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Beyond Words 11/28/2010 - 12:17 PM

Am 

by Hannah Wilks, TW Contributing Writer

The biggest challenge in writing about Rafael Nadal (apart from not letting my bitterness as an Andy Murray fan overwhelm me) is finding something new to say. It’s not just that his undeniable brilliance has already been heavily chronicled, as much as the fact that it’s very hard to avoid a certain mythologised persona, irresistible because it participates in the reality of the man. It’s difficult to see beyond the stereotype. It’s hard even to avoid certain words—raw, brutality, power. Before you know it, you’re using bodice-ripper phrases like powerful thighs and gleaming muscles and then there’s officially no help for you.

There’s one word that hovers in the air around Andy Murray. Slam. More than any other player I can think of, he’s defined by the lack of one. It’s the reason that he can’t really win today, or at this tournament for that matter. If he beats Nadal, he’ll only get asked why he can’t do it when it really matters, at Wimbledon this summer with the prospect of a Federer-less final waiting. If he doesn‘t, he’ll be a loser. It may seem logically impossible that someone with nothing to gain can have so much to lose. Welcome to the world of the British No. 1.

From the first point of the match when Nadal blasts an inside-out forehand winner, only for Murray to respond with his own forehand and an ace to hold serve, there’s a sense that this might be the one we’ve been waiting for, an epic contest to set the World Tour Finals alight at last. The arena has been filled every day by people hoping to see the promise of the event realized; the best in the world playing their best tennis against each other. Nadal has looked sharper with each match, shaking off whatever nominal rust was accumulated by skipping Paris. Murray has been at his best and his worst this week, but today he is playing, to paraphrase Carrie Bradshaw, like himself at his most fabulous; aggressive, striking out on his forehand with supreme confidence, thumping down ace after heavy ace. Using his groundstrokes like a crowbar to pry open the cracks in Nadal’s supreme defense, he works his way to the net to drop soft volleys into unreachable places on the court. It’s the game that the fans and media beg him to play on a more or less daily basis; intelligent, courageous, a sight to see.

Such an equal match-up has the effect of making me see Nadal in a different way after all. As commenters wiser and wittier than me have pointed out, when you tend to be rooting for Nadal’s opponents, it’s difficult not to view him as a larger-than-life automaton possessed of a preternatural ability to slough off multiple death blows and come back stronger, like the killer in a slasher movie. Not so tonight. When there is a kerfuffle at 4-5 with challenges and scoreboards, it displeases both the crowd and Nadal, at one in wanting things to be just so. A noise in the ceiling between first and second serves brings a double fault. With Murray seemingly intent on hitting winners past him at every opportunity, one is forced to accept Nadal as vulnerable, fallible. His concentration can be threatened, his invincible self-belief disrupted.

This only makes what he does in the tiebreak more remarkable. Murray fluffs a forehand down the line that would have given him the mini-break, then nets a defensive slice he should be able to make in his sleep. Once he gets to set point, Nadal is always in control of the rally; a backhand cross-court, a short ball down the line that leaves Murray floundering in no man’s land, and a volley that the world no. 1 is not about to miss. Game and set because one young man kept his head better than another. I think I preferred him as an invincible force of nature who was simply too good.

The spotlight now falls on Murray’s resilience and self-belief, or lack thereof. Surely, Nadal will steamroll from here, as he did to Berdych yesterday; capitalizing on the momentary floundering that comes from losing the tightest of tiebreaks. Once he gets the bit between his teeth, he’s unstoppable. When a net cord takes Murray’s ball wide, followed by a successful Hawkeye challenge from Nadal to get the point replayed, it’s impossible not to feel that events are conspiring against Murray. He plays his first tactically ill-advised drop-shot; he’s driven to his knees by Nadal’s forehand in the next game as the DJ, displaying a masterly sense of timing, plays ‘Sledgehammer’. It’s understandable; after the loss of the first set, I want to take to my bed in a darkened room for a week or so, and I‘m just watching.

But I’m not Andy Murray. Break point down, he hits a backhand cross-court winner and gives it a “c’mon”! At deuce, he opens up the court again as only he can and finishes it off with a drop-dead volley. Game point is his eleventh ace. He gets to 0-15 on Rafa’s serve at 3-3 when Rafa pushes an attacking forehand long. If a point on Rafa’s serve in the first set was an opportunity, right now it’s an offer Murray can’t refuse. A superb backhand winner gives him the break, his fifteenth ace consolidates. I cry aloud; we all do. A return winner gives him the set on Rafa’s serve and the match we‘ve been waiting for is going the distance.

