Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Oz: The A-List
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Oz: The A-List 02/02/2009 - 7:09 PM

RnFrom the temperature of the air to the emotions on the court, the word that best describes this year’s Australian Open is overheated. It was also very satisfying: The winners showed strength under pressure and left no question about their positions at the top of the sport, while the two men’s finalists gave us more of themselves than they ever have before. I’ll start my report cards this time with them. The rest can wait until tomorrow.

Rafael Nadal
These last two weeks were a voyage of conquest for Nadal. He extended his dominion to Australia, and onto the sport’s hard courts. In the process, he was more fun to watch then ever—he played a hair faster, looked better showing less arm and more knee, debuted a streamlined update of his traditionally gutsy game, and pushed himself to what we can only assume are his emotional and physical limits over the final weekend. In the end, he left us wondering again just where those limits might be, and if he’ll ever run into them.

Nadal is a champion in many ways. He’s the king of clay, he’s No. 1 in the world, and he could even challenge for the Grand Salami this season. But for the moment, it’s worth appreciating that he is, above all else, the undisputed master at beating Roger Federer, most people’s choice for the greatest tennis player ever. The Swiss star has cruised in unprecedented fashion against everyone else for years, encountering very little resistance from any other player. Because of this, his regular losses to Nadal seemed to demand some kind of explanation; there must have been extenuating circumstances—Nadal was in his head, Federer couldn’t read his spin, it was a clay thing, he wasn’t using the right tactics. Darren Cahill's recommendation Sunday that Federer use the drop volley was just the latest example in a long line of dubious magic-bullet advice for him when he plays Nadal—if he only used his slice more, if he only came in all the time, if he only served wide, if he only ran around his background, if he only hit down the middle, if he only hit more winners, if he only won.

I thought the reason Nadal succeeded against Federer was that, from the first time they played and Nadal won in Key Biscayne in 2004, the Spaniard didn’t treat a match against the world No. 1 any differently from a match against anyone else. He would never entertain the idea that playing close against Federer and losing was acceptable. But I never really believed that Nadal was a better tennis player than Federer. Can I continue to think that now that he’s beaten him on grass and hard courts, in major finals on three continents? The Aussie final upended some of my impressions of their dynamic. Federer has always been thought to be tennis’ renaissance man, his creativity unrivaled; but it was Nadal, with his superior drop shot, invincible overhead, tricky serve, fearsome crosscourt backhand, skidding backhand slice, and reliable volleys, who showed off more variety, a more complete game, and more ways to win in Melbourne.

Who knows what the future will bring, but Nadal climbed one step higher in my mind on Sunday. He’s no longer tennis’ greatest overachiever. He’s no longer the kryptonite to Federer’s superman. He’s no longer just ranked No. 1. He’s the best. A+

Serena Williams
Is there a clue somewhere to Serena Williams? You won’t find it by comparing her to other athletes, or even other people. She’s not quite like us; she doesn’t have doubts, at least not doubts that affect her performance or that we will ever see. Nevertheless, she remains vulnerable at Grand Slams to a bad day and a rash or errors. She almost needs them to wake her up.

SwI've wondered what accounts for her traditional mid-Slam near-disaster (this time it came against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals). How can she look so lost one day and so dialed in and unbeatable by all mortal women the next? I can only offer one semi-possible explanation. At the Olympics last year, Serena skipped the mind-boggling, once-in-a-lifetime opening ceremony. When she was asked why, she said she was in a “foul mood.” This seems to indicate someone whose actions, and tennis game, is affected by her mood on any given day—Serena doesn’t block out or ignore her emotions; she uses them, mostly for better, but sometimes for worse.

By the end of a major, though, the moods pass. In the final against Dinara Safina, Serena looked like an adult playing a junior: It was, as Chris Fowler said, target practice. She hit a big return, walked in a couple steps, and finished the point with an easy swinging volley. She knocked off a serve down the middle, then easily ran around the feeble return for an inside-out winner. It was hard to appreciate how well she was playing because her winners weren’t even aimed at the lines. They had so much pace, and were so accurate, they didn’t need to be risky.

While I could have done without Mary Carillo’s overly dramatic descriptions—“This is magnificent”—she had a point. Watching Serena play like this is appealing from all aesthetic and technical perspectives: The relax-relax-relax and then snap of her serve; the extension through her backhand; the delicate little steps she performs before clubbing a forehand. Like Nadal, she also seemed subtly more mature in Oz. There were no excessive flourishes and nothing asymmetric to her clothes, just a flatteringly simple dress and an all-business Nike headband.

The best thing about seeing Serena play like this, and win like this, is that you can rest assured that there has been no fluke involved. The better player just won. A+

The Nadal-Verdasco Semi
The common wisdom is that it takes a contrast in styles to make a classic tennis match. Don’t tell that to anyone who watched these guys slug themselves into history over the course of five hours. Having two sturdy, black-haired, left-handed Spaniards leveling the ball at each other just made for more of a good thing. Maybe that explains the tears that came to Nadal’s eyes even as he reached match point. So much physical exertion in the quest to beat a friend must have been a peculiarly draining experience. On most days, Nadal blocks out everything around him on a tennis court. This time it all came back to the surface. A+

The Men’s Trophy Ceremony
Now it was Federer’s turn to cry. He’s done this on other occasions, but always, as far as I can remember, in victory. Nadal handled the moment with class, letting Federer finish first and then beginning his own speech by saying, sincerely, that he knew Federer would “improve the 14 of Sampras.”

For anyone who thinks that Federer reinforces a stereotype of unmanliness in tennis players by crying publicly, remember that Michael Jordan bawled like a baby when he won his first NBA title and again when he won a title the year after his father’s death. Jack Nicklaus cried when he won majors; as he got older, he even teared up when he heard the roar of the crowd after a great tee shot at the Masters or the U.S. Open.

That’s something none of us can understand: We know what it’s like to win or lose a tennis match, but we don’t know what it’s like to do it in front of a massive, cheering crowd. Federer broke down when he heard the Aussie crowd roar its approval even after he'd been defeated. There must be something about Australia and Laver Arena that gets to him; his last major meltdown came after his 2006 title in Melbourne. Maybe it’s because Oz was the home of his late coach Peter Carter. Maybe it’s because he sees the old Aussie legends, including Laver, arranged in front of him. Or maybe it’s because tennis is a game of emotional ups and downs where you have no teammates—no net—to help break your fall. The best players bring the most emotion to the game; some show it on the court, some don’t, but it’s there. Federer, in the most naked, embarrassing, appealing, and indelible way possible, reminded us again that it’s deep in him too.

Is this the best rivalry in sports? I wasn’t sure until I saw Nadal throw his arm around Federer’s neck on the trophy stand. Now I am. A+

Men’s Final
This one was filled with stunning shots and points, but it was also filled with errors and exhaustion, and it was ultimately defined by failure. Most of all, it lacked the grandeur, and the dramatic third act, of their 2008 Wimbledon final. This was a sweaty, earth-bound edition. Rather than winding upward toward the conclusion, it unraveled.

The third set was the key. Nadal’s energy was flagging at 4-4 when Federer reached 0-40 on his serve. Just when it appeared that Federer would take control of the match, Nadal stole the whole thing away over the next 20 minutes. From 0-40, he hit two winners, then fooled Federer with a rare second serve down the middle. Two games later he saved two break points with a fabulous backhand short hop into the corner and another forehand winner. Then, at 4-3 in the tiebreaker, he broke Federer’s back, first with a forehand winner, then with lunging crosscourt backhand winner after a colossal point. All Federer could do after that was double fault.

This section of the match was a miscrocosm of the rivalry right now. Nadal makes the first strike, takes the initiative, and comes up with the surprising play even when the stakes get higher, while Federer is left looking reactive and confused. When he tries to retake command, Federer overplays his hand, throwing in wild forehands at all the wrong moments (including at 3-3 in the breaker). Nadal is very comfortable making Federer uncomfortable. The result tends to be the same, but the process of watching someone seemingly so invincible systematically taken out his game is always compelling. A

Roger Federer
Can you be the greatest player of all time but lose your greatest rivalry? Would Pete Sampras be the consensus Goat of the Open era if he had gone 2-5 against Andre Agassi in major finals (he was 4-1), the way Federer now has against Nadal? Those are questions that must be deferred until Federer’s and Nadal’s careers are over, but they are becoming harder to ignore.

This tournament gave us the clearest contrast yet between Federer’s game against one of his old rivals, Andy Roddick, and against his current one. Watching their semi, you might have thought that Roddick was put on this planet to make Federer look good. Is it a coincidence that we called the guy a genius back in ’04, ’05, and ’06, when he was facing the American in major finals? Roddick’s shots are just forcing enough to get Federer on the move, but not forcing enough to actually threaten him—he's free to be as creative as he wants with his replies. I’ve never believed in the “strength of competition” argument between eras—Sampras had his Pioline, after all—but, well, the competition at the top is as tough as it's ever been. Look who Nadal has had to beat in five of his six Slam-final wins: the man we've been calling the greatest player of all time.

Can Federer get tougher as well? Even in losing, he showed he's capable—he was roused in the fourth set, and in the second he took the initiative away from Nadal for once by moving in and getting some more bite on his slice backhand down the line. Like any other single shot, that's not going to turn the tide on its own, but it seemed to be a starting point for a more proactive and less hesitant way to play Nadal.

