Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - The Eyebrows Have It
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The Eyebrows Have It 04/20/2009 - 4:15 PM

Rn You, the tennis fan tuning in without a care in the world, may think of this as the clay-court season. It may even be your favorite time of year. But for those of us who are paid to analyze the sport, the ides of April can bring with them a sensation of dread. This is the point each year when Rafael Nadal begins to make life as difficult as possible for us. How many different ways are there to say “wow,” anyway? On Sunday, Tennis Channel commentator Robbie Koenig was forced to plead to a higher power to come up with a superlative when Nadal tracked down a seemingly ungettable drop volley from Novak Djokovic. After the third replay of Nadal’s crosscourt flick winner, Koenig finally gave up trying to figure out how it had been done and cried, “only the good lord above knows.”

I know, you’ve heard it all before. You may even be getting a little sick of the Nadal love, the “gritty fighter” and “humble young man” stuff, the same way you may have gotten a little sick of the Federer love, all the talk of “genius” and “class” and “religious experience,” that preceded it. So I’ll give you a break and start my Monte Carlo wrap-up by asking a question about the surface itself. Now that I think about it, that may be another topic you’ve had enough of, but a tennis writer has to start somewhere.

Can we now agree, after this weekend's play, that clay is the best surface for the men’s game today? Seeing Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray hit every shot imaginable and run down every ball possible, I’m willing to say yes. Clay, which keeps topspin from skipping though the court while at the same time enabling players to slide themselves into position for hard-to-reach balls, allows the current generation to show off all of their skills like no other type of court.

First, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray, like most of their peers, hit heavy topspin forehands and back them up with penetrating two-hand backhands. If you’ve ever played on slow clay, you know that, the surface’s reputation aside, you need to generate enough pace and spin to hit a heavy ball that goes through the court—Lleyton Hewitt, a consummate grinder and winner of many hard-court titles, has never been a master of the surface because he can’t push his opponents off the baseline. Second, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray all have touch; clay, even more than a slow hard court, gives them the time not only to set up and hit that shot, but to slide and reach a very good drop from their opponent. Third, these guys can all play defense, which we know is a prerequisite on dirt—Pete Sampras was about offense at all costs, and clay was his bete noire.

Now that the serve and volley is nothing more than a change-up play, clay is the surface that demands the most complete game from players. Instead of an all-world serve—none of these three guys ever hold just by blasting aces—the foundation of the sport today is a mix of accuracy and power from the baseline. While Murray won without doing much attacking on the hard courts in Key Biscayne, he was forced to show everything he had to stay with Nadal in Monte Carlo. His game became much more varied and entertaining when he did. Ditto Djokovic. In Miami, Djokovic was generally content to put the ball in the middle of the court; Mary Carillo even said he looked tentative. Compare that to how he played the final in MC. The hooked forehands that sent Nadal wide; the frozen-rope backhands that had the Spaniard at full stretch; the ability to change directions with the ball and hit corners from anywhere: This is the old Djokovic, the real Djokovic, and hopefully the one we’ll see again in the future. As for Nadal himself, I don't need to mention how much clay suits his skills, the same ones that have made him the best and arguably most complete player today. It hardly seems an accident that he developed them on clay and extended them to other surfaces afterward.

In reviewing the Hamburg tournament last year, where Djokovic and Federer each took Nadal to three sets before losing, I said that while they had gotten closer than ever to beating him on clay, it had only served to show how far away they still were. I’d say the same for Djokovic after Monte Carlo, even though it was a very positive final weekend for him. It began in the second set of his semi, when Stan Wawrinka let him back into the match with some pointless errors after he’d won the first set. What was important was that Djokovic took the opportunity. He didn’t just ride the momentum to the second set and then fall back into his usual frustrated ways when that momentum ran out, as it was inevitably going to in the third. Instead, Djokovic stood and fought—yes, just like Al Gore—even when points weren’t coming easily for him. He played with the mix of patience and patterned aggression that once was his trademark, and it won him the match.

Djokovic was even better against Nadal. He weathered a first-set storm without getting visibly discouraged. He served lights out in the second set. He took his shots high and early. He moved Nadal off the court before coming forward. He wrong-footed him with his volleys. Most important and most difficult, Djokovic executed the riskiest of shots—like, say, the backwards-falling, inside-out forehand from the behind the baseline that lands smack on the sideline in the opposite corner—to perfection, which is the one true key to hanging with Nadal on clay. Then Djokovic made two simple but fatal mistakes: At 0-1 in the third, on two separate game points, he double faulted. That was enough. Nadal won the third 6-1. Why, after all that, would Djokovic—or we—believe that he could ever beat the guy on this stuff? Not that it matters to me much: I’m just happy to see them bringing out the best in each other again.

I get a different feeling with Murray. While he lost in straights to Nadal on Saturday, I think he believes he can beat him either in Paris or Rome. After playing poorly and testily until 6-2, 5-3, Murray loosened up when all seemed lost. As he said after the match, he used high looping defensive strokes well when he was pushed out of position, and like Djokovic he walked the tightrope of risk well, which, against Nadal, means he just barely reined his most aggressive instincts in. The last few games and the tiebreaker were spectacular and emotional (the effort required in a quality clay match also seems to drag out deeper emotions from players and fans—everyone leaves a little drained). Nevertheless, as Murray said afterward, when all the emotions had been spent and the spectacular shots hit, it was Nadal who won the two most colossal and crucial points of the tiebreaker. Still, I’d give Murray a decent shot at cracking the code against him on clay. Unlike Djokovic, he still believes anything is possible. Even the impossible.

As I said at the top, there aren’t many new praises left to sing about Nadal. But let me point out two moments from this weekend that struck me as instructive about him. Murray broke for 4-5 in the second set, after Nadal had held at least one match point. Nadal then lost the next game, which was to be expected. But what he didn’t do was lose game after that, the one that would have put him down 5-6 and likely cost him the set. It would have been superhuman if Nadal had come right back and broken Murray at 5-4 for the match. He didn’t do the superhuman. He just did what he needed to do to stem Murray’s momentum and get back to level terms in a tiebreaker, where they’d be starting from scratch. It sounds simple, but how many times have we seen players collapse completely and lose the set 7-5 in that situation?

