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Burn Baby, Burn! 05/19/2009 - 1:39 PM

Rog by Pete Bodo

Okay, I understand that it's not all about me, all the time. But I need to write a little about me to put this whole Roger/Rafa rivalry thing in perspective. My boy Luke, who's six, was invited to a birthday party starting at 10:30 on last Sunday morning, I knew that if I took him, I'd miss the live coverage of the Madrid Masters, but I figured I could catch the highlights later. One disadvantage of my job is that any Sunday is, at least in theory, a work day for me. I've had to learn not to feel guilty about taking Sunday off.

Anyway. I took Luke to the birthday party, but not long after noon I found myself wondering how things were going in Madrid. Nadal was the favorite, of course, but in a recent post for ESPN I speculated that Madrid might present Federer with an interesting window of opportunity. Just how off-base would I end up looking? So I punched up the browser on my Blackberry and, after much navigating, I learned that Federer had won the first set, and they were even halfway thorough the second.

Interesting, I thought, wonder if he can make it hold up.

By the time we left the party and made our way home it was around 3 pm. I got right on the computer at the apartment and checked the final score. My immediate reaction upon seeing that Federer had won  was: Wow, must have been something to see. . .

Now, I've basically spent my entire adult match watching and writing about tennis matches. At this point, it takes an awful lot to make me feel like I might really have missed something, and even more to make me go out of my way at an inconvenient time to watch a tennis match. In my world, there's always another match, another player, another controversy, another icon; the down-side of a sport that rewards a player so handsomely and immediately is that the here and now quickly becomes the there and then. Meanwhile, the game inevitably coughs up the next big thing.  Think you missed a "must see" or "once in a lifetime" event?  Just wait a week for the next one.

Yet I found myself thinking, I've got to see this match. . .   And it wasn't just because I knew I'd have to write about it here.

So that's how I ended up watching Tennis Channel at 2 am on Monday morning, with a bag of chips in my lap and a cold beer. The network was re-broadcasting the Madrid final starting at 1:30 am, so I dutifully set the alarm. I bolted out of bed at 1:20 and flicked on the tube. The fact that I already knew the outcome meant nothing at all. And that's the greatest endorsement of this rivalry that I can offer: It can get you out of bed in the middle of the night, even if you already know the outcome. This Federer vs. Nadal thing is special. Even to a jaundiced eye.

It's entirely possible that one day we'll all look back on this match -  Federer against Nadal, fighting it out in the dirt inside the Magic Box, 2009 - as a career-defining moment. It could  go on to be the most critical victory of Federer's career. For Federer has introduced a big question mark in the Roland Garros narrative, and revived the idea that he may yet win the clay-court major.

if Federer wins at Roland Garros - whether his final-round victim is Nadal or someone else - Madrid will stand as the turning point: the moment when Roger Federer finally got some wind behind his sails and floated free of the shoals of self-doubt and a self-protective embrace of disappointment. We all know just how much that Roland Garros title means in the big picture; the French Open championship match could have a more profound impact on tennis history than any other major final.

A Federer win in Paris would also represent an impressive act of courage and will, for one of the more compelling (and, for Federer fans, agonizing) aspects of the Swiss champion's hunt for the game's golden fleece is that fate threw him a curve ball so wicked that even the most perverse spoilsport couldn't have dreamed it up. Fate didn't give Federer a couple of good players to beat, the way it did Pete Sampras, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, and others. It gave him one exceptional one - a nemesis who is especially able on the clay surface that deducts the most from Federer's game.

This challenge has been, and continues to be, as difficult as it must be unnerving. Just think about it - wouldn't Federer's life be a lot easier if he'd lost a final to a Safin here, a Hewitt there, a Roddick somewhere else? The guy hasn't lost a Grand Slam final to anyone but Rafael Nadal, to whom he's lost five. What's a genius supposed to do when someone out there can taunt, Who's your Daddy?

This state of affairs has to be as irritating as it is unusual, as demoralizing as it is unambiguous. But on Sunday, Federer shook his head to clear the cobwebs, looked around at the landscape, took a deep breath and played just the kind of match he needed against the guy who made him forget how good he truly is. Oh, I know Nadal was tired and curiously passive, I saw him fail to reach shots that are usually fodder for his topspin cannon. But that doesn't really matter - do you think it mattered to Federer? Do you think it mattered to Nadal? You all heard what he said:  . .If I'm tired it's because I played longer than I should have yesterday. . .

Translation: It's my own danged fault that I had a semi-final war.

Let's look at Federer's accomplishment on the two fronts that most count, the strategic and the tactical. On the strategic front,  Madrid could not have ended up on the ATP calendar at a better time for Federer. Given Federer's age (27), experience, and record, it's safe to say that playing the Euro-clay events was important to Federer in only one respect: the degree to which it might help him win at Roland Garros. He had little to gain by knocking himself out in the run-up events, and even that little could be negated if Nadal managed to rack up a few more Ws at The Mighty Fed's expense in the process.

Federer needed just two things out of this clay-court season: to experiment with whatever new tactics he could think up, and to get adequately comfortable to playing on red dirt under competitive conditions. That means one or two events, preferably without meeting Nadal, for it's far more important for Federer to make Nadal wonder what he's thinking than the other way around. The demise of the Hamburg tournament and the addition of Madrid was a great logistical development for Federer, even though he notched up his last win on clay over Nadal (in 2007)  at the event Madrid replaced, Hamburg.

The combination of altitude and surface speed at Madrid helped Federer a lot more than it did Nadal, who had reservations about the way the altitude would affect his preparation for the French Open, and who made it a point note that the red clay in Madrid was, at least in relative terms, extremely "fast." Looking back, I now believe that Federer probably only played Monte Carlo in order to remain in the good graces of a key sponsor, Rolex (he lost to Stan Wawrinka and seemed not too upset about it). That means he budgeted two tournaments as a run-up to Paris: Rome and Madrid. Although TMF lost to Novak Djokovic in the Rome semis, he got the matches he wanted, on a surface well-suited to his game (until Madrid, Rome was thought to have the fastest clay). He got the same - and more - in Madrid.

So, while Madrid posed an unwelcome complication for Nadal, it was a boon for Federer, enabling him to accomplish three important objectives: He tuned up his clay-court game under ideal conditions for building his confidence; he got the competitive preparation he needed and, as an unexpected bonus, he beat his rival, on his rival's home turf, to plant what doubts or fears he could in Nadal's mind. It's funny, isn't it, what a significant change a tweaking of the calendar can represent.

Strategically, Federer is in better shape going into Roland Garros than he has been since the year he took out Nadal in Hamburg. And while the clay in Paris isn't apt to be as slow as ever (slower than Rome or Madrid), Federer will be playing on it with greater confidence  - especially if the weather is hot and dry, as is sometimes the case.

The other facet of Federer's win in Madrid was the tactical - the specific things he did to beat Nadal. First off, he played with a confidence we haven't seen in some time. At the start of the match,  while the strains of Disco Inferno still echoed in the Caja Magica, (Did they really play that cheesy number  to warm up the crowd? What next, Ion Tiriac doing the frug?), Federer looked grim and distracted, the way he has so often in the past year or so. While it's nice to know that even The Mighty Fed sometimes hates to go to work, the furrowed brow and tight lips don't exactly convey or inspire confidence in what he's about to do. But by the time he hit that marvelous forehand drop shot and held comfortably for 2-all, it was clear that things might go a little differently this time.

Ultimately, Federer's win rested on a few critical and mostly subtle changes in his game, and his approach to what might be called "the Nadal Problem." Federer seemed for the first time in ages to want to attack - to take the game to Nadal and pressure him. He played right on the baseline or even inside it, looking to take Nadal's ball on the rise (Nadal mostly played from a good six or seven feet behind the baseline). Although Federer rarely took his aggressive posture to the serve-and-volley or chip-and-charge realm, he served and volleyed some, and even chipped and charged a bit.

