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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 Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:11 PM

ugh

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:12 PM

Damn:(((

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:12 PM

Nadal flounces the first serve way out. AND FED BREAKS 2/2?!?!?! TMF!

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 02:12 PM

40-40 Rafael BH long
40-A Rafael FH wide - Rafael challenges but to no avail
Roger 1/1 BP(Rafael 1/2)
Roger breaks as he came forward behind FH and Rafael FH passing shot sails wide

Roger to serve 6-3,3-6,3-1

Posted by Cupcake Lurker 11/28/2010 at 02:12 PM

Go Roger!!! Now HOLD.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 02:12 PM

Boy, that was an awful few points, Rafa.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:12 PM

It isn't a break until you consolidate...

Roger..please hold.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 02:12 PM

oy. The match is over. 1-3. Tired Rafa won't come back.

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 02:13 PM

And that's the break for Fed.
He should cruise from here on the way he's been serving.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 02:13 PM

oooo a bit of a brain fart by Rafa....Roger has got to be loving this

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:13 PM

Come on Roger...HOLD...

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:13 PM

And Fed slams a winner right after the break. If all your second set decreases are followed by play like this ... I'll be happy.

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 02:13 PM

Roger..do not let the chance slip.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:13 PM

Wow! Fed has won 28/30 points on first serve? Now 29/31 I guess.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:14 PM

Aces...Roger...come on HOLD...

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 02:14 PM

but Fed NEEDS to hold here...

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:14 PM

Fed BH's right to the bottom of the net like a cod or something.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:14 PM

*beyond gutted that he was broken from 40-15 up*

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 02:14 PM

Fed taking breakpoints..attaboy!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:14 PM

I think Rafa breaks here...

the BH is error strewn now...

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

Fed, come on, be Isner for a second.

Posted by Rebecca 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

wHAT? 90% first serve won for Roger? It's up to him to donate now or it's all over.

Posted by for the love of sport 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

This is banal tennis...never thought I'd say that about Rafa-Roger...

Posted by Samantha Elin, Caro 2010 YE #1 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

Hehe to the Roger haters, the "old man" is showing the "young gun how it's done. You go Roger. Old my assets!! Kom sa, Caro, Kom igen, Robin!!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

Well, Roger is nothing if not generous, Rebecca. Deuce for no good reason at all.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

all my fingernails are gone

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

Is anyone paying attention to the wikileak thing?

Suppose not.

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

Ugh- over the past couple of years Rafa has this annoying tendency of getting in trouble in his service games - and being broken- after initially having a comfortable point count.

Ugh.

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 02:15 PM

And Fed breaks.

Rafa will need help from Fed to break back. His RoS has been subpar for most of this match.

Fed obliges. Deuce.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:16 PM

What is Fed trying to do? Is he dumb?

I would be glad if it was Isner right now trying to hold...

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:16 PM

WOW the net has decided to like Fed today.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:16 PM

:((((

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:16 PM

Wow, what an ace to hold!

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:16 PM

GAG

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 02:16 PM

40-40 Roger FH long
Roger will have to win this match as Rafael will not give in as Rafael plays more % tennis when down
A-40 Rafael nets BH return barely as ball stayed on his side
Roger consolidates as he aces wide

Rafael to serve 3-6,6-3,1-4

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 02:17 PM

Rafa will be lucky to win another game in this set... 1-4. game over.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:17 PM

World politics can wait, thebigapple! Police state or not, Roger is playing Rafa!

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 02:17 PM

Rafa's ROS very mediocre today.

Roger's ROS pretty good.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:17 PM

Rafa is just waiting for it go 5-1...then the beast in him is unleashed for the battle and he takes the set 7-5.

It might happen again today. Very likely.

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 02:18 PM

Fed consolidates.
Nadal can't do much with Fed's first serves, still he is the only player to take a set off Fed in this tourney (I know small consolation for Rafa fans but there is always next year)

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:18 PM

I don't see anyway that you're gonna break now, Rafa, but pls try to hold!!

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:18 PM

AND ROGER IS WINNING, MIGHT I ADD.

Posted by Samantha Elin, Caro 2010 YE #1 11/28/2010 at 02:18 PM

Get him Roger, I'm so tired of some of the Rafa fans with their superior put downs and people like P-mac saying he's pass his peak. You show them Roger.

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 02:19 PM

That is true, blue moon. So true. I have no idea on what is important.

Go Fed. Break again

Posted by for the love of sport 11/28/2010 at 02:19 PM

Key to the match...Rafa's inability to return Roger's slider out wide on the deuce court side...and his dour refusal to hit more to roger's forehand...