The second instance came in the final. Nadal went down 3-1 in the first set but immediately found his best form and ran off five straight games. Then, as often happens, he lost that form at the beginning of the second set. In the third, rather than try to get back on the attack right away, Nadal stayed with a defensive game and slowly, step by step, shot by shot, began to go for a little more. The damn burst at 0-1 when he ripped a winning backhand pass down the line, the best-looking and most full-blooded shot he’d hit in about an hour. While Nadal kept that shot well within the lines, it gave him the confidence to go for more for the rest of the set.

What else is there for a tennis analyst to add about the humble and gritty man from Mallorca? How about we talk about his eyebrows? Are they ever not lowered to just above eye level, in a look of aggressive concern? I’ve seen a picture of Rafa at age 3 with his uncle Miguel Angel, dressed in a soccer uniform, and he has that same expression. How do you keep that look going for an entire match? More important, how do you keep that mindset—aggressive concern—going for two, three, five hours at a time? When I imagine the mental energy and tunnel vision needed to do that, only one word comes to mind. Wow.


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 04:25 PM

first!!!

Posted by GVGirl 04/20/2009 at 04:28 PM

Wow indeed!

I love that you are on Twitter so I'm notified about your new posts as soon as they appear!

Posted by maedal (Vamos Rafa and the Armada!) 04/20/2009 at 04:34 PM

Steve, another great piece on Nadal that doesn't just repeat the obvious. Like you, I give Andy and Nole a lot of credit in their matches this week.

The reasons I like clay are different from yours (and probably most other people's)... I like to see players carefully patting the surface back into place with their feet--tending to it. I like the fact that for the most part people can depend on the evidence of their own eyes rather than hawkeye to determine whether a contested ball was inside or out. I like the fact that it reacts to temperatures and humidity, organically. I like that players have to deal with odd bounces instead of counting on the predictable uniformity of a hardcourt. To me, clay is closer to real life, its needs, changes, and challenges.

Posted by Mun 04/20/2009 at 04:40 PM

LOL, eyebrows, totally agree with you. Hard to find yet another superlative about Nadal (though there could be some taken from the Federer library) And the clay season has just started....

Posted by SwissMaestro 04/20/2009 at 04:41 PM

The most interesting part will be to see how long Nadal's domination on clay can last... and I highly doubt than the Spaniard can pull off more than 2 Slams this year. I can guarantee you all that the very same sport law that has sent the likes of Federer, Sampras, McEnroe and Edberg crashing down to earth will do the same to Nadal: Nobody wins them all...

Posted by neil in toronto 04/20/2009 at 04:47 PM

Thanks for the fine article Steve. It must be really hard to write fresh stuff about Rafa on Clay, yet you never disappoint!! Agreed that clay showcases ALL of a player's skill to the maximum and Nole and Andy should be proud of their achievements this week.

Posted by Master Ace 04/20/2009 at 04:49 PM

Rafael Nadal is the first man to win an Masters event 5 consecutive times which is a testament to his mental strength.

Andy and Novak did push him for a set but the question for them,just like it was for Roger from 2005-2008, is can they win 3 sets from him at Roland Garros. At the moment, the answer is no. Also, Rafael will make adjustments to Andy and Novak when they play each other again.

Swiss Maestro,
I see 3 Slams for Rafael this year. Seems like Roger can not execute his shots and he is not patient when he is in a long rally with Rafael, Andy, and Novak. Andy said that you must not go for winners against Roger and he has backed that up by winning their last 4 meetings(5 if you count Abu Dhabi). Novak repeated that same strategy at Key Biscayne. Also, they noticed that Roger is slow to his right when he has to hit his forehand and that step is the reason he can not execute his forehand.

Posted by maedal (Vamos Rafa and the Armada!) 04/20/2009 at 04:52 PM

Steve, one more thing...that essay was so beautifully crafted. Among other things, I like the way you end on a single monosyllable, bringing us back and responding to the dilemma you pose in the opening paragraph.

I also thought the title worked wonderfully. I knew immediately it was about Rafa, and you worked the eyebrows into the conclusion.


Posted by Pspace 04/20/2009 at 05:03 PM

""Can we now agree, after this weekend's play, that clay is the best surface for the men’s game today?""

It's a tough question. I completely agree from an aesthetic perspective in terms of the variety of shots. However, I also hope for some unexpectedness in the outcome. During Federer's reign, I felt clay was the most interesting part of the season, because it was the key to the slam. And because he went in as the underdog against Rafa, whereas on other surfaces it was always his match to lose. So, if someone can really truly push Rafa on clay, I'd give it an unqualified yes. At the moment, I'm a little more curious about Wimbledon.

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 05:09 PM

master ace-- you have a good point-- about andy and djoko challenged him ... also nadal himself admitted he hasn't been in his best yet-- so it should be interesting once he will regain his clay form and make adjustments

Master Ace-- you mentioned the possibility of 3 -- how about a slam?:P

Posted by Or 04/20/2009 at 05:13 PM

Oh, this was a nice piece. And yeah, he has the same quirky expressions now that he had when he was three, so cute.

Posted by neil in toronto 04/20/2009 at 05:16 PM

Also, one thing i noticed and floved about Monte Carlo, was the crowd stamping its feet on the floor of the bleachers. The sound it made was awesome, and added to the gladitorial feel of the matches!!

Posted by bluesunflower 04/20/2009 at 05:18 PM

lol on the premise that come clay, it seems that death, taxes and Rafa's domination are a given. I would like to say you have not yet failed to rise to the challenge of writing fresh articles about Rafa and that long may his dominance continue and long may your prose flow.

I couldnt help feel sorry for Djokovic.
From Nole post match interview:
Q. If it is so tough to win one set off of Nadal, how difficult is it to win possibly two or three?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: We are coming back again to the story of believing in yourself. I think there is where the key of playing him. You just have to be focused every single point because you have a player on the other side of the net that doesn't really give you any points. I mean, you could see him on 5 1 in the third set, he played like it's 5 All. He really doesn't care about the result. He just wants to give his best every single point. That's why he's very unique and that's why he's the best now.
So you probably will have to be physically really fit in the first place, because long rallies and long points are waiting for you. That's no secret.

I find this really telling, its almost like Nole is resigning himself to the fact that yet again he has come of second best to Rafa. In that respect I agree with you that Murray has a better (still slim, but better) chance against Rafa on clay as 'Unlike Djokovic, he still believes anything is possible. Even the impossible.'