Let’s hope Federer's final set capitulation to Nadal—his serve was off, his backhand uncommitted, his forehand haywire, his shoulders slumped, his resolve swamped in confusion—isn’t his final answer to their rivalry. A-


 
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Posted by Pspace 02/02/2009 at 07:30 PM

Great report, Steve. And, I totally agree with you're assessment of Nadal. "He's the best". To set a controversial ball rolling:

"Can you be the greatest player of all time but lose your greatest rivalry? "

No.

Posted by maedal (Vamos Rafa and the Armada!) 02/02/2009 at 07:30 PM

Thank you for the commentary, a lovely appreciation of the tournament, its heroes and heroine, and their heroics both on the court and on the stage.

Posted by 1timer 02/02/2009 at 07:33 PM

First!

Posted by Linda 02/02/2009 at 07:40 PM

"The Aussie final upended some of my impressions of their dynamic. Federer has always been thought to be tennis’ renaissance man, his creativity unrivaled; but it was Nadal, with his superior drop shot, invincible overhead, tricky serve, fearsome crosscourt backhand, skidding backhand slice, and reliable volleys, who showed off more variety, a more complete game, and more ways to win in Melbourne.

Who knows what the future will bring, but Nadal climbed one step higher in my mind on Sunday. He’s no longer tennis’ greatest overachiever. He’s no longer the kryptonite to Federer’s superman. He’s no longer just ranked No. 1. He’s the best."

Thank you for this.

It may not have been the finest tennis Nadal has ever played against Federer, but I think it is the match which best highlights his most admirable qualities - his shot making, concentration, shot selection on the big points, his heart and (in the trophy ceremony) his maturity, humility and grace.

I'd make that A+ an A+++.

Posted by tcool 02/02/2009 at 07:42 PM

Thank you Steve for giving a description of Rafa's win from his point of view and what he did right. The transformation of Rafa from that win over Miami all those years ago and yesterday in Australia has been nothing short of stupendous. I have loved Rafa from the first time I saw him play and over the years he has replaced Pete Sampras as my favorite player ever. It is nice that you gave him his due today.

Posted by surinamer 02/02/2009 at 07:47 PM

/agree... after this major Im a Fedal fan

Posted by atlaskq 02/02/2009 at 07:49 PM

Brutal to watch fed's game unravel in the fifth. Particularly frustrating to see once again how fed's style is (im)perfectly suited for nadal's muscled shots - I always felt that verdasco had a better chance of winning during his match than fed, just b/c the peculiarities of nadal's game have much less effect on a left handed baseliner keen to grind from the back of the court. The era of beautiful tennis appears to be over...started after sampras' brute force attacking style left the stage, ended with nadal hooking that same forehand over and over again into fed's backhand. Hard to get excited about watching the nadal era this year.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" *Serena the ultimate assassin of the WTA Tour Matt Z (2009)* 02/02/2009 at 07:55 PM

Steve thanks for this nice piece to capture some of the unforgettable moments of AO 2009.

"then fooled Federer with a rare second serve down the middle. "

This part caught me most as it reminded me of something Rafa did at SW19 in 2008. He had been serving to Roger's BH just about all through the match and on the last MP, he served to his FH. I think that alone caught Roger by surprise if anything. Rafa seems to have the knick of choosing the best times to deviate from his seemingly predictable pattern and I think that is the one thing he also does very well against Roger.

Posted by Sabi 02/02/2009 at 07:58 PM

Thanks, Steve. Looking forward to your assessment of the also-rans.

Posted by Master Ace 02/02/2009 at 08:00 PM

Steve,
Agree with all the grades given so far. I am ready for the rest of the report card. Also what about the backhand in the tiebreaker that Roger sailed wide by a lot leading 2-1. I thought he lost the tiebreaker at that point instead of the forehand at 3-all.

Posted by ladyjulia 02/02/2009 at 08:05 PM

Great post!

Posted by NDMS 02/02/2009 at 08:05 PM

I think the Gonzalez-Gasquet R32 deserves at least an A -.

Posted by AmyLu 02/02/2009 at 08:06 PM

Steve, thank you very much for your write-up. I was waiting for it all day, and you didn't disappoint. :)

Posted by Scott 02/02/2009 at 08:07 PM

Atlaskq,

It really frustrates me to read about how "unbeautiful" Nadal's game is.

1) Read what Steve wrote about why we think Federer's game is so beautiful. It's because for years he played guys like Andy Roddick whose games are tailor-made to make him look good. Andy Roddick is a mediocre player as far as great pros are concerned. He's a one-trick pony whose one-trick is right up Fed's alley because Fed's eyes and reaction speed are so good.

2) Is there anything more beautiful than one of the five or six points Fed and Nadal created where they run each other around the court, either seeming to have the advantage at one moment or another until one finishes the rally with a ridiculous shot that would seem once-in-a-lifetime if we didn't witness it several times a match with these two?

Yeah, it's true Nadal has a very physical game. But if you hadn't noticed, he's also learning to reduce points to better shotmaking. He's learning to flatten his strokes out. He's learning to set up winners off of a big or well-placed serve. He understands he can't continue to win slams on the physically punishing hard courts of the AO and USO without shortening his matches up.

And you know what, it's beautiful to me to watch the ridiculous timing required to hit the enormous topspin shots Nadal hits to Fed's backhand repeatedly, sometimes painting lines. The man is a physical mystery. I just hope his body doesn't give out.

Posted by Melissa 02/02/2009 at 08:22 PM

"Can you be the greatest player of all time but lose your greatest rivalry? "

Yes, of course.

Unless, you can point to another player with a better record who also won is greatest rivalry, then YES Federer can still end up as the greatest player of all time, DUH !

What matters is your overall record compared to ALL the other players. If Federer ends up winning more Slams than Nadal, their rivalry will be irrelevant.

Greatest of "all time" is exactly that, not just about today's rivalries...Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees, pfff.

Posted by afwu1216 02/02/2009 at 08:29 PM

i would have liked to see more grades. especially for underachievers like Venus and Nalbandian.

Posted by Sankar 02/02/2009 at 08:29 PM

Nice post. Simple and elegant analysis. I mentioned this in Pete's post.

Federer is lucky to have Nadal as his rival. Think of others. I don't want to name.

We enjoyed a nice guy at the top between 2004-2008. Let us enjoy a great humble player at the top for some time. Well done, Nadal.

Posted by Sher 02/02/2009 at 08:30 PM

Thanks Steve! Loved this post.

I love how you put the distinction between Rafa who used to be considered Federer's foil by some pepople, to him being his own champion in the eyes of most. He is the best right now.

And I like how you have noticed that the third set decided it all. If Federer doesn't miss those shots, he walks away with the third and it's a different match. But it's all what ifs now. I just know that he was terribly close to winning. He'll have to turn this around next time.

You put it so well when you said,

"The best players bring the most emotion to the game; some show it on the court, some don’t, but it’s there."

I'm glad that you said that the crowd might have gotten to him. I feel that this is much closer to the truth than Pete's suggestion over on his blog that Federer cried because he was alone. Alone is something he most definetly wasn't during that ceremony. He was practically smothered in people with "we still love you" and all the people he respects standing around him. That's how I felt, at least. Must have been a combination of things of course, not just any single cause I would think.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this post.

Posted by Sher 02/02/2009 at 08:32 PM

Also I really appreciate that you mentioned this:

[This tournament gave us the clearest contrast yet between Federer’s game against one of his old rivals, Andy Roddick, and against his current one. Watching their semi, you might have thought that Roddick was put on this planet to make Federer look good. Is it a coincidence that we called the guy a genius back in ’04, ’05, and ’06, when he was facing the American in major finals? Roddick’s shots are just forcing enough to get Federer on the move, but not forcing enough to actually threaten him—he's free to be as creative as he wants with his replies. I’ve never believed in the “strength of competition” argument between eras—Sampras had his Pioline, after all—but, well, the competition at the top is as tough as it's ever been. ]

So true!

The competition at the top has also grown up trying to solve Federer's game so naturally they are better at it than the people who grew up trying to solve someone else's.

Posted by Nick 02/02/2009 at 08:35 PM

Steve:
The answer to your question: no, Federer cannot be, and should not be, considered the GOAT, a discussion that's been originated, fueled, fed and driven by Tennis Media. And not just because Nadal owns him more then ever now. Sampras may have had his "Pioloine's". But I argue Federer's whole generation (the 25-30 Set) are loaded with guys not even as accomplished as Pioline, who at least made it to the Final of two different Majors. Here's a list of men from the Federer Fraternity who've been at least Top 20 in their career and have never even been to a Major Final (some not even as far as a Semi): Davydenko, Ljubicic, Ferrer, Verdasco, Lopez, Ancic, Robredo, Blake, Haas, Canas, Youzhny, Kiefer, and Mathieu. Talk all you want about Federer's artistry, he's only in 1 half of a draw. Over the years, none of these guys made it through the non-Federer half of a draw to a Major Final. I'd say that speaks loudly to their underachieving as a group. Federer's vanquished in his 13 Majors consists of two guys who were already over 30 (Agassi & Phillipoussis); a past his best Hewitt; two guys who made a dream run and have done little to back it up since (Baghdatis & Gonzalez); and 3 defeats of his hapless whipping boy Roddick, whom you accurately point out has little in the way to hurt Federer at all. Compared to the multiple Majors-winners Sampras routinely faced in Major Finals - there's no comparison who had the harder road. Sampras. By far. But hey, Federer's nothing if not opportunistic. Like Hingis, they both got in a large share of their Majors in the "tween" years, before the game's next metamorphosis was complete. That money still spends, and they still give you trophies. Good for them. But not GOAT stuff.

