Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - New Again
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New Again 04/19/2010 - 2:26 PM

Ss Are we ready to believe in Sam Stosur? I did once, very briefly, years ago, when I first saw her play somewhere in her native Australia. She had a game that might have been described as half-Heninesque. She had the inside-out forehand and the aggressive, jocky, all-court style, but she didn’t whirl around that court quite like the Belgian. And while Stosur’s backhand was strong, it was a workmanlike two-hander, one that would never make it into tennis’ Hall of Great Shots alongside Justine’s Olympian one-hander. Still, Stosur appeared to have Top 10 athleticism, her kick serve had the virtue of simplicity, and she was more capable of dictating a point from the middle of the court with her forehand than most of her opponents.

For years, it seemed that those gifts would be wasted. Stosur bounced around the rankings—No. 65 to 46 to 29 to 47 to 52—but never landed anywhere near the Top 10. The relatively few times she popped up on my radar screen, I could see that the shots and the talent were still intact, but she seemed to have no idea how to use them or to modify them for the moment. Like, say, Ernests Gulbis or Svetlana Kuznetsova on a bad day, Stosur could hit the ball as hard and as well as anyone, but her game lacked texture and adaptability. Like Kim Clijsters, if she got tight and things didn’t go well, she could rush herself into a trip to the showers.

But you don’t need to adapt when you can just hit a blatant winner off any ball you like. That’s what Stosur did for two very quick sets against Vera Zvonareva on Sunday in Charleston. The Aussie, who, even as she improved in 2009, had a habit of folding in finals, won her second and most prestigious title at the Family Circle Cup. At 26, she’s in the Top 10 for the first time, with a 17-5 record on the year. More impressive is the way she won this title. While Stosur hasn’t lost to Zvonareva since 2004, she made the sometime Top Tenner look like a barely coordinated amateur. Along the way, she inspired Vera to commit one of her most YouTube-worthy meltdowns—after double-faulting at 0-3 in the second, she broke her racquet, chucked it into the sideline sofa, and then, after it landed on the court, gave it a kick for good measure. It was the highlight of her afternoon.

Otherwise, it was all Stosur. Every time I looked away for a second—at a newspaper, out the window, at the floor—I looked back up to see her sending another viciously angled winner past a staggering Zvonareva, who had trouble even getting within five feet of some of these balls. Stosur’s uncluttered service motion and the powerful kick it produces is a thing of athletic beauty, one of the finest shots on the women’s tour. She can backpedal and hit her forehand for winners equally well to either corner. And she was using her slide-and-slice backhand when appropriate yesterday—that’s the texture and adaptability I was talking about. Better than all these, though, was Stosur’s return. She took it early, used a truncated backswing, hit it crisply, but never went for an outright winner with it.

So, back to my original question. Are you ready to believe in Sam Stosur? Can she rise higher than No. 10? Can she avoid the dismal early losses that have plagued her at the majors (before 2009, she was a collective 17-22 in the Slams)? Is she a match for the even more physically gifted Williams sisters, Henin, and Clijsters? Can she overpower someone as steady as Wozniacki, who will make her hit an extra ball to finish a rally? For the moment, as we head to Roland Garros, I'll say yes. Stosur made the semis in Paris last year, and she has the point-ending power for clay. Maybe now she’s learned to use all of her gifts. I hope so. Normally a blowout final is dull stuff, but not this one. After the Henin-Clijsters trainwreck in Key Biscayne, it was satisfying to see a player grab a match from the first game and win it decisively, with outstanding play from start to finish.

***

The same could very nearly be said for the men’s final that had been played earlier in the day, in Monte Carlo. Rafael Nadal grabbed his match with Fernando Verdasco from the start, winning the first six points and ending the second game with a vintage crosscourt backhand pass from off his shoe tops and outside the doubles alley. It's probably a shot that only a right-handed left-hander could hit. In other words, it's probably a shot that only Nadal could hit.

That’s the shot we’ll remember from his 2010 Monte Carlo win, his sixth in a row. What was most memorable the rest of the time was how routine this title was and how self-assured Nadal was winning it. He didn’t drop a set and, as he has in years past, the anxieties that seemed to plague him through the early part of the year all blew away in the red Monaco dust. There wasn’t a moment all week where Nadal seemed in any kind of doubt about who the tournament’s winner would be. There was more confidence in every part of his game. He had no issues going up the line with his forehand or taking an aggressive cut at his crosscourt topspin backhand, two shots that he gets cautious with when he’s not confident. What I noticed most, though, was how seldom he was forced to hit his slice backhand, which is a shot that can float on him. On hard courts, when he’s pushed back, he’ll resort to this stroke. On clay, with a little more time and his ability to slide, he seems to have no trouble taking the extra step needed to get in position to drive the ball. Nadal has mastered the surface, the subtleties of footwork and court positioning needed to get around on it efficiently, to the point where he appears to believe he can hit any shot from any spot, and that he’s never out of a rally. Must be a nice feeling. A confidence-boosting feeling.

Rn

Nadal didn’t beat Federer or Djokovic or Murray or del Potro or Davydenko or Soderling or a bunch of other very good players. It doesn’t matter—do you really believe that he can’t beat those guys on clay? What matters is that he’s found his best form, and that, after the “accidents” in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, he knows that it’s still good enough to put him on the winner’s stand. But let’s set aside what this means for his future for the moment. The win was Nadal’s 16th Masters title, tying him with Federer and putting him one behind the record-holder, Andre Agassi. It’s extremely unlikely that Nadal will challenge Federer’s Slam record, but he’ll probably retire as the all-time Masters winner, a record indicative of consistent excellence and persistence. His record in Monte Carlo itself is even better; at 23, Nadal has already won six straight titles there. What will he end up with, 10? Whatever it is, it won’t be surpassed any time soon.

I talked recently with Nadal’s former Davis Cup captain, Emilio Sanchez, for an article for Tennis Magazine. He said that he hoped Nadal would find success again soon, because “he’s so emotional, and he suffers so much when he’s not winning.” You could see the truth in those words after match point yesterday, when Nadal fell straight to the ground as if he’d been shot, and ended up crying into his towel on the sideline. You might say that a guy who has won a tournament the previous five years should act like he’s been there before. I say the opposite. Would you rather that Federer, when he won his fifth straight U.S. Open in 2008 after having a tough season, had just flashed a smile of satisfaction, shaken Andy Murray’s hand, and sat down, instead of rolling on the court in berserk joy the way he did? Which would have been the more memorable reaction? Which would have revealed more of the man? Which would have moved us more? The same goes for Nadal’s tears in Monte Carlo. They came after a year of ups and downs for him, of physical and emotional disappointment and pain, and they showed that it isn’t just the majors that need to matter. After every match he wins, wherever it is, Nadal takes the time to celebrate as if the experience is brand new. It’s one reason why he continues to win, and why he can stay motivated at Monte Carlo. Keep acting like you’ve never been there before, Rafa. It's why tennis players keep playing, and it's why tennis watchers keep watching. We want to feel that way, too.


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by Frances 04/19/2010 at 02:36 PM

and you finally wrote:P thanks steve now let me read:P

Posted by David 04/19/2010 at 02:40 PM

Why is that cameraman pointing an invisible torture laser at Rafa?

Posted by TeamNadal 04/19/2010 at 02:44 PM

"The same goes for Nadal’s tears in Monte Carlo. They came after a year of ups and downs for him, of physical and emotional disappointment and pain, and they showed that it isn’t just the majors that need to matter. After every match he wins, wherever it is, Nadal takes the time to celebrate as if the experience is brand new. It’s one reason why he continues to win, and why he can stay motivated at Monte Carlo. Keep acting like you’ve never been there before, Rafa. It's why tennis players keep playing, and it's why tennis watchers keep watching. We want to feel that way, too."

so well said! thank you! :)

Posted by serhanpeker 04/19/2010 at 02:45 PM

you are a big rafa fan steve i can see that on every words you type.