There’s a moment, when Murray has 0-30 on Rafa’s serve at 0-1, when neither are playing as well as they have been. Both have an opportunity to seize the match. Two unforced errors, a drop-shot that bounces before it reaches the net, and that‘s it. You can’t give Rafael Nadal an opening and gamble that he won’t come up with something spectacular, because he will. He breaks with a return ace.

The point at deuce on Murray’s serve at 3-5 is the match in microcosm. A sequence of unbelievable shots and yet all it accomplishes is to highlight Nadal’s brilliance and tenacity. Little kids are already running down the stairs to wait courtside for the chance to get Nadal’s autograph, and I am mentally composing a biting epitaph for the match. Murray has won six more points, but all he’s done is give Nadal a nice work-out, buffing up those muscles until they shine with sweat, making sure he looks good for the final. Nadal will not let an advantage like serving for the match go.

He doesn’t. Murray takes it back, forcing errors and sealing it with an inexorable backhand down the line. The roar from the crowd when he takes it to a tiebreak shakes the stands, but it pales in comparison to the one when Murray goes 0-3 up with an ace and two gorgeous winners. This could really happen, I think. These are the matches that can leave careers forever changed.

Before you know it, Nadal’s beaming and raising his arms, telling us once again how many Slams Murray’s going to win. I don’t think I can be the only Murray fan who is tired of hearing those words from him under these circumstances.

Murray takes it like a man. His press conference is dignified, honest; he doesn’t shrink from the harsh realities. "It was a great match to finish the year. But I need to improve because I’m competing with the two best players of all time. So if I want to win these tournaments, I want to win the Grand Slams, I need to get better."

I’m back to my semantic conundrum. The word I keep finding to describe Nadal’s performance is ‘terrifying’. On his supposedly worst surface, against an opponent who’s capable of beating him playing at his absolute best, he still won. The narrowness of the margins merely emphasize his victory. If his opponent tomorrow and the rest of the ATP aren’t viewing 2011 with a serious dose of apprehension then they’re simply not paying attention.

As for Murray, he played about as well as he can play. He stretched Nadal to his limits and brought the tournament to life. He played one of the best matches of the year. He gave the 17,500 people inside the O2, as Mark Petchey tells us in Nadal’s post-match interview, a memory that they will never forget.

Great. What trophy does he get for that?


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Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/28/2010 at 12:22 PM

first?
Hi Hannah enjoy the final.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 12:23 PM

Nadal and Federer final should start shortly

Nestor/Zimonjic defeated Bhupathi/Mirnyi 7-6(6),6-4

Posted by Papo 11/28/2010 at 12:26 PM

Good luck to both players. Hope it's a great match.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:27 PM

cha boom! Fedal final! Pay attention, kids. You only get to see them play 2 more times this year after this!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:27 PM

Bring it on!

Posted by Andrew 11/28/2010 at 12:28 PM

Well, I'm a Hannah Wilks fan.

Back later this evening after I've had a chance to watch the match on DVR. Sunday doubles in Calgary before then.

Hannah (Gauloises), it's been such a pleasure reading your reports this week. I hope you enjoy the final, and I'm looking forward to one last great piece of writing.

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/28/2010 at 12:29 PM

"Game and set because one young man kept his head better than another."
Pretty much that was the match in a nutshell.

Posted by Alex 11/28/2010 at 12:31 PM

There is the fact that Murray won more games than Rafa. I don't think that should be overlooked from a "Moneyball" standpoint. Whether you believe that Rafa winning the tiebrakers was skill or fortune, Murray played just about as well as you can while still "losing" the match.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:31 PM

okay, I will be watching this on ESPN 2 after finding HD feed at V------! I wonder who will be commentating? Please don't bring that Pat Mac, I can't stand him with his bias. I want someone who does not tilt to one side too obvious. Okay sounds like that Cliff something guy is on.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:32 PM

The Great One is walking in. First. Mmph!

All Stand Up!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:33 PM

ESPN2 HD, woo! Hi all!

Federer comes out first in a haze of fog and to flashing disco lights... woo! Heheh. Glamour!

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 11/28/2010 at 12:33 PM

Roger looks nervous. Uh-Oh !

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:33 PM

zhite...where did PMac and Drysdale come from? Cashing in on a Fedal? silly 'hores!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:34 PM

Fed KADS, tune it to ESPN 2. Both commentators, Cliff something guy and Pat Mac are known Fed lovers. So is those South African duos.

Rafa KADS, tune it to Sky sports feeds. They have some Greg something British guy there.