Posted by M&M 04/20/2009 at 05:19 PM

Wow! This is so true about Nadal but I'm not too sure about this old Djokovic, the real Djokovic seems to play the sick trick when ever he is getting beaten by the other player. Take notice. He's done it with Federer, Murray, Roddick and a lot of the other guys he has played, and he did again with Nadal in the first set. This gets them off their game and then he comes back and beats them the very next set at his game. I never see him get sick when he is winning have you? He seems to use this to gain an upper hand on the other guy this bothers me and it seems unfair.

Posted by jules 04/20/2009 at 05:27 PM

I agree that Murray should feel more optimistic about beating Rafa on clay, but maybe that's partly because he hasn't played Rafa on clay that much, and so hasn't become jaded like Djokovic and Federer. I wonder if Murray will feel as hopeful if he loses to Rafa on clay a few more times.

Posted by TennisFan2 04/20/2009 at 05:28 PM

bluesunflower, I found Nole's answer to that question fascinating as well.

I was very happy to see Nole and Andy rise to the occasion. As a fan I want to watch a close match. I have loved watching Rafa's game since he came on the scene and think it's amazing in this era of heroworshipping of professional atheletes that he has stayed so grounded.

But even as a Rafa fan - I don't want to watch a blow out - I could have watched Roger all these years if I wanted that. Part of what is so appealing to Rafa fans is exactly what Steve described above. Rafa has an innate ability to bring his game and emotions down to a foundation level and start from scratch when he gets in trouble - it is fascinating to watch. As Steve says Nadal takes a "step by step, shot by shot" approach...no one else on tour seems to have the consistent fortitude to take this approach to winning.

Posted by Master Ace 04/20/2009 at 05:28 PM

Frances,
Rafael has a very good chance to win the Calendar Slam this year but his problem Slam, which is minor IMO, is the United States Open because it is held later in the year. At this point, Rafael would have play 4 pre-clay events, Roland Garros, Queens, Wimbledon, and all the spring hardcourts events before then.

Posted by Alice 04/20/2009 at 05:30 PM

It seems like the problem with beating Rafa on clay is about sustaining the high level long enough to win two or three sets. Both Murray and the Djoker had some good stretches against him in their matches, but couldn't keep it going long enough to win in the end. The same could be said of most of Fed's losses to Rafa on clay - most of them were tough matches, with the exception of the rout at last years French. But Murray and Djoker both gave Rafa enough trouble to indicate that the French will be interesting, and Rafa will have to play his best to stay dominant on clay. Yes I agree clay court tennis is the best in this era.

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 05:32 PM

bluesunflower -- well you cant blame djokovic if he sounds more doubtful... remember this is Djokovic's 7th clay game against Rafa-- whilst this is only the 2nd with Murray-- although i dont really count the first clay game with him against murray as he is definitely in a better form now.. but for the sake of the arguement and facts..there it is

Posted by TennisFan2 04/20/2009 at 05:33 PM

BTW Steve, I love your writing!

Regarding Nole and Andy - while they can present a good challenge and may even have a little more confidence now - I don't believe they can take two sets off Rafa and I find it impossible to believe they could take three off of him at RG. I just don't think they have the mental or physical strenth to go the distance against Rafa at RG. Only Roger in his prime was able to come close.

Posted by CPM 04/20/2009 at 05:43 PM

Great stuff, Steve--you have a keen eye for what makes Nadal such a compelling figure on the court. (I suspect it's your Philly background--we're a special breed ;^D) And I'm sure the Rafaelite love will come pouring in; I wonder if you might end up authoring their 'bible': "Rafael Nadal as Secular Experience," maybe? I'd read it, for sure.

I'll say that I'm very much looking forward to the next Nadal-Murray match-up on clay; Muzzah definitely showed some great game at the end of that second set. But I'll repeat myself, and once more vainly wish for a Murray-Djokovic match on clay; if they play to the levels they showed at their best against Rafa, I think that could make for really compelling stuff. And unlike their matches against Rafa, I have no idea who'd win!

Also, just have to say, maedal @ 4:34, great post. The aesthetics of the natural surfaces do add something special.

Posted by Batz 04/20/2009 at 05:46 PM

Great piece Steve - perceptive as ever.


LOL @ 'soccer uniform' :-)

Posted by bluesunflower 04/20/2009 at 05:52 PM

TennisFan2 & frances
re Murray's still optmistic attitude towards taking rafa on on Clay and Nole's more jaded view. When I watched Rafa's semifinal against Murray I thought; 'Welcome Murray to the world of coming of second best to Rafa. A world Federer and Djokovic know only too well.'

Much has been written about the Federer/Nadal rivalry but I never really appreciated how many times Djokovic has come of second best to Rafa. 12 x out of 16, and unfortunately Nole doesnt have the luxury of being a different age to Rafa. When Nole dropped to his knees in that final i wonder what was going through his head. it must seem like it doesnt matter what he tries but rafa just keeps going.
Murray as he continues to make the latter stages of tournaments will continue to meet Rafa and it will be interesting to see if he remains positive or he will develop that weariness.

Posted by Frances 04/20/2009 at 05:53 PM

Master Ace.... Yeah I definitely was thinking the same thing-- although i did remember that during the hard court season -- his random high level would show up every now and then-- IMO- him winning the Olympics- I saw him play and he was playing really well -- esp in the finals-- so I guess just like everybody else-- if he manage his offseason and rest-- and I ideally not so much 5 final setters-- then maybe-- bu too early to predict he only has one for now but cant help it:P

Thanks!!

Posted by Seven 04/20/2009 at 05:54 PM

Players have a better chance of beating Rafa in 3 sets. I don't see it happening anytime soon in 5 sets. The tenacity required to maintain a high level of play for some certain reason seems impossible for all players against Rafa while he plays on his favorite surface.

I believe that every surface brings out certain strengths and weaknesses in all players mode of play. I thereby conclude that the definition of the GOAT would consist of winning a SLAM on every surface. I love Nadal. He's Great! He's won on all surfaces and remains the KING of clay. Everything else is but numbers.......

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 05:54 PM

STEVE I really like ur wiritng too!!!!!! you always give praise to those who deserves them-- nadal djoko and murray really were the chararters in the tournament

Posted by maedal (Vamos Rafa and the Armada!) 04/20/2009 at 05:56 PM

CPM, thanks for the comment!