Posted by Frances 04/19/2010 at 02:46 PM

Oh Steve-- you brought happy tears in my eyes!! huhuhuh

from a very emotional fan!!

Posted by cysportsgirl 04/19/2010 at 02:50 PM

everytime i watch rafa, the feelings are brand new...why his fans are so attached to him because of his pureness...

Posted by Tfactor 04/19/2010 at 02:50 PM

Oh Steve-- you brought happy tears in my eyes!! huhuhuh"

Same here, I was just telling a friend via IM

Beautiful writing about Rafa as always Steve, thanks.

I loved this:
"Nadal didn’t beat Federer or Djokovic or Murray or del Potro or Davydenko or Soderling or a bunch of other very good players. It doesn’t matter—do you really believe that he can’t beat those guys on clay?"

And this:
"Keep acting like you’ve never been there before, Rafa. It's why tennis players keep playing, and it's why tennis watchers keep watching. We want to feel that way too"


Posted by JohnP 04/19/2010 at 02:52 PM

Great to see Rafa back in what many writers are calling dominant form. I guess the scoreline - beating Verdasco 1 and 0 - says it all. Too bad that he's pulled out of Barcelona, but perhaps it is wise on his part, seeking to fend off any injury or fatigue that would hurt his chances for the French and beyond. With Fed's lock on #1 at least until the French and with Rafa's ranking likely not to get any better by then (too many points to defend from last year), it will be interesting to see how they are seeded at Roland Garros. Seeding them 1-2 would make the most sense, overriding the rankings. If not, Fed and Rafa having to face each other in the semis (which could happen) would be too bad. Looks as though it will be the most open French in years. Who will be the favourite?

Posted by Tfactor 04/19/2010 at 02:57 PM

Although I'm not the biggest WTA fan, I actually watched the final between Stosur and Vera and enjoyed it too, not just Sam's play but also Vera's racket beatdown ;-)

To answer your question about Stosur (a player I've always liked) I want to believe in her but I can't, not just yet... Glad she is in the top 10 though and best of luck to her!

Posted by soderlingfan88 04/19/2010 at 03:06 PM

uh oh.....Nadal JUST pulled out of Barcelona.....are his injuries creeping up already?! I sincerely hope not.....although this is obviously fantastic news for my boy Robin. Still......I love Nadal and I hope this isnt a sign that he's injured AGAIN, I'm rooting for him(or Robin....or even Roger again for that matter) to win the French this year.

Posted by Pablo 04/19/2010 at 03:11 PM

Tomás Carbonell, former pro player (played Davis Cup for Spain), said that when Nadal plays on clay he puts his weight on every shot, something, he said, that he doesn't always do when playing on hard, thus making mistakes. He also believes that Nadal is a better player than when he was number 1. Carbonell was worried a few weeks ago due to the anxiety that seemed to overcome Nadal when he played Ljubicic in IW, he said that if at the start of the claycourt season Nadal kept having doubts when reaching the late rounds of a tournament, then, the alarms will go off. Well, perhaps the best of Nadal on clay is yet to come.

As an aside, Emilio Sánchez, says that Nadal's problem on hard is not his grip but his position.

He has retired from Barcelona, but i believe that he is doing so to play the Masters 1000 and save energy to peak in the FO.

As you wrote in a past article Steve, i too think that Nadal last year was suffering more from his parents divorce than from his knees.

Posted by JohnP 04/19/2010 at 03:12 PM

Soderlingfan88, your boy won't even get to the semis this year.

Posted by soderlingfan88 04/19/2010 at 03:13 PM

Oh, and Steve,

To respond to you from your last article, yes, I really am a huge Soderling AND Nadal fan hahaha. I know the two hate each other, but see, I enjoy that. I enjoy personal rivalries and questionable personalities.

As for my opinion on the 3rd round Wilmbledon match that started the Robin-Rafa rivalry, I think if you look at the situation honestly both players are at fault. Yes, Soderling acted rudely by walking off the court while Rafa was about to serve but COME ON, Nadal was taking FAR FAR TOO LONG getting ready to serve( something many other players have often complained about). But yes, the 3 players I support through thick and thin are Nadal, Soderling, and Federer......and Roddick when i'm in a good mood(he's American, as am I).

Posted by Jay 04/19/2010 at 03:16 PM

Great analysis again, Steve. On both accounts. Where the women are concerned, its easy to forget that none other than Navratilova was a comparatively late bloomer. Her dominance began at 26yrs.+--so its not too late for someone like Stosur to get it together, and thrive.

As for Rafa, because he has had so much success from the beginning of his career--six yrs. ago, when he began winning streaks at MC, Barcelona, Rome and Paris, he was only 17--somewhere buried in his champions mentality must be the fear that his best is past, based on that of other players who peaked early, and of course, his injuries.

I think that there may be some bad blood from Sanchez as there seemed to be conflicts between Sanchez and the Nadal camp, leading to Sanchez' resignation. While you could definitely see how much this win meant to Rafa, his demeanor since returning from injuries last year (at least publicly) has been really balanced, and not too emotional about his losses.

In this, the age of Federer (who has broken almost every tennis record imaginable), its pretty phenomenal that someone like Nadal can find his own niche, and set records of his own. Federer is a threat on all surfaces, so any win against him is significant. Although he is 5 years Federer's junior(which is significant in a tennis player's career), Nadal has been the only player to consistently prevent every major tournament from becoming another Federer coronation, which would probably make the sport less interesting.

I think that despite his early successes (both on clay, and against RF), Nadal truly believes that he can improve, and this MC win makes the argument that he is still improving.

Posted by Gerry 04/19/2010 at 03:18 PM

I am also not usually interested in watching the WTA either, but I really enjoy Sam Stosur's game and demeanor. She also seems to be free of all the diva baggage of many of the other top women. I can't see her announcing that she's going into fashion design or modeling--not that she couldn't.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/19/2010 at 03:28 PM

On Samantha Stosur -- absolutely, the best kick serve on the women's tour. Good enough movement to be a threat if she's hitting her forehand with authority. I like her game, a lot, but do wonder about bthat physique of hers.... hmmmm.

On Nadal's 16th Masters Shield.... I mean, come on! It's an incredible accomplishment, and at only 23. If his knees can sustain him for another five or six years, he could end up with 30 of them. His pulling out of Barcelona was smart, and I hope he and Uncle Toni have finally realized that he MUST take his time off to heal, or he won't be playing much longer. And that would be a damn shame. For all of us.

Posted by ack 04/19/2010 at 03:31 PM

Rafa is so emotional and that is one of the many reasons I follow him. He fights for every point, every game and every set, win or lose. And he keeps fighting. I really think he was emotional yesterday because his body was actually working well again -- well enough to trust it-- enabling him to fight again and of course, to win again. And it had been soooo long.

Posted by AB 04/19/2010 at 03:32 PM

Thanks, Steve. I'm always interested in your angles.

I'm not ready to believe in SS, but agree this might have been a breakthrough. Some are late bloomers. I think it's easier when you're young and have fewer distractions and less of a "real" life so kudos to Sam for continuing to work at figuring out her game at her advanced tennis age. Remains to be seen if she's got the mental maturity to win consistently.

There was some sniping on the last thread about Nadal's celebratory squirm. I don't understand the hating. This is a young guy who'se remained at the top of a demanding sport for many years. He shows up and puts as much effort into each point as any pro player I've watched. I'm almost 50, btw. How can you begrudge the guy some red dirt after *any* tournament win?

If you've ever played in any tournament-style athletic competition, you will understand the feelings of triumph and relief in winning the last match. Your body is never the same day-to-day, and you still have to win every point against real live opponents, no matter what the match up is on paper.

