Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Brothers to the Death
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Brothers to the Death 05/17/2010 - 5:35 PM

Rf-rn They say that married couples begin to resemble each other as they get older. Can it also be true of tennis rivals, who spend so much time in the same rarefied air, far above the rest of us? At their peaks, Borg and McEnroe each sported long locks and headbands. By the end of his career, Pete Sampras was beginning to catch up to Andre Agassi in the hair-loss department. If anything, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have gone their predecessors one better. Standing next to each other during the trophy ceremony in Madrid on Sunday, these two 20-somethings from Western Europe, each 6-foot-1, each smiling thinly and politely for the cameras, each with hair that has been tamed and trimmed from its youthful overabundance, looked more like big brother and little brother than they did hated combatants.

Watching them, I wondered whether this might be the beginning of a new, mellower, let-bygones-be-bygones stage of their rivalry, one that Borg and McEnroe never had a chance to reach, and one that, as we found out at the Hit for Haiti in Indian Wells in March, was never in the cards for Agassi and Sampras. After all, the driving dynamic behind Federer vs. Nadal for all these years was the fact that each wanted to win on the other guy’s Grand Slam turf—Federer at the French and Nadal at Wimbledon. Now, for the first time, that dynamic doesn’t exist. Even Nadal’s sincere words to Federer after this final—basically, “Congratulations on winning the Australian Open. You are amazing”—had a sort of, ‘At this point, there’s no need to belabor the fact that we respect each other,’ feel to them.

Thankfully, rivalries are just what they sound like: They can be friendly, but the core of the relationship is always adversarial. Even though Federer has a French and Nadal has a Wimbledon, the edge between them lives on, as it must. Nadal wants to add titles to his resume while he has the chance, while Federer, at the most basic level, doesn’t want to see Nadal pad his winning record against him even more. (If you thought Federer didn’t have any more reasons to be motivated, try to imagine the putative greatest of all time contemplating a career head-to-head with Nadal that continues at its current pace and ends up being something like 18 to 9 in Rafa’s favor. There’s some motivation.) You could see the edge between before the Madrid final, and hear a little more of it in their press conferences afterward.

From the first time I saw a 16-year-old Nadal play at the U.S. Open in—was it really this long ago?—2003, he has made a point of controlling the tempo of the match, and it begins even before the first ball of the warm-up is hit. Even then, when he was nothing more than a rookie prospect making his Open debut, he took whatever time he needed to concoct his fitness drinks on the sideline before the coin toss. While the chair umpire and his opponent waited somewhat impatiently at the net, he then took a couple of seconds to gingerly align his two water bottles in whatever mysterious configuration he needed them to be in. I remember being surprised, slightly annoyed, but in the end impressed by the kid’s willfulness. He made you take notice of him for more than just his forehand.

Nadal has never deviated from this ritual, and in the seven years since that Open I can remember only one time when he was the first player out to the net for the coin toss—last year against Federer in Madrid, when he may have decided that, with the effort he’d needed to put in to win his semifinal over Novak Djokovic the previous day, he needed to get the blood flowing right away. Aside from that day, Federer, like everyone else, has been the one kept waiting, awkwardly, hands behind his back, looking around aimlessly, while Nadal sits and sucks down a tube of energy gel (I’m guessing someone here can tell me what it is). Yesterday, Federer came prepared to do something about it. Rather than wait at the net, he stayed in his own chair until he saw Nadal make his move.

This spared Federer the wait with the umpire, but the larger point is that Nadal was still in control of the tempo, and Federer was still, whatever his status as the greatest player of all time, the one who had to react to what his opponent was doing. And this carried over into the match, where Nadal, as always, dictated the match’s pace. Whether you find his various tics irritating, or whether or not he’s taking too much time—obviously, he shouldn’t be allowed to do this—it’s difficult to play against someone who plays more slowly than you like to play. By the time the serve gets to you, you’re just a little more anxious than normal. Owning the tempo is not a small thing in a tennis match.