Mostly, though, he seemed to be looking for the short ball to jump on, and Nadal obliged him. Federer's ability to attack was a function of court speed and his position on the court, but it was also a sign of confidence. Federer has always been a little reluctant to engage in problem-solving, and it's partly because doing so undermines the sense that he's a spectacular natural talent whose every move is inherently and casually elegant. But inside the magic box, he was willing to get down and dirty.

Rafa Federer also showed more variety and deception than he has in the past. He used the drop shot sagaciously, and he came up with a new solution to the ongoing problem of finding himself pinned in his own backhand corner - that was the forehand, hit down his own backhand line (inside-in?) after Nadal had already started his sprint toward his own forehand corner in anticipation of the devastating Federer inside-out shot.

This time, Federer also handled Nadal's lefty serve better, even though Nadal managed an 80 per cent first-serve conversion percentage. One of the elements that has always hurt Federer in his matches with Nadal is the Federer has never been an aggressive returner; he likes to get the ball back in play, because he knows he can take control of and dictate the terms of a rally. That's not good enough against Nadal, who will seize on any opportunity to take control of the rally, starting with his opponent's return.

Still, it was Federer's serve, not his return, that played the biggest role in the victory. Although his first-serve conversion percentage was a solid if unremarkable 63 per cent, his second serve had sting and penetration, and so much spin that one ad-court delivery pulled Nadal so far off the court that he disappeared from my screen. Mainly, Federer served with authority, and the threat that he might attack behind any serve had to be a constant source of concern for Nadal. Federer attacked the net 18 times, and won 10 of those points. That may not sound like a great statistic, but it doesn't take into account the overall effect his willingness to attack had on Nadal's comfort and shot selection. As Mike Estep once told his then-protege Martina Navratilova, "If you're not getting passed 25, 30 times, you're not coming in enough."

When you combine all these elements, you end up with a textured, nuanced game distinguished by an exquisitely controlled aggression - the only kind of aggression that might be effective against as formidable a marksman as Nadal. All along, Federer has been insisting that he doesn't need to make any major changes in order to beat Nadal, and on Sunday he showed exactly what he meant by that.

Whether he can duplicate the feat against Nadal at Roland Garros is an entirely different question, and one it would be importunate to ask unless the meeting became imminent. For different reasons, the big challenge for both men will be fighting through the field to get at each other.


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Posted by Afedfan 05/19/2009 at 04:11 PM

Federer winning in Madrid will have absolutely no bearing on what happens in Paris. I'm a big fan of Roger's but outside of his serving a little better on big points I didn't notice anything that you could call dominating about his win.I still shudder every time he gets into a long rally with Rafa expecting him to lose the point. Never happens with anyone else except maybe Djokovic. Paris will be Paris. Another tournament with different opponents and different conditions -- weather, wind, court, etc. I don't believe you can read anything at all into Roger beating Rafa in Madrid. Like they say -- you can't win them all and occasionally Rafa like all other humans can have an off day or he might not be quite as motivated as Federer was to win on Sunday which I think was really the case. I don't think the 27 year old Federer has what it takes to beat the 22 year old Nadal in 3 sets out of 5 on clay especially. I believe his window of opportunity has closed much as I wish it hadn't. Watching his demeanor on the court I don't think Roger believes he can beat Rafa and that winning on Sunday was a complete surprise that he never expected. Something of gift from his friend Rafa.

Posted by fd 05/19/2009 at 04:12 PM

Nadal's tiredness does not "subtract" from Federer's victory. He won, fair and square, as Nadal himself said. What it does detract from, however, is the quality of the match. It wasn't a good match. And that's too bad.

Posted by just horsen(1234, IT'S TIME FOR #5!) 05/19/2009 at 04:12 PM

I sick and tired of people talking about "well if Roger had played better then Rafa would have lost" or " Rafa was hurt\tired\didn't care about it so he probably would have won if he wasn't hurt\tired\etc." Y'all that's why they play the match! Different factors affect every match. The winner is the one that overcomes those difficulties the best. The winner is not always the most talented, highest skilled, well liked player! The winner is the one that gets the job done. Roger executed his gameplan the best yesterday, so he won. He won that title fair and square. People talking about Nadal's fatigue, atitude, saying that Rafa would have won if not for this or that, y'all it's part of the game! Rafa didn't get the job done Sunday and Roger did. It's that simple.

Posted by Genuine Realist 05/19/2009 at 04:12 PM

Back to the saltmines.

(1) I am a Federer guy. It was rumors of his skill level that drew me back to the game in 2005, when I had given up following it years before because of racket technology. (I still think the game is best played on quick surfaces with wooden rackets.) With the rarest exceptions, I do believe the Rafa/Roger equation is zero sum, 1-0. You adopt one guy or the other, and it's pretty much exclusive. You can admire the other, but not root for him. It's amusing to me to observe a real tennis enthusiast like Rosangel (whom I admire a lot) and Rafa supporter TRYING to like Roger, TRYING with all her might. But it just isn't possible.

I DON'T root for Rafa/Roger finals. I root for Rafa getting out of the tournament as soon as possible, for the simple reason that he scares the hell out of me. I'd love to see Roger get a few more wins, but mostly I root for the matches not to happen, because Rafa left town a couple of days before the final.

(b) What has been maddening for a Fed fan this spring is the extent to which he has replayed the AO final over and over again against his main rivals. He demonstrates superiority, gets to a point at which he should put the hammer down, and then falls apart. In fact, I think the conclusions drawn from Sunday's final depend in large part on the extent to which the observer sees the last few tournaments as psycho-drama taking place in Federer's head.

(c) From that point of view, Sunday was awfully exciting. Federer and head problems with Nadal on clay go back a long, long way. This may be a fan talking, but I have never seen Rafa as the juggernaut on clay that others do. Not that Rafa wouldn't be dominant on clay, but Fed has had him on the ropes, only to lose focus and concentration, and then lose = period - to call him invincible. I don't think Fed lost the French final at RG last year. I think he lost it two weeks earlier, at Hamburg, where he let the hooked fish off the line - not so much Rafa raising his play as Federer going to pieces. Ditto 2006 and Rome. He used to play against Rafa on clay as no one else, waiting for the other shoe to drop. To the horror of his fans, this spread to the AO and other rivals this spring.

(d) I'll let others far more knowledgable than I talk stroke patterns. For me, the big news were the break points Rafa couldn't convert in the second set. Was there one Fed fan who has watched these infernal matches over the years who didn't expect Rafa to get the break back, fist pumped, go to tie break or maybe break again for 7-5, then go on to glory in the 3rd. I watched waiting for the inevitable ax to fall, wondering where I could find a small dog to kick when it was over.

But it didn't happen. Roger may not have played these points brilliantly, but he stayed poised, consistent, and within himself, and it was Rafa who made the mistakes. Quelle merveilleux!!

And it is that that makes the looming event so exciting. It could just be that Roger has found the right mindset to deal with the incredibly tenacious super-athlete on the other side of the net. There is also the emergence of Djoko, who will be heard from. Rafa remains of course the big favorite, but this is an event now to anticipate.

Posted by Cosi 05/19/2009 at 04:12 PM

Posted by Andrew 05/19/2009 @ 1:48 PM

Pete: you write "All along, Federer has been insisting that he doesn't need to make any major changes in order to beat Nadal, and on Sunday he showed exactly what he meant by that."
Andrew said:
I think what makes a lot of us Federer fans nervous is that if he doesn't make significant improvements to his game, he'll end up beating Nadal 20% of the times they play. I'd prefer the ratio to be nearer 50:50.:"""""

He (Roger) never needed to make significant changes to his game to start beating people AGAIN, including Nadal, he just needed to play at a higher level than he's been playing and he did just that in Madrid, played much cleaner, served better and more effectively, fewer loose errors on all the shots, no mental errors at all. Roger just needed to get his mojo back that's all.


