therefore coming fresher to the USO. ;)

The extra rest day before the final WAS a lucky break. That of course doesn't mean he won just because of it, but it was nice for him all the same. In AO 09 it didn't help to have extra rest, but very well might have (and against anybody else probably would have... even Rafa was, at times, just hanging in there). In Wimbledon 07 it did help. I'm not saying if the scheduling had been either fairer OR preferential to his opponents instead of him (has that ever happened in any majors?) the results would have been different. They might have or they might have not. We'll never know. Of course lucky breaks in scheduling don't alone bring slams, but they can help. Just like having something more to deal with schedule-wise than your opponents doesn't necessarily stop a player from winning anyway (for instance Rafa at RG 08 and AO 09), but it might.

It's a fact that Roger has been lucky with scheduling at a few majors, and sometimes he has been able to take advantage of that, and sometimes not. It is also a fact that he's a fantastic player, so how much he really benefited from his luck we have no real way of knowing. But denying he has been lucky and instead praising his own scheduling decisions as decisive seems weird to me.

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