That’s not why Nadal has beaten Federer 14 times, or why he beat him yesterday. But the reason he did is related. Maybe it’s because they hadn’t played in a year and I’d forgotten exactly how their rallies typically unfold, but I was amazed at how efficient Nadal was at tilting them in his favor right from the first ball. When he’s been asked in the past about what he does differently against Federer, Nadal typically, and blandly, says something along the lines of “be more aggressive.” Specifically, he wants the points to take place from his forehand to Federer’s one-handed backhand, and not the other way around. With this in mind, Nadal forces the action and plays with more urgency against Federer than he does against anyone else. Of course, Federer wants to do the same thing as Nadal, and he did control his share of rallies, but Nadal can do more with his two-hander from deeper in the court than Federer typically can with his one-hander. At 1-1 in the first set yesterday, Nadal broke with a heavy backhand up the line, and he continued to hit it well, especially crosscourt, all match.

The bottom line is that on clay (and on other surfaces to a degree), Federer must come out of his comfort zone more often than Nadal if he’s going to make anything happen in a rally. He has to find an extreme crosscourt angle with his backhand, or, as the match progresses, he must go to the drop shot more and more. Federer hits the drop shot well, and contrary to what we’ve been told, he’s been using it for years—remember the vicious backspinner he hit against Safin late in their classic semi in Australia in 2005? But the drop shot will always be a risk, no matter who is trying it, and it will never win you a match the way a serve or a forehand can. Up 4-2 in the second-set tiebreaker, Federer missed what at first glance appeared to be an easy drop shot into the net, one that was almost certainly going to be a winner. He was disgusted with himself, and, judging by the way he played the rest of the breaker, he couldn’t get it out of his head. But the fact is, the judgment and touch needed to place a drop shot perfectly—and against Nadal they must all be close to perfect—will always make it a dicey shot to try under the pressure of a tiebreaker, and one you don't want to have to rely on.

The changes of pace that Nadal threw in were less reactive and more assured—more pro-active—than Federer’s. Down 15-40 in the first set, Nadal won the point by hitting, for the first time in the match, a kick second serve out wide to Federer’s forehand. On important points, Nadal was able to nail his first serve up the T after having sent a dozen straight out wide; his first ace of the match didn’t come until the second set, but it came when he needed it, on game point at 2-2. And at 5-6, 40-30 in the second set, Nadal won the game by suddenly and surprisingly drilling his forehand up the line instead of crosscourt. On clay, at least, Nadal has an uncanny way of staying one step ahead of Federer, from the coin toss to the clinching tiebreaker.

Afterward, Federer said that, fair or not, their clay-court seasons would be judged on the French Open alone. Nadal disagreed, understandably loath to say that the three titles he’d just won were meaningless. Federer is at a stage in his career when he can treat the Masters as a way to set himself up for the majors, for history. He wants to use his energy to go hard for the ones that everyone will remember. For Nadal, the Masters are a big part of what will be his legacy; he’s going to retire as the all-time winner of them. Beyond that, I’ve always believed there’s more to tennis than the Slams, because, well, there’s more to tennis than the Slams. Why are all of these other tournaments played, otherwise? Why shouldn’t they be enjoyed in their own right, with our total attention and commitment, and not just as appetizers for four tournaments that cover a mere eight weeks of the year? I’ve always liked Nadal’s attitude: Go for the win every time you set foot on a court, give every fan in every venue a chance to see you put yourself on the line, and honor them by celebrating and being equally proud of every win, no matter where it takes place. This, no doubt, is not as practical in the long run as the dour old Lendl-Sampras mantra, “Only the majors matter.” But look at it from a fan’s perspective. For us, as viewers who like to watch tennis more than four times a year, Nadal’s passion for every match offers a lot more entertainment and satisfaction.

