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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 thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 01:30 PM

I hate the sight of that mishit backhand...Ouch.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:30 PM

And now the dude misses a low BH which is in his strikes zone since day zero. Oh, i get it. he didnt practice it lately.


Do we have a consensus brewing about the high BH devil being vanished? Or is it too soon?

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:30 PM

Seems like the beaten to a pulp guy is hanging in. :)

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:31 PM

NP: of course. Will be Adje-ing all over the place.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:31 PM

This Rafa kid, I tell you. He is so tired that he doesn't even run around like a bunny. Why even bother coming onto the match if you're not going to do that?

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:31 PM

jewell: his body language does not match your interpreted desire.

There are balls he's given up on too early.

BTW: these are not "excuses" just observations.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:32 PM

Uh-oh, complacent Mirkaland time.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:32 PM

Nadal misses that?! How?!

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:32 PM

Dammit, Rafa. A sitter for 0-30 and you blow it.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:32 PM

F:((((( Why did you have to miss that!!!

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

Strange miss, that one!

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

Rafa playing closer to the baseline, but missed the easy shot

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

Looks to me that Nadal is more frustrated than anything else.
Between Roger's play and his own UEs (like that last one) I can'ts aay I blame him.

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

..and I've already paid homage to TMF's BH, jeez, what more does one need to do in here?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

This Rafa kid can't even win a point when old man gives him. 15-15. Now 15-30.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

But didn't miss that return. :)

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

Fangorina, I really don't think it's mental, at least not for the most part. Anyway I've already given two specific examples, and if you're not already convinced, tough. :)

Fed's level has dropped off in this set. Maybe he's feeling the pressure?

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:33 PM

Fed stumbling around on service. Nadal punishes it. Come on, Fed...

Posted by Mike 11/28/2010 at 01:34 PM

It's obvious ... despite both guys being at the top of the game for so many years, that they're nervous. It's a statement title for both of them ... as big as a Major, pretty much ... IMHO.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:34 PM

Fed what is wrong with your volley?! Into the net again?!

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 11/28/2010 at 01:34 PM

My interpreted desire? I don't think Rafa's playing as well as I've seen, but lack of effort - no.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:34 PM

ughh, Fed and his "volleys".

Aces, please.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

:(((( Pls win this pt, Rafa!!!!

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

NP: I always agree with you.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

This Rafa kid can't even win a point when old man gives him. 30-40 now.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

Whew. Nadal shanks the first BP, but my heart is threatening to jump into my throat. I laughed at GB when it was Nadal's BP, but now I regret it. :(

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

VAMOS!!!!

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

15-40 for Rafael as Roger comes forward behind FH but nets volley
(Roger 1/1 BP)
30-40 Rafael CC FH passing shot wide as Roger comes forward behind serve and hit volley
Rafael breaks as Roger FH sails long

Rafael to serve 3-6,3-1

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

Uh-oh. Well, there's still time to save this set.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

Yes.

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

Mike
Couldn't agree more. Both seem very nervous to me.

Oh oh.. there's the break for Nadal.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:35 PM

and now Rafa has the break.

Fed's first serve deserted him.

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:36 PM

To me, he gave up on several balls in that 1st set.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 11/28/2010 at 01:36 PM

Here we go ... Roger has allowed his level to drop in this set. You have to make things difficult for yourself, don't you, Roger?

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 11/28/2010 at 01:36 PM

It's not a break till you hold...several missed FHs now.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:36 PM

So Fed pitted Rafa and gave that game. This Rafa kid is so tired, he can't even say "vamos". oy 0-15.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:36 PM

Roger is a dumbass.

And now Rafa will make a "miracle" comeback..according to Neil Harman on twitter. Because apparently only a miracle can take away Rafa's ordeal from the previous match with Murray.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:36 PM

VAfrigginMOS!!!! But 0-15:(( Don't break my heart by failing to consolidate!!!

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:37 PM

Fangorina, gotcha. Was a bit confused by your earlier comment.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:37 PM

Fed serving at 53%? Yuck, yuck, yuck. Is that all comedown from the first set? And now a forehand shank too?! ROGER COME ON.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:37 PM

I am always confused by my comments

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 01:37 PM

This Rafa kid can't even win a point when old man gives him. 30-40 now.
-----------

Old man Fed, you really do make me laugh. Are you new to tennis?

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:38 PM

"I am always confused by my comments"

LOL

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:38 PM

hah, Rafa got thrown off by Fed's moonball.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:38 PM

Fangorina,

LOL

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:38 PM

don't you dare give this break back Rafa

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:38 PM

30-30.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:38 PM

Damn 30-30:(((( Pls don't let him get a bp here, Rafa!!!

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:38 PM

Rafa definitely came out looking more aggressive this set, but Roger suffering from his new 2nd set let down.

Hah! Moonball FH from Roger draws the netted error from Rafa.

Tim should be happy.

Posted by BrooklynNY 11/28/2010 at 01:39 PM

Rafa looks like he has been toughing out matches all week, and still beating the top 8.

He doesn't even seem to be playing well and hes still in this match.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:39 PM

k, just win this pt!!!!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:39 PM

Roger what the hell!? You had that! You had that! ARGHHHH stop overthinking it

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:39 PM

Down goes Roger

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

Ouch. :( That was a hard fall.