Posted by Grant 05/19/2009 at 04:16 PM

"and I only recall Tigress and Tim calling the clay season boring"

You missed me.

Posted by ax 05/19/2009 at 04:18 PM

best couple of lines i have read in some time:

'...fate threw him a curve ball so wicked that even the most perverse spoilsport couldn't have dreamed it up. Fate didn't give Federer a couple of good players to beat, the way it did Pete Sampras, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, and others. It gave him one exceptional one - a nemesis...'

Posted by imjimmy 05/19/2009 at 04:19 PM

""In terms of his clay record coming into RG - this is the most dominant Rafa has been in the finals. ""

deeps: Records only say so much. Surely you agree that his play is not as good as last year? Wouldn't Nole of Hamburg 08 SF have beaten Rafa in straights in Madrid SF '09?

""Imjimmy, I left a msg for you on the YC thread.""
Tfactor: Sorry, had missed that earlier. Saw it and acknowledged (replied) :)

""i love his responses - he always sounds like he really thinks what he says""

Frances: Exactly..especially his signature ""I'll sign the paper"" comment! Anyway, I was kinda worried how happy Rafa looked after loosing the final. I mean come'on it's a ATP 1000 event, you've got to look bummed and put your head down.
***Does Rafa have some aces (up his now sleeved shirt) that we don't know about?***

Posted by Andrew 05/19/2009 at 04:19 PM

Some random thoughts:

* a ton of lumping going on - Fed fans this, Nadal fans that. It's Crossfire time again, sigh...

* three good matches in a row in Madrid does not equal TMF.

* one loss in a tight match does not mean Nadal is now not the clear favorite to win RG.

* the idea that Nadal wouldn't try his hardest to win the inaugural clay Masters 1000 in Madrid, in front of royalty, against his great rival, is batwotsit insane.

* Federer had physical problems in 2008 and 2009, but he lost the no 1 slot primarily because his strongest rival improved his game substantially in 2007-8, and Federer didn't change his own game significantly. If Federer thinks he can regain the #1 spot on a sustained basis with a few tweaks and slightly better execution, he and his fans will be disappointed.

* Djokovic, in particular, and Murray have played very well in the clay season, and are legitimate threats to win RG, Wimbledon or the US Open. Their best chances are likely the US Open, but they could well be finalists this year at RG and/or Wimbledon.

* The quality of tennis so far this year has been very high.

* Pete doesn't give himself enough props for his pre-Madrid prediction. Spooky accurate.

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 04:24 PM

I love it ... FedKADs, and just plain old Tennis fans, are happy that a key player who appeared to be fading from the scene finally gets it together and does something positive and you simply can't allow a little moment in the sun.

How DARE we say Fed has a chance. Sometimes I simply can't believe the double standards around here.

Posted by just horsen(1234, IT'S TIME FOR #5!) 05/19/2009 at 04:25 PM

Geunine Realist,

Inregards to your comment that "u adopt one guy or the other, and it's pretty much exclusive. You can admire the other, but not root for him."

I beg to disagree. I consider myself a fan of good tennis first and foremost, followd by being a Rafa fan, followed by being a Fed fan. I always pull for Roger when he's not playing Rafa and even then I pull for him sometimes. Wimby 08, I just couldn't stand to pull for either one over the other. I was most definately pulling for Roger to win the U.S. open over anybody else. On the other hand my best essay this year was on why Roger is not a GOAT. Rafa is my favorite player and he always will be, but that doesn't prevent me from pulling for Fed and liking him almost as much.

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 04:26 PM

imjimmy - "Surely you agree that [Rafa's] play is not as good as last year?"

Dude, c'mon! His clay record is better this year than last year --- (3 wins and 1 QF last year vs 3 wins and 1 Final this year) -plus he won both the AO and Indian Wells!

Why do people keep saying this?!!!

Sheesh....

Posted by Rosangel 05/19/2009 at 04:27 PM

One comment about Rafa at Roland Garros - the consistency of his performances has been one of his key strengths in all years. Lapses in concentration and falling off in quality really haven't been an issue for him. I don't expect that they will be this year either.

I thought it would be interesting to look again at what Pete said after last year's Roland Garros final:
http://tennisworld.typepad.com/tennisworld/2008/06/so.html

If the quality of his groundstrokes is anything like as high as it was there last year, he'll remain a huge challenge, for Federer or anyone else, to state the obvious.

The way he played in Madrid against Verdasco and for part of the match against Nole looked like an aberration. I haven't seen the Madrid final, so can't comment on that match. The surface in Madrid looked quicker than the hardcourts in Miami - utterly different to Paris. Even Nadal's sliding didn't look comfortable.

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 04:28 PM

Would not have posted my last response if I had seen yours, first, Andrew ... it neutralized most of the garbage spewed on page 1.

Posted by Pspace 05/19/2009 at 04:28 PM

Nice one, Pete. Good win for Roger. Puts some fuel back into the rivalry that was turning into a domination. And, perhaps makes Wimbledon a more interesting, if Federer can improve some more. At Chatrier, I expect Nadal to destroy everyone. A remarkable achievement would be to take two sets from him there. Hoping for a Nole-Roger SF.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/19/2009 at 04:30 PM

FedexFan: i think you said it all at 2:27. Fed did make adjustments for this match. maybe not earthshattering changes but effective changes. So now maybe he'll stand on the baseline, pummel returns instead of chip and even try more new tactics now that he sees that, whaddyaknow? new tactics pay dividends!

Posted by fd 05/19/2009 at 04:32 PM

Genuine Realist: "I have never seen Rafa as the juggernaut on clay that others do."

Really? The four RG trophies BY AGE 22, and -- (I'm guessing) -- dozen or so Master shield at clay court tourneys -- aren't enough for you? The 81 match winning streak didn't do it? Only a handful of losses in clay court finals -- both to RF -- don't do it for you? One loss on clay this year, that doesn't do it?

Seriously, there are a lot of things you can say about Rafa, but that you don't understand why he's considered a claycourt juggernaut is farfetched. The guy is not unbeatable on clay. But he is close to it as anyone ever has been (the only analogy I can think of is Roger on grass!).

Posted by L. Rubin 05/19/2009 at 04:33 PM

"it [Fed's win] sends a messsage to Rafa AND murray and Djoker, Fed is formidable and can pull it off on the BIG occasions.

A most unconvincing argument, Tim. Have those three guys ever doubted Fed's ability to shine on the big occasions? Also, when did you develop such a keen interest in the clay game? If memory serves (and it normally does) you were crapping all over this surface just seven days ago (I'll jog your memory with a few pertinent words: moonballs, boring, grinders, hostile to attacking tennis). Do you still fell that way, Tim? :) :)

--Liron

Posted by Genuine Realist 05/19/2009 at 04:34 PM

Ros,

The quality of Rafa's groundstrokes didn't save him from going 1-6 in the first set in 2006, and losing the second in 2007, giving up an enormous number of break points.

Fed fans probably put a bit more emphasis on the attitude than they should - and it is also the case that Rafa creates the attitude by turning points that Fed has 'earned' into winners of his own.

But - the inevitable word - I also think Roger's attitude has played a big role. Maybe he finally has adjusted to the notion that Rafa is going to win some points he has no 'right' to, that the match will go on and Roger stil prevail. Rafa's peers seem to have accomodated themselves to his skill level much more easily than TMF.)

Posted by Master Ace 05/19/2009 at 04:34 PM

"Pete, as always it is always Roger for you. You did not even bother to give a single thougt about Novak/Rafa match which was 5 levels better than this one"

Tina 1,
Steve Tignor has posted his view on the Madrid SF.

Posted by Ian Reed 05/19/2009 at 04:36 PM

I've been playing tennis for about 2 years now and one of the main things that I have learned is that a lot of it is about match-ups. It's like rock-paper-scissors almost.

