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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 x-fan 11/28/2010 at 01:49 PM

Master Ace,
Roger can still come back in this set, no?
It's not impossible.
Other than that poor service game where he got broken he's playing better than Rafa, imo.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:49 PM

MA: I will hunt you down if Rafa gets broken serving this set out!

Vamos Rafa!!!!!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:49 PM

2 love holds for Fed. May be a bit too late. He is back to normal now.
This is the game then.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:49 PM

yello fuzzy, for some reason he lost momentum on serve (his serve was in the 20s for most of the 2nd). He seems to have regained it now, but still.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:50 PM

This Rafa kid is so tired, he doesn't even try to chase down that drop shot. He can't even chase down any ball. He will be lucky to win this next game. 5-3.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:50 PM

I'm guessing it's higher than 27% after the game for 5-3, which was decent.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:50 PM

Rafa not running for the drop-shot? WTH?

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:50 PM

Fangorina, think poetic license. :)

And of course Wimby tennis rocked in the '90s. You know why.

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 01:50 PM

Seems like this a match of ebbs and flows....

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:50 PM

The netcord makes everything go crazy but both players know what to do and Fed wins the point!

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:51 PM

0-15:((((( Pls Rafa!!!!!

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:51 PM

I know why NP. You are right about Rafa. He is not 100% today.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:52 PM

Carrie...Rafa didn't show any enthusiasm about the match yesterday either..it was all "I am so tired" and how is he going to play today etc..when this matchup has carried tennis for five yrs and is so important for fans..the #1 player can't be a good sport about it even in a presser for us fans.

But he sure will win this, so i guess moot point.

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:52 PM

"Rafa not running for the drop-shot? WTH?"

Fangorina, my eyes and brain never fail me.

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:52 PM

I think that was the 1st slice from Rafa today.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

VAMOS!!!!!!!

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

Rafael serving to force a deciding set 3-6,5-3

0-15 Roger volley winner cutting off Rafael CC BH passing shot after getting to Rafael FH hit the net and bounced over
Roger 9/12 at net
15-15 Roger I/O FH return wide on 2nd serve
30-15 Roger FH return wide as Rafael served to body - 110 mph
40-15 Roger FH long as Rafael hit CC FH with mphs
Rafael takes the set as his CC BH passing shot was too low as Roger came to net

Roger serving at 6-3,3-6 to start the final set

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

Sweet inside out fh followed by slice pass.

Posted by temes 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

That was the most pathetic net attempt ever from Fed. Set to Nadal.

Mirroring sets in score and performance from both.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

Fed again very generous. Gave another game to Rafa. 6-3. Rafa, it's your time to call the trainer.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

GB, if you keep making that face your face will freeze like that :)

Well, fine. If that's all we had to go through for Mirkaland to be over... third set ahoj.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

NP: the ATP finals also rocked in the 90's at least five times. :)

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

2nd BH slice of the match from Rafa wins him the 2nd set 6-3.

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/28/2010 at 01:53 PM

Nice. Only fitting that a WTF final should go three sets.

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:54 PM

"You are right about Rafa. He is not 100% today."

High-5!

So Rafa takes the 2nd set. Man, this match kinda blows. I expected more.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:54 PM

Fed had better have his serve back now.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 01:54 PM

Wish it were five sets.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 01:55 PM

Fed to serve first. 3rd set.
THIS IS IT.

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:55 PM

I expected more intensity. Oh well, now maybe both will settle in and swing freely.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:55 PM

A woman at Sky sports is in going for Rafa. I bet ESPN is still going for Fed. I still see this is entirely up to how much generous Fed feels. This Rafa kid is so tired that he can't even open his eyes for the most of time.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:56 PM

Roger...think of something and make the scoreline respectable in the third please. At least a TB? Even Roddick could take the #1 to a TB.

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 01:56 PM

"NP: the ATP finals also rocked in the 90's at least five times. :)"

Hear, hear!

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:56 PM

I expect Rafa to win this easily.

Fed's lost his intensity, bigtime.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:56 PM

old man Fed,

P Mac is going for Rafa.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:57 PM

Sighsighsighsigh... it was all looking so good. This is why you stay at the same tension, Fed!

Shut up, McEnroe. What do you know.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:57 PM

Gah - really wish you hadn't missed that Rafa!!

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 01:57 PM

crazyone
it's that kind of Federer confidence that won him so many matches in his career. There is only one player that can beat Roger consistently, Roger's got to know, he can't let 'this' player sink his teeth in the match. A one game lapse in concentration is all Rafa needs

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:57 PM

I don't know about anyone else, but the "Is Rafa tired or not" talk is really getting boring. Can't we enjoy the great match?

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 01:57 PM

I think it's a toss up. See saw.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 01:57 PM

Ladyjulia,
PMac has been singing Rafael praises especially after he got the break in set 2.

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 01:58 PM

Lady julia. Perhaps he could have been enthusiastic in his presser - I see your point and not said anything about being tired. I can't agree with you that he is bad sport - but I know that my opinion is in the minority here.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 01:58 PM

Roger...show a little passion come on...you are the world #2

A fistpump..some come ons...

allez

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 01:58 PM

Guys, it's Rafa and Rog. Neither is going to go away.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 01:58 PM

Are they blind? Rafa is dead tired! He is barely chasing down up to 2 balls. Totally giving up many balls. Unless Fed donate his service game and donate some more, I don't see that. 0-1.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 01:58 PM

Roger holds at 15 capped off by BH winner. Rafael to serve 3-6,6-3,0-1

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 01:59 PM

Fed holds kind of comfortably, but all the real comfort has gone out of it. :/

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 01:59 PM

Pls, pls hold here if you can, Rafa!!!!