Fitness means you have more stamina. It doesn't mean you don't have aches and pains and feel beat up all the time.

Congratulations, Rafa and Sam. You both worked hard for your trophies. Take delight in each triumph. Stay healthy and keep entertaining us.

Posted by Master Ace 04/19/2010 at 03:34 PM

Steve,
I saw Samantha's matches against Shuai, Daniela and Vera and she hit winners from any position on the court(she punished returns on 2nd serve routinely). She served only 51% 1st serve against Shuai but lost only 9 points on serve thanks to her forehand. Pam Shriver made an interesing comment that clay gives her time to set up her shots(mainly that forehand) and it made sense as her best result was the semifinals at the French Open last year. Of all the Slams and Premier tournaments played this year, the youngest winner was 25 yrs old(Jelena Jankovic at Indian Wells) so experience has prevailed. The only person under 25 making good progress in 2010 so far is Caroline Wozniacki(16-3 in USA with a title in Ponte Vedra Beach). Victoria Azarenka started off well but tailed off since she made the finals against Venus Williams in Dubai.

Posted by Master Ace 04/19/2010 at 03:36 PM

Slice-n-Dice,
Agree completely that Rafael can win 30 Masters Shields if he remains healthy!

Posted by eclipse22 04/19/2010 at 03:36 PM

hi i'm really happy for rafa! smart move resting the knees maybe they'll cooperate!

Posted by Master Ace 04/19/2010 at 03:43 PM

"So, back to my original question. Are you ready to believe in Sam Stosur? Can she rise higher than No. 10? Can she avoid the dismal early losses that have plagued her at the majors (before 2009, she was a collective 17-22 in the Slams)? Is she a match for the even more physically gifted Williams sisters, Henin, and Clijsters? Can she overpower someone as steady as Wozniacki, who will make her hit an extra ball to finish a rally?"

Steve,
Now to answer the questions. At the moment, I have to say no despite her playing well beginning at the French Open in 2009. I thought she would have done well at the United States Open last year but was defeated in the second round by Vania King, who is a solid journeywomen and a good doubles player at best. Samantha's liabilities are her backhand and does not move well as some of the top players who can and can be aggressive like her. Yes, Samantha can rise in the Top 10 but I think her ceiling is 5 or 6. Despite defeating Serena at Stanford last year, I think that she is still a level short of the Williams Sisters and the returning Belgian ladies as Serena showed at the Australian Open earlier this year. I wish Caroline did not injured her ankle and found a way to win over Vera because I would have been interested to see if Samantha could have found a way to overpower her.

Posted by BrooklynNY 04/19/2010 at 03:44 PM

Soderling can beat anyone at anytime. You would think a fast court would be his ideal surface, I think he can make the semis again at the french. The slow high bouncing ball just sits in his strike zone, and he can hit the hell out of a ball. If hes on, he will win.

Posted by patzin 04/19/2010 at 03:46 PM

thanks Steve. Rafa doesn't take opponents or results for granted. Each match is a new conquest. Vamos Rafa and on to Rome.

Posted by Frances 04/19/2010 at 03:53 PM

I wonder why TW hasnt annoubce Rafa;s pull out in Barca?

Posted by Frances 04/19/2010 at 04:00 PM

In the Twitter world-- some claims have said that nadal pulled out at barcelona coz on his knees that develop in monte carlo-- i hope this is NOT true!!!!

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl) 04/19/2010 at 04:01 PM

hi again i've been lurking for yrs but never posted anything, but yesterday's victory of nadal finally prompted me to say something...i was so happy to see him happy after a very difficult year,it was a pleasure to see him so focus on his A game, the application and intensity in his every shots, he wanted it so bad and went after it like a poor man in the desert finding water finally,there's nothing like it seeing the genuine smile of happiness on rafa's face ,and in his camp, he really likes what he does and comes ready to play and give it his all,not like some players who give off impression they'd rather be anywhere but on the court under the glare of the crowd

ps: i'm french , i'm bilingual, i'm a rafa fan, i tolerate roger(he's the sampras to my agassi) because him&rafa bring out the best in each other and it makes for mad tennis! i hate the one who shall not be named,i don't mind djokovic anymore used to but he's earned my respect as a worthy opponent even though u wouldnt know it with the way he's playing lately, oh and i still dislike murray the flexing the bicep thing at wimby did not go down well,i like del potro, roddick is my american player i heart him for his constant efforts was even more heartbroken for him at wimby last yr than i was for rafa the yr before he won,and the only french player i like and tolerate is gilles simon, seriously french media makes anyone not want to root for french athletes!!! oh and for the wta i'm a williams gal all the way, with a soft spot for safina! GO SERENA!

Posted by Master Ace 04/19/2010 at 04:02 PM

Frances,
Rafael w/d is on the homepage of tennis.com

Posted by soderlingfan88 04/19/2010 at 04:02 PM

Brooklyn NY,

i compleltely agree with you, the only frustrating thing about Robin is that he seems to get so nervous sometimes, he isn't consistent enough. The most recent example: When he lost to berdych at key biscayne semis 6-2, 6-2 WHAT?! I KNOW if Robin had brought his A game he woulda rocked Berdych.

In fact, if Robin can start being totally conssitent, he can be top 4, top 5 no problem, maybe even win a GS

Posted by Tfactor 04/19/2010 at 04:06 PM

I feel about Soderling the same way I do about Sam Stosur. I like them both but until they can sustain top level for at least a couple of years I won't be a believer.
I wish them both luck all the same. Hope they pleasantly surprise me.

Posted by Frances 04/19/2010 at 04:15 PM

MA
Thanks I just read it on the ticker section-- a bit surprise why it's not empahasized but oh well -- im glad he's finally listening to his body.

i just hope its not the knees

Posted by federer_legend 04/19/2010 at 04:20 PM

i am sorry steve , but i don't like the way you try to relat nadal to federer in each and every thing , i admit that rafa is a great player already and he is still relatively young so he can do alot in the future if he can stay healthy , but he isn't roger federer and his 6 titles in arow in monaco can't be compared to federer's 5 in arow in the us open or wimbledon
rafa is a different class from murray or djokovic , but he is not in federer's class neither
i know that it's hard for you to accept that because you are a nadal's fan , but i beleive it's the truth any way.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/19/2010 at 04:22 PM

Well, the way chronic tendinitis works it wouldn';t surprise me if Rafa is "feeling it" a day after his gresat run at Monte Carlo. He would need four to six days rest, and I thinhk it's smart that he;s taking it now, rather than finding he needs a three-week rest two weeks prior to Roland Garros. He's learning.

Posted by tina 04/19/2010 at 04:23 PM

Maybe Steve didn't write about Federer because Fed didn't play last week.

Posted by Frances 04/19/2010 at 04:28 PM

Slice-n-Dice

thanks for the clarification - i do hope that this doesnt affect his play later on... and yes you are right this is def a smart move

Posted by Tfactor 04/19/2010 at 04:29 PM

I thought Steve made it clear he didn't think Rafa would surpass Roger's GS count:

"It’s extremely unlikely that Nadal will challenge Federer’s Slam record, but he’ll probably retire as the all-time Masters winner, a record indicative of consistent excellence and persistence"

This post was obviously about Rafa's MC win with a few reference to Fed which are in some way inevitable since their careers are so intertwined.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/19/2010 at 04:41 PM

oh man, Steve, that was a great article! I always start my posts to you with an exclamation because you hit the bullseye so often!