You'd think that if Player A beats Player B and Player B beats Player C, then Player A would beat Player C. That's not the case in tennis.

For example, someone who hits flat shots with pace will match up horribly against Federer, but relatively well against Nadal. That's why James Blake has a winning record against Nadal, but a losing record against Federer. Another example is Del Potro and Murray. Del Potro maches up well against Nadal, but poorly against Federer. Murray matches up well against Federer, but poorly against Nadal.

Just because Federer doesn't match up well against Nadal doesn't mean that he's not a better player. Sampras would have matched up horribly against Nadal (as many do). Doesn't mean that Nadal is a better player.

It'd be like saying rock is the best choice in rock-paper-scissors.

Federer matches up well agaisnt more people than Nadal has. That's as good a criteria for GOAT than any else.

Posted by analyzer 05/19/2009 at 04:39 PM

As a tennis fan I love rivalries. I love the Federer & Nadal rivalry. Fed is certainly more talented but certainly more flaky, mentally. As Pete says, "Fed has finally decided to get his feet dirty", this bodes well for his future. Maybe he will get more GS's or maybe not.

I think there is another rivalry developing, the one between Novak & Nadal, which will be more relevant for french open 2009. I think one of the two will be the winners. If Novak wins Nadal in SF's, he will march on to be the winner and vice versa. With his current form, I see Novak beating TMF if they happen to meet in SF's. All in all, I think, tennis will be the winner in FO 2009 after a rather mediocre FO in 2008.

Posted by Ryan 05/19/2009 at 04:40 PM

At the risk of sounding a little too Rodney King...why can't we all GET ALONG?

Why can't we all appreciate that we're in the midst of one of the best rivalries ever, if not THE best (I'm sure Chrissie and Martina have something to say about that), and that this latest result just means that Roland Garros will be as fascinating and exciting as ever?

And that between our top 2 players, there is not lacking a single attribute or skill that you'd need in a tennis player, pretty much ever?

Posted by Ian Reed 05/19/2009 at 04:42 PM

We don't want to "just get along". What's the fun in that? We all want to understand and think about the game in better ways. It helps to talk about who's better. It's fun too (at least for me).

Posted by Ross 05/19/2009 at 04:42 PM

Genuine Realist--
"You adopt one guy or the other, and it's pretty much exclusive. You can admire the other, but not root for him."

True and funny. Although I think I'm generally an exception to your rule, I have to admit that if both Rafa and Roger make the RG semis, I'm sure I'll be rooting for Rafa's opponent.:)

Posted by Cosi 05/19/2009 at 04:42 PM

I thought the Roger/Rafa match was great, and I've watched it twice now. no, it didn't have endless rallies like some people like, but it had great shotmaking and it was a very intense match. Both players had pretty good stats, it wasn't an error fest by any means. Just because a match doesn't last an eternity and they don't hit 25 shots every rally doesn't mean it wasn't a good match. It was a pleasure to see Roger working the whole court again and coming up big on pressure points, and I found it very exciting, almost uncomfortably exciting when Roger twice had to climb back from two break points down on serve, once when serving for the match.

Posted by frances 05/19/2009 at 04:44 PM


IMJIMMY - I think Rafa is happy - I'm sure he would be happier if he had won but he won 3 out of 4 titles this year- compared to last year - his actually better off ('08 was win, win, first round and win this year was win, win , win ,final:P).Plus, he's probably relieved that this tournament in Madrid is over- expectations do take its toll and he can look back knowing that he game spain a classic semifinal victory and I actually think it terms of stats- he's looking Even better:P you can't win them all right? So this defeat (a break of chain) is favoring his percentage in route to the major touneys:P I hope you are still following my rationale:P

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 04:44 PM

Pete Great post as usual,

Well for me to see Federer getting back some form I am delighted.I was worried the last couple of months he looked to me to have lost confidence in himself.

In regards to the match.Roger used the correct tactics on this Madrid surface.To me really a clay fast hard court.

He took time away from Rafa.Hard thing to do but to his credit he executed it well.

Also his serve was a factor especially when he was down break points.To his serve has improved to what it was a few months ago.

This win and a well deserved one takes him into Roland Garos with confidence.Gee he has beaten the no 1 player and on Clay his surface.

Roland Garos is a differentr kettle of fish.

The surface for one is a true bounce amd medium pace.

This is where Rafa's heavy top spin comes into play

Rafa's heavy ground strokes which in Madrid at times just went over the net and short due to the Altitude,will also figure here as before.

Roger to me or anyone has to keep up surprise tactics with Rafa at RG cause you aint going to beat him from the baseline.How many times in the past have players tried and failed.

The real question is can they keep this up for 5 sets?

All these questions and more will be answered in the next couple of weeks.

Posted by juan vilas 05/19/2009 at 04:46 PM

..Pete you are reading too much into one game and, honestly, looks more an analysis by an overexcited Roger's fan than one from a tennis expert.....

...Roger played well but the match was close ....Roger converted his two breaking points Rafa didn't (his 3-4)....Roger is the n. 2 and a win over the n. 1 is expected at some point...Is this a turning point? Didn't Rafa lose against Murray and DelPo this year? Didn't Roger won in Hamburgo and then Rafa won in RG? Wasn't Roger's victoty in Hamburgo similar to this one in terms of strategy and execution? Was Nadal better in Hamburgo than in Madrid?...Roger played well both times...but again RG is a different territory..

..in my (non-expert) view this match is just one more and will not dictate the outcome of RG for the simple reason that RG is a faster surface and a five set tournament. Roger first serves won't be so effective at RG and, hence, he won't be able to short the points so easily. At the same time, Rafa chances to make those amazing angles will increase dramatically at RG. More important, RG is the second slam of the year..that means a lot for the players....different animal than Madrid Pete..


Regards

Posted by Genuine Realist 05/19/2009 at 04:47 PM

Ross,

Rafa seems like a truly terrific wonderful young man, developing into an outstanding young man. And I know these things.

So how is it I end up rooting for Soderling (Wimb2007) or Nalbandian (IW this year), who are anything but admirable personalities?

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

Posted by frances 05/19/2009 at 04:49 PM

AM - what about ROger dro volleys> how do yo think rafa will counter that?
Just curious:P

Posted by frances 05/19/2009 at 04:49 PM

AM - what about ROger dro volleys> how do yo think rafa will counter that?
Just curious:P

Posted by Ross 05/19/2009 at 04:53 PM

And if it's Nole who wins,and he is totally exhausted for the final,that will be fine with me too!

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 04:53 PM

"...honestly, looks more an analysis by an overexcited Roger's fan than one from a tennis expert....."

Juan, hate to say it but I agree

Posted by deeps 05/19/2009 at 04:54 PM

Ian Reed,

And the easiest way to measure that is slams etc.. The contention for Nadal as GOAT isn't the H2H - its the possibility that when both their careers are done - Nadal might end up with better numbers than Fed. But eight now its just speculation. The H2H record is used to say that while Fed is in the GOAT area of Sampras, Laver etc..., he can't be put above them cos like them, he has an achilles heel too - Nadal.

imjimmy,

Performance-wise, yeah he has been more up and down than last year. This was more about the idea that Nadal being stretched this season is a new vulnerability. And that's not true, Nadal's run up to RG has always been tighter than his actual performance at RG.

Posted by Ryan 05/19/2009 at 04:54 PM

Ian,

You must be new to the site, this debate has been rehashed about 4098672049270930486029735 times.

Posted by imjimmy 05/19/2009 at 04:56 PM

""So this defeat (a break of chain) is favoring his percentage in route to the major tourneys:P I hope you are still following my rationale:P""

Frances: Yes, perfectly(following your rationale). I am great believer in percentages myself.