Posted by Rosangel 04/20/2009 at 06:00 PM

*I know, you’ve heard it all before. You may even be getting a little sick of the Nadal love, the “gritty fighter” and “humble young man” stuff, the same way you may have gotten a little sick of the Federer love, all the talk of “genius” and “class” and “religious experience,” that preceded it. *

Steve: it'll be a while before some of us get sick of it, I promise you. It's nice to see Nadal being the big story. That said, I definitely was put off by the Foster Wallace "religious experience"article, and am thankful that no-one's likely to go down that route in describing Rafa - part of what makes him so appealing is his obvious human qualities, and yes - his expressive face, including the eyebrows. You may know how much I've photographed him for Pete's blog, and the variety of his fleeting expressions is enormous.

I also very much appreciate your words about the surface itself. You've articulated some things that I've thought about, but not put into words. Especially "the effort required in a quality clay match also seems to drag out deeper emotions from players and fans—everyone leaves a little drained".

Posted by Eric 04/20/2009 at 06:00 PM

Truth be told, I'm not a bandwagoner or fairweather fan by any means, but I've shifted camps from being firmly in Federer's to being firmly in Nadal's. I guess there was a point of inverse proportions for me, where I began to really respect Nadal's game and mindset, and conversely, where I began to lose respect for Federer's. Now it's gotten to the point where I think Federer, even if he matches Sampras' record, has somewhat tarnished his legacy a bit because of the way he has shown his mental fragility in the heat of battle. This is where players forge their legacy, and Nadal is well on his way to proving his mettle as one of the best, whereas the irony with Federer is that he cake-walked through a dominant early career, only to show his true self later on. I'm a fan of tennis in general, so I admire all the players, but between these two, and specifically in the construct of their rivalry, I think Federer is really doing a great job to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, so to speak. And Nadal, well, wow. Just wow.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 04/20/2009 at 06:00 PM

Steve I love this piece. Wow indeed, regarding both your writing and the big hunk of amazingness that is Rafa. Not much more one can say about Rafa without sounding repetitive (and in my case fangirlish - perish the thought!). The guy is just unbelievable.

I love the way you described Muzza's belief that the impossible is possible.

Posted by Ryan 04/20/2009 at 06:02 PM

Weird to read a "state of the top of the men's game" post without analysis of Federer. Weird, yet appropriate and warranted.

Posted by CPM 04/20/2009 at 06:09 PM

Rosangel,

The DFW essay rankled a bit when I first read it; my eyes could hardly stop rolling, as I recall. But I read it again after Wallace took his own life--and have since read two of his collections of nonfiction and Infinite Jest--and it read very, very differently to me. I guess I wasn't reading it this last time as a Nadal fan (who had frankly had it up to hear with people eating their hands at the mere mention of Roger Federer), and instead just read it to hear what Wallace was saying. It's actually a beautiful piece of writing, and I think he got at something very profound, and hence very raw & uncomfortable, about what makes sport so compelling.

It wasn't the whole story, to be sure, but it's not entirely fair to blame the man for not seeing in 2006 (?) what Rafael would become. But I know I'm damn-near-heartbroken that we won't have the chance to hear what Wallace might've said about Nadal. Maybe nothing; maybe his own tastes would've rendered him insensate to what makes Nadal's game sing. But I'm actually pretty sure that Wallace, of all people, would see something worth writing about; not the promise of reconciliation with the creaky, decaying, fleshy animal life that he glimpsed in Federer's game, though. It would be very different from that.

Posted by CPM 04/20/2009 at 06:11 PM

'[U]p to here', not 'hear'. *sigh* Creaky animal life, indeed.

Posted by Bobcat 04/20/2009 at 06:22 PM

No Fed No Blake No Roddick No American on the horizon

Posted by rafadoc 04/20/2009 at 06:47 PM

Steve: Thanks again for a wonderful piece of writing that is not at all repetitive. I absolutely love the clay court game for the reasons you and others have mentioned. This Rafa fan will never tire of your writing about the King of Clay.

Posted by claudia celestial girl 04/20/2009 at 06:55 PM

love this article! Love that closing image of little Rafa with Uncle Miquel Angel (one of my favorite pictures) - and wish you could post this picture with the article.

A question for you, what do you think of Fernando Verdasco's chances of 'hanging' with Rafa for 5 sets on clay? To me, Fernando has game, he has a better forehand, and is naturally more aggressive on court. I'll never forget his standing there and serving aggressively when he was cramping in the AO, forcing Rafa off the baseline, and staying in the match. Fernando is learning, and certainly would have taken note of Andy's and Nole's tactical success this week. Fernando has the stamina that might be lacking with Nole and Andy. I look for Fernando to also be a challenge for Rafa at Roland Garros this year.

Posted by claudia celestial girl 04/20/2009 at 06:55 PM

love this article! Love that closing image of little Rafa with Uncle Miquel Angel (one of my favorite pictures) - and wish you could post this picture with the article.

A question for you, what do you think of Fernando Verdasco's chances of 'hanging' with Rafa for 5 sets on clay? To me, Fernando has game, he has a better forehand, and is naturally more aggressive on court. I'll never forget his standing there and serving aggressively when he was cramping in the AO, forcing Rafa off the baseline, and staying in the match. Fernando is learning, and certainly would have taken note of Andy's and Nole's tactical success this week. Fernando has the stamina that might be lacking with Nole and Andy. I look for Fernando to also be a challenge for Rafa at Roland Garros this year.

Posted by Kofi 04/20/2009 at 07:00 PM

That drop shot catch was incredible, and indeed the turning point of the match (which would otherwise have also come later, anyway). It was like Nadal had hit the hyper-space key! Awsomer than a 'Federer-Wallace moment', lol. Both my son and I tought at first sight that the ball must have bounced twice, just for the slow-mo replay to show a perfectly neat winner...

Remember Hamburg'08 semi post-match interview? Nadal looked mentally exhausted; he even said sth like 'This guy (Nole) is going to be no.1 in no time'. And look what happened next... So yesterday post-match Nadal also looked mentally exhausted, but now I know what to expect ;-)

I think his feeling every new victory as an unwarranted new gift from life makes Nadal almost immune to mental exhaustion. That, and his enjoyment of competition per se...

I see sth similar in Murray, though not to the same extent, in that he is never carried away by all the British media hype. I see him as more resilient than Nole. However, after being beaten some more times by Nadal, it may also eventually get to him too...

And who and why came out with the idea that hard courts are the best thermometer of 'true tennistic value'?