Let me return to the two rivals on the victory stand, looking a little like brothers. Why choose between them at this point? Here you had the greatest men’s Grand Slam winner in history next to the greatest Masters Series winner. Here you had two guys who keep coming back coming back coming back, even as the contenders/pretenders below them fade into the woodwork. If they’re starting to look more alike as time goes on, that may be because, as they continue to defy the odds of tennis gravity year after year, Federer and Nadal both keep looking better and better to us.


 
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Comments
 
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Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 05/17/2010 at 05:51 PM

First!

Posted by Red 1.7.17.287⁺ = Legacy Solidified 05/17/2010 at 06:03 PM

That's it?
Disappointed in this piece.
Reads more like a reaction to Bodo's piece earlier.
Congrats to Rafa!

Posted by Ryan 05/17/2010 at 06:15 PM

Watching these two construct points was quite refreshing, given how long it's been. I thought Roger was in a lot more of the points than he usually is on clay, and their matches, on any surface, have lost that simplistic foundation of "Nadal's forehand to Roger's backhand" monotony. They both were all over the court, and I liked that Roger was looking to hit his backhand crosscourt when the opportunity presented itself. I think that's a key to any success Roger could conceive of in the future against Rafa on clay--forcing the points to feel more like Wimbledon, or even their AO final, where Federer is afforded the full ability to create on the court.

I worry, though, that Federer will solve the one problem that has vexed him more glaringly than any other (in my opinion) in this rivalry--second serve backhand returns in the ad court on break point! I would love to know, if every match they played were reviewed, the percentage of break points Federer has lost by hitting a backhand 2nd serve return squarely into the net in the ad court. I know it's tough to take control either way--Fed likes to chip that return, which doesn't work against Rafa, and Rafa can take a big cut on cross-court backhands if Fed chooses to rip the return down the line--but not even getting into the point in the first place must eat him terribly.

Posted by Ryan 05/17/2010 at 06:16 PM

That should read "I worry, though, that Federer will NEVER solve..."

Posted by Libby 05/17/2010 at 06:19 PM

I knew I could count on you to write something worth reading post-Madrid, and this made me want to stand up and cheer. Thank you.

Posted by rudy3 (proud Rafaelite since 2005) 05/17/2010 at 06:42 PM

Thank you Steve.

Posted by Mr Rick 05/17/2010 at 06:49 PM

"Even Nadal’s sincere words to Federer after this final—basically, “Congratulations on winning the Australian Open. You are amazing”—had a sort of, ‘At this point, there’s no need to belabor the fact that we respect each other,’ feel to them."

Or maybe Rafa was just afraid that if he didn't hurry up, Roger would start to cry.

(sorry, cheap shot...)

Anyway, thanks for the post. You are of course right, we all know it, we are so lucky, Rafa-Roger do keep getting better and better.

By the way, Brad Gilbert knows what energy energy gel Rafa takes. He fished a discarded tube out of a trash can during a Rafa match last year to see what it was. (Then of course because Gilbert is a major germaphobe, he had to slather himself in anti-bacterial gel.)

I don't think Rafa-Roger will ever break down the way Agassi-Sampras have, and in fact wish/hope that their friendship instead goes the way of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who have become very close - practically like sisters. Well, probably it won't work out quite that well, but I am sure they will always have a pretty special friendship. And who knows, maybe their competition won't end after tennis?! I can see both of them going up for President of the IOC someday, for example. Long live the King and King.

Posted by rafadoc 05/17/2010 at 07:02 PM

Thanks Steve! Lovely piece of writing. I love the big brother/little brother imagery. It puts them on a plane of competitiveness and rivalry, but in a good spirited way. Not like two warriors, but two brothers who will always bring out the best in the other.

Indeed, tennis fans are blessed to have this still developing rivalry. I hope we can enjoy it for a a bit longer.

I would like to add that it is really great to celebrate these two for the amazing things they have both accomplished. No need to put down one to highlight the other.

Wonderful.

Posted by frances 05/17/2010 at 07:02 PM

been waiting for this post!