Anyway, there was enough frazzling in '07 after Fed's Hamburg win, even though Fed was by far the #1 player and Rafa was not the force that he is now. This year Rafa is #1 and the man to beat, so even though the Madrid result may not mean much, expect more frazzling from both camps :)

Posted by Ian Reed 05/19/2009 at 04:56 PM

Slams seem to be a problematic indicator of a player's spot in history.

I am fairly new to the site, so I may have missed the million times this has been discussed so far. There doesn't seem to be much knowledge gained from past discussions...

Posted by Cosi 05/19/2009 at 04:56 PM

Posted by Andrew 05/19/2009 @ 4:19 PM

Some random thoughts:

* a ton of lumping going on - Fed fans this, Nadal fans that. It's Crossfire time again, sigh...

* three good matches in a row in Madrid does not equal TMF.

* one loss in a tight match does not mean Nadal is now not the clear favorite to win RG.

* the idea that Nadal wouldn't try his hardest to win the inaugural clay Masters 1000 in Madrid, in front of royalty, against his great rival, is batwotsit insane.

* Federer had physical problems in 2008 and 2009, but he lost the no 1 slot primarily because his strongest rival improved his game substantially in 2007-8, and Federer didn't change his own game significantly. If Federer thinks he can regain the #1 spot on a sustained basis with a few tweaks and slightly better execution, he and his fans will be disappointed."

Andrew, you're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I don't see how you can dismiss mono and back problems as a big factor in a top level tennis player's results... we woudln't do that with any other player, we, and I mean the tennis community in general ALWAYS give other players the benefit of the doubt when they've been rocked with significant health issues within a season or two. Nadal has improved his game, but there is no way you can act as if for the last year or so, that Roger has been up to par as far as his level of play, because stats, facts and replay tapes would not back you up.


Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 04:57 PM

Frances Well Roger has used the drop volley before at RG,Rafa has had not trouble before.

In last years final Rogers approach to the volley was Disgraceful in a word.The approach shot to the volley sets it up.If the approach shot is bad the Volley will never come off.

Also as I said this is a different surface the bounce is True.

Roger to me should use the s/volley more.Just a thought.

Physical fitness and conditioning also comes into play here as well.

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 04:59 PM

"Performance-wise, yeah he has been more up and down than last year."

oh cripes, deeps, now imjimmy's got you saying it too! :-P

I repeat, Rafa's clay record is better this year than last year --- (3 wins and 1 QF last year vs 3 wins and 1 Final this year) -plus he won both the AO and Indian Wells!

What the heck does Rafa need to do to keep you'all satisfied?! Boy, you are hard customers!

Posted by didi 05/19/2009 at 05:03 PM

If Rafa would follow the rules and the umpires enforce the time rules his match against Djokovic wouldn't have taken so long. Go back the matches that Nadal played against Djokovic and Federer and get your stop watch out and you can see he repeatly violates the 25 second rule. That is why I will never respect him as a player because to me that is gamemanship. He knows he does this but continues to have this behavior and his unbecoming habit of picking his butt makes it unbearable to watch him. He wins ugly and I rather watch Roger or other players anyday. Also him being tired is an excuse. What about Roger having mono confirmed and still play all last year. Can we use that excuse now?

Posted by deeps 05/19/2009 at 05:06 PM

Mr Rick,

umm i said his clay record is better this year than last year - just that he is more patchy in his play this year than last year. I am not dissatisfied - I don't expect Rafa to win everything or dominate the way Fed did. Not even Sampras did that.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 05:09 PM

Roger and Rafa have two different styles of play.

Roger a brillant shotmaker.

Rafa also has a great heavy top spin f/hand which he can also put side spin and curve on it.To me if anyone can do what he does with his f/hand and dosent appreciate well to me dosent truly appreciate him.

Posted by nancy s. 05/19/2009 at 05:11 PM

Realist: **I DON'T root for Rafa/Roger finals. I root for Rafa getting out of the tournament as soon as possible, for the simple reason that he scares the hell out of me. I'd love to see Roger get a few more wins, but mostly I root for the matches not to happen, because Rafa left town a couple of days before the final.**...

Realist, we differ. I'm a diehard Rafa fan, but I want to see him get to the Final and play the most challenging opponent (which has usually been Roger), play at his very best, AND THEN win! If all he gets are the "lucky winners" who happened to knock out the better player in the earlier round, where's the satisfaction in that? He's the best because he can consistently beat the best!

Posted by fd 05/19/2009 at 05:12 PM

Ian: "Just because Federer doesn't match up well against Nadal doesn't mean that he's not a better player. Sampras would have matched up horribly against Nadal (as many do). Doesn't mean that Nadal is a better player.

It'd be like saying rock is the best choice in rock-paper-scissors."

Federer matches up well agaisnt more people than Nadal has. That's as good a criteria for GOAT than any else."

This analysis has its limits. It's not JUST about match ups, just like it's not just about who's tired, or the draw, or luck, or any single weapon in a person's game. Good players find ways to win. Great players like Roger and Rafa find ways to win against most people most of the time. The guy against whom Federer doesn't "match up" is not some one dimensional player like Ivo Karlovic, he's Nadal, who happens to have won 6 GS on three surfaces (beating RF in the process nearly every time), and 15 MS. So it's hard to just hand the crown to Roger in view of that. That said, I think the GOAT debate is pretty goofy. They are both great players, the best of their era.

Posted by imjimmy 05/19/2009 at 05:12 PM

""This was more about the idea that Nadal being stretched this season is a new vulnerability. And
that's not true, Nadal's run up to RG has always been tighter than his actual performance at RG.""

deeps: WORD. I was hoping that Rafa might not be stretched (on clay) this season after his AO spectacle. Anyway. the performance in IW and Miami put paid to all that.. Sigh..*... if only wishes were horses..*

""oh cripes, deeps, now imjimmy's got you saying it too! :-P ""

Mr Rick: Record and performance are 2 different things. It's pretty clear that Rafa's not playing at his AO 09 (ex Tommy Haas 3rd round [Rafa had 53 winners 8 UFE's] or even the F) level since sometime. The competition had been found wanting in the early clay tournaments what with Fed off spark and Nole trying to get back to his early 08 levels. And now, in Madrid, when the competitors ramped up, look what happened. That said, expect Rafa to get back in slam form at RG.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 05:12 PM

With regards to the slow pace showed say in the match between Rafa v Novak in their service games.

In tennis one plays to the pace of the server.

If the opponent feels the server is taking too much time he has a right to approach the umpire and complain full stop.

Posted by Rosangel 05/19/2009 at 05:12 PM

*It's amusing to me to observe a real tennis enthusiast like Rosangel (whom I admire a lot) and Rafa supporter TRYING to like Roger, TRYING with all her might. But it just isn't possible.*

Genuine Realist: I had to smile at this one because there's a lot of truth in it. I tried it all, but it just didn't work. There's no major dislike there, more a kind of ennui, which fades to indifference for much of the time. It's nothing to do with disrespect for his game - in fact the worst part is the oft-discussed and worshipped image of the man, rather than what I see as a fairly normal person living in the middle of an extraordinary situation - let's face it, is there anyone in the tennis world who's more over-exposed in the media than Federer, whether the coverage is positive or negative? I promised myself a long time ago (and not just in the area of discussing tennis, but as a general rule) that I wouldn't invest too much precious energy thinking about stuff like this - but I'm not one to pretend fan-love that I don't feel. No-one would believe me anyway:) And I do expect to be held to high standards of fairness to fans of all players when it comes to dealing with running the blog - there's never anywhere to hide on that front.

I think someone like Andrew has a more comfortable way of dealing with the rivalry, perhaps because although he's a huge Federer supporter, he also seems comfortable with Nadal - I've no doubt that it's genuine.

Posted by sri 05/19/2009 at 05:13 PM

Federer is a rare species. He is immensely talented. There is no argument that if Nadal and Federer play in Wimbledon for 10 times, Federer would win 7 times. The sheer determination of Nadal helped him win the Wimbledon last year. I think, same thing could happen to Federer in French open also. The best that happened to Federer in Madrid- more than the win against Nadal - is that he could find his game and play at his usual Federer standards.