And do we know from Federer himself why he actually cried? I'd like to know what it was that made him not only feel like crying, but specifically what made him feel that, whatever it was, left him feeleing uncontrollable during a ceremony that was basically honoring somebody else, primarily. Any ideas? And agree. Nadal's class saved the ceremony. But I still can't help but think the enduring memory of this Australian Open will be Federer blubbering uncontrollably on the Presentation Podium after losing a match.

Somehow, that just doesn't seem right.

Posted by imjimmy 02/02/2009 at 08:56 PM

Steve,
Thank you so much for the article. I was waiting and reloading the tennis.com page all day for your thoughts. In the end it proved worth the wait. Thanks!
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
""He’s no longer tennis’ greatest overachiever. He’s no longer the kryptonite to Federer’s superman. He’s no longer just ranked No. 1. He’s the best""
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I love this part of your post. Well said. I think the Oz open showed, without reservation, that Rafa has the heart of a champion. A true no 1 shows his class while digging into the absolute depths of physical and emotional reserves to triumph. Sampras did it, Federer has done it. And now it's Nadal. No question about his place at the top now.

I was also amazed once again by the tennis acumen and maturity shown by someone who's just 22. He handled this match so much differently than the SF against Verdasco: playing attacking tennis by standing inside the baseline, going for broke on the double handed bh ( what a potent weapon it has become since Wimbledon 08), conserving energy at critical points, serving hard first serves in the 5th ( lost only 3 pts on serve in the entire set) and shortening points. It seems every time Nadal sees Federer on the opposite side he just becomes that much more motivated. And like you said he's perhaps the only player on the tour who believes he can beat Federer every time they face each other.

To me Oz open is a clear indication of how good Nadal has become. He won while being on the brink of physical exhaustion. A 100% fit and motivated Rafa will be a tough preposition for anyone.

Rafael Nadal has finally arrived!

Posted by Christopher 02/02/2009 at 09:06 PM

Nice post, Steve. You're bit on the trophy presentation had *me* tearing up!

I was thoroughly impressed by Nadal through the whole event, even more so than at Wimbledon last year. Some of the shots he hit in the final were not just spectacular gets, they were beautiful shots regardless how he got to them. I hate to say this, as I don't want to fit some of the nastier stereotypes of certain Fed-fans, but a lot of his shots reminded me of...Federer.

Posted by Christopher 02/02/2009 at 09:07 PM

That should be "your" in the first line. Sorry.

Posted by marymom 02/02/2009 at 09:12 PM

love your post. nadal is the best!

Posted by greenhopper 02/02/2009 at 09:23 PM

Love love love this post, Steve.
Thanks much.

Posted by Master Ace 02/02/2009 at 10:10 PM

Afwu 1216,
Steve said in his opening that the rest of the grades will be tomorrow.

Posted by Marc 02/02/2009 at 10:13 PM

Steve, thanks so much for this post! Loved it. Finally the spotlight, at least some of it, is on who it should of been on all along. Thanks again!

Posted by Papo 02/02/2009 at 10:20 PM

Steve, great post. Refreshing to read a blog about Rafa's victory. Thanks.

Rafael Nadal has now won three of the last four Majors. He is the undisputed new king of tennis ; )

Vamos Rafa! World #1, Reigning Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Olympic, Australian Open Champion, etc, etc....

Posted by Papo 02/02/2009 at 10:29 PM

Here's what some newspapers around the world are saying:

*SWITZERLAND

BaslerZeitung

NADAL SETS THE BENCHMARK

Roger Federer now seems unable to win against Rafael Nadal. What everyone was talking about Federer achieving not long ago, now seems possible for Nadal. If Federer does manage to equal or better Sampras's record, it seems we already know the name of the man who will challenge it next.

*SPAIN

Marca

GOD NADAL

Federer cannot fathom how his perfect tennis can be defeated again and again by the fury of Nadal. That's why he was crying.

And it hurts Nadal. But he will carry on beating him because he cannot help himself.

*ENGLAND

Daily Telegraph

RAFA FINISHES THE REVOLUTION

Tennis has entered the neo-Rafaelite age. Only five men have won all four Grand Slam titles over their careers - Fred Perry, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Don Budge and Andre Agassi. Now Nadal, and not Federer, is the more likely to join that quintet.

The Guardian

NADAL'S HOLD OVER FEDERER MAKES EVERYTHING POSSIBLE

So much has been written and discussed about the possibility of Roger Federer being, or becoming, the greatest player of the modern era that Rafa Nadal's extraordinary career has hardly been considered in that light. Yet here he is, at 22 years old, having just won his sixth major at the Australian Open. At this age Federer had won two.

*FRANCE

L'Equipe

NADAL, REAL TOUGH NUT

If he (Federer) does not change anything, it may harm his chances in the important matches of beating a rival who now is the only master of the field.

Rafael Nadal can see higher, further. He now is in the best position to take over from Rod Laver and complete a Grand Slam.

*AUSTRALIA

Melbourne Herald Sun

FEDERER GOES TO WATER

Rafel Nadal was born to play Roger Federer. There is no other player on the planet whose style, approach and mind bruises Federer's silken craft as often or as menacingly as the unmerciful Mallorcan.

http://tinyurl.com/bwxyz6

Posted by smiley :) 02/02/2009 at 10:29 PM

Steve as usual has managed to write another amazing post. Just love it. you are truly a remarkable writer, and in this article you made us understand the greatness of both these guys so well. hats off to you.

"Is this the best rivalry in sports? I wasn’t sure until I saw Nadal throw his arm around Federer’s neck on the trophy stand. Now I am."

That was so sweet-- it just shows how complete of a player and a PERSON he is. Just love it.
wonderful, you captured every aspect of the game, including sportsmanship. i think with this post you covered just about everything that should have been covered about these 2 guys.

Posted by sonya 02/02/2009 at 10:30 PM

Oh Steve, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! You have no idea what it means to me to finally read about Rafa!instead of what will happen to Roger and what he did wrong! and blah, blah, blah. I have so much to say but i want to savor this for a little while more. Thank you so much. He truly isn't an overachiever anymore. He will never be as talented as Federer, but there is no doubt that he deserves every single he's got. He may not have a natural gift for tennis, but he certainly could teach those more talented than him-not Roger:)-how to be a champion, and a humble, respectful one at that. Once again, thank you so much:).

Posted by Ryan 02/02/2009 at 10:32 PM

Steve, every post you write is excellent.

Nadal has earned an awkward but sincere admiration from me. It's still hard for me to think of Federer as second best. Still, Nadal proves it every time.

Posted by Anaximander 02/02/2009 at 10:42 PM

Hi Steve

I agree with everything you said about Rafa but not about why Roger cried. I think its the frustration of not being able to beat Nadal, frustration of knowing that he might not win another major now (though I hope its not true) as this, with a physically exhausted Rafa on a hard court was his best chance. To me, his crying was very unsporting. Through the years, Federer has rejoiced in beating other players, and beating so bad that it looked embarrassing, and now when he's beaten he starts bawling like a baby......

I respected him for all his achievements...but not any more. Irrespective of how many majors he wins, a guy who can't take a defeat sportingly cannot be a GOAT.

Posted by Tony 02/02/2009 at 10:47 PM

Together with Pete's analysis, Steve's piece is the most insightful yet on the just concluded Australian Open Final. Both are still lacking in analysis of the Nadal game versus the Federer game on hardcourt. Steve has highlighted Rafa's ludic virtues more vis a vis the Fed's game, while Pete has highlighted the Fed's ludic fallibilities vis a vis the Nadal game. The two pieces complement each other.

They also agree on one thing: the Fed has to do something, and while there may be some discussion on just how radical the change should be in the Fed's game (I think he really needs to retool his game when its Rafa on the other side of the court), they are one in saying that the Fed needs to do something (anything?) for the rivalry to perdure and endure. Otherwise, it is going to be a one way street, and Federer will end up being Nadal's Roddick...a foil to show off the master's game.

There is no question about it. Nadal is the best in the game today. How Federer deals with that will be interesting to watch.

Posted by Daria 02/02/2009 at 10:56 PM

Thanks for a very good article Steve.

Nick - great post and comment!! Totally true, points that are so rarely made despite the millions of words and conversations about tennis. Federer only looked good because the field was so weak. Even with that weak field, Federer has had many easy draws, preferential scheduling and a host of other advantages, more often facing aging, tired, injured or inexperienced opponents in finals, guys who had never been there before. Most would never make it back to another final. Contrast that with Rafa who always had to beat the uber-experienced Federer to win every single one of his slam titles. Coming up, Nadal had to contend with a mature, established Federer.

Nadal came along later and has been the only strong rival that Federer has had and look what's happened in a short time. Now there are indeed other talents coming up like Murray and Djokovic, Tsonga, even Verdasco so it will not be a cakewalk for Rafa the way it was for Federer but I think Rafa will deal with it and continue on the remarkable path he's been on.

Posted by Papo 02/02/2009 at 11:03 PM

Some thoughts from Nadal about the fifth set:

“I had the feeling that, after four hours, Roger has to be tired too and if he plays well he has to beat me because I am more tired than him, I think. The important things were that I would not let my concentration drop and my legs still had the answers.