Thank you for 'getting' nadal and why he's so special to his fans. And also for eloquently expressing why every match matters to him and that tennis is NOT just about the majors. It might be about the majors for the channel flipping week-end viewer, but for the serious fan who travels across the country to see a tournament, stays up late, gets up at dawn, sits glued to her laptop, blogs with her tennis friends type fan (me), it's the Masters tourneys. All the best players playing a round a day. They're intense and fast and a great measure of consistency. I was so surprised to learn that Ferrer and Verdasco had never before made the semi's of a masters tourney. But they've both gone deep in a major or two. Don't you find that revealing? That's why I was thrilled Roddick won another shield several years after his last, and Ljubicic finally won one after years of excellent play on tour. And now it is very possible that Rafa will end up as the all-time Masters title holder (unless his knees blow up in the next few weeks). And that's such a perfect record for him. It fits his nature of fighting for every point and every ball. No one will get near Fed's record in the majors and that's fine with me. This rafa fan is giddy over the 6th in a row at MC and the 16th Masters shield. Both are major accomplishments for any tennis player.

Posted by Steve 04/19/2010 at 04:50 PM

thanks, annie. and thanks for the post. ditto, slice

FL: i've said it before, federer is the best i've seen, but nadal's masters record could end being pretty stellar in its own right. at a lower level from the slams, of course, of course, it goes without saying, etc.

Posted by pov 04/19/2010 at 04:59 PM

@Slice-n-dice,
You seem to be one of those people who have the strange reaction of "wonder" whenever a woman has visible muscle definition. Yes it takes more work for many women to get cut but for others it's relatively easy. And it's hawt!

Posted by pov 04/19/2010 at 05:03 PM

Believe in Stosur?
I think that if she maintains "attitude and composure" she'll be a force to be reckoned with. She has the physical game to go toe-to-toe with anyone on tour.

Posted by maedal (vamos rafa!) 04/19/2010 at 05:09 PM

great article from someone who really gets rafa. love the last three sentences especially.

eclipse22 (rafagirl), welcome to tw. (i don't post very often but check in every day.) do you live in france?

Posted by Ramana 04/19/2010 at 05:10 PM

Rafa is the best clay court player ever since Borg. These two at their best can beat in straight sets any one including two guys known as John M and Roger F.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 04/19/2010 at 05:14 PM

pov,
I don't find it unattractive in any way, merely unusual in tennis, in general. Not unheard of, of course. Look at Serena. And Navratilova got pretty muscular, but after years of hard training. Cara Black is, pound for pound, the most muscle-bound of them all. Kim Clijsters or Elena Dementieva are more the norm for strong women players -- sprinters' thighs but thin everywhere else.

Posted by cram8888 04/19/2010 at 05:27 PM

To Slice-n-Dice
"On Samantha Stosur I like her game, a lot, but do wonder about bthat physique of hers.... hmmmm."
I have been watching Stosur play junior and senior tennis since she was 14. The girl had the GUNS when she was a teenager (do we question Serena about her muscular arms?). She has always been athletically gifted and excelled at any sport she tried. Much like Navratilova (who is the same height) she has good sporting genes and a great work ethic. I think she should be applauded for these attributes and not questioned.

In terms of tennis, Sam has the ability to beat anyone on any given day but it all depends on her timing. Her strokes are hit with great raquet head speed and spin (forehand especially) that if her timing is off slightly she tends to frame and shank the ball. On a lucky day these shots can land in and on a bad day she can look terrible. I just think she has learned how to have more good days than bad.

Posted by tina 04/19/2010 at 05:33 PM

A few weeks in the gym, and I'd have arms like Stosur's too!

Posted by Corrie 04/19/2010 at 05:33 PM

I'll start believing in Stosur when she starts beating the top players. She was beaten soundly by Serena at the AO. And at the Slams her nerves take over in the biggest matches - she may have improved this a bit in less momentous matches but until she can overcome this in pressure packed moments at the pointy end of Slams I'll remain a sceptic.

Posted by Christopher 04/19/2010 at 05:44 PM

"do we question Serena about her muscular arms?"

Cram8888-- The answer to that question would see to be "yes, constantly." No female player has her physique example as much as Serena does, whether with PED allegations or questions about her weight.

Posted by Neveah(My Clay King FTW) 04/19/2010 at 06:02 PM

Sweet Read Steve,Thank you:) So glad Rafa pulled out of Barcelona,he's learning:)

Posted by TennisFan2 04/19/2010 at 06:10 PM

Steve, thanks for the Rafa/Sam combo post. I believe both players will benefit from their respective wins. Am I ready to believe in Sam? I don't know enough about her but I do wish her success.

As for Rafa, I never stopped believing (but I definitley let out a huge sigh of relief during the baked goods performance yesterday). The kid is such a class act and he is so good for tennis. I hope this is just the boost he needs to get him another French title.

Kudos to Verdasco...I can't imagine love and one was an easy thing for him to accept yesterday. He handled himself with grace, humility and a huge smile. Can't help but like him - hope some wins come his way soon.

Posted by fd 04/19/2010 at 06:21 PM

It's so great to see Rafa back in top form. If his knees hold up, I don't see why he can't win 10+ slams. It would be great to see him win another hard court slam or Wimbledon or both. He's awesome. Anyone who says he doesn't belong on the same level as Federer is just plain wrong. He has not had Federer's gift of physical durability, but as we have all seen, when he is at the top of his game, he is capable of beating Federer (and everyone else) on any surface. It seems unlikely that he will break Federer's slam record because of the knee issues, but at the end of the day, that is NOT the only measure of a player's abilities. Some players have shorter careers than others but burn just as bright. Verdasco was pretty inert yesterday, but Rafa was nonetheless impressive, making some absolutely ridiculous shots. His ability to keep the ball in the court is just incredible.

Posted by federer_legend 04/19/2010 at 07:10 PM

steve , thanks for the reply
i believe that rafa is the best (or second best ,till he surpasses borg's record) clay courter of all time ,and he is already one of the all time great but he is not the best ever , he is not roger federer so he can't be put in the same class with federer
and adout the masters record , i agree it's an outstanding record espicially with the fact that rafa is only 23, but you mentioned it : the record in itself is stellar. it won't be that stellar if you compared it to federer's grand slam RECORDS. that's why i don't want them to be compared

Posted by Goldilocks 04/19/2010 at 07:14 PM

Oh, WOW. Steve, very well-articulated. As always, your talent with words amazes me and you can write anything about Rafa better than anyone out there.

But I do have my favorite part. This paragraph: The same could very nearly be said for the men’s final that had been played earlier in the day, in Monte Carlo. Rafael Nadal grabbed his match with Fernando Verdasco from the start, winning the first six points and ending the second game with a vintage crosscourt backhand pass from off his shoe tops and outside the doubles alley. It's probably a shot that only a right-handed left-hander could hit. In other words, it's probably a shot that only Nadal could hit.

I couldn´t agree more. You have pegged my sentiments down to a T. Steve, a new blog from you always brings a smile to my face. Loved it. Loved it all, thank you a million times over !!!!!!!!

Good news regarding Rafa´s withdrawal from Barcelona. Finally, Rafa´s listening to his body. Trying to please everybody is an exercise in futility. He has to stop thinking in terms of what other people want, and start considering what he needs. If that means not playing in Barcelona (one of his favorite tournaments and another chance of winning it six year in a row) so be it. He owes it to himself to make such a move to be able to stay on top of his game when it really matters. Clearly, the pressures of playing all 5 clay tournaments (for all players) are too much to bear. I´d rather Rafa spreads his wings and moves on to greener pastures i.e. Rome, Roland Gaross, Queens and Wimbledon.

I can´t tell you how happy I am that Rafa and his team have reconsidered the way they´ve handled Rafa´s schedule last year. I know it´s only one tournament, but still. I believe this is the best Rafa can do for now and this change will benefit him. Hopefully, the team will reconsider Rafa´s participation in Madrid too. A girl can dream, can´t she? Anyway, playing lesser not-so-important tournaments will only bring good things for Rafa. When it comes to Rafa´s wonky knees, I have learned to silence my fears and hope for the best. With a little luck, I have stopped imagining the worst case scenarios and have started adopting a more optimistic attitude. Having said all that, I still shudder at the thought of Rafa´s condition last Spring.