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

Heh, Fed's FH seems to be a less reliable shot today.

And he follows up with a WTF BH miss.

Fed falls down, but looks OK. Rafa consolidates. 4-1.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

Fed takes a tumble. Seems to be fine but :(

Hahaa and then a Rolex advertisement about elegance, he's playing in a suit and everything. Maybe not the most fortunate conjunction.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

Hope Roger's ok!

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

And now, Pleather

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

VAMOS!!!!! But 2 more holds feels like one helluva mountain

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

Roger to serve 6-3,1-4

For all the comments about Rafael being tired, he sure can be very accurate with his groundstrokes in this set. Who says Rafael do not want this title? I see a 3rd set coming up.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

Now I've seen everything. The old man falling down like that.

Tina, I'm just trying reverse-psychology to make this Fedal final a match.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:40 PM

Gosh
Wish I didn't see that!

Like I said, this kid Rafa is not going to hand it to him.

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:41 PM

This match is wacky.

Or, whacky.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:41 PM

Fred alert. Dude can't even keep his balance. Gets up and walks immediately.

Fed is not gonna win this at all with his shots all outside the lines now.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 11/28/2010 at 01:41 PM

The comms are right. Roger is now thinking about it, instead of playing from pure instinct as he did in the first set. He's now noticeably passive in the rallies. Too bad, because he was phenomenal in the first set. Needs to go back to focusing and playing freely.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 01:41 PM

heyho
wow tuned in just in time to see a rare Federer fall.....hope he didn't strain something

Posted by Rebecca 11/28/2010 at 01:41 PM

what's the umpire saying to Rafa?

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:41 PM

"NP: I always agree with you."

"Roger is a dumbass."

LOL.

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 01:41 PM

Hope that fall wasn't anything serious for Fed.
Quite a few players have been slipping on this surface when changing direction.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:42 PM

Let's keep this a one-break game, Fed.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:42 PM

Fed's fall waking him up?

"The comms are right."

:O

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

Hope Fed's ok!

MA: please no jinxing! We are an eternity away from a 3rd.

What was Rafa talking to MO about?

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

Rafa is rubbing his right thigh like he's totally tired.

Fed fell down and hit his left wrist.

What is this? Well Fed is back to cruising mode. See? I told you. That was a pity game Fed gave Rafa there.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

Rafa can't make a ROS...

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

Now Cliff and PMac are dogging Roger's chances even as he serves a love game.

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

Fed looked like Apollo Ono when he fell. Smartly let of the racket.

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

I hope he did not hurt himself...

Posted by temes 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

Oh my this match isn't exactly intense...they are taking turns who plays well.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:43 PM

love hold.

Fred or Rafa factor? I say latter. Rafa laid some solid ones there. This is juicing up real good. We need a couple of High BH winners.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:44 PM

This set is now gone anyway.

The dude on the other side is the #1 player who has won 3 slams this year. Doubt if he's a headcase enough to let go of a 4-1 lead.


Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:44 PM

Left wrist? That's why you go with a one-handed backhand.

Fed forehand shanks, hello.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:44 PM

Another uber easy hold for Fed...

Pls, pls hold Rafa!!!

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:44 PM

temes: you're right. I wish both of them would play well at the same time.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:45 PM

Fed finally gets one of those aggressive returns in.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:45 PM

C'mon Rafa!!!

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:45 PM

Dudes, get some balls in. This ain't '90s Wimbledon. Let's see some tennis.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:46 PM

Rafa's spinny body serve works well on the carpet.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:46 PM

Now Rafa is taking the ball early. jeez

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:46 PM

Wow. Some ball crushing on that last point.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:46 PM

5-2. Fed is in generous mode. Gave another pity game to Rafa.

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 01:47 PM

*Rafa has himself to blame for lack of energy..he's the #1 player, if he can't put effort for the matchup that most of tennis and media has been waiting for for such a long time..its his fault. *

Urrrr....sometimes it just takes some players a while to get into a match and it looks like he did that today. Not to mention your fellow playing wonderful tennis....so can't agree with you. It never looked to me like he was not putting any effort into it as you claim... It was frustrating for sure- but that happens with all players- so I can't how he was letting down the tennis world and media as much as you did. Frustrating as a fan of his ye- yes- not having any effort and letting down the media and tennis fans- no.

Plus- as I mentioned Roger was playing very well in the first.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:47 PM

NP: Now I disagree with you. I loved Wimby tennis in the 90's!

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:47 PM

Rafa talking to Mo again. Anyone know what's up???

Still an eternity to go. An eternity.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 01:47 PM

GB,
Understand the frazzle completely but we are going to have the last match(other than Davis Cup) of 2010 go to a deciding set. Get ready.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:47 PM

Supposedly Fed is serving at ... 27%? D: Surprised this isn't another 6-1.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:47 PM

Fed...just make the scoreline respectable okay..you are the world #2 you know. No bakery products please.

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/28/2010 at 01:48 PM

Great rally from both guys!

There seemed to be a camera flash everytime Rafa served there, right from service line. Hmmm

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 01:48 PM

did Roger think Rafa would be too tired to push to a 3rd set? seems like he took the foot of the gas for that one game early in the set

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 01:48 PM

27% are ya kidding?

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:49 PM

Haha Rafa lets the drop shot go entirely. How... un-Rafaesque.

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