Posted by Holds2Love 11/28/2010 at 12:34 PM

Both players appeared nervous in their pre-match interview. The little one waiting to walk out with Federer was SO ready! No chance of getting passed by. :)

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:36 PM

PMac is regurgitating cliches and tourney summaries...am sure it is for the least-common-multiple ESPN2 crowd. besides the TWibes here...I need to deal with this zhite...Hayayayayayayayayaay!

Posted by TMFunk (formerly the prone-to-error typing TheMightyFunk) 11/28/2010 at 12:36 PM

anyone got a stream?

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:37 PM

Rafa bouncing around, Roger standing still on the other side--looks kind of funny. "Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom!" or something.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 12:37 PM

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are on the court in London

Mohamed Lahyani is the chair umpire

Cliff Drysdale and Patrick McEnroe will be doing the commentary on ESPN2

Jason Goodall and Robbie Koenig will be doing the commentary for ATP TV

Posted by Bobby C. 11/28/2010 at 12:37 PM

Hannah, as I've said several times before, I'm loving your stuff!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:38 PM

Gee, get a room, these two. They are hugging each other like two old couple at the net.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 12:39 PM

Roger won the toss but let Rafael makes the choice and Rafael elects to receive

Posted by 1221 11/28/2010 at 12:39 PM

As a Nadal fan...only Federer can elicit this kind of palpitations from me.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:40 PM

"Roger won the toss but let Rafael makes the choice and Rafael elects to receive."

Huh! What?! Is that -- is that normal? I've never paid attention before...

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:40 PM

Fed KADs zone: ESPN 2 (Cliff Drysdale and Patrick McEnroe), and ATP TV feed (Jason Goodall and Robbie Koenig). You will get Fed love fest there

Rafa KADs zone: Sky sports feed (Greg R. + some other British guy).

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:43 PM

Of course the downside of watching ESPN 2 is that they have about 20 seconds or so delay compare to either ATP TV or Sky sports feeds. Oh well, we'll see how this will go.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/28/2010 at 12:43 PM

Hi all...here's hoping we get a classic today....

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 12:43 PM

Blue Moon,
That is what ATP TV said but from what I heard that Rafael won the toss and elected to receive. Roger called heads but the coin landed tails.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 12:45 PM

Just terrified. Vamos Rafa!

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/28/2010 at 12:46 PM

Nice piece Hannah, they've all been great.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 12:47 PM

k, frazzle going waaaayyyyyyy up!

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 12:47 PM

That looked like Roger hit a changeup on the backhand? :)

Good start from Rafa so far. Doh!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:47 PM

Fed holds to love beautifully!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:48 PM

A supremely cool confident love hold. Awesome. so far.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 12:48 PM

GREAT opening game from Federer. Every point a winner.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:49 PM

Both of the crowns at ESPN are calling for Fed win. Meanwhile I smell that this match could turn out to be a stinker. Unlike AO or Wimby final where they start playing crazy from the 1st game, this 1st game was lame.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:50 PM

Commentators talking about Uncle Annaconi again, through the point. Yuck.

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 11/28/2010 at 12:50 PM

Anyone who has ESPN2 can watch it streamed at ESPN3.com

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:50 PM

PMac, can you please shut the F up when the point is on? Please? Thank you

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:51 PM

Fed whacks the return long three times in a row... kind of blah. But Rafa holds to love, then, too.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 12:51 PM

Good heavens. Roger taking a Gulbis-like whack at everything. With Ernie-like results. 1-all.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 12:51 PM

Roger is being aggressive on every single return...but he's not keeping it within the lines...

Maybe he'll win one or two of those points eventually....

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 12:52 PM

Sherlock,

"Roger taking a Gulbis-like whack at everything. With Ernie-like results."

You said it better than me.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 12:53 PM

Great point Roger!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 12:53 PM

oh they cut my ESPN feed, so I am onto ATP TV feed. 1-2. easy service games so far.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:53 PM

Wow, three games in, in a Nadal match, and it's been, what, seven minutes?! Is this yet another Rafa record?

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:54 PM

You guys find something strange here? Nadal is not reaching for shots! he is letting it go. How much ever impossible the reach is, dude always gives it a try. What's going on?

Anyone clued in?

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 12:54 PM

Well, at this rate, it should be over in about 20 minutes either way. :)

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 12:54 PM

Grape versus Tomato. Both look a bit stiff on return games so far.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:55 PM

TripleF, maybe Ted Forstmann is betting on the match...

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 12:56 PM

TripleF: I noticed that too.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/28/2010 at 12:56 PM

LOL Fangorina...Grape vs Tomato...good one...battle of the fruit...