As for Rafa´s win yesterday, I know I´m late to the party, but here goes: Congrats to the MINIONS and MINIONS (oops, I mean, MILLIONS and MILLIONS) of Rafa´s fans. It was soooo worth the wait! Rafa lying on the clay was something so incredible and indescribable that I will treasure it always. Rafa winning was the highlight of my weekend. NO ONE can put a damper on my celebration. Ever.

And yeah, Ava, nice to see you posting on the previous thread. I love what you wrote. I miss you. A lot!!!!!!!

Lastly, I love all your posts my fellow Rafa fans. I thought you have all maintained your poise, thus, you have all risen above the situation. Way to go!!!!!

Cheers!

Posted by David 04/19/2010 at 07:36 PM

Or maybe that cameraman forgot about the kryptonite he had in his pocket...

Posted by Geellis 04/19/2010 at 07:38 PM

@cram8888
Thanks for your comment about watching Stosur since she was young. Like Slice-n-Dice, I too wondered about her muscle development. Assuming you're right about Stosur being buff since she was young, I hope to see her make more use of her physical advantage. I'm not one who automatically assumes buff women are juicing. There are a number of buff female players who I never suspected: from Navratilova, to Mauresmo, to Serena (even Schiavone, but, I must admit, I've often wondered about her).

Posted by zolarafa 04/19/2010 at 07:41 PM

Thanks Steve, again, for a wonderful writing.

I loved the way Rafa won MC. He really truely wanted to win this title and did not want to have the same "accidents" as IW and Miami. He is in form and I hope he stays healthy.
A couple of other things:

I agree with Tennisfan2. Verdasco handled himself with such grace. During the ceremony and during the press conference where he was bombarded with some very mean questions. Now that Rafa has withdrawn from Barcelona, I hope he can win that title.

I am also glad to see Rafa withdraw from Barcelona. I do not see it as an alarm as he was on court in MC for about 6 hours! It is good that he takes the time to recover and could go to Rome Fresh. I think if he can win Rome he might ( I hope so) withdraw from Madrid as well.

Sam is a very good and solid player. I don't know if one trophy would make me beleive in her or not. Let's hope for more. I have not been following WTA for a while. What happened to Dokic?

Posted by Goldilocks 04/19/2010 at 07:42 PM

Oh, I meant: I love all your posts (on this thread and most especially on the "Theatre of the Stressful" thread) my fellow Rafa fans.

Rafa and Nando smiling and whispering sweet nothings to each other during the trophy ceremony yesterday were the cutest things ever. Seriously. :)

Posted by Dan 04/19/2010 at 07:42 PM

Good staff Steve as always. And I´ll make the effort not to comment federer_legend´s comparisons issue above, LOL!

Posted by Ryota 04/19/2010 at 07:44 PM

Nadal skipped Barcelona. Good or bad?

Posted by Geellis 04/19/2010 at 07:45 PM

@ The Field
Hmmm, although I too am awed by the GS's, I often wonder whether a Masters 1000 event is not more difficult. It's an interesting question. With respect to the women's game, there's no question in my mind that the premier tournaments are more difficult than the GS's. It's simple: the same field, the same format (i.e., 2/3 sets), but a match a day as opposed to every 2nd or 3rd day. That's a no brainer.

With respect, however, to the men's game, the change in format does add a wrinkle. But that day or two rest in between, it would seem, largely nullifies the 3/5 format. Meaning, on average a best of 5 match is probably and hour to an hour and a half longer than a best of 3 match, on clay (smaller difference on other surfaces). Query how much an extra day nullifies that additional on-court time. I'd say completely. For this reason, so long as the fields are comparable (and, until we got the non-mandatory masters 1000 they generally were), it's seems almost difficult to win 5 matches in 6 days than spread 7 in 14.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/19/2010 at 07:46 PM

goldilocks: I hope he skips Madrid too. I may have said it elsewhere, but it's not a good warmup for Paris anyway. Bad courts, altitude etc. and the evil blue lord. Isn't it a pity that the clay season is short to begin with and now rafa can't even play all the tournaments? But I'd rather he cut back and save his knees. It's really his only choice at this point.

federerlegend: Just curious why you think Borg surpasses rafa on clay? Are you basing this on statistics or number of titles or? A mythical matchup of Borg vs. Rafa on clay or even grass would be so spectacular. No way to call it. Actually I think rafa would outlast Borg if that's possible.

Posted by skip1515 04/19/2010 at 07:52 PM

"Are we ready to believe in Sam Stosur?"

I think it fair to say that Slammin' Sammy has to show a longer run of consistent results for anyone to *believe* in her, regardless of whether you want to believe or not. I do want to, but am weathered enough to know better than to get too excited, too quickly.

On the other hand, I am definitely ready to believe in the way Stosur plays; a woman who proves there's no reason why the WTA shouldn't be littered with quality servers, and who shows that volleying can still be a strong component of singles play on the women's tour. Stosur is 5'7", and it's her technique that fuels her serving much more than her strength.

Do I hope she maintains her consistency, and comes away with even better wins? Absolutely.

Does she show the way for young girls today? More absolutely.

Posted by thooz 04/19/2010 at 07:58 PM

Unless Nadal gets bionic knees real soon, he'll be lucky if he wins 10 majors by the time he retires. Federer, on the other hand, has a good shot at 20 majors before he retires. To compare breaking the Masters record to the Majors record is ludicrous. The Majors have always been the gold standard by which tennis historians measure a player's greatness. To say otherwise is to insult both history and logic.

Posted by Geellis 04/19/2010 at 08:12 PM

@thooz
Actually thooz, your analysis is, alas, quite anachronistic. Fact, 30 years ago, fewer of the top players attended these masters events. It was similar to the AO. 30 years ago, Borg, McEnroe etc. only sporadically attended the AO. By the 1990's, however, it had become a full-fledged member of the GS family, and no player would dream of skipping the AO today. The same can be said of the required Masters series events. They routinely draw the great majority of the Top 10 players and, therefore, deserve a more contemporary analysis of their merit. It may be that we (i.e., us, the fans and devotees) still end up deciding that the GS's are the "gold standard" as you say, however, your mere obeisance to this shiboleth, does not make it so. I for one need logic to convince me why GS's should be considered so much more highly than the Master's series events. This is especially true when, these days, more and more top players are injured for majors as well and, thus, they often have substantial holes in their fields as well. There is, thus, my response to your claim of both logic and history.

Posted by zolarafa 04/19/2010 at 08:18 PM

Geellis,
I think that is a fair question about the difference between master series and GS event. What makes the GS difficult is the best of 5. However, there is a day of rest. In Master series, there is no rest. A player can play 2-3 hours and have another match the day after. I think each have their own advantages and disadvantages for the players.

Posted by GB 04/19/2010 at 08:19 PM

Steve, as a RafaKAD, I really love your perspective on Rafa. Thanks!

I especially loved this part:
"Keep acting like you’ve never been there before, Rafa. It's why tennis players keep playing, and it's why tennis watchers keep watching. We want to feel that way, too."

Maybe I was projecting the scale of my own frazzle onto Rafa, but I don't think that there "wasn’t a moment all week where Nadal seemed in any kind of doubt about who the tournament’s winner would be." I thought that he had some doubts in both the semi and the final. He admitted in his presser that the 'accidents' were in his mind towards the end of the semi. And, for me, mixed in with the appealing joy of his feeling like 'he'd never been there before' was the similar relief of proving afresh to himself that he could do it. Beyond Rafa's own emotion, Tio Toni's demonstrative cheering: his absolute inability to greet either the possibility of losing one of the service breaks or reaching match point without getting up to make his support felt, suggested an awareness of Rafa's vulnerability. It was Toni's way of (to borrow one of your terms that I love) attempting to keep alive Rafa's desire to win, rather than his fear of losing.