“Maybe he was a little bit depressed when he saw how well I started the fifth set [Nadal dropped a single point in his first two service games] because then he did not make so many balls. He made three mistakes at 2-1, I break him and go ahead 4-1 and I think he knew then.”


http://tinyurl.com/bnmwko

Posted by Andrea 02/02/2009 at 11:10 PM

federer will hopefully think of ways to finally beat nadal. but i get a kick out of the myriad ways you described how others may have advised fed in the past.

what a great summation of the tournament.

i've watched almost all of their matches (Nadal and Fed) and of late, the trend is always the same: fed gets ahead in sets but somehow still manages to lose them. his record of holding serve after breaking has plummeted. i don't know what it is about nadal that just won't allow fed to dominate the way he does other players.

that being said, i do like it that fed is one of the top five players that can give him a run for the money. i do believe fed can still beat him....

....but after seeing nadal play in the AO, he is the fastest, most precise hitter out there right now. and in terms of energy....the only time it seems to catch up with him is september/october. totally deserves the #1 spot.


Posted by arm 02/02/2009 at 11:26 PM

"Can you be the greatest player of all time but lose your greatest rivalry?"

Yes, you can, superman is still superman even though kryptonite exists.

I am a huge fan of Nadal and I think he will win a few more slams, but I still do no think his game will take him to 14 slams or more.
Federer will struggle to get across, but he will. I think Federer has been very lucky to be mostly healthy so far.

The biggest difference I see with the two champions is that on all surfaces maybe except clay, the top players are not really afraid to play Nadal, they go into a match thinking they can win, and Nadal works hard to prove them wrong most of the time. Most people are scared to see Federer across the net, on all surfaces.

Though I draw my inspiration from Nadal with his working class game, I also feel lucky to be around to watch Federer play.

Posted by arm 02/02/2009 at 11:28 PM

And by the way, Agassi did get a career golden slam, but people do not speak of him as the goat as much as they do for Sampras.

Posted by ashley 02/02/2009 at 11:29 PM

I think Hott Sauce should be on the A-List. hopefully you've given his performance at least a B+

can't wait to see the rest of tomorrow's grades!

Posted by dnrood 02/02/2009 at 11:30 PM

Loved the post Steve. Glad to see someone elaborate on the qualities of an ever improving Nadal.

Contrast that to Roger who seems to have the same game he always had. Sure he might not be able to improve anymore than his natural talent affords, but he needs to realize that his natural game is not going to cut it against a guy who can return his best shots with interest. You can almost see the anxiety build in Roger when he plays Nadal.

Lastly, I think a huge miss by commentaries on the final is that Rafa only had 2 unforced errors in that final set. With Roger not putting any pressure on him Rafa wasn't going to give Roger any free points. Amazing to think a guy who had gone through a mental and physical ringer in his last two matches would only yield two unforced errors.

Posted by Vie 02/02/2009 at 11:32 PM

Thanks for this post.

I wish though there is more celebration of this great Nadal victory for its own sake. A bit more applause and accolades are in order from this tennis site. Do we need him to win a career or calendar year Grand Slam?

Posted by charlie 02/02/2009 at 11:34 PM

laver, mc enroe, sampras and nadal...

...trade mark greats !!!

the rest, just hall of famers...

Posted by 02/02/2009 at 11:37 PM

Thank you steve-- just like everyone else... I've been refreshing tennis.com 5 minutes after his victory hoping to find this piece of writin.. thank you steve.VAMOS RAFA!!!

Posted by dnrood 02/02/2009 at 11:40 PM

Arm - Do you think the intimidation factor of facing Federer is starting to dissipate? Against his old rivals I'll agree with you. Those players cannot get over the hurdle of facing Roger, but these younger guys have seen TMF be beaten by this dirtballer several times, as well as Djokovic and Murray. I don't think they are nearly as intimidated, respectful yes, intimidated no.
The motivated youngster sees the old, but sees a new day dawning.

Posted by Papo 02/02/2009 at 11:41 PM

Highlights of the final's best points from both players(first two sets):

Set 1
http://tinyurl.com/dbl2qr

Set 2
http://tinyurl.com/bgv94t

Darn it, can't find the other sets. Oh well, enjoy everyone ; )

Posted by Kenneth 02/02/2009 at 11:46 PM

Extemely insightful piece here, Tignor. All 100% true.

Anyone who's followed this rivalry without all the Federade saw this coming at Wimbledon 2007. Nadal just made it legal to say (post) it out loud.

I see a Federer-like domination arriving on the heels of Federer's domination.

Which newcomer will be Nadal's Nadal?

Thanks for the excellent writing.

Posted by arm 02/03/2009 at 12:11 AM

dnrood,

Agreed, new players do not carry any baggage with them. Atleast for another year or two though I think Federer is not really going to be afraid of people not called Nadal. He wasn't afraid of Del Potro, beat Novak easily in the US open last year (I think he beat Novak every time after AO08), beat Tsonga in Madrid. He takes a loss at the hands of an upcoming player as a challenge to stamp his authority next time around or when it matters the most. I do not think he looks at Murray as Nadal yet, he can come up with the goods if needed to beat him on a big stage. But yes, I think the intimidation factor will wear out eventually as he loses more.

In my view, Federer's pride allowed him to dominate for so long and will take him down now. He is frustrated when he cannot get the magic to work all the time. For example, when he sprays a forehand out these days, it looks like he expects it to work effortlessly and automatically and hit the lines. He does not seem to think he needs to change in any way as he ages.

Posted by Papo 02/03/2009 at 12:15 AM

I like the Sauce too, so here are some wonderful, jaw dropping points from the five hour plus semi (which a lot of people think was better than the final):

http://tinyurl.com/bhebfw

http://tinyurl.com/c4oa3f

http://tinyurl.com/bdh37h

http://tinyurl.com/ak4a9f

Man, does that Verdasco have an even bigger lefty forehand than Rafa? Can't wait to see the Sauce play again ; )

MORE MORE MORE!!!

Posted by zdlore 02/03/2009 at 12:29 AM

Great piece Steve.
Let me preface this by saying that I'm a die hard Federer fan; he's my favorite athlete in all sports. However, if someone has to bring Federer's reign to an end, I'm glad it's Rafa. Watching the Australian Open final reminded me once again that Rafa is not just a phenomenal tennis player, but as class act as well.
During the award ceremony, when Fed broke down in tears, Nadal handled the situation with grace and empathy. He has the maturity to realize how hard it must be for Federer to lose three grandslam finals in a row to him with Wimbledon and the Australian being 5 setters.
I've read that a lot of people thought that Roger is a baby and that he selfishly stole the show from Rafa, but nothing could be further for the truth. Federer is an emotional person. He's cried several times when he's won a grandslams because he cares so much about the game. When Roger lost he was hurt but he was not being selfish during the ceremony. And the proof of this was shown when he settled himself and said that he shouldn't have the last word because it was Nadal's night.
Couple of thought on the match
I don't think Federer's lackluster serving performance has been mentioned enough as one of if not the main reason he lost. If he served like he did at Wimbledon final, he would have won. If Roger serves at 50% like he did in Australia, he has a slim chance of beating Rafa.
Besides pummeling Federer's backhand with his topspin forehand like he always does, one facet of the match that struck me was how Nadal was supremely confident in going for his shots during break point. And although Federer broke Nadal 6 times, he had about 20 oppurtunities to break, and the main reason he was only 30% successful is because Federer was too often tentative on the big points while Nadal was continually tenaciously fearless. For the world of me I don't know why Federer doesn't step around an whack as forehand more often on a second serve. The few times Fed ran around his backhand and hit a forehand, he ripped clean winners.

Posted by temsu jamir 02/03/2009 at 12:35 AM

wow stev what an article.. you've truly summed it up in your writing below

I thought the reason Nadal succeeded against Federer was that, from the first time they played and Nadal won in Key Biscayne in 2004, the Spaniard didn’t treat a match against the world No. 1 any differently from a match against anyone else. He would never entertain the idea that playing close against Federer and losing was acceptable. But I never really believed that Nadal was a better tennis player than Federer. Can I continue to think that now that he’s beaten him on grass and hard courts, in major finals on three continents? The Aussie final upended some of my impressions of their dynamic. Federer has always been thought to be tennis’ renaissance man, his creativity unrivaled; but it was Nadal, with his superior drop shot, invincible overhead, tricky serve, fearsome crosscourt backhand, skidding backhand slice, and reliable volleys, who showed off more variety, a more complete game, and more ways to win in Melbourne.

Who knows what the future will bring, but Nadal climbed one step higher in my mind on Sunday. He’s no longer tennis’ greatest overachiever. He’s no longer the kryptonite to Federer’s superman. He’s no longer just ranked No. 1. He’s the best. A+

Posted by jerico, philippines 02/03/2009 at 12:49 AM

for an expert like you who never picked rafa to win the tournament, the analysis is quite fair... i'm just surprised that the accolades you wrote here for Rafa is beyond what I expect of you to write... pax!

Posted by dnrood 02/03/2009 at 12:55 AM

Arm - Excellent response and can't really argue with your points.

Totally agree that Roger's pride was a great asset to him but is hurting him against Rafa. I think Roger's pride is forcing him to prove he can beat Rafa with his normal game. Undoubtedly he has the talent to do so(see Shanghai 2006), but against this Rafa it seems to be a 50-50 proposition at best.