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 02:19 PM

*Its just that i thought this means a lot to both player*

ladyjulia- as I mentioned- Rafa did not know who he was going to play at that time he was interviewed and was asked mostly about Murray. Roger did know who he was going to play.

But oh well- I think this match means a lot to BOTH players- not just Roger. (Roger who will win).

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:19 PM

Ladyjulia, if Rafa's willing to take the risk... so will I :)

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:19 PM

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

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 02:19 PM

I think this is going to finish soon. Rafa hasn't been able to find much rhythm in this set.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:19 PM

Blue moon,

Nobody is winning really until the last point is played. Watch when it becomes 1-5.

Posted by temes 11/28/2010 at 02:20 PM

Fed's fantastic level in the first set has returned.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:20 PM

*Feels* over. But remembers Federer can blow some match points, one hopes.

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 02:20 PM

Fed will have to have a major breakdown to lose this match from here. Just look at the #s. Rafa's RoS has been virtually nonexistent on Fed's 1st serves.

And Rafa's serve is back to his pre-'08 level. That's not helping his chances, either.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:20 PM

McEnroe is talking about the contact point. A little lower, a little slower. Fed gives away a point to Nadal. All is normal.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:20 PM

punches gallore. no rallies and no time for rafa.
I likey

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:20 PM

BREAK POINTS! Fed... dare I ask for 3/3?

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:20 PM

Far behind the baseline Rafa is back. sigh

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

Geez, Rafa's become an error-machine these last few games. Wth??

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

0-30 Roger CC BH return winner
15-30 Rafael service winner as he served to body
15-40 Rafael nets BH
Roger 2/2 BP(Rafael 1/2)
Virtual match points for Roger
Roger breaks as Rafael nets BH

Roger serving for title 6-3,3-6,5-1


Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

look at my comment at 2:17pm. What did I say? That's right. 1-5.

Posted by Cupcake Lurker 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

OMG who is this person in red 100% BPs!!!!!

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

Roger to serve for the Championship.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

oh Rafa:(((
Even the eyebrows are passive today

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

geez Rafa...wheres that steely determination....what a sloppy game

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 02:21 PM

2 BPs for Fed. And Rafa nets a slice on the very 1st BP. Like I said, dude was off from the start.

Fed going for a breadstick.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:22 PM

jeez louise

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:22 PM

AHHHHHH! 3/3 BREAK POINTS?! WHO IS THIS GUY IN RED? HE CAN PLAY!

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:22 PM

CArrie,

True..i didn't read the question...so i don't know the context. So, it might be like you said. Dunno...will see when i read the whole presser.

Posted by Samantha Elin, Caro 2010 YE #1 11/28/2010 at 02:22 PM

Rafa's errors are coming off the superior play of Roger, take it to him, show them you still got it. Kom sa, Caro, Kom igen, Robin, Scandinavia's double play.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:22 PM

Nadal tries to take it out on Mirka in the audience, swinging it out. Roger can't go wrong with his first serve at this moment.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:22 PM

rafa is not even trying

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:23 PM

Roger, if you blow these match points... it would truly be a fitting end to 2010. :D

Posted by Samantha Elin, Caro 2010 YE #1 11/28/2010 at 02:23 PM

I'm loving this!! Where is Tim???

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 02:23 PM

Never count the world #1 out.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:23 PM

What a bizarre ending.

Posted by Northernboy 11/28/2010 at 02:23 PM

Just unreal - Fed's BH is the star of this match, incredible. Rafa's stubbornness with the game plan looking pretty bad in hindsight now.

But Fed's execution today just brilliant. This is the kind of tennis Annacone was paid to bring in, and it's the kind that's going to be needed if he's to win more Slams.

Whew, almost caught that pass - so NOT Andy Roddick at the net.

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 02:23 PM

15-0 Roger Ace at T
30-0 Rafael BH return wide as Roger served at T
40-0 Roger volley winner as he comes forward on return
40-15 Roger nets volley as Rafael hit CC BH passing shot
Roger wins the match as he hit FH winner

Roger Federer defeated Rafael Nadal 6-3,3-6,6-1

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:24 PM

Roger Federer cleaned Rafael Nadal's clock out.

Thank you your honor.

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 02:24 PM

Great win for Fed!
Rafa not at his best today but reaching the final for the first time is not too shabby, no?

I hope this victory inspires Fed in 2011!

Posted by Cupcake Lurker 11/28/2010 at 02:24 PM

Go Roger!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Northernboy 11/28/2010 at 02:24 PM

lmao hilarious final point, Nadal packs it in and doesn't challenge.

3/3 for BPs a lot different than 1/13 at Wimby no?