Posted by frances 05/17/2010 at 07:04 PM

"By the end of his career, Pete Sampras was beginning to catch up to Andre Agassi in the hair-loss department."

HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA-- well i supposed Federer will be balding soon enough also? hahahaha

Posted by maedal (vamos rafa!) 05/17/2010 at 07:06 PM

nice article--oil on troubled waters.

peace.

Posted by Letty 05/17/2010 at 07:06 PM

"I’ve always liked Nadal’s attitude: Go for the win every time you set foot on a court, give every fan in every venue a chance to see you put yourself on the line, and honor them by celebrating and being equally proud of every win, no matter where it takes place. "

I would argue that Fed also had this attitude when he was 23. He said as much many times. And that included an active Davis Cup schedule at that age as well.

We'll see how Nadal approaches lesser tournaments when he is 27, 28. He's already declared at 23 that he's going to put less emphasis on them.

I get tired of reading the implication that Fed has never had the same fire as Rafa. He just expresses it differently.

It's wonderful that they both have this fire because the result has been many fantastic matches with hopefully many more to come. I admire Fed for continuing to fight to reach clay court finals knowing his chances of success against Rafa as very small. And Rafa shows that fight as well on faster hardcourts where his chances are not a great as on clay.

Posted by zolarafa 05/17/2010 at 07:09 PM

What a delight to read a nice, peaceful piece on Madrid, from someone who actually cares and has "watched the match"! verus a piece e-mailed from who knows where in the woods!


I love the peaceful theme of your post. As much as I am mad at Federer for his post match comments ( he always does that!), I still think we are very lucky to have these two champions as players. I want them to play for a long time. They are becoming like yin and yang. Tennis is not as enjoyable when one of them is not playing.

You pointed out very well that after all the ups and downs, sicknesses, injuries, defeats, all the pretenders, they two stand alone. They need one another to stay motivated. If one loses to the other, there is no shame in losing to the all time best ( be it GSs or clay or MSs,....).

One more thing. What is your take on the "missing trophy" case? Are they going to e-mail a picture of the trophy from now on?

where are the glass master shields?

Posted by zolarafa 05/17/2010 at 07:12 PM

letty,

****
I get tired of reading the implication that Fed has never had the same fire as Rafa. He just expresses it differently.
****

very true. How can someone win 16 majors if he doesn't have the fire? fed is 29 and has all the money he needs for 10 generations. What forces him to take his wife and babies from city to city and play matches?

I think both Rafa and Roger LOVE tennis and it shows in their attitudes.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 05/17/2010 at 07:14 PM

Lovely article, Steve - this was just the type of writing I wanted to read today. It reflects the attitude and spirit of these two great players every time they meet each other.

Posted by Letty 05/17/2010 at 07:17 PM

Thanks, Zolarafa. It is great to see those attitudes combined with the stunning but different tennis skills those two display.

Posted by frances 05/17/2010 at 07:21 PM

love the article steve

you gave credit to both who equally deserves recognition.. no more no less

and now that you said it.. they do start to look more alike.

and I've said it on my previous comment..Federer had this "I'm happy that you're back playing great look" at the end of the match as they congratulate each other.. and rafa still have that "awe and respect" towards federer behaviour.

Posted by Pspace (Kom op Kimmie!) 05/17/2010 at 07:21 PM

Nice piece, Steve. As usual.

"""
For us, as viewers who like to watch tennis more than four times a year, Nadal’s passion for every match offers a lot more entertainment and satisfaction.
"""

So, you'd prefer a clay season where Rafa wins MC, Rome, and Madrid, and then flames out in oh say fourth round in RG to one where he is patchy in MC, Rome, and Madrid, and then wins RG? Of course, there's the alternative where he wins all four, and that's the best. But, I'm sure I wouldn't value his season that highly if he doesn't go on to win RG. Sure, he'd still be the best player on clay...like he was last year.