“To compare breaking the Masters record to the Majors record is ludicrous”.

What’s ludicrous is somehow finding a way to see Steve doing that in this piece. He made it more than clear that Fed would likely stand alone in terms of slams. It’s not like he was saying: “Hey, Rafa’s as successful as Fed! He’s got 16 shields! That’s what everyone’s always going on about in terms of Fed right – something to do with the number 16? So, they’re equal!”. Slams might be the most important yardstick, but surely other achievements can still be celebrated as important in their own right.

Goldilocks: Rafa & Fer were adorbs! I especially loved how they were sitting together before the ceremony started. And Fer was amazingly gracious.

Posted by Nam1 04/19/2010 at 08:34 PM

Sweet read as usual Steve, you get Rafa like no other writer. This peice brought tears to my eyes, just like when Rafa fell to the ground after his win on Sunday. I am also awed by all you guys who have posted such awesome comments, all of us seem to have experienced the same feelings on Sunday at Rafa and with Rafa.

Anyone who saw his shoulders heaving as he sobbed into his towel, would have understood the weight of self doubt he carried these last 11 months.

I feel bad for those who saw this celebration as over the top, given the score, for they obviously do not have the heart or the imagination to understand a fellow human's feelings of joy and relief after months of pain and self doubt.

Posted by frances 04/19/2010 at 08:44 PM

Annie

couldnt agree with you more.. something about madrid i dont like-- bad omen... i hope he can replace it with a minor tourney somewhere closer to the french condition.. i just hope rafa will do well in the coming months.. for eleven months of so much trials..he was still so graceful with his looses and no denials whatsoever..but i know how upset he had been for so long considering the MAGNITUDE of his HAPPINNESS this past weekend.. HE WAS SOOOOO HAPPY!! so im really really happy and i hope he goes on playing like this.

Posted by thooz 04/19/2010 at 08:51 PM

Geelis, the Majors ARE the gold standard, not because fans and devotees say so, but because all the tennis greats of the modern era say so, along with the historians.

Posted by Geellis 04/19/2010 at 09:04 PM

@thooz
I agree. But there was a time that the AO was not considered by the greats and historians as of significant importance at all. My point, simply, is that things change. Moreover, if we the public can weigh in on the issue of the importance of the Masters we can impact how they, ultimately, will be perceived. That's all.

Posted by lurkingna 04/19/2010 at 09:05 PM

I like Steve's posts.
I like Steve's posts about Rafa.
I like the comments on Steve's posts about Rafa.

And GB, you wrote also something beautiful there:
"Beyond Rafa's own emotion, Tio Toni's demonstrative cheering: his absolute inability to greet either the possibility of losing one of the service breaks or reaching match point without getting up to make his support felt, suggested an awareness of Rafa's vulnerability. It was Toni's way of (to borrow one of your terms that I love) attempting to keep alive Rafa's desire to win, rather than his fear of losing."

It reminded me very vividly the last minutes of the match and I got emotional!

And I just love Rafa. To me he is just perfect the way he is, and I enjoy so much watching him play that I only wish he is healthy so I can watch him some more.
Yesterday I felt very proud and very happy for him!

Thanks Steve!


Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 04/19/2010 at 09:18 PM

There have been posters who have been predicting that Rafa would never win another title after Miami. They all seem to have disappeared now!

Posted by ava 04/19/2010 at 09:25 PM

Oh, Goldilocks. Thanks for still remembering me! Hope we can celebrate more Rafa victories!

This is such a well-written piece. I have run out of words to describe Steve's very effective writing.

I think the final in Charleston was a demonstration of how good Sam can be and if she plays in that high level I think even Serena can't beat her. The thing is I question(like many others)her mental fortitude. In a tight spot against a Serena Williams in the third set in RG can she deliver? I think not. I'm not a fan of her; she seems too android-like. So robotic.....it's hard to root for her. But when her game is clicking it's a joy to watch.
I'd like to see Henin play on clay before passing judgement on RG faves. Henin at her best on clay, I think, is unbeatable.

As for Rafael, I'm just too happy. It's been nearly six years since I've started following his career and I'm still surprised by his enthusiasm and dedication. That's what makes me a fan. There's been a lot of painful moments the past year for him but the thing is he believed he would eventually win a tournament if he plays consistently. He came so close so many times but here he finally succeeded in getting the monkey off his back. I think it shows how dedicated he is. Not to winning, as Sanchez seems to indirectly hint, but to compete at his very best, physically and mentally. The fact that this 'best' is often enough to win him tournaments is a coincidence. I think he's going to play a lot freer now that he has his confidence of winning back.

On the topic of MS shields, I would just like to say although they are not as prestigious as the slams it is quite an achievement to have a tally like Rafa's. In MS tourneys what you have is that you can meet really good players very early on and crash out fast. Rafa's record is an immense measure of his consistency. He rarely loses to dangerous floaters and I have trouble recalling a first round exit in recent past. He usually loses to the eventual champ or a guy in the Top 5.
I would love to see him have this record. In a way it sums up Rafa's career just as the Slams do it for Federer. I don't know about 30 but I think we'll see a number close to that if all goes well. Here's hoping for a good clay season for Rafa.

Posted by Geellis 04/19/2010 at 09:37 PM

@ava
And I would offer that 30 MS shields is the equivalent of 16 GS's, especially in the modern game where there are so many top players that play the mandatory Masters events. But I appreciate that many folks, dare we say all Fedofiles, disagree.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/19/2010 at 09:40 PM

I'm not trying to make an argument with this. I'm just having some fun. This is from the atp website and the similarities between the two players styles and even some of their matches is astounding!

"A player of great strength and endurance, he had a distinctive and unorthodox style and appearance, bow-legged, yet very fast. His muscular shoulders and well-developed torso gave him the strength to lash at the ball with heavy topspin on both forehand and backhand. A right-hander, he used a two-handed backhand, adapted from the slap shot in hockey, a game he favored as a child. By the time he was 13 he was beating the best of Sweden's under-18 players and Davis Cup captain Lennart Bergelin cautioned against anyone trying to change Borg's rough-looking, jerky strokes. They were effective. Through 1977 he had never lost to a player younger than himself.

Born June 6, 1956, in Sodertalje, Sweden, where he grew up, Bjorn was fascinated by a tennis racket his father had won as a prize in a ping-pong tournament. His father gave him the racket and that was the start. Borg preferred to battle from the baseline, trading groundstrokes tirelessly in long rallies, retrieving and waiting patiently to outlast his opponent. Volleying, with his Western grip forehand and two-fisted backhand, was troublesome, and his serve was not impressive at first. He didn't do much on grass until 1976, when he was determined to win Wimbledon, and did so after devoting himself to two weeks of solid practice on serve-and-volley tactics. He won the most important tournament without loss of a set, beating favored Ilie Nastase in the final, 6-4, 6-2, 9-7. Borg was the youngest champion of the modern era at 20 years, one month, (until Boris Becker, 17, won in 1985).

Borg repeated in 1977, although the tournament was more demanding. His thrilling five-set victories over Americans Vitas Gerulaitis in the semi-finals, and Jimmy Connors in the final were considered two of the best ever played at Wimbledon. By that time Borg had more confidence and proficiency in his volleying. Borg repeated over Connors in 1978, overpoweringly, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, becoming the first to win three successive years since Fred Perry (1934-36). He made it four in a row with a five-set triumph over American Roscoe Tanner in the 1979 final, thus becoming the first player since Tony Wilding (1910-13) to win four straight years. His fifth straight Wimbledon championship, in 1980, climaxed with an all-time great final, a 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6 triumph over John McEnroe. During one of the most electrifying passages in tennis history; the 34-point tie-breaker, Borg was stymied on five match points and saved six set points before giving way. But his famous resolve brought him through in the brilliantly battled fifth."