Posted by Russ 02/03/2009 at 12:56 AM

Steve: Thank you for being one of the few that has articulated quite well the circumstances that would make a great man like Federer cry. I've been there-- well, not *there*, but failed in a situation when much was expected of me, and to be supported when most disconsolate is overwhelming. No shame. And again, for Rafa to support Fed under those circumstances is a testament to him as a human being.

ARM: Awesome back-to-back.

Posted by jerico, philippines 02/03/2009 at 01:09 AM

what about jelena dokic? doesn't she deserve an A at least?

Posted by temsu jamir 02/03/2009 at 01:54 AM

sonya
how can you say that nadal is not gifted or naturally talented in tennis.......... gifts and talents won't come more for anybody ..
he is in the highest of the most gifted and talented and he keeps on trying to get better... that is his genius.. just because federer plays a single handed backhand which, looks pleasing to the eyes, it doesn't mean its more better and effective than the double handed smashing or single handed backhand slice to unimaginable angles by nadal.. it is proved time and again that nadal's backhands are more effective than roger's .... and with whome can we compare the top spinning ,high velocity , curling forehand to all impossible angles ofnadal... those shots require enormous amounts of gifts and skills ........ and who can compare with his physical fitness........ all these are wonderful natural gifts he possesses.... and the mental toughness... with whome can you compare.... so when you talk of nadal don't tell me he is not gifted ..... natural gifts won't come in more abundance....
and to top all that with all his enormous gifts he simply puts his feet firmly on the ground and never stops trying to improve himself in all aspect of his game and that is where NADAL'S greatness lies.......... where as federer never tried much to inprove on his gifts...

Posted by felizjulianidad 02/03/2009 at 02:08 AM

Steve,

"But I never really believed that Nadal was a better tennis player than Federer. Can I continue to think that now that he’s beaten him on grass and hard courts, in major finals on three continents? The Aussie final upended some of my impressions of their dynamic. Federer has always been thought to be tennis’ renaissance man, his creativity unrivaled; but it was Nadal, with his superior drop shot, invincible overhead, tricky serve, fearsome crosscourt backhand, skidding backhand slice, and reliable volleys, who showed off more variety, a more complete game, and more ways to win in Melbourne.

Who knows what the future will bring, but Nadal climbed one step higher in my mind on Sunday. He’s no longer tennis’ greatest overachiever. He’s no longer the kryptonite to Federer’s superman. He’s no longer just ranked No. 1. He’s the best."

The best summary I've read in any language.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 02/03/2009 at 02:16 AM

"...but it was Nadal, with his superior drop shot, invincible overhead, tricky serve, fearsome crosscourt backhand, skidding backhand slice, and reliable volleys, who showed off more variety, a more complete game..."

thank you for writing this, Steve.

"I hate to say this, as I don't want to fit some of the nastier stereotypes of certain Fed-fans, but a lot of his shots reminded me of...Federer."

Christopher, personally, as a Rafa KAD, I would take that as a compliment to my boy. :)

Posted by Spacenoxx (El Stupido aka The Moron From Majorca) 02/03/2009 at 02:57 AM

Fantastic post, Steve!!

"long line of dubious magic-bullet advice for him when he plays Nadal—if he only used his slice more, if he only came in all the time, if he only served wide, if he only ran around his background, if he only hit down the middle, if he only hit more winners, if he only.. won."

That part of the second paragraph is so true. And there are so many of them in that article.

Thanks a lot Steve.

Posted by ava 02/03/2009 at 03:25 AM

my wait for you summary has been well rewarded. easily the best analysis about all factors in the finals of women's and men's.

i'm glad you chose to emphasise the victor's advantages than concentrating on what went wrong for the losing finalist. too much attention has been spent on Fed's tears and that will be the enduring image from the AO even though I'm sure he didn't mean to. Personally I thought the officials or Laver himself were not at all thrilled that Rafa is their new champ and in a way were waiting to crown Fed and couldn't get an opportunity too. I was not too pleased with their behavior(Wimby 08 was a great ceremony so was 07 even though it was harder for me to see as a rafa fan) but felt genuine affection for both the finalists.
Vamos Rafa and Fed.

Posted by Spacenoxx (El Stupido aka The Moron From Majorca) 02/03/2009 at 03:26 AM

Papo 02/03/2009 @ 12:15 AM

Thanks Papo for the URLs.

This one I think is the point that got Rafa a standing ovation from everyone in the stadium.

http://tinyurl.com/bhebfw

Posted by bill 02/03/2009 at 04:02 AM

Steve once again you idiot. Learn from Pete. A true gentleman of tennis journalism. Or John Wertheim . Why not mention how badly Roger served during this match? You did but only talking about the 5th set when he actually served ok. 50% is less than all his previous GS . He won a set off Rafa serving at 30%. We all know what wins hard court slams is a strong serve. If Murray is serving at 75% do you think Rafa takes the title? He served close to 60 with Verdasco by the way. If Pete served at 50% is he taking a set off Rafa?

Roger is one of the more prolific servers this game has ever seen. His depth, imagination, accuracy, is unparellel. To go 4 sets serving close to 45% is not due to Rafa or Rafa's abulity to return his serve. Look at there prior matches, Roger consistently always serves over 65%.

The point is this statistically Roger beat Rafa in his own game. Every stat points to Roger having the upper hand in this match.

What happened was this match went to a 5th and Roger couldn't deal with the pressure. If anything he can be faulted for that, but only that. I think Roger played fine. 10% points better and this match would not have been close. I mean a 3 setter.

HE will rebound strong. I do think his ego causes problems in dealing with Rafa, but at 27.5 (not in his prime) he is more than capable of taking out Rafa on Grass or the hard courts as time will only tell.

Wait till you see how things play out for a year or so before making any of these stupid comments.

Thanks.

Posted by Spacenoxx (El Stupido aka The Moron From Majorca) 02/03/2009 at 04:07 AM

Mods, I am not sure if the post :

bill @ 4:02 AM

is within site rules. Please let me know.

Posted by temsu jamir 02/03/2009 at 04:42 AM


@bill

the most important of all statastical section of any game is the win/loose section..... winners are champions... go get the facts, accept the truth and stop using meaningless stastatics...
nadal has won against an in form fully rested roger on all surfaces of grand slams and beyond.
the win loose record speaks for itself..13-6
and nadal had to beat the so called best player all the six times to get his grandslams.. five times in finals and once in semi-finals.... WOW MAN .. WHAT A RECORD
AND THE FIRST MEN'S PLAYER EVER TO HOLD THREE DIFFERENT GRAND SLAMS ON THREE DIFFERENT SURFACES AT THE SAME TIME... AND ALSO NOT TO FORGET THE OLYMPIC GOLD METAL..

Posted by Tony 02/03/2009 at 04:43 AM

Dream on, Bill, dream on... But the comments are not stupid. The stupid ones are those who do not see the writing on the wall... The burden of proving that he is still the best in the world TODAY is on the Fed's shoulders. Not Nadal's. Recognize this. Accept this. Perhaps even befriend this truth. Then, and only then, will Federer make any new and better impression on the rest of the tennis world. Otherwise, it will be more of the same. The same kind of losses to Nadal. And to the young turks on the horizon who are not intimidated by Federer... So dream on, but dream on with your feet on the ground. Recognize, accept and befriend the truth too, you Fed fans. Then, and only then, will your worship of the great Fed be true and authentic, not idolatrous.

Posted by Charlie 02/03/2009 at 04:45 AM

Along with perhaps getting a coach as the other post talks of, this viewer feels the best thing Fed can do for himself is to mentally detach himself from idea that he is no 1. for however long he so chooses. Recently said one of his aims is to 'get my no. 1 back' -don't you mean 'THE no. 1'? No. 1 is no god given right.

In his presser he talked of Nadal as 'one of the tougher guys' -why can't he admit Nadal is the best player in the world right now? In the same way Nadal always says Roger is the best, Fed could do well to a more specific praise to the most deserving of opponents.

Thing Fed can take solace in is, IMHO, there is still something special for a player to beat him, until Sunday perhaps still more so than Nadal? I think the reason Murray was considered fave for AO (funny how long ago that seems now) was not so much that he beat Nadal recently, but that he beat Fed twice in relatively close succession, and coming from a set down both times.

Feels like to win his 14th, Fed needs someone else to beat Nadal before the final. This probably sounds stupid, but I wondered if it might even be good if he slipped another ranking place, so if he should meet Nadal again then it's not always in a final?

But in general I think Fed should forget about the various numbers and whether he is the GOAT, and concentrate on enjoying the game (and not just the winning) with a newer, different competition (that are far greater threats than meeting Roddick or Safin again) and being the omni-threat, the 'old' goat (with small letters) that won't go away and let the kids feel too good about themselves. He can still beat 99% of the competition, and teach lessons in the meantime, his match against Del Potro a great example.

But right now Nadal is the top of the game. He has come up behind Federer, being no 2 for so long, so has developed a mental strength superior to Fed's, necessary for him to challenge for and finally take the crown from the most gifted of kings. Has Fed got the humility and mental strength to play in a field where he is not the top dog?

I hope so, as it would be strange without him around. I think even the haters would miss him were he gone. I just wish for a more humble, and at the same time blase and devil-may-care Roger. Perhaps it needs that 14th + even 15th for him to be able to truly enjoy the game, the whole game, and nothing but the game?