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 01:59 PM

the important game is Fed's third service game. That's traditionally where he struggles in final sets...

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 01:59 PM

Sherlock,

Amen!
I was going to say the same thing.
There is no way we can be sure of what these players are thinking, feeling.
Strong hold for Fed. He has the edge now serving first.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:00 PM

Now Rafa being timid again, and PMac will jump back on the Roger bandwagon shamelessly.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:00 PM

0-15:(((

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 02:00 PM

Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan,
Rafael groundstrokes have been accurate since the start of set 2 and Rafael did say he was mentally fresh in his presser despite the tried comments.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:00 PM

Carrie...its just my opinion..not the general opinion. You may be right and I may be wrong.

Its just that i thought this means a lot to both players. And Roger is not keeping up his part of the bargain either.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:00 PM

Rafa saves the passing shot correctly that time... Dammit Fed.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:00 PM

what a point! hat's off Rafa

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 02:00 PM

I think it's......The Curse of Ruth!

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

Roger is a total dumbass at the net...NP, do you have any stronger PG-13 words?

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

Then a good point and a VAMOS!!!!

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

Second serve ace? Psht. PSHT!

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

Is it just me, or is Fed tentative when he comes into the net? Seems like he often misses because he's stuck trying to pick them up off his toes.

Oh Pat Mac just said the same... so my theory must be wrong.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 02:01 PM

2nd serve ace from Rafa? Now I've seen everything.

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

Roger, you imbecile.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 02:02 PM

Rafa is running the old guy all over the court

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

something has to be done about Federer and the way he moves to his FH side. Can't he do successive sprints to the right and improve his speed in that direction?

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

this kid rafa is clinically crazy.

Fed threw some amazing ones...

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 02:03 PM

Lots of winners from both guys those first two games. Good stuff.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:03 PM

Nice hold by Rafa!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:03 PM

Well, Rafa had more trouble on his service game than Fed so far. Silver lining silver lining...

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 02:03 PM

Can you guys not hear what PMac is saying? The match is on ESPN2 right now. Or am I the only one who's watching it on the old-fashioned TV?

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:04 PM

Rafa sprays that one into the Thames. Huh.

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 02:04 PM

MikeDC: I think his technique on low volleys just isn't very good anymore.

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 02:04 PM

Roger isn't tentative but will say he's got a stutter-step's worth of hesitation. He's chasing down everything Rafa throws at him.

Looks like we're finally getting both of them playing well at the same time.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:04 PM

First set FED IS BACK...

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 02:04 PM

Rafa is so far behind the baseline on the ROS and missing too many returns

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:04 PM

Roger holds to love like a champ.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:04 PM

actually he was back the last 3 games but it was a bit too late...

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:05 PM

Uber easy game for Fed:(((

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 02:05 PM

See how easy Fed is holding his service games? No trouble what so ever. Another beat down game. As I said, it's totally up to the old man's mood for donation now for Rafa to even take a lead in this 3rd set.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 02:05 PM

Rafael held at 15 capped off by FH winner DTL followed by Roger holding at love capped off by FH winner. Rafael to serve 3-6,6-3,1-2

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 02:06 PM

ladyjulia, I do, but I'd rather not divulge. I use 'em only when I'm really, really pissed off.

Posted by Deuce 11/28/2010 at 02:06 PM

Thanks Sherlock:) I figured we have a third set so how fitting that here we are indeed!

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:07 PM

Pls, pls hold here Rafa!

This is one quick Fedal match, 1hr 20 mins and it's 2-1 in the third.

0-15:((( You have to be aggressive Rafa!!!

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 02:07 PM

Roger playing better than Rafa overall so far.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 02:07 PM

NP,
I am watching the match on my HDTV hearing Cliff and P Mac

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:07 PM

NP I'm watching it on the TV too. What about it?

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:08 PM

NP: I always mute PMac

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 02:08 PM

Fed, come on, step up the aggression...

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 02:08 PM

Ladyjulia- also- one point that I would like to make is that after Rafa's match it was not known who he would play- and he was asked about the kMurray match mostly. After Roger's match it was known who he would play and he was ased a lot more questions about the upcoming match. If rafa had been asked a few hours after his match when his mind was not just on the match with Murray and where he knew who he would play- perhaps he would have mentioned in a way that you would not have deemed as so negative.

Enough of that though- we will not agree about who was a bad sport and what was appropriate enthusiasm at what time and there is a match on. :)

Posted by Rebecca 11/28/2010 at 02:09 PM

Roger playing better than Rafa overall, but Rafa seems steadier

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:09 PM

Hey, looks like at the end of the 2nd Annacone taught Fed what to do at the net. Lovely.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:10 PM

Mirka seems to be really enjoying the match...nice smiles..

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 02:10 PM

The ROS is key for both right now.

Roger's much better.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:10 PM

Win this friggin pt, Rafa!!! But no, deuce:(((( from 40-15:( Vamos!!

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 02:10 PM

chip-and-charge!

deuce...

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 02:10 PM

Awful error. From 40-15 to deuce. Ugh.

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

Deuuuuuuuce! Go Rogi! I have nothing else to contribute.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 02:11 PM

Geez. Back to back awful errors. Dude, clean it up.

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

BP BP BP BP! Rogi you have a 100% BP record right now, how often are you gonna get to say that?!

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 02:11 PM

Guys, gotcha. Just wondering.

Fed's got a BP.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:11 PM

F!!!! Just watch Fed break on his first opportunity again:((

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