Federer at his best can always fancy a win against any one on any surface.

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 05:16 PM

Hmmm ... despite being mired in a slump before coming on strong in Rome and Miami, Nole is now considered the 2nd best player on clay ... and more likely to give Rafa trouble in RG than Fed (regardless of the fact that Fed has met Rafa in the RG finals 3 years in a row) .. ?

Outside of AO 08, where are the stats that say Nole has a better chance in a GS event ... RG or otherwise, than Fed?

2 months ago, Nole was spiraling aimlessly ... and MAndy was the new threat .. ?

Posted by fd 05/19/2009 at 05:17 PM

Correction: Nadal, who happens to have won 6 GS on three surfaces(beating RF in the process EVERY time).

Sorry -- couldn't remember if he played Fed at his first French, but of course he beat him in the SF.

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 05:21 PM

"Correction: Nadal, who happens to have won 6 GS on three surfaces(beating RF in the process EVERY time)"

Good on Roger ... he made it far enough to be beaten in all those finals, and still win 13 of his own. ;)

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 05:22 PM

okay deeps thanks for clarification

for some reason, the comment that Rafa is playing worse this year than last year keeps popping up here, and when I look at his actual record, it just makes me a little crazy...

I think Rafa is continuing to tinker with his game and competition from other top 10 players is increasing - most notably Verdasco and Murray, with Roger and Novak coming back to form - so upcoming matches this season will probably include many more wild and woolie dogfights.

Whether the technique is perfect or the points a little choppy, I always just look at who chaulks up the "W" at the end of the match...

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 05:22 PM

Well Roger until this win in Madrid has looked good to me at all.

I am talking after the final of the AO of course.

With regards to Novak,I feel after that final in Miami he too has turned his game and Mind around.

Murray to me on the clay I am still out with him.To me he looked out of sorts in his game with Del Potro.Frustrated missing his routine shots,his b/hand breaking down.Full credit must be given to Dep Potro in that game he attacked Murrays b/hand and broke it down.

Posted by deeps 05/19/2009 at 05:22 PM

Mike,

I personally would rate both Nole and Fed at the same level as a threat to Rafa at RG. Maybe give Fed a slight edge cos of what happened at Madrid. If they are on the same side of the draw or one of them knocks out Rafa, still not sure who will go through to the final. Fed is a bad matchup for Nole but if Nole keeps it close, who knows whetehr Fed's walkabout resurfaces?

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 05:23 PM

I meant to say Roger hasnt loooked good to me

Posted by Samantha Elin(supporter of all things Scandinavian) 05/19/2009 at 05:24 PM

I think that Roger's game on the clay has alway been under estimated. Roger play a game very similar to Justine who was the queen of clay, a lot of net play, slices, dropshots. If not for Rafa, I firmly believe that Roger would have at least 3 FO by now. So to me, it was no surprise that he was able to finally beat him and I think his chances are good at the French. Go Caro, Scandinavia's#1, World's#1O, du er den bedste, Caro, Kom nu!

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 05:26 PM

True AM & Deeps ... Roger finally getting into form enough to win a final does not mean it's going to stay that way ... of course. I just don't see enough RG experience at the highest level from either Nole or MAndy to put them above Fed. Despite Frazzling this year, Fed made it to the last GS final ... and won the one before that.

Posted by Campi 05/19/2009 at 05:29 PM

sally,

Tough question. A year ago it would have been an unequivocal "Fed" but obviously a lot has changed since. The question is further complicated by the fact that Roger is active and may still have a couple of slams left in him.

I'm pretty confident Rafa will get #7 in a few weeks, so assuming that it actually happens, Rafa could be at around 10 by the end of 2010. He would be 24 years old. So will he have a decent shot at getting to the 13-15 range? Possibly. A lot will depend on whether he remains healthy and how his competition evolves.

If I was forced, at gunpoint, to make a prediction, I would say Fed dies with more grand slam titles than Rafa just because there's still fair bit of ground between 6 and 13, so there's just too much uncertainty. I know they're also 5 years apart, but it's tough to believe Rafa can maintain quite this level for 4-5 years. If he does, we could be looking at the record-setter.

Posted by Rosangel 05/19/2009 at 05:30 PM

"Federer matches up well agaisnt more people than Nadal has. That's as good a criteria for GOAT than any else."

Right now Nadal's career-winning percentage (82.2%) is higher than Federer's (80.6%) , and there are very few players that he doesn't have a winning record over. And none of the rest of the top four. Even where such a record exists (Blake, Nalbandian) he's been the more recent winner in the matchup. 2-3 and 1-2 against those two are hardly decisive.

Federer, on the other hand, has a losing record against two other members of the top four. Of course he has a fabulous winning record over the likes of Roddick and Davydenko. And most of the rest of the tour.

Just saying - and maybe it won't always be this way. Nadal has been a bit vulnerable to certain players on certain days in the past, but the Youzhnys and the Berdych's don't have winning head-to-heads over him - he's solved quite a few of those "rivalries".

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 05:31 PM

Mike I agree with you somewhat this is a Grand Slam.Gee Rogers records speak for themselves.He knows what is needed in all areas to make a final and win one.

Last year for example when he won a record 5th straight US OPEN.

Everyone had written him off.

Never underestimate a champion.

Posted by Tom 05/19/2009 at 05:35 PM

"So that's how I ended up watching Tennis Channel at 2 am on Monday morning, with a bag of chips in my lap and a cold beer. The network was re-broadcasting the Madrid final starting at 1:30 am, so I dutifully set the alarm. I bolted out of bed at 1:20 and flicked on the tube."

Peter:

Three initials for you: DVR. It's the greatest invention for tennis viewing (just one step above the "Mute" button when John McEnroe or Martina Navratilova are doing the commentary). Fast-forward through the changeovers, bypass all of the "Bag Check" segments and the advertisements for cheap Australian Wine and you are good to go.

Posted by 1963USCTennis 05/19/2009 at 05:35 PM

I wonder what people will be saying when Rafael N defends Roland Garros and Wimbledon?

Posted by Genuine Realist 05/19/2009 at 05:36 PM

Ros,

I am closer to some of your attitudes than you might realize, although my loyalty is to Roger. Midway through 2006, it began to become - dare I say it? - somewhat burdensome. Week in, week out, there he is on Sunday, up a set and a break on someone. Yes, he was brilliant, but even brilliance can generate ennui. When the hell does it end?

My ambivalence can be summarized by my attitude to the 2008 Wimbledon final. On the one hand, it was Roger who created all the drama - his back to the wall, hour after hour, staving off one break point and then match point after another, finally equalizing, and then on to the 5th. Wonderful. On that same hand, it was heartbreaking not to see all that magnificent determination rewarded.

But on the other hand . . . if Roger had won . . . . yawn. Roger Does It Again. Dog Bites Man. Honey, what page are those cricket test scores on? So I don't know. I hated to see it happen, and it left me down for a few days, but the actual result had an emotional and visceral impact that a win by Roger would not have had.

I hate this GOAT stuff. There is no such thing as the GOAT, only cases to be made. You'd make Roger's statistical case based on his 2005-2007 record. But I think maybe the better case is the intangible one I just stated. I can't think of any other player in history who reached a level of excellence such that he threatened the competitive structure of the game. (In women's tennis, maybe Martina Navratilova for a spell, and it was not a good thing for the sport, not at all.)

Rafa may even exceed Roger's grand slam total, since he was something of a prodigy and will have five more productive years. But he isn't the overwhelming presence Federer was. He does lose, and even in victory seems more vulnerable than TMF.

Not that I will not be rooting for Roger in the next two major tournaments, particularly when the matches arein progress. But I fully sympathize with those who find it all a little TOO MUCH.