Posted by temsu jamir 02/03/2009 at 04:51 AM


@bill

the most important of all statastical section of any game is the win/loose section..... winners are champions... go get the facts, accept the truth and stop using meaningless stastatics...
nadal has won against an in form fully rested roger on all surfaces of grand slams and beyond.
the win loose record speaks for itself..13-6
and nadal had to beat the so called best player all the six times to get his grandslams.. five times in finals and once in semi-finals.... WOW MAN .. WHAT A RECORD
AND THE FIRST MEN'S PLAYER EVER TO HOLD THREE DIFFERENT GRAND SLAMS ON THREE DIFFERENT SURFACES AT THE SAME TIME... AND ALSO NOT TO FORGET THE OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL..

Posted by fedal 02/03/2009 at 06:06 AM

With all due respect to all of you who are lauding nadal and disrespecting federer's achievements etc.... First of all i realy think that most of you have no idea or clue what you talk about when you say that the fed had to deal with weak opponents. Federer beat many guys to win slams including Nadal. And Nadal basically had to beat only one guy and that is Federer. Of course this is testament to Nadal's accomplishment and that is fair. But it is unfair to sit here and criticize Federer, he has beaten every tom dick and harry to win his slams and that includes Nadal. The thing is Nadal can never be consistent in beating the guys roger beat. Fed has beaten all these people consistently just look at his record against the players of his generation. Federer beat guys who would routinely beat Nadal or win some and lose some to Nadal; federer beat them consistently while nadal struggles with them. The thing u have to understand and i think that is where i just see so much irony and complete rubbish in this argument is that people dont realize that this is a matchup problem. The reason Nadal has gotten the better of federer is that he matches up well with Roger and for several reasons. But federer matches up with everyone else better than nadal does. Just look at the record. and look at the pressure federer has to go through each time. in the future all you people who are lauding nadal will be looking at his flaws and not giving him credit and realizing how great roger is or was. Remember my words. Most of u with all due respect are not showing enough respect to Federer, and by doing that the irony is taht u are also belittling nadals achievement in the process. If u realy dont think Roger is the GOAT or should be even be considered GOAT or reduce his achievements in winning 13 slams and oh well reaching 19 consecutive slam finals and we know his records, etc....... and at the same time praising nadal for beating roger then dont u think that u r contradicting urselves? that means that nadal beating roger is realy not a great achievement since u r saying that roger had no competition, therefore roger is realy no competition for nadal so therefore even nadal is playing a weak field and only beating one player to win slams bcse he is always there where roger beat so many different ones not only in finals but in the way to finals and also masters. and let us not forger shanghai 4 times roger wins it and twice beating nadal. think before u write and give credit where credit is due. Because both roger and nadal deserve respect and your arguments are directly offensive to roger and indirectly offensive to nadal eventhough u r praising him.
and also trust me roger will not go away and he will get rafa and mark my words. and by the way rafa will not reach the mark roger has reached. But still both deserve the ultimate respect

Posted by anon 02/03/2009 at 06:41 AM

@fedal

I am glad to read that there are people out there who can see beyond the surface of the situation.

Both players deserve a lot respect for their achievements. That That Nadal's game happens to be problematic for Roger is a fact but Roger has achieved so much in a very short period of time - 3 years with 3 Grand Slam titles is unbelievable.

Furthermore, there is no such things as an easy Grand Slam win. For those who claim Roger's GS wins were against mediocre players, look at the French Open Draw for 2005. If I have ever seen an easy draw, it was Nadal's FO draw. But still he deserves great respect for winning that tournament.

Posted by temsu jamir 02/03/2009 at 07:18 AM

our argument is simple.... ROGER is a great champion... no doubt about that..
but that, NADAL is better than roger .. 'all.. and factual records clearly indicates in that manner..

Posted by temsu jamir 02/03/2009 at 07:23 AM

our argument is simple.... ROGER is a great champion... no doubt about that..
but that, NADAL is better than roger .. that's all.. and factual records clearly indicates in that manner..

Posted by jabeau 02/03/2009 at 07:38 AM

Great report Steve. Thanks for giving Rafael the praise he deserves. Most articles concerned themselves with what the loss means to Roger without adequately celebrate and evaluate Rafael's win.

To fedal - you have a point, but do you mind elaborating on "Federer beat guys who would routinely beat Nadal or win some and lose some to Nadal; federer beat them consistently while nadal struggles with them. " Just who are those guys that routinely beat Nadal?
Then this one "Federer beat many guys to win slams including Nadal. And Nadal basically had to beat only one guy and that is Federer." Winning his slams he not only had to beat Federer, but 6 other players, no?

Posted by Jay 02/03/2009 at 08:15 AM

Notice a common theme in the articles Papo posted (10:29)? Perhaps the reason Federer was moved to tears is the potential loss of his legacy. He wants to be remembered as the best player ever, as one of the legends he admires so much. Now there are questions...in his own mind as well as the media's.

Posted by Fred 02/03/2009 at 08:46 AM

Well Temsu, I think everybody understood your point, no need to go on every blog from this website almost screaming : "Nadal is better than Fed, Nadal is better than Fed, don't you understand??"...kind of childish attitude. It's like you've been waiting that day just to spray yourself on each page...
You might as well want to adjust the "double post" button of your computer..

Posted by roGER 02/03/2009 at 08:52 AM

I sometimes get the impression that Federer and Nadal's greatest fault is they aren't Americans...

Posted by anon 02/03/2009 at 09:06 AM

@jabeau

regarding players who have a decent head to head against Nadal but a terrible h2h against federer:

Mikhail Youzhny (4-7 vs nadal - 0-10 vs federer)
Nikolay Davydenko (2-3 vs Nadal - 0-12 vs Federer)
James Blake (3-2 vs Nadal - 1-8 vs Federer.

These are obviously not terribly lopsided head-to-heads versus Nadal but I think the comparison to the head-to-head with federer validate these choices.

Posted by fedal 02/03/2009 at 09:10 AM

Dear Jabebau
well with regards to your firts question: just to give you an example and this is no disrepect to Nadal but i am just stating the fact that federer has an amazing record against almost all players with the exception of nadal for instance, but what i was trying to show is that a proof that you cannot take anything away from federer is taht for instance roger beat james blake every time they met wit the exception of the olympics and that exception came when roger was losing to players he never lost to when he supposedly had a bad year in 08, where Nadal as we know has stuggled against blake for quiet sometime until he finally beat him in 08. There are other examples of players whom federer has owned and beat them consistently and without any sweat where nadal struggled with them conssistently in the past like Youzhny and Byrdych etc.. i dont need to name everyone and i know that Nadal has beaten them too and also in their last encounters. But the fact is that i am trying to show is that it is a fact that nadal will never be and never was 1/2 as dominant as Federer WHEN IT COMES TO OTHER OPPONENTS and he WONT BE and that might be speculation but i realy dont see nadal being dominant the way roger was and that is IF roger doesnt make a comeback. The point is though that i do acknowledge that the matchup of nadal with roger gives roger problems for many reasons that have always been discussed. So point is roger has beaten and dominated people on a regular basis with an amazing record against them where nadal yes he has gotten the better of roger but has been inconsistent in his domination of the players that roger beats consistently and that only proves that when roger plays nadal it has nothing to do with nadal being better, i just think that nadal poses a matchup problem for roger and it came to a point that it has become psychological. I hope my point was made clear. I read an interview with uncle toni where he admits that roger is by far the most talented player and the best player there is and he admits that roger is better than nadal. now i am not here to argue who is better in my opinion roger is better player and others could have a different opinion and i respect that but i am speaking about raw talent and God given gift, but their styles cause more of a problem for roger and the first advantage nadal has is his lefty hand i know there are other lefties but nadal is different and we know that. Even peter Bodo admitted once that if it came to talent no beat not even nadal would ever beat roger. and that the main reason nadal gets the better of roger is that he is a left if nadal played right handed i think all would agree that the head to head record would be on rogers favor. i dont need to go into techniques here but if u want i can always elaborate. But it is unfair to say that roger won his slams against weak opponents, for Gods sake roger has beaten so many different opponentsa and styles to win 13 slams, and that list includes nadal twice in wimbledon. And this last wimbledon was so close could have gone to anyone of them same with australia if roger had played jsut a bit better he would have won but well ifs and buts will not do it now but i think u get my point. I have the highest respect for Rafa and i think he is amazing, but i cannot say he is better than roger no way, and i am not being biased i realy think if u honestly as every tennis expert they will tell u roger is the best if they realy realy have to admit it, yes nadal at the moment is tops but every player will have his ups and then downs even nadal will have to go down one day but he will never dominate the way roger has and if he does then u can make me swallow my words but i think history will show it.
when i say that nadal only had to beat roger i meant in finals with the exception of mariano puerta, but why do u think that is? well because it is always roger in the finals that is why nadal always had to face roger and mostly in the clay but roger did not always have to face nadal but it is not always nadal in the final and that is a fact. So roger beats everyone and reaches the final but nadal is no guarantee he will be in the final of all slams the way roger do. Now some will start saying that oh well but he has beaten roger on all surfaces, well i still dont buy this theory beacuse roger beat him twice on grass to nadal's one, of course on the clay nadal always beat but roger is the only player to beat nadal on clay in a masters final in hamburg and almost beat him in 5 sets in rome. and on hardcourts it would be unfair to judge their head to head slams from one grand slam final. roger has beaten nadal soundly beofore on hardcourts in masters in shanghai and also coming from 2 sets down in miami masters, and this one in oz was close so let us not judge from one slame final on hardcourts. plus how come that when roger beats andy murray in us open people still talk about murray being a threat to him and has his number when roger beat him in a slam final. why is there a double standard when it comes to judging Federer and whmo he is beaten in slam finals but not nadal. why no one talked about roger getting the better of andy in the us in the build up to the oz open and making andy favorite. roger is always judged unfairly but that is the price he pays for his greatness.
u say that nadal had to beat six other guys to win his slams well u said it u admitted it, yes it is true but so did roger. and how many times has roger done it 19 times. so let us give credit where credit is due. no one has his record and believe nadal will not dominate like roger regardless if roger is going to comeback storng or not i think that will be proven with time eventhough i think roger will make a comeback well i dont even have to call it a comeback since he never went away, he is just not as dominanat as before, and by the way if he was as dominant as before he would have won australia this time because he would not have done the mistakes he did and perhaps he would also have won wimbledon last year. Yes i know nadal beat when he was dominating but nadal got him in the grass ahd australia when roger is still great but not as dominant as before, and no i am not making an excuse for roger but i think that is a point to ponder on.
And why is it that when he won the us open everyone was saying oh well nadal lost to murray cause he was tired and murry was tired and djoko was tired u know long season olympics etc.. well that is not an excuse cause roger was dominating all these years and never tiring and winning 5 consecutive us open titles. U dont think roger was tired too? or is it that roger just has so much talent? or is he the fittest guy there is in tennis and people forget that? why is it that they alwys make excuses for the others in the big 4 but never for roger. talk about pressure.
let us give credit and respect to both nadal and roger but let us not take anything away from what roger has done and let us see if nadal will be able to match roger achievements. and again my point comes to the fact taht roger and rafa matchup is jsut a not so good matchup for roger due to contrasting styles and not bcse nadal is better. i completely disagree with taht and i will defend my opinion any time