The similarities in Borg and Nadal's playing styles is amazing! Borg's career W-L record was 608-127 (82%)

Posted by Christopher 04/19/2010 at 09:47 PM

"...your mere obeisance to this shiboleth, does not make it so. I for one need logic to convince me why GS's should be considered so much more highly than the Master's series events. This is especially true when, these days, more and more top players are injured for majors as well and, thus, they often have substantial holes in their fields as well. There is, thus, my response to your claim of both logic and history."

Geellis-- I think you're mis-using the word shibboleth here...but to answer your larger question, slams require players to win 7 best-of-five set matches which, even with a day off in between matches, is a lot more grueling than what they face at most Masters events. The best-of-five format is also clearly a much better test of all the skills a top player must master, from endurance to mental fortitude. There's a reason that there are far fewer surprise winners of slams than there are of Masters events (even accounting for the greater frequency of the latter). Also, the players themselves very clearly consider them far more important (and not just because of the money) and thus invest more in them in terms of training, determination, etc.

I'm also a little suspect of your claim that "more and more top players are injured for majors as well and, thus, they often have substantial holes in their fields as well." How many slams have their been in the past 5 or 6 years in which 2 or more of the top 10 players were not playing? This is a particularly odd context in which to make this claim as the MC event was missing 4 of the top ten players and Nadal didn't have to beat anyone in the top ten (at the time of their matches) to win the title. I don't mean to take anything away from Nadal, who looked like would beat anyone living or dead on that court the way he was playing, but it was a far more reduced field than any major in recent years.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/19/2010 at 09:49 PM

And get this: Rafa's W-L record to date: 443-99 (81.7%) :)))!!!

Posted by Goldilocks 04/19/2010 at 09:50 PM

Just finished watching the Monte Carlo men´s final again.

GB: "Rafa & Fer were adorbs! I especially loved how they were sitting together before the ceremony started. And Fer was amazingly gracious."

Totally. Also, I LOVED LOVED LOVED when Rafa was giving his acceptance speech, he was saying something nice about Fer´s performance and Fer started laughing before Rafa could finished what he was gonna say. Fer was grinning from ear to ear while listening to Rafa. You could tell that Fer was genuinely happy for Rafa and vice versa. Those two guys were so humble and gracious, and handsome to boot. Here´s hoping for more Rafa-Nando finals to come!

Annie, I totally agree with you on Madrid. I can´t believe the Madrid folks let Mr. Tyrant (oh, sorry, Mr. Tiriac) have his own way. Mr. Tiriac doesn´t exactly have the players´ best interests at heart, does he?

Posted by An Old Man 04/19/2010 at 09:57 PM

I wonder why no one has mentioned the fact that both Nadal and Stosur were both using the new Babolat strings, the black RPM. They are reputed to impart even more spin than ever before possible. They might possibly explain the two beatdowns to some degree.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/19/2010 at 10:09 PM

thooz: Of course the majors will always be the "gold standard" as you say, but the Masters series have a prestige of their own, that for some fans is equally compelling. I posted earlier at 4:41, how surprised I was to learn that Verdasco and Ferrer had never made a Masters semi-final before this week. Yet they have both been in the semi of a slam. What does that tell you? It tells me that it's frigging hard to win a Master's shield, much less multiples. It is even harder to win two MS back to back in successive weeks. I've heard commentators say they think that feat is harder than winning a slam. The only player I can think of who has achieved this is Federer. He won the IW/Miami double 3 times!!!! So you can enjoy all those majors because they are the gold standard of greatness in tennis. It's also worth noting that back in the 80's during the Borg, Mac, Connors heyday, the whole concept of the masters series and required attendance at them DIDNOT exist. Players were scattered all over the globe at different tournaments. The only time they were all guaranteed to be together were at the four slams. I think the
MS series has been great for the sport and even better for the fans.

Posted by Goldilocks 04/19/2010 at 10:17 PM

Before I hit the hay, I just have to say this:

ava,

I love your post. Every. Single. Word. Such cheerfulness! I'm going to savor this post (and all Rafa posts by lovely posters) for a while, if you don't mind me. :)

I´m really happy that you are posting here again. Please don´t be a stranger again, mmkay?

Posted by me 04/19/2010 at 10:20 PM

ye, you are pretty right about nadal. he always takes his time to celebrate a title win. he is a grat champion, but i'd really like to say that he needs to improve that sloppy forehand for his losing the strengh in his arm.

Posted by Geellis 04/19/2010 at 10:40 PM

@Christopher
you were right. I did abuse the meaning of the word shibboleth (as well as the spelling). Thx. It's been a while (like 20+ years) since I actually looked this word up. Now I have again.

Good points overall. I'll address them one at a time. I think I, and other posters, have addressed the format issue. On one hand, more matches with less rest time in between. On the other, longer matches more rest. Add to that as well the great likelihood that one can/will meet a top player much sooner than at the GS's and you have a compelling argument for a similarly difficult physical test.

I'm not nearly as confident as you seem with the assertion that the 3/5 format tests all of the attributes a good player is supposed to have. I'm not sure I expect the best player to be able to play a 5'40" match and then go play another 5+ hour math in less than 20 hours (as Rafa roughly did in 2009 AO). I just think that's indicative of poor scheduling, bad luck, and other such variables. Moreover, given the abundance of injuries plaguing the men's game, I'm not sure the game wouldn't benefit significantly by having the GS's move to a best of 3 format (with, perhaps, a best of 5 final) as it was at the Masters series events up to a couple years ago.

Also, did you ever stop to think that the reason for the fewer "surprise" winners of slams may owe to the difficulty of winning Masters events? Because one meets better players much earlier (smaller number of seeds, thus increasing the number of really quality opponents one sees at an earlier stage of the event), there's a greater likelihood of top players being knocked off. Don't forget that the increase in the number of seeds at the slams (from 16 to 32) was largely in response to reduce the incidence of quality players meeting each other too early. And walah!!! Mission accomplished. But in accomplishing this mission the slams demonstrate exactly what makes Masters series events so difficult.

Cannot really argue with you about how the top players view these events. That said, for the tier of player who's less likely to win a GS (e.g., a Davydenko, or Nalbandian) I think these Masters series events might be even more important than the GS's, where thy might perceive their chances to be remote (esp. in the era of FedNadl).

Finally, you last point, the missing top 10 players. Although MC was missing 4 of the top ten players, what you and other posters fail to account for is the fact that, other than Federer, those players are not the best clay court players. MC was missing Federer, Delpo, Soderling, and Roddick. Other than Federer, the players present at MC were vastly superior to those that were missing. The Spanish Triumverate of Ferrero, Ferrer, and Verdasco are better, on clay, than the triumverate of Delpo, Roddick, and Soderling. In 2009, Soderling lost, on clay, to Starace and Bolelli. None of my Spanish triumverate would lose on clay to either of those players. The Spanish are the 2x defending Davis Cup champions and I'd argue that as far as clay goes, where they are, the best players in the world are too. The only exception to that rule is Federer. Finally, I'd argue, that the various Masters' series events attract the best surface specialists and, therefore, are just as competitive, if not more so, than GSs in this regard (i.e., depth of their fields).

Posted by Christopher 04/19/2010 at 10:48 PM

Geellis- You make some good points and I agree that the switch to 32 seeds has changed things (for the worse, in my opinion, as has the change for best of 3 for Masters finals). I do still think that endurance and even the bizarre problems with scheduling are part of what makes slams so darn difficult. Rafa's win at the 2009 AO was truly astounding for this very reason and it's part of what proves he's a remarkable champion on any surface.