Paradoxically, I believe that's why Roger fans are so a-twitter about Sunday's result. When was the last time Roger UPSET somebody?
Sampras? At Wimbledon? Upsets are the most fun for any fan. But that is one sort of satisfaction Roger does not provide too often.

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 05:37 PM

Welll ... as they say, the GS events are a different animal, and even though a diehard FedKAD like myself realizes that Rafa is as close to a lock to win it as it can get ... I'd like to think Rafa's classic rival is still his most formidable come Slam time (at least for now). ;)

Posted by zephyrus 05/19/2009 at 05:40 PM

Sorry if this was covered earlier but I noticed (or thought I noticed) two things before the match started. Normally Rafa takes his sweet time coming out for the coin toss. This time I could swear that I saw Rafa come bounding out first, then Roger eventually came out.

The other thing I noticed was that Roger elected to receive, which is normally what Rafa does when given the choice. Was this Roger's modest attempt at turning the tables? Trying to get into Rafa's head any way that he can? Or did I miss this completely?

Posted by Heidi 05/19/2009 at 05:40 PM

It's a big if, isn't it? IF Federer goes on to win RG, this will have been a pivotal moment. If Nadal wins, it will be a blip in Nadal's claycourt dominance the way Hamburg is now. Of course, the really interesting story would be if someone else won!

Though of course I don't really want that to happen. I didn't see the match, and I haven't watched it online, but I hope it does bode well for Fed.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 05:43 PM

Yes we may all be eating our words here?

There could be a Dark Horse to win RG 09.

Nothing in tennis is ever a Given at all.

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 05:50 PM

This statement from Pete's article has really thrown me for a loop. Is anyone else having a problem with it?

"Federer has always been a little reluctant to engage in problem-solving, and it's partly because doing so undermines the sense that he's a spectacular natural talent whose every move is inherently and casually elegant. "

Holy cow.

Stated another way, one might say "Roger is so arrogant that he would rather loose a grand slam tournament and/or his #1 ranking than make any changes to the way he plays tennis." Am I interpreting this correctly?!

It is hard for me to believe that any athlete at his level would be this self-sabatogging, or arrogrant, or insecure, or stupid, or I don't even know what word to describe it...??? I mean, Roger DOES want to beat Pete's grand slam record and DOES want to become the GOAT, right? That's what all the hard work and struggle has been about, right?!

I don't know, all athletes have pretty big ego's, but this is a whole other level. If this is what is at the bottom of Roger's recent struggles, well, it is pretty shocking. I personally can't accept that Roger is actually thinking this way - but I am no sports psychologist and have no clue what it is like to be the #1 tennis player in the world.

Posted by fd 05/19/2009 at 05:50 PM

Campi: "If I was forced, at gunpoint, to make a prediction, I would say Fed dies with more grand slam titles than Rafa just because there's still fair bit of ground between 6 and 13, so there's just too much uncertainty. I know they're also 5 years apart, but it's tough to believe Rafa can maintain quite this level for 4-5 years. If he does, we could be looking at the record-setter."

I am with you here Campi. It will be very tough for Rafa to get there with Murray and Djoko nipping at his heels. I love them both (though I am admittedly partial to Rafa), but it is clear that Rafa has had to work harder than Roger to win slams on grass and hardcourts. To his credit, he has put in the work and done both. But it will be tough for him to collect enough hard court majors and Wimbledons to get to 13+. I suppose he could just win the next 7 RG. :)

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 05:52 PM

Now THAT'S the truth, AM.

I was watching a 29 year old Agassi vs. #100 ranked Medvedev in the 99 FO Final ... no doubt, anything is possible. ;)

Posted by Vetmama (courtside!!) 05/19/2009 at 05:54 PM

I for one am hoping for Roger and Nole to be on the same side of the draw at RG.
Nole's game can push Rafa (each time they've play recently he's gotten closer and closer), and his matches v. Rafa provide a satisfying amount of sound and fury, but I remain unconvinced that he is the de facto second best on clay when measured against a confident, non-slumping Federer. The difference in rhythm between they're games (Roger's short, surgical points can seem less spectacular than Nole's clean shots and great gets) give the false impression the Nole's game is harder on Rafa.

Well, RG can prove that if they end up on the same side of the draw. I say bring it on.:)

Posted by Vetmama 05/19/2009 at 05:57 PM

And I an NOT courtside!!!
Wish I was...

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 05:57 PM

Word dat, AM

or as Rafa always says "anything can happen, no?"

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/19/2009 at 06:00 PM

Mr.Rick: have you read the S.I. piece about nadal and federer? It says pretty much the same thing. That federer's achille's heel, or fatal flaw, was his unwillingness to change his game. That's practically the premise of the article. Rafa WAS willing to alter his game to beat roger, but that the opposite was not true. That's why i thought fed fans were going to take great exception to the article. It definitely implied fed was arrogant about his game. So I think that's why pete made a point of highlighting the different things roger did in Madrid and how it had a positive impact.

Posted by FanOla 05/19/2009 at 06:05 PM

Why does Fed have to get to the 3rd and 5th sets (depending on the tourney) to prove he can handle the mess to prove that he is mentally strong?

How about not getting to the 3rd and 5th sets of a match from the get-go - as Fed's game is indeed TMF's - and get annoyed if he is stretched to those deciding sets?

What I don't understand from Rafa-heads is this blah-blah about how mentally tough he is to save MPs and deciders over and over again...wha? how about mentally tough and disciplined to not to get there at all?

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 06:08 PM

Well after Aussie no 2 tennis ranked player Chris Guccione got beaten today in a qualifying match for RG.

I can confidently say it wont be a dark horse coming from our ranks? gee the nightmare continues her for us.Yes we do have the Little Aussie Battler but hey?

Posted by Banti 05/19/2009 at 06:08 PM

Pete amazing prediction that this would happen in ESPN/SI before this match occured. So sick. Thanks for the write up. What did you think of Steve picking Roddick to beat Roger? lol.

Posted by ThyGodisTennis 05/19/2009 at 06:09 PM

To FanOla:

You are so right!!!

Hey, if it takes four hours to defeat Djoko that ain't Fed's problem.

Fed killed Nadal and made it look easy.

The beatuy of the TMF game!

Posted by Budour (Hot Mess for FO'09) 05/19/2009 at 06:09 PM

It's funny, isn't it, how quickly opinions change. Just two days ago Tim was saying that Madrid is worthless for a 13-time GS champion and that MSs mean very little at this stage of Federer's career. All of the sudden, his Red Rogie wins Madrid and guess what? Masters do actually matter!! Winning Madrid is a tremendous achievement.
Now, credit to Pete for staying consistent and writing about Federr for 90% of the time. Nadal won tournaments for three consecutive weeks and the only post Pete wrote about him was a 'fashion critique' ... as neutral, BTW, I find the Djokovic - Nadal matches a lot more interesting and if there was an ATP match last week that deserved a tribute, it is the semi between these two ballbouncing and timewasting notwithstanding. Not surprisingly, Pete didn't write a single post about the resurgent Djokovic ddespite the Serb reaching three consecutive MS finals, winning a title and giving us one of the most enthralling, dramatic matches of the season.
And no , Master Ace -- if Jewell's majestic eyelashes couldn't convince Pete to write a WTA preview for the clay court season ... oh well!

Posted by Nick 05/19/2009 at 06:12 PM

Let's remember too that Federer dropped a set to Roddick in Madrid. In fact, Roddick was up a break in the first set against Federer. Now say what you want, but Roddick to that point had played 1 match in 6 weeks and was on his worst surface. And still took the 2nd Set Tie Break. Might be a little early to pop the champagne corks just yet for Federer at the French Open.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 06:13 PM

I dont think Roger thrashed Nadal at all in Madrid gee what was the score again?

Please Rafa had break points in the 1st and 2nd set of the match

he couldnt break.

End of story.