Posted by fedal 02/03/2009 at 09:14 AM

by the way there was a player sampras just couldnt beat and i think that was kraijek am not sure if that is right, but does this make him better than sampras?
agassi won slams on all four surfaces and by the way nadal and roger won on 3 so u canot say nadal won on all the us open is much quicker than australia for instance and shanghai is indoors and roger won it 4 times and nadal never even nadal admitted that so we should consider that but coming back to agassi he won on all surfaces but he is never in the discussion of GOAT. so what does that tell u, in the end it has to do with rogers style and game and the beauty of his style and effortlesseness that is why he is in the GOAT list.

Posted by michael_o 02/03/2009 at 09:41 AM

Fedal: Methinks thou doth protest too much.

Nadal was getting beaten by the Youzhnys, Blakes and Berdychs of this world when he was still learning how to play hard-court tennis. He would beat these players 9 times out of 10 today.

And if it's just about beauty, style and effortlessness, then Lew Hoad would be GOAT, no?

Posted by unknown 02/03/2009 at 09:51 AM

"Personally I thought the officials or Laver himself were not at all thrilled that Rafa is their new champ and in a way were waiting to crown Fed and couldn't get an opportunity too. I was not too pleased with their behavior(Wimby 08 was a great ceremony so was 07 even though it was harder for me to see as a rafa fan) but felt genuine affection for both the finalists.
Vamos Rafa and Fed."


Agreed!! Rod Laver was visibly not pleased. He couldn't contain his disappointment. UGH!

Posted by Get Over It 02/03/2009 at 09:52 AM

I'm not usually the one to get mixed up in ridiculous, illogical arguments, but this is just too much. A day after the first man ever lays claims to three different surface majors, we get arguments claiming that he's not the best?

If Roger wins another slam, he will be the first to acknowledge how flucky he was to get it. Rafael Nadal is in his PRIME! Expect more of these wins, with even more lopsided scorelines! Just as Roger Federer has done to other major winners, so must he reap what he has sown. This is the way of the world, and it is most definitely the way of tennis. Roger's wins against Nadal all happened before Nadal entered his prime, while Federer was still in his. This is no longer the case, and remember, Roger was still getting tagged during this period!!! Roger can 'play' better all he wants against Nadal, he can serve 100% first serves, he can make every return in the book; when it comes down to the big points, Nadal will always have an advantage.

The tables have turned, and now it is Nadal with the stats on his side. From now on, their matches will swing 75-25 in favor of the Spaniard.

Get Over It!

Posted by what IF? 02/03/2009 at 10:03 AM

WHAT IF ROGER FEDERER WOULD WON 5TH SET?
AND TILL THE THAT MOMMENT HE PLAYED MUCH BETTER (NOT JUST STATISTICLY)?/??
EVEN SO HE WON MORE POINTS THAN NADAL (WITH LOOSING 5TH 6-2)?

THEN ALL OF THOSE NEWSPAPERS AND TENNIS WORLD AS WELL WOULD BE WRITING JUST ONE HEADLINE::::

WOW, what a great performance from roger federer!!!
the king is back !!!!
the greatest player ever!

even Peter Bodo and Steve had allready they articles for that situatian?
don't You Peter and Steve?

Posted by Valevapor 02/03/2009 at 10:05 AM

Great article. I didn't think Rafa would recover enough to win this match, but he proved again why he is the best in the world and the ultimate foil for Roger. Their matches seem to be far more about will and focus than tactics and technique. I don't think Roger needs to dramatically re-tool his game or alter his strategy to beat Rafa on the faster surfaces. Sure, he could play his backhand stronger down the line, serve excellently, and attack second serves more regularly, but these things are a simple matter of execution rather than some high-vaulted coaching secret. Bottom line is that Rafa prevents Roger from executing with a superior mental and physical presence. I think they will play several more titanic matches in the next couple years...can't wait, because I love both these guys! I definitely disagree that Roger was a "baby" during the ceremony. He invests all his heart and soul into tennis and to be so lavishly supported while coping with such a huge disappointment in such an exposed and vulnerable setting was too much to bear. Rafa responded beautifully and, far from being an outside observer, he was very much a part of the deep emotion present on that stage.

Posted by 02/03/2009 at 10:07 AM

pete sampras is the greatest ever.period.

Posted by 02/03/2009 at 10:09 AM

well,, for me Rafa already proved the world that he is the best player in the world, and he's will be the GOAT.

i was a huge fan of Fed, but i realized that since Nadal came up and started to steal 'things' from him with the quality which should be considered as 'not just the best but the greatest', Fed has never admitted that Nadal is. it such a shame, coz Nadal topped him many times (even in majors),,, so, i think Fed should think that there is another guy who deserved to be called as GOAT,,,

Posted by Nick 02/03/2009 at 10:11 AM

Uknown posts at 9:51AM

"Agreed!! Rod Laver was visibly not pleased. He couldn't contain his disappointment. UGH!"

Not pleased? About what? Maybe Laver at the ceremony was just embarrassed for Federer, who morphed into the ever-weepy Tammy Faye Baker for a few minutes. He might have been wondering how someone everyone thought was so great and gallant could put a serious damper (literally) on the whole ceremony. It clearly made it uncomfortable for Nadal - the look on his face as Federer was sobbing told it all. Same with Laver - only his expression seemed to me to be "You gotta be kidding me..crying because he lost? What a Wuss" (or insert comparable Australian slang term here). Somehow I don't picture The Rocket in distraught tears after losing a Final.

Posted by rafadoc 02/03/2009 at 10:18 AM

Steve: Enjoyed reading this and look forward to the other grades. The part I want to comment on is:

"Who knows what the future will bring, but Nadal climbed one step higher in my mind on Sunday".

I agree that this HC Grand Slam win has solidified Rafa as an all around "legitimate" threat on all surfaces and opened the door to imagine where this kid may go...Grand Slam? Fun to think about as a fan.

Posted by linex 02/03/2009 at 10:23 AM

Great post Steve. Like many pointed out, I was happy to read a complete analysis that focused on all aspects of the final including the winner Rafa Nadal. In my view your article is spot on.

I think that the final had less quality technically/ and even dramatically than the semi final between Verdasco and Nadal.

Posted by fedal 02/03/2009 at 10:39 AM

anon
thanx for the head to head comparisons and that validates a point i was trying to get across that the problem for roger with rafa is the matchup otherwise how to explain feds complete dominance over these guys and nadals not so dominant against them blake still has a favorable head to head with nadal but roger completely dominated blake to the point that blake even says in his speeches that roger was giving him lessons in tennis. i dont agree that nadal was losing to them becasue he was still learning, first of all nadal is one of the youngest to win a grand slam and he is the youngest to win the french open so he got experienced very early and already was treading the path of success and if you want to even go this route well then how come tsonga killed nadal last ozzie open even though tsonga is a novice and what about djoko who learned quickly, the truth is nadal improved his game andi give credit to him for that but at the same time it is still not a valid excuse when it comes in the head to head simply bcse nadal achieved success quickly so he was expeerienced enought when he played those guys and he had already won masters on hardcourts as well as clay during that period of him losing those matches to berdych blake etc i mean he was already number 2 in the world and he had more significantly beaten roger too. that just proves to u the point that when it comes to roger it is a matchup advantage nadal brings against roger with the left hand and the topspin and roger being a one handed backand player but most of all psychological.
and even blake once remarked after beating nadal a few times in a row that he did not understand why roger has a tough time against nadal simply bcse nadal got beaten by blake and blake got beaten soundly by roger but thefact is again it is the matchup and nothing else. as i said before bodo once said in an article that the main problem is the left hand of nadal which matches up well agains rogers one handed backhand. simple as that i think realy and the psychology of it all. i mean just look at rogers worst year and how many losses he had and nadals best year which was last year and how many losses he had. in rogers worst year he had almost as much defeats as nadals best year and in rogers best years in 3 consecutive years he lost i think almost as many or even less losses in those 3 years combines 04-07 than nadal had in his best year which was 08. i mean people i realy think it is an endless argument but i think everyone also is trying to be biased towards their favorite player and perhaps i am being biased towards roger but i think my points do have a validation to them just look at the stats and numbers.
and michael o sorry but i am not protesting i am stating facts i just think that some people are not giving roger his due credit. and i disagree that nadal won slams on all surfaces he won on 3 because eventhough australia and us are both hardocourts they are still different to play on the us open is considered now even faster than wimbledon wherein wimbledon and australia have slowed down and roger has won on 3 different surfaces for that matter and reached the final of all of them how can u explain a guy reaching the final of all slams 3 4 years in a row and winning 3 slams 3 years in a row or something like that let us see if rafa can do that on a regular basis like roger has than we can talk but for now dont take anything away from roger and let us keep appreciating rafas rise and keep rooting for this rivalry to keep going but wiht different results i hope. and all of u who have praised djoko and murray for being so tough in a very tough era and tsonga well i have news for u roger has beaten these guys soundly in grand slams and tsonga in a masters so please let us not even argue about rogers greatness.