Posted by Master Ace 04/20/2009 at 07:13 PM

Rafael cross court FH flick of a winner to save break point against Novak on a decent volley by him reminded me of where he ran from cross court to get a decent volley by Nikolay Davydenko in the 2008 Monte Carlo SF and hit the same cross court FH for a winner. Even though his winner against Nikolay last year was better, his winner against Novak had more meaning yesterday.

Posted by chinkyv 04/20/2009 at 07:23 PM

Steve, you never seem to amaze me with how well you can write! I still think I need to shrink you and find you a nice little spot in my head (complete with 5 star amenities) so that you can help me articulate some of my thoughts on Rafa and tennis in general. Coz of most of the time (**read: 99.9% of the time**), you get it spot on. Loved it!!! WOW indeed, to RAFA and you as well :-)

Posted by Tfactor 04/20/2009 at 07:46 PM

Steve, many thanks for writing this wonderful post about clay and Rafa.
I understand that it can feel repetitive to write about Rafa on clay but I appreciate that you acknowledge his victories and his accomplishments, I wish I could say the same about other tennis analysts.

Posted by zilbed 04/20/2009 at 07:59 PM

I have always loved the mental aspects of sport more than the physicality of it. The mental chess match between a pitcher and batter in baseball fascinates me. Clay court tennis, to me, is the ultimate mental chess match as each player tries to outwit his opponent with each stroke. No one represents that mental calculating aspect better than Nadal. While he stands at the line to serve you can see that he is thinking about what tactics he is going to play, sometimes thinking ahead several strokes. That's how I can usually predict if he's going to net his first serve.

Of course, watching the physicality of Nadal is the ultimate treat. There is nothing boring or mechanical in the way he plays. The eyebrows are a delightful bonus.

Posted by jabeau 04/20/2009 at 08:02 PM

Steve,
Thanks for another fantastic article. I never tire of reading about Rafael and you are a great writer. It's so good to see that finally he 'arrived' and gets the respect and love he deserves.

Like others, I don't want utter domination and crashing defeats of others. As a fan I like to see Rafael battle, fight and digging deep to find his best against his contemporaries.

After THAT shot Novak dropped to his knees and we knew his heart was broken. But he played very well in this match and I was happy to see that.

I know the childhood picture you are referring to - it's uber cute. I wish you published it. Is it too late to include?

Posted by marron 04/20/2009 at 08:09 PM

Mental energy, tunnel vision, determination - just WOW indeed, Steve. Great article.

One of the very few times I've seen Nadal let go that laser-like stare and focus was after that ridiculously insane winner he hit against his compatriot Verdasco in the AO semi - the one where they both grinned a bit at each other. And then he went right back to work. Love him.

Vamos, Rafa!

Posted by PC 04/20/2009 at 08:12 PM

Great article.

Al Gore? What did he fight for? The Internet? His business interests?

Posted by TennisFan2 04/20/2009 at 08:25 PM

PC - Al fought for FL delegates!

Posted by TennisFan2 04/20/2009 at 08:27 PM

Did anyone mention the little lip thing (almost like a sneer) Rafa does just as he is about to hit his serve??? It goes well with the whole eyebrow thing.

My oldest son tried to create a Rafa Mii with the eyebrows on Wii.... ;-)

Posted by Orpheo 04/20/2009 at 08:31 PM

MA
Totally agree. That point against Davidenko was awarded "mercedes benz point of the year"..he was farther away and the angle was more acute, but alas the meaning was not the same

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 08:36 PM

TennisFan2- i agree on that certain grin-- he does have a lot of repetitive habits-- whick i like all of them including touching his but coz it makes rafa rafa-!!!!

rafa fans cant seem to stop talking about RAFA!!!!

VAMOS RAFA!!!!

Posted by jabeau 04/20/2009 at 08:39 PM

What about the little 'dance' while waiting for his opponent's serve?

Posted by Honeychile 04/20/2009 at 08:43 PM

Brilliant article! Thank you Steve.

Posted by Chany 04/20/2009 at 08:44 PM

Wonderful article Steve. I never get tired of reading about Rafa. I think we all "get" something from him. Not quite sure that makes sense but I know for myself...I love seeing his pure hard work pay off. He is a wonderful kid.
Keep these articles coming!

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 08:47 PM

yes the little dance == the bottles-- his predictability on his habits is actually something i like about him-- its so fun to watch him...

i mean ofcourse because being teh humble honest rafa:P okok ok-- i think i like everything about the guy-- my bf is already jealous!!!hahah

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 04/20/2009 at 08:51 PM

Steve Wow Factor comes into mind with this young man.In mind he is the greatest clay court player I have seen.Sorry Borg.

Amazing shots from both players in that final.The shot that stays im my mind was when he had Novak on his knees and looking for guidence from above.

Sorry Novak the Tennis Gods didnt oblige you.

Well to me clay court play,well these is no other.It tests a player on all levels of play.Mentally and Physically as well.

You can hide on a clay court thats for sure.Its just beautiful to watch.

Nadal plays percentages to a tee.He is a master at this.

He controls the points so well.

How does someone beat him?

Well you have to be able to play agressive and sustain that type of play.Mentally and physically as well.A big ask for sure.

Nadal asks soo many questions of his opponents on court.

He foreces you to play outside your comfort zone.Thus forcing the error.The key to clay court play keep your UFE to the min.

I am in total awe of this young man.Yeah the one with the raised eyebrow.

Posted by Holly 04/20/2009 at 08:58 PM

Steve ♥

Great article!

I love the clay season and I'm thrilled watching Rafa! I thought Andy and Novak played really well. So well that it was hard for this Rafa fan to watch at times!

I agree that Nando might give Rafa a run for the money. I think he wants to beat Rafa more then the others and it seems personal...

Vamos Rafa!

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 09:09 PM

Master Ace, MA, Rosangel- i consider you guys like my parents in TW-- hahahaha -- but i have an interesting question and hopefully other's as well thought about this.

it's obvious about the hype of murray as the possible solution to the nadal dominance on clay-- i know a lot of questions have been posted that he has shown a glimpse of that solution in the second set of the monte carlo finals which was i have to admit a very thrilling game--


i want to approach this theory differently ... rather than just suggesting that this could be a solution .. i want to know anyones thoughts in terms of comparing how they have judge the past contenders before on how to solve nadal on clay....and that is -- i wonder how was djokovic and federer judged as a possible contender to defeat nadal on clay? meaning -- is it the same hot press that there was a possible solution on their game plan? was murray's approach just seem to look original or thus considered a hot topic but will eventually die out just like federer's many attempts-- i've been on youtube watching nadal and federers game on clay-- and all i can say is that federer plays amazing-- most likely even better on how murray played and yet nadal would still managed to win... also djokovic hamburg game was pretty awesome as well -- ...so im just really curious..