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 12:56 PM

Blue moon

I think Toni's new scheme is in. He is always thinking no?

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 12:57 PM

Rafa should raise the undue haste with the points with the match umpire.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 12:58 PM

Sherlock: the comparison with Ernie was so spot on. Ugh.

Posted by Cupcake Lurker 11/28/2010 at 12:58 PM

Would love it if Roger found the lines.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 12:59 PM

There is zero rhythm to this match so far.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/28/2010 at 12:59 PM

Truly bizarre tennis going on...

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 12:59 PM

Roger still hitting all returns long...but as long as he dosen't get broken..i think he should be fine.

At the worst, he will lose...but alteast he is trying something different...

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 12:59 PM

Rafa takes five extra seconds and delivers an unreturnable. Well, OK.

TripleF, maybe they were right about Rafa being -- being--... I can't say it-- tired!?

Roger plays another great point!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:00 PM

WOO! Backhand winner! Fed's been waiting to do THAT for a while.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:00 PM

That was one hellacious backhand from Roger. :)

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:00 PM

where has that backhand been all my life?!?

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:00 PM

And Roger said there wasn't anything new to be seen in this matchup. This is new, for sure! No one's even gotten to 30 on a return game.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:00 PM

Such a big match and Cliffie and PMac won't shut up and let us watch it.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:01 PM

Roger's hitting Andy Murray type of shots now???? Andy Murray is now the new standard now...either way, the crowd ruptures.

3-2 on serve.

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 11/28/2010 at 01:01 PM

Both appear still nervous 5 games in.

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 11/28/2010 at 01:01 PM

comment fail from Cliffie: That Backhand was Murray-like!!! (except Murray plays two-handed)

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:01 PM

geez the old man is totally cruising. 2-3. If this continues, it's a matter of time before Rafa pay for feeding his puny serves. Fed will get more back in play, so he will have more chance to get close to break a game.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:02 PM

LOL reliving the Downing street visit. Ferru looking glum. Hahaha.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:02 PM

Lord...let that High BH be the winning difference. What a drive! And put that devil to rest. Amen.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:02 PM

Greg Couch on twitter:

"Great sign that Federer nailing returns, even if he is missing. Shows he's willing to change. See if he keeps it up"

I agree.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:02 PM

ugh, Fed, missed the volley.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:02 PM

AWW! Roger in control of the point but shanks the volley.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:03 PM

WOOOOOOOOO! THE TENNIS HAS BEGUN!!!

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:03 PM

what a crazy point!!!!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:03 PM

Yes!!!! Roger!!!

Great point...great rally!

Posted by Cupcake Lurker 11/28/2010 at 01:04 PM

Another great BH.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:04 PM

WHAT AM I SEEING HERE?

An '05 , '06 Fed!


Lord help me through this

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:04 PM

Finally a good rally. Fed's b/h is great today so far

Posted by for the love of sport 11/28/2010 at 01:04 PM

First really good point of the match...

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 11/28/2010 at 01:04 PM

Hey, I was at that Becker-Lendl match in 1986!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:04 PM

What is this? DId the old man hit billions of backhands all of sudden?

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:04 PM

It's odd that Rafa didn't get to that bh. Roger hit it with a lot of top.

Wow, those last two points had some serious hitting.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:05 PM

Soooooo... who's the favorite, guys? :)

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:05 PM

Rafa with an answer of his own ofcourse...

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:05 PM

Hurray! The tennis has begun!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:06 PM

Despite all that... still no one's won two points against the other's serve, I think.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:06 PM

Great serve by Nadal. Seemed like Roger had some chances that game, but Rafa held on. I think I'm going to be sick if this keeps up. :)

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 01:06 PM

0-15 as Rafael rips CC BH for winner at 3-all Federer serving

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:06 PM

3-all

Either way, this Fed version is very encouraging for next year..the guy still has it in him.

Okay..Fed don't get broken here..

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:06 PM

Wow, Rafa goes for the cc bh. Haven't seen that much thsi week.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:07 PM

and it all starts to go downhill...

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:07 PM

Fed is a dumbass...DF of all things.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:07 PM

0-30! Please make something happen, Rafa!!

Posted by Deuce 11/28/2010 at 01:07 PM

Hello all! Seems like a nercous start for players, fans and the commentators. I walked the dogs during Fed's match yesterday and may need to do the same now!

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:07 PM

oh that US open lineswoman is here!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:07 PM

That Rafa's blistering BH may be unnerved fed.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:07 PM

Woo! Fed stumbles with the DF but comes back with two great points. 30-30.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:08 PM

Hold Fed...please...

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