Posted by Jimbo 02/03/2009 at 10:39 AM

Great post Steve! The GOAT of your posts! Lol!
What we should be celebrating and you have captured it. is Nadal's DESIRE! It is not his discipline, iron will, etc,(all laudable!), but his love of the game and competition. THAT and his physical tools have propelled him to a spot a clear step above Roger. With his beefed-up serve, increasingly versatile game, exqisite physical gifts, and incomparable mentality, he is clearly at the top of the heap of tennis.
It is nice to see Nadal is finally starting to be recognized for his talent as well as his mentality. I have long maintained he is every bit as talanted as Roger, and that is expressing itself. Compare Roger at 22 to Rafa; it's not even close. All things being equal, I can't sse Rafa losing to Roger in a slam again.
GREAT post, thanks.
Jim

Posted by Sandra 02/03/2009 at 10:41 AM

IMO, you cannot be the greatest player of all time if it's not even clear that you're the greatest player of your era.

Posted by unknown 02/03/2009 at 10:42 AM

@Nick

That was my take on Roger's outburst. You have your opinion and I have mine. Afterall,neither of us know him personally.

Posted by NDMS 02/03/2009 at 10:43 AM

I couldn't believe how "Roger's Tears" became the story within the story.

I usually don't take sides in awards ceremonies. Back in 2007, quite a few Nadal fans pointed out that Federer should have sucked it up and stayed for the champagne celebration in the Madrid Masters won by Nalbandian. Two weeks later, Nadal also didn't stay for the champagne celebration after the 6-4 6-0 drubbing at the Paris Masters from Nalbandian. I give a lot of leeway for the utterly miserable runner-up. Personally, I think the crying is a little extreme but this is an extreme moment for Federer. I won't bash him for it.

Anyway, the hoopla over "Roger's Tears" reminded me of something I thought back in 2007 when Andy Murray missed three months of play (including Wimbledon) due to a wrist injury. I read this justifiably angry rant to a British newspaper article about the coverage of the status of "Andy's Wrist" when there is tennis going on.

It made me think that "Andy's Wrist" should enter the lexicon like "Cleopatra's Nose." Blaise Pascal wrote: "Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed." What would have happen if Julius Caesar didn't find her appealing?

Anyway, I refer to "Andy's Wrist" as the unhealthy obsession of a country to hinge the enjoyment of an entire sport on its most promising athlete.”

And "Roger's Tears" is the over-dramatization of the honest and spontaneous lachrymal expression of the non-winning athlete on the podium.

Peace, folks!

Posted by Sandra 02/03/2009 at 10:46 AM

Let's be fair to Rod Laver. Before the ceremony, he was laughing and chatting with Nadal and seemed friendly enough. Also, Laver has said nice things about Nadal in the past. When we see Laver's "ugh" face, it's only after Roger had his breakdown - the "ugh" face was a reaction to that and the weird subduing effect it had on what should have been a celebratory moment for Nadal, but instead became a funereal one for Federer.

Posted by Jimbo 02/03/2009 at 10:48 AM

Arm,
Do you really think players at PRESENT, don't fear playing Rafa just as much if not more than Roger? You could certainly make that case when Roger was number 1 and riding high, but I don't think that's the case now.
My two cents....
Jim

Posted by 02/03/2009 at 10:56 AM

Can I say how much I hate the GOAT argument? You can’t compare eras – too many intangibles – the competitors, surfaces etc... Federer beating Sampras doesn’t make him the GOAT or even better than Pete – just the guy with the most number of slams at present. Just like Sampras having the most number of slams right now doesn’t make him the GOAT.
What we do have is the greats – the first layer being the dominant ones – Laver, Sampras, Borg and now Federer. Yes, Federer belongs there even if he never beats Nadal or wins a Slam again. These are the players who set new standards for the game and became the touchstones by which other players of their era are measured.
Then you have the next set of great players who have their own unique achievements but didn’t have the sustained dominance of the top players – McEnroe, Connors, Wilander, Agassi, Lendl, maybe even Becker, Edberg. Nadal with his latest AO win has earned the right to be at least counted in this group whatever happens to his career from now on.
Also, Nadal going on to dominate their rivalry doesn’t take away from Fed’s status – Fed was dominant in his prime when Nadal was just forming his game. And now that Fed is stepping away from his prime, Nadal is taking over. Their careers overlapped but in the end it’s not really Federer at his prime facing Nadal at his prime. Which is why even if Nadal goes on to dominate the tour like Fed and Sampras, you still can’t say Nadal is a better player than Fed. Now, if Fed has a resurgence to the top, the vice-versa might hold true.

Posted by solid35player 02/03/2009 at 11:02 AM

Does it always have to be about Roger Federer? In Roger's universe, apparently, it does. I don't fault the man for having, and feeling, his emotions, but it would have been far more honorable to have let Nadal have his moment in the spotlight, alone, without having, once again, to acknowledge poor Roger's pain.

Clearly, Federer is one of the greatest, most skilled players of all time. He's certainly on my GOAT shortlist. I think this final was further evidence, however, that he is not one of the greatest competitors of all time.

First, let's give full credit to Nadal for his never-say-die approach and willingness to leave it all out there. He won the match and fully deserved to. But, Federer had to know that Nadal was also tired and under pressure. But in the critical 5th set, Federer . . . . folded. I certainly know that helpless feeling on court (I'm a lousy 3.5 after all), but Federer is arguably the greatest player of all time. Rather than fight, it looked as though he cashed it in. Hard to imagine that Laver or Sampras would have put up so little resistance.

I know this seems harsh, but I'll say again that Federer is on my GOAT shortlist. I still think it's likely that he'll pass Sampras' tally, but it's going to become increasingly difficult. I wish him luck.

Posted by Jimbo 02/03/2009 at 11:06 AM

Fedal,
I wouldn't sell short Rafa's ability to dominate in the future. Roger Federer is a marvelous tennis player, but he is clearly a step below NADAL RIGHT NOW. I DO think the competition is better right now than it was in Roger's prime. That fact in no way disparages Roger's legacy and accomplishments, but the Nadal of today would domonate in a comparable way in that era, ESPECIALLY in the biggest of tournaments. If he stays healthy, we will see how dominant Rafa can be.
Jim

Posted by fedal 02/03/2009 at 11:11 AM

jimbo
well i disagree in an interview with domnik hrbaty who amazingly has a psotive record against record against roger and nadal and murry in a recent interview in the oz open since he is a veteran who has been there so many years he has said eventhough rafa is number one and has beaten roger etc.. but the talk in the locker room is always about roger he said u could always hear playing murmuring and whispering about roger and how he is playing he said roger is the one most feared in the tour and the one no one wants to play and that he is the one to beat and that again validates the point taht when it comes to rafa with roger it is a matchup thing. bcse they know roger can dominate them at will and has an aura but rafa despite his greatness cannot dominate players and have the same aura as roger am not saying that maybe this will change after the oz open or it might not change it will all depend on rogers frame of mind and how he will take this defeat and what effect it will have etc.. and am not saying rafa is not feared but i think that roger is more feared by many more players simply bcse his talent is so huge he outplays everyone and honestly the only player who can keep up with him is rafa but u still cannot argue that about rafa welll not yet we have to wait and see.
but u know let me jsut tell everyone wirting posts here i just realized we are all jsut talking our opinions at the end u know what what we say here wont realy make a diffeence why cant we all just be like roger and rafa great sports people with great sport spirit and let the future judge. there is still a lot of water under the bridge. let us not get carried away i think roger realy has not much to prove anymore except he is chasing the history now and nadal still has more to prove so let us wait and see who will prove us right instead of just speculating and let us enjoy the game . let us not forget not long ago at the same time they were talking about the eventual new king and taht was djoko and we all know what has happened and then came andy wh has yet to prove so let us not get carried away. same in teh womens look at jankovic and ivanovic still to prove much more than what they have done so far.
peace yall
by the way i agree with what one person said that i think rafas anf rogers mistake is that they are not american and they dont get due credit well definitely not roger wehn the american media compare him to sampras

Posted by James 02/03/2009 at 11:20 AM

Does everyone else get an F?

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