While I understand your point about the missing players at MC not being the strongest clay court players, at the same time we have to acknowledge that Fed, Delpo, and Soderling are 3 of the 4 semi-finalists in last years RG. That has to count for something. I think a healthy Delpo is a huge threat on clay and Soderling may be as well, though he has to prove it this season.

Posted by Geellis 04/19/2010 at 11:04 PM

@ Christopher
It seems we see each others' points (a good thing) though we may not come to complete accord. I am myself hugely ambivalent about this issue. On the one hand, I understand how the players feel about the GS's and thus how hard they strive to win them. However with the seeding and the days of rest, it's just hard for me to wrap my mind around them being that much more impressive, from a purely empirical perspective, than the Masters events. But I appreciate your perspective. And for the women, it's almost impossible for me to accept the superiority of the slams. Though I love my girl Serena, I would argue that her performance at non-slams is not just an indication of her lack of care for the top tier non-slam events. It is absolutely indicative of her level (or lack thereof) of fitness which is such a greater liability for the women in the tier one (or whatever these events are called these days) events.

Posted by wizkid 04/19/2010 at 11:44 PM

Slams comes 4 in a year, master shields comes 18 in a year....

4.4 master shields = 1 gs

case closed.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 04/19/2010 at 11:50 PM

wizkid: there are 9 masters each year, not 18.

Posted by eclipse22 (rafagirl) 04/20/2010 at 12:27 AM

thanks for the welcome maedal! i don't live in france i'm from the french caribbean, right in the usa backyard, hence why english/french are both actually my mother tongue!

Posted by The Fan Child 04/20/2010 at 01:32 AM

This piece was great the whole way through and then the finish was even better. It's good to see Rafa playing like he's been there and acting like he hasn't again.

Posted by Ali* 04/20/2010 at 01:38 AM

" It’s extremely unlikely that Nadal will challenge Federer’s Slam record, but he’ll probably retire as the all-time Masters winner, a record indicative of consistent excellence and persistence."

A very, very good point Steve,

Does anybody know, if all grand slam points were subtracted from each players ranking if Nadal would be the number 1??? I have a feeling that Rafa's consistentcy in Masters events is why he is still number 3 and would be number one if these determined rankings

Posted by bmars250 04/20/2010 at 01:52 AM

Well this is interesting the way steve is now talking abt rafa ending up being the leading all time masters champ. the reason for that is simmple, rafa is better than anyone on clay and given the number of masters on clay well its kind of obvious and a bit unfair. Imagine if there was an equal number of masters on grass as well, could you then imagine hw many masters fed wld hav got by nw????????

Posted by Jai 04/20/2010 at 01:52 AM

"Slams comes 4 in a year, master shields comes 18 in a year....
4.4 master shields = 1 gs"

Hilarious comment. Wrong factually as well as mathematically (18 divided by 4 is 4.5).

Posted by Sree 04/20/2010 at 02:18 AM

bmars250: Imagine if there was an equal number of masters on grass as well, could you then imagine hw many masters fed wld hav got by nw????????

The number of masters tournaments on clay is 3 (Monte carlo, Rome and Madrid since last year)....and the number of masters tournaments on hardcourts are 6. Based on the grand slam titles on the hardcourts in the past 7 years, federer is the better player than everyone... then why dont you think he had an advantage in the masters tournaments held on hard courts and is it not unfair there (to have double the number of masters tournaments in hardcourts than in clay)... and if there were any masters tournaments on grass courts, rafa would have done better on those too (On grass...he was the second best player for two years and the best player for one year)...

Posted by Rafalito 04/20/2010 at 02:46 AM

I have been lurking here for over three years now but have to comment on how much I am enjoying Steve's insight and all the great posts from Rafa's fans. Love all the Rafa Flove and especially enjoyed Goldilocks enthusiasm and comments. Ava, you have been gone for awhile--come back! Rafa winning his SIXTH Monte Carlo is an unbelievable achievement and is the culmination of all his hard work after a very painful year for him, both physically with the knees and ab tear, and mentally with his family problems. Seems he has worked it all out and is happy at last. So good to see him happy again and rolling in the clay! Glad he is skipping Barca and taking care of himself. I think I will root for Nando this week. BTW, TW is where I first found all the live stream links and joined the rest of you in setting my alarm for 4am when the tennis moved to clay and grass season (I live in the US). And Master Ace was always there with the latest. I got the ATP Tennis TV package last year and it is the best investment ever--no searching for streams and getting links where you can hardly see the ball. Anyway, thanks for sharing all the Rafa Flove. I check in here every day.

Posted by Corrie 04/20/2010 at 03:46 AM

Most of Nadal's Masters titles are on clay, though of course I know he's also won Toronto and IW and madrid. It's a great shame there is no grass Masters while there are three clay Masters. I don't know why it's so out of proportion.

Posted by GB 04/20/2010 at 04:08 AM

Rafalito: You should de lurk more often! We can always use more Rafa fans around here:)

Posted by frances 04/20/2010 at 05:21 AM

"bmars250 04/20/2010 at 01:52 AM
Well this is interesting the way steve is now talking abt rafa ending up being the leading all time masters champ. the reason for that is simmple, rafa is better than anyone on clay and given the number of masters on clay well its kind of obvious and a bit unfair. Imagine if there was an equal number of masters on grass as well, could you then imagine hw many masters fed wld hav got by nw????????"

I just have to this this is utterly TOO FUNNY!!! you forget there are only 3 of the 9 master shields that is clay-- and forget about master shields with grass court -- no point in wishing something is not there... and even if it is.. no surety that Fed or nadal's count would improved.

And talking of unfairness is even FUNNIER coz theoritically FED has 6 of the 9 to win the master shields in any given year .... so please lets not go there.. it's almost equivalent to asking "WHAT if the grand slams were evenly divided to either just two original surfaces, 2 grass and 2 clay in any given year" you think Fed's GS count would be 16? BUT I WONT GO there.. i wont state something that is not there.. Fed's numbers in GS shows he can play his best in the grand slam of things:P hehehe.. but nadal's accomplishment's is something he has gained himself...

I counter your SIMPLE reasoning to an even SIMPLER reasoning :P and that is.. besides the fact that there are only 3 of the 9 that is clay.. Nadal capitalizes on every opportunity he gets to win.
vamos rafa!!


Posted by frances 04/20/2010 at 05:23 AM

WOW that woke me up ...hahahah

NOW i can start my day!!!

Posted by frances 04/20/2010 at 05:26 AM

Sree

i just read your post-- haha it almost sounded like i copied you.. but yeah I totally agree with you !

Posted by lendl 04/20/2010 at 05:28 AM

if nadal was so relieved to finally win a tournament- what do you think of his remarks in interviews after losses- " i am very happy. played well. very good tournament for me".

i think it shows he is not telling the truth. the truth is he is dissapointed and hurt after losses. other players are honest about their dissapointment. why does he give us all that balloney about how happy he is to reach the semis? come on, give us a break...

Posted by Nishith 04/20/2010 at 06:21 AM

@Lendl
That is because he is not a big talker. Unlike someone like Djokovic, for example.
After AO 2008, Djokovic had said, not too charitable things about Roger Federer.
And that came back to haunt him.

Nadal,even after he became no 1 always maintained that Roger was the better player.
When he reached and lost in the semis and said that he was very happy to reach there, he did so, because he body was healthy and he was able tocompete quite well in all those matches(Davydenko in finals and Ljubicic and Roddick in semis).

He isn't the kind of person who would express his disappointments too publicly.
That is just the way it is. He didn't talk about his parents divorce too much, nor does he like to keep talking about his injuries( we do that.

Thats just the kind of person he is. I don't think you need to bare your innermost emotions to the public, to be a genuine person.

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