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 06:15 PM

thanks Annie - great explanation - yeah, I guess I have heard people talk about this fatal flaw in the past -

the problem is that I just couldn't bring MYSELF to believe it, I guess.

So maybe the only way for someone like that to finally start to climb down from the high horse is to get their ASS KICKED - several times - only then do they finally realize change is needed if they still want that brass ring.

well, if true, it must have been quite the painful psychic journey for Roger to make.

On the other hand, he was still talking like the old Roger in his Sunday presser - so probably old habits die hard, and probably will never completely go away...we will see...

And -wink wink - Rafa constantly feeding Roger's ego only prolonged the D Day - hmmmmmmm

Posted by ebh 05/19/2009 at 06:16 PM

Tim is so objective. We must all listen to his opinion. Nadal has done nothing to earn the #1 spot. It was just because Fed had mono. Otherwise, Nadal wouldn't have won Wimby and AO. Extending that argument, Rafa probably was lucky that Joker only recently decided to start getting in shape and that he got to play Murray when it was windy (not counting Murray's US Open win in windy conditions -- that doesn't count).

Posted by TripleF-FedFanForever 05/19/2009 at 06:18 PM

I agree with FanOla completely. Of course, right?

Getting to deciders, then saving match points frothing at the mouth rallying 30+ balls, playing defensively with very ordinary shots while grunting and growling to make it look like "awesome" ...sound like being castrated (both players on that silly "match of the year" semis) of course..looks exceptionally entertaining for kids and country-bumpkins alike...but a decent tennis "watcher", someone who has put some dog-years watching and following pros should know better.

No wonder, Rafa-heads don't understand why good analysts, writers and enthusiastic purveyors of the game (No, Brad Gilbert is NOT one. And, never mind Gimblestob, please shush!) appreciate Rafa's athleticism, fighting spirit, focus and such and such attributes but hardly about the graces and nuance and flourishes of the game itself.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/19/2009 at 06:18 PM

I just reread the S.I. piece to see if there was anything pertinent to this discussion and one aspect that IS discussed there is Fed's bout with mono. Courier is quoted as saying it was a mistake for fed to keep it a secret and that he should have taken 6 months off to properly recuperate. If sunday's result is evidence of a fully fit roger as opposed to a weakened roger last year, well that could change everything. maybe 14 and 15 will come at wimby and the usopen, no?

Posted by Vicky 05/19/2009 at 06:20 PM

sri: "There is no argument that if Nadal and Federer play in Wimbledon for 10 times, Federer would win 7 times."

I really think it would be closer to 50-50 than 70-30. Just look at that 2007 final. To be nice, maybe 60-40 Fed?

Posted by CL 05/19/2009 at 06:21 PM

Cosi - I really agree with what you wrote to Andrew. I have been a bit nonplussed frankly at the sort of shoulder shrug here at TW after the revelations in the SI Price article about the severity of Fed's illness. I think that had he been healthy in 2008 his reaction to the improvements in Rafa's game, and Muzzah and Djoker on the rise would have been much more forceful. As it was, he had all he could do to just tread water.

As to Pete's writing - I LOVED the alarm clock tennis... sounds like many a Twiber desperately trying to catch matches several time zones away. (But Pete - you have a DVDR, no? - couldn't you record the match and watch at a more civilized hour.)

Also loved Pete's description of the success Fed had with his 'Inside/In FH to Rafa's BH. To me, that along with Fed's serving were the real key to the match.

I would disagree with one thing Pete wrote - I think Fed looked superbly serene from the get go. Even in his little 'sit down strike' making Rafa wait at the net for change, he looked supremely patient and relaxed. Maybe he DOES know the definition of 'house money' after all.

And yes, major props to Pete for calling this one when most others thought he had lost his mind.

Posted by Ade 05/19/2009 at 06:22 PM

Great, great write up Pete!

"Translation: It's my own danged fault that I had a semi-final war."

I loved this line because it was sooo true! If Nadal would have played better in the semi, he wouldn't had been involved in a 4 hour match! That is the game of tennis!

Pete, I think Roger is doing his homework with somebody. I wouldn't be surprised if he has hired on a lot of advice and just not letting people know. It seems he has finally accepted some of the things written about him these last few months and tweaked his game.

It was a wonderful, glorious time for us Fedfans, a day that literally made my whole week feel great. Roger is definately considered an underdog as late. Now he has nothing to loose anymore! LOL, he has lost so many, it's like expected lately!

I am so happy for him, my heart is filled with Joy!

Thanks again for the article, thanks for being fair....

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/19/2009 at 06:22 PM

But not the french, roger. nope nope nope.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 05/19/2009 at 06:22 PM

Well I think what Roger achieved in playing in 08 was incredible.

I too have had this terrible disease which in fact turned into CFS for 3 years.The 1st year I was bedridden.

So I know exactly what it means.Thank God Roger didnt end up in bed or it got worse.

For him to play and make the s/finals at the AO was the mark of the man as far as I am concerned.

Until you actually get this disease you have no idea the complications it has on your body.

Posted by Mr.X 05/19/2009 at 06:22 PM

Well, the first thing i would like to do is ask pete for some numbers to the Euromillions lottery. That prediction was just sacry accurate. It was EXACTLY what happened.
A second thought is how quickly things change in tennis: the man that 2 months ago was in desperate need of a coach now could have a victory that changes the course of his rivalry against his nemesis. I dont say this as a negative thing against him: he knows way better than me the issues he's talking about. It's just funny how our hunger for new stories make articles change so quickly.
As a Nadal fan, i dont think we should start a big arguement with Fed fans because the are talking about "resurgence" and "TMF" after this match. When you have a happy moment, you look at the future with great optimism. Many Rafa fans were talking about the Grand Slam not so long ago. That probably didnt please Fed fans very match.

Posted by Mike 05/19/2009 at 06:24 PM

Well ... this FedKAD is just happy that Ol Fed finally found his form enough to win a tournament ... it being a Masters event, and against his classic rival ... a little gravy. Not assuming he's simply snapped back into TMF mode, just hoping he can continue improving ... and do well.

Moving in on PoppaHood and B-Day #28 are indicators that he won't be able to do this a heck of a lot longer ... so I'm just enjoying his improved game and the rivalries while I can. ;)

Posted by didi 05/19/2009 at 06:25 PM

Lets not forgot Nadal is 5 years younger than Roger so he has an advantage there no matter what. At least when we all talked about the rivalry between Agassi and Sampras and Borg and McEnroe these guys are all similar in age with Borg and Mac 3 years apart.
Everyone knows that Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal watched tapes for years of Roger playing and the SI article someone posted proves Nadal watched Fed over and over to learn from him. Roger deserves credit for helping "mold" these younger players indirectly but them all watching him.

Posted by Pierre 05/19/2009 at 06:25 PM

The one thing Federer could do to get Nadal motivated, to make him work even harder, to prepare to win Roland Garros, was to beat him at this point in the season.

Nice going Roger.


Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/19/2009 at 06:26 PM

AM: me too. I had epstein barr which causes chronic fatigue and basically you feel like you have the flu. i was in bed for weeks at a time. really a nightmare.

Posted by Mr Rick 05/19/2009 at 06:29 PM

Pierre - no truer words were ever spoken. If you want to get Rafa really going, just dis him (Soderling) or defeat him, and you will be very pleased with the results.

Posted by Anne 05/19/2009 at 06:30 PM

Campi-dead on (as much as predicting the future can be)-Rafa's bod will more than likely give out before 14 GSs.
I haven't been this excited for RG since I can remember. Should be a barnburner!
Annie-thanks for the shoutout-I'm a perpetual lurker, occasional poster.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/19/2009 at 06:31 PM

CL: i noticed that too and i'm so surprised no one has mentioned the sit down strike until now!! but i sure as hell noticed it was rafa at the net first! you know little things like that can have an impact. you think mirka told him to do that? "and whatever you do, darling, do not go to the net first dammit."

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