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 09:13 PM

ps -- i meant monte carlo semi finals-- my bad!!!

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 09:19 PM

Guess I shouldn't be surprised to see Steve succumb to the tsunami of groupthink. A "seemingly ungettable drop volley"? Folks, say what you will about that reach-volley response by Nadal, but it was a clearly makeable shot by any top player with a decent net game. Check for yourself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOnNfa44P5k

If you can forget about the gaga-worthiness of the above (admittedly important) point for a second, more impressive was Rafa's return of Djoko's lob @ :48 in the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmJ2cnmXSxY

Not that the KADs will care, of course.

Posted by TennisFan2 04/20/2009 at 09:23 PM

Here is the game plan for Nole and Andy:

#1 Ensure easy path to match vs. Rafa
#2 Ensure long grueling matches for Rafa
#3 Scratch #2 - Verdasco tried that at AO and Rafa won his first hardcourt GS
#4 Pray to weather gods for bad weather on days Rafa has to play causing him to play back to back days in majors while you rest and go shopping.
#4 Scratch #4 - Fed tried that at Wimbledon already

Hmmm.... #s 2 & 4 did not work on hard court or grass so they definitley won't work on clay...

This is what you need to take 2-3 or 3-5 from Rafa on clay: supreme fitness, supreme mental fortitude, ability to brush off bad shots, play every point as if it was the game winner - wait ,scratch all that...

I think a Rafa voodoo doll might be necessary! ;0

Posted by Frances 04/20/2009 at 09:31 PM

tennisfan2-- hahahah funny although ur not helping me out..but whats interesting is that u will never hear from nadal that he is unbeatable on clay-- he is the first one to admit that he is beatable-- that's so humble of them

maybe that's why the lord gave him this talent-- because he knows he would use it well-- not that im suggesting other would say differently -- but ohter people do then to be so sure of themselves ..

Posted by Fifimarie, La La Land 04/20/2009 at 09:31 PM

Gr8 article, Steve!! (As always! Do you ever tire of hearing that?! No, just like us Rafa fans never tire of hearing the superlatives about Rafa and his game.) I've come to love the clay season as well - for the reasons you mention and the posts above, especially the gladiator remark. The clay tourneys are very gladitorial, and I would add to that---that I love how dirty the guys get when they're playing on clay. At the end of the day, they look like they've been through battle. Truly. Wow.

Posted by TennisFan2 04/20/2009 at 09:41 PM

Frances in all seriousness I don't have a clue...

Watching Fed play Rafa at RG was amazing - I am sure others can break their match down better than I can but in my humble opinion Fed has given Rafa the toughest clay court matches.

Nole or Andy may gain some confidence from their MC matches (perhaps Nole more so as I don't believe the final match score accurately reflects how well they played and how many long games they had). Nole certainly played at a higher level for longer than Andy did.

The toughest thing about Rafa, especially on clay, is that the point isn't over until a ball is called out - he really plays his heart out and tries to get to just about everything. It makes his opponents have to play out of their comfort zones (for the entire match) and they also have to try to make shots they aren't accustomed to making consistently (also for an entire match).

Someone mentioned Verdasco potentially beating Rafa on clay (I thought he was known more for his hard court game - someone please correct me if I am wrong about this).

I'll be interested to hear what people post on this subject...

Posted by Ade 04/20/2009 at 09:48 PM

Steve,

As a long, long time Federer fan, it pains me to say that I believe Nadal will win all 4 slams this year. Roger has lost it in my eyes, totally lost it.

Truthfully. As much as I like Murray and Nole also, and see much talent in their games, I think it is going to be awfully hard to beat Rafa this year. And oh, yes, emotion written all over his face and it shows in his eyebrows. Serious stuff.

He is serious about his place in history. A fighter, and totally focused...good for him!!

Posted by VE 04/20/2009 at 09:51 PM

Steve, reading this paid off for me in a way that Pete's long awaited Nadal article probably will not. I'm a Bodo fan too, but this was an excellent analysis of a guy who either tends to get ignored in the wake of TMF's greatness or fetishized for freeing TennisWorld from the reign of TMF.

I love that you point out how Rafa's vulnerable to a guy like Murray with a head of steam, because I definitely agree. You're one of a minute handful of pundits who doesnt wholeheartedly believe there'll be a coronation in the Bois de Boulogne. That's the thing about sports, sports doesn't do coronations, sports forces someone to win (or lose), sports are the ultimate reality show, complete with drama, headcases and heartbreaks and any of these can derail el Toro.

Rafa's a great player, but one of the things that I've (a fellow Philly guy) always appreciated about Rafa is that he is such a workmanlike player. The guy is half heart, half guts. Of course, he's skillful, talented, but I've never seen a player with such determined intensity. He rarely wins in a cakewalk, instead he wins by leaving it all to his racquet. No spare shred of energy-sapping aggression, no mental lapses because of a bad call or heavy wind and most of all, no quit.

Posted by jules 04/20/2009 at 09:52 PM

I think the book on rafa on clay has always been to "walk the tightrope of risk," otherwise you'll get creamed. I couldn't believe my eyes seeing Ferrero, a french open champion, teeing off on almost every ball against rafa at mc last year. Everyone tries to redline their groundstrokes when they play rafa on clay.

It's like a lightbulb went on over Murray's head late in that second set. Yet all evidence indicates that in future matches with rafa, this may be enough to win a set, but more likely a boatload of unforced errors and a loss. On the other hand, it's too early to dismiss Murray's chances - he's the most intriguing factor of the clay season, and its only unknown quantity.

Posted by federerfan 04/20/2009 at 10:06 PM

how did we go from predicting murray wont win the ao open on hards to him beating rafa at paris on clay?

Posted by TennisFanxTwo 04/20/2009 at 10:08 PM

Great Article, Steve

Being a Federer fan, as most all Fed fans will attest, it's very hard to watch Roger put himself through what he's going through. And it's also very humbling and just a blast to watch Rafa's talent, workmanship, and plain determination - in every single point that he thinks he can get his racquet on that ball.