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:24 PM

And a forehand right to the very corner wins it. GO ROGER! Wooo! I would say commiserations to Nadal fans, but, something like three slam trophies tells me you don't REALLY need it.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 02:24 PM

Ladyjulia, geez. We get it. Rafa's a bad person. :)

Posted by Samantha Elin, Caro 2010 YE #1 11/28/2010 at 02:25 PM

Pass the buck, he's not ready to. The greats go out on their own terms, not the critics! Do it Roger!!

Posted by temes 11/28/2010 at 02:25 PM

I thought it was brilliant, brilliant tennis from Federer in the first and last sets. Nadal wasn't at his best but Federer played all the big moments at his top level.

Posted by Old man Fed/Puny server Rafa fan 11/28/2010 at 02:25 PM

That last set was absolute beatdown. Geez. So this YEC is Rafa's Miami, Cinci, Paris indoor, I suppose. Never to win it. Unless they play it at indoor clay, I don't see it happening. Certainly nowhere close to 5 times of Sampras, Fed, Lendl.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:25 PM

THE MIGHT FED.

Posted by Kim (Swiss in Brisbane) 11/28/2010 at 02:25 PM

Commies to Rafa. But congrats to an outstanding season!!!

Roger! Wow! I'm sooo happy!!!!!

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 02:25 PM

yes! so happy!

commiserations Rafa fans.

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 02:26 PM

Ladyjulia-

Here is the context- which was asked before he knew who he would play.

*. How do you feel physically and how do you think you'll be for tomorrow's match?
RAFAEL NADAL: I repeat what I say always. I don't know what going to happen tomorrow, how I going to feel. You can imagine, right now I am very tired. That's the true. *


I can't join you on he is a bad sport for his comment there. I would recommend reading the whole presser. As a Roger fan- you must understand how it can feel when quotes are taken out of context to paint someone as being a bad sport- which is why I had to react when you said that Rafa was a ho0rrible sport for not saying comments when he never had a chance to say the comments you were looking for.

Congrats on your guy for the win today.

Posted by thebigapple 11/28/2010 at 02:26 PM

The better player today won.

Actually, the better player won.

Without the high bouncing shot Nadal would rarely take Fed...but alas. It exists.

That last ball looked out to me. ;)

Posted by NP 11/28/2010 at 02:26 PM

And Fed takes it. Congrats.

GTG. Much as I'd like to watch the Fed KADs spin the H2H like crazy based on this one match, I actually got stuff to do.

Later.

Posted by Northernboy 11/28/2010 at 02:26 PM

Winners to UFEs
32-22 Fed
11-19 Rafa - terrible match from him and yet it still wasn't a blowout. He's a hard guy to beat.

Posted by Fangorina 11/28/2010 at 02:27 PM

That was a really disappointing ending, but not a surprising one. Roger played great and Rafa played without energy for the most part.

Posted by Sherlock 11/28/2010 at 02:27 PM

Well, congrats to Roger fans. He played very well all week.

Strange third set. I was hoping for some memorable drama, but not to be.

Good luck to any Rafa fans sticking around. I'll leave the bloodbath to you. :)

Posted by AB 11/28/2010 at 02:27 PM

Weird ending. That ball looked out.

Congrats to Roger. A good win for him, capping a great tournament to close out the year.

Lo siento, Rafa, you had your chances today, but your poor ROS narrowed your window. All in all, a good tournament for you with the most riveting matches coming out of your Group.

Posted by Blue moon 11/28/2010 at 02:27 PM

No spinning, NP-- just 3-0 indoors. And 6-4 off clay.

Anyway, Nadal fans love spin, right?!

Posted by Papo 11/28/2010 at 02:27 PM

Great match. Congratulations to Federer and fans, he was clearly the better player today.

Commiserations to Rafa and fellow fans. Can't seem to feel too down about this loss. Three majors and the world number one ranking is a pretty good cushion.

Next year will be interesting ; )

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Bleed the Vermillion! Girding up! Fedal it is. Yum! Yikes! 11/28/2010 at 02:27 PM

THE MIGHTY FED.

Fed didn't eek this win folks. He bludgeoned and pulverized. But for that surge of Rafa (amazing one) in the beginning of the 2nd, the last 9 games or so, Fed was unbelievable.


YOU CAN TEACH NEW TRICKS TO OLD PONIES!

(faith restored)

Posted by izidane-It's t-shirt tyyyyyyyyyme! Nole face/hawk shirt on. 11/28/2010 at 02:27 PM

Congrats to Roger's fans and commies to the Rafaelites.

Okay match..... excellent one if you're a Roger fan, he played well.

See y'all for DC.

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