NP posted a link to youtube for "the best point at Monte Carlo". Amazing, was it not?!? I thought this was a great match, the best of the year as far as intensity and play by point. Rafa vs Verdasco at the AO was great, but was not this dramatic or intense. I LOVE watching this humble, gracious and inredibly talented young man play, no matter against who. I thought Murray had him figured out at around 2-5 of that second set, but he couldn't keep up that intensity. The rest of the clay season is going to be great this year. Hopefully Novak, Murray and Wawrinka bring their games to each tourny, and Roger can raise his!

Posted by federerfan 04/20/2009 at 10:16 PM

NP : spot on,
I had not compared the two the other day but was definitely impressed by his retrieving that lob, i was telling my brother i had never seen somebody go and pick a ball up that was clearly already behind them before he had made the turn to run for it...that was incredible.

Posted by Aabye 04/20/2009 at 10:19 PM

Well, first of all federerfan,Mr. Tignor never actually says he believes Murray can beat Nadal, just that Murray believes he can beat him. And even when he talks about "cracking the code", Murray could very well beat Nadal in one of the run-ups and still fall short at RG.

Second, if I recall, part of the reason he thought Andy wouldn't win at the AO was because of the huge hype surrounding the Scot. There won't be anything like it at RG unless Murray beats Nadal beforehand.

Lastly, he was right about the AO...so if this pans out it wouldn't be the first time he went out on a limb and was proven right.

Personally, I hope he's wrong for once (about Paris, at least). While it will be great fun if a big name takes out Nadal right before RG and adds a little spice to the mix to the experts predictions, I'm a fan so I'd like him to keep the crown in the end.

Posted by Pspace 04/20/2009 at 10:22 PM

Regarding Murray as the best contender for Rafa, all I got to say is, seriously? I mean, the guy suddenly decided to go for broke when there was nothing on the line, and it paid off as it threw Rafa off his stride a bit. And, then he put together a good run for about 3 games and a TB. From this, we conclude that he believes? I was actually a little surprised that he himself believed he found the right way to play. Anyone who's played a tennis match knows that strange stuff happens when one guy is serving for the match.

History is rife with examples of Federer (Rome '06 and others) and Djokovic (Hamburg '08 and others) knocking on heaven's door only to watch Rafa come through in the end. If someone has two match points in a row against Rafa, on his own serve, I'll say he found the right tactics. But, failing that, we've seen too many "nearly men".

I regard Murray very highly in terms of his tactical genius. Though, I think Nadal is his equal or better in every single department of the game, except the first serve. And, unless Murray serves lights out for two sets, I really don't think he has a shot against Rafa...and lights out is a lot more difficult on clay than HC.

Posted by birthday 04/20/2009 at 10:35 PM

Fantastic post, Steve.

CPM, I too would love to see what DFW would say about Rafa. Whatever it would be, it would not involve indifference.
TennisFan2, hilarious!

Pspace, excellent point about how hard it is to beat Rafa. On that note:

http://tinyurl.com/chn4u7

Posted by naughty T.... tennistically 04/20/2009 at 10:37 PM

Not much to add there. Nice post. Just to say that I played at Estoril yesterday and was again reminded of how forgiving clay is of even my crappy play. Errors seem to me to be punished much more quickly and radically on hard courts.
Still clay is fun to be on for just the above reason.

alas... must agree with NP regarding the merits of the get on that drop shot. Any top player would have done the same, just that it came after a long (38 shot?) rally that made it seem more remarkable than it was.

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 10:39 PM

A sane tennis fan! Finally! federerfan, Rafa's not only lightning fast, he gives each point every ounce of his energy it deserves. This clay season will be one to behold.

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 10:41 PM

nT, that's the 2nd time you agreed with me in the last, what, 24 hrs? What's this wonderful world coming to?

Posted by Vie 04/20/2009 at 10:44 PM

I was a bit (and still is) anxious about Novak on clay this year, because I think he has vastly umped his topspin prowess with the help of the new racket. He struggled with the new racket at first, but he stayed with it because there were possibilities for change because of it. He came to a standstill as far as improvement and challenging Nadal in the second half of last year. The racket change was a smart upgrade, I think.

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 10:44 PM

tennisfan2 and pspace thanks for your thoughts.. yeah i guess the hype has a lot to do with the media manipulation ... yes murray did play a good set but like you guys mentioned--- there have been many "nearly made it" situations and yet rafa rises at the end.... the rome 06 with federer-- even the his first monte carlo win over coria was almost like a miracle itselt-- correct me if i am wrong but i think he lost 2 of his first service game in the fifth set and managed to level it to a tb.. and he was not even 19 at that time.

but i think it's wise that rafa never underestimate the possibility...

it is truly amazing what he has achived over the past couple of years.

Posted by naughty T.... tennistically 04/20/2009 at 10:46 PM

NP ... well obviously, you are talking much less crap! Keep up the good work.

Posted by M Peters 04/20/2009 at 10:47 PM

Even though I think many agree that in Nadal's current form neither Murray, Federer or Djokovic stand a huge chance against Nadal, especially at Roland Garros, Nadal's form in the next several years will drop at some point - it has to. The question then really is - who will take advantage of Nadal's drop in form - when it happens? Just like Nadal took advantage of Federer's drop in form. I really would like to see Murray and Nole play on clay to get a better barometer on how their games match up on the surface.

That being said, I'm most interested this week to see the result of the Nadal v. Nalbandian QF in Barcelona (assuming Nalby gets there). While I firmly believe Nadal will take that match, I don't think we should be totally gobsmacked if Nalby wins given their history (though they admittedly have never played on clay). (Nalby 2-1, with five match points in IW loss). Nalby knows he can win, and he knows he has nothing to lose - a dangerous combination of mental form that neither Fed, Nole or Murray can really lay claim to.

Posted by Tfactor 04/20/2009 at 10:48 PM

I guess clay wasn't forgiving enough for Sampras :)
Or for that matter for so many other players, LOL

Posted by naughty T.... tennistically 04/20/2009 at 10:53 PM

that's right tfactor. Wonder why there are so many 20 plus shot rallies on clay?

Posted by frances 04/20/2009 at 10:54 PM

tennisfan2-- i think inpsite of verdasco being a madrid native and raised playing on clay-- i think he's has better results on hc as well== .... yeah... i have not seen the verdasco who playe in teh AO semifinal for a while-- he does have his moments in every tournament but the consistency is not there.... maybe verdasco and everyone else needs a RAFA to bring out the best in them..

like with djokovic-- i have not seem him play really well for a while until that final-- his game in the MC final was definitely at a higher level than he was playing the finals at miami-- even murray at the second set...

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 10:54 PM

Why, nT, I'll try.

Posted by Tfactor 04/20/2009 at 10:56 PM

Naughty T
No, I don't, you? LOL

Posted by naughty T.... tennistically 04/20/2009 at 10:57 PM

Tfactor. Errr no.

Posted by Joe 04/20/2009 at 10:59 PM

So, Murray lost in two sets against Nadal and Djoko 6-3 2-6 and 6-1 and they are a threat for Nadal??? I don't understand that point.
TennisFan2, you are so right, same Master Ace

Posted by TennisFan2 04/20/2009 at 11:01 PM

I agree with the idea of media manipulation. How many ways can you write about Rafa on clay - something/someone has to keep the writers in paychecks...Murraymania is a perfect example. And now they can throw in a little Nole for good measure...

If Andy wins a GS (preferably a five setter) I'll stop complaing about Murraymania - at least Nole has one GS to his name (and that was during peak Fed).

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 11:01 PM

Interestingly enough, Verd won both of his titles on clay. And like Nadal he generates tons of topspin on his balls. But he's not the best mover. Couple that with a huge serve as a main weapon and you've got a HC contender.

Posted by naughty T.... tennistically 04/20/2009 at 11:08 PM

Joe, I guess every player on the ATP can only hope that Rrrrrrarfffa develops the hubris displayed in your post.

Posted by Sher 04/20/2009 at 11:08 PM

LOL, Steve! Awesome.

I don't know about all this 'best surface' shtick. True, I dislike hard courts, but variety is the spice of life. I think the best is a balance of grass-clay-hard, (hopefully with the prevalence of grass/clay but I'm biased).

Posted by TennisFanxTwo 04/20/2009 at 11:10 PM

Yeah, the only problem with Verdasco's game (other than his movement) is his second serve. Rafa would eat that up on clay exactly as Djoker did

Posted by CPM 04/20/2009 at 11:20 PM

Thanks for pointing out that lob get, NP; it's an amazing bit of athleticism. But, you know, you can't spell indefatigable without an 'n', two 'a's, a 'd' and an 'l' (and a few other letters; I'm still working out the kinks on this line).

I think Master Ace had it right on the previous page--Nadal's reach volley against Djoko was a less impressive version of the one he pulled off vs. Kolya last year, but it came on a higher-pressure point. I think it's natural for our perceptions of quality to be affected by our narrative sense of the match. Based on Nole's reaction, I think he might agree with me ;^D

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 11:20 PM

TennisFanxTwo, I don't think Rafa is very good at punishing weak 2nd serves. That was actually one of the frustrating (for Rafa KADs) things about that AO SF against Verd.

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 11:22 PM

NP, CPM.

Posted by naughty T.... tennistically 04/20/2009 at 11:23 PM

LOL CPM you can't spell Nadal without an a or n or a or l. Just ask his underwear or his water bottles.

Posted by Azhdaja 04/20/2009 at 11:24 PM

Steve, I've always enjoyed your analysys. And called you once "the Rembrandt of tennis". (lol)...true.
The comment about the clay being "the cadillac of all suraces" is more than true. That's where tennis skills (technic+tactics+mindset+endurance) comes to the full effect. Any other surfaces don't fill all those 4 criteria for a player to be successful on them.

As for final MC match analysys, all agreed. Except one thing: I believe that Djoker is the one who believes of beating Nadal soon more than Murray thinks the same. Why? Well, I could and like to ask the same question to you: what would make you think so? You didn't explain that one up there. So, there's room for you to add.

As for me: I think that Djoker believs to beat Nadal at the very first match, and that possible would be at Rome. Because, Djoko said at the presser that he hoped to get a chance to play Nadal again this season.

Reason #2 why I think so: Djoker looked disappointed the way the match turned out. He deeply believes that it should be different. As TV commentator said during the match after 0:2 in the third, Djokovic was playing his mind out for 30 minutes just to lose two games, where he also was close and could've possibly won them both.

So, knowing Djoker, I'd say he will do everything that could be done to prove he is right. Innate is what Djoker possess and that is what brought him so high up in the game. Innate is what's gonna bring him on the very top one day. Sooner or latter, Djoker is gonna be sittin' at the top. At least for one day.

Just to add my own comment: the match was classic and only few other could be compared to this one. Right on to both Rafa and Djoker.

Posted by Tfactor 04/20/2009 at 11:26 PM

NP,
Rafa had a 45% return on second serves during that match (not bad)

Posted by NP 04/20/2009 at 11:36 PM

Tfactor, I've covered this before, but to repeat, the return % only tells you what percentage of the points you won on the opponent's 1st or 2nd serve. It doesn't necessarily mean you returned the serves effectively.

Posted by Azhdaja 04/20/2009 at 11:37 PM

I have to quote this: "The hooked forehands that sent Nadal wide; the frozen-rope backhands that had the Spaniard at full stretch; the ability to change directions with the ball and hit corners from anywhere: This is the old Djokovic, the real Djokovic, and hopefully the one we’ll see again in the future".

May I just add one thing to this: This is the old Djokovic, the real Djokovic, and hopefully the improved Djopkovic who we haven't seen yet, but we’ll see in the vvery near future.

If it continues like this, we will be able to have tennis quality as good as it was in the early '80-ies. (Borg, Connors, McEnroe, Lendl). Can these big Four match them? How about this comparison:
Rafa and Federer might even exceed any of the four. While Djoker and Murray have to prove yet to match qualities of Connors and Lendl respectivelly.

Posted by Tfactor 04/20/2009 at 11:43 PM

NP,
You're too gracious to repeat yourself :)
So winning the points on the second serve doesn't mean that he can punish the second serve? Good to learn something new everyday
And with that piece of wisdom I make my way out as I'm falling asleep on my keyboard

Posted by zolarafa 04/20/2009 at 11:44 PM

Steve,
great article as always.

I thought the same about clay after watching Monte Carlo. You can see how the points are constructed. You can see the preparation. There is no cheap point. I thoroughly enjoyed the semis and the final.

I thought none of the players were at their best because of the quick change. Rafa was rusty and his serve was really bad. He won because of his will and because he is so much better than anybody else. But he wasn't the same aggressive Nadal of 08. I don't know if iot was the blisters on his hand or the tweaking of his game for the hard,...but he won and that is all that matters. I hope he can repeat his victoris in Roland Garros and wimbledon this year.

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