Posted by TeamNadal 05/17/2010 at 07:31 PM

Thank you Steve :) Fedal Forever!!!!!
-----------------------------------------------------------------
"By the way, Brad Gilbert knows what energy energy gel Rafa takes. He fished a discarded tube out of a trash can during a Rafa match last year to see what it was. (Then of course
because Gilbert is a major germaphobe, he had to slather himself in anti-bacterial gel.)"

Mr. Rick, LOL I remember that!!! I think it was in Cincy, right?

BTW, in that pic, Rafa and Roger look like doubles partners who just claimed their runner-up plate.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 05/17/2010 at 07:33 PM

Sorry, Steve -- but I'm sort of the specialist regarding Federer's drop-shot, hehe... after all I've commented about it for Eurosport for years and also written so much about it (a lot for TennisWorld a few years back, so much that when Federer won Roland Garros Pete run the humourous title 'Federer Just Like Mikey' -- he used to call me Miguel 'I Play Like Federer But I have a Forehand Drop-Shot' Seabra!).

What you mean is he had the backhand dropshot before. Sure he had, with his slice backhand he always had that option... but he didn't have the forehand drop-shot.

My take from 2005 on and all those losses vs Nadal was he needed a forehand drop-shot to complement his forceful forehand that has opponents (even Nadal) scrambling 2 to 3 meter behind the baseline. I've discussed it with him when he came to Lisbon to get a Laureus award in 2005 and he told me the forehand drop-shot was the one shot he didn't have/would like to have; I brought the subject again in Madrid in 2006 when he told me that he could open the court so well with his forehand he didn't need the forehand drop-shot.

Even last year, when he started using more the forehand drop-shot at the French Open, he wasn't doing it as well as a Nalbandian or any of the spanish clay-court specialists (the grip change, desguise and point of contact with the ball). But he's been perfecting that stroke... he even used it and abused it in some stages of this last Madrid final vs Nadal!

See you at Wimbledon, will have to stay here to do Roland Garros from the studios...

Posted by Jay 05/17/2010 at 07:34 PM

Thanks, Steve. I enjoyed reading this as a way to put some things in perspective. The majors are important--the biggest stakes including a bit of tennis immortality, but as you point out, why should we fans pay attention, pay money and get on the emotional roller coaster of watching sports, if the players and sports historians only care about the majors. Jimmy Conners' record 109 ATP victories isn't even a factor when we discuss GOAT--but, no one else comes near this, including Federer.

It seems to me that it was Sampras who was the first of the open-era greats to decide that he would distinguish himself as the greatest ever by winning at least 13 majors--once he was close to doing so. Roy Emerson was never considered to be the GOAT, although he had won more majors than anyone before Sampras.

This obsession with absolutes is very tiring. As you recommend, I enjoy seeing both Federer and Nadal, and its obvious that both of them are among the all-time greats, if for different reasons. The fact that Nadal is considerably younger, and not expected to ever be as dominant as Federer is mitigated by his record against Federer. It only makes their rivalry more fascinating. But, his record against Federer is not Nadal's only calling card--he has managed to create his own legend during this era, which is clearly Federers.

The constant comparison between Federer and Nadal comes from the fact that none of the players between Federer and Nadal agewise has been able to constantly challenge Federer. Thats a testament to both of them. And tennis would be far less interesting had Nadal not stepped up to the plate when the other players seemed to be over-awed by Federer.

Posted by Romana 05/17/2010 at 07:39 PM

Thanks for this post Steve. You never cease to produce great writing and breakdown of a match.

I know Roger wanted this win. So how could he have looked both nervous and satisfied at the same time during the match for me? It's as if he really wanted Nadal to gain his confidence back and win in order to continue their hyped-up rivalry while still giving in a great effort himself. Heck, Roger even had a nice casual smile coming to the net at the end. Then it dawned on me. During the trophy ceremony, he was so near the edge I thought at any second he would be knocked off the platform. His right foot seemed to be toying with the idea as well. Simply put, Roger had no problem giving the spotlight to Rafa. Usually, that's not his character but I'm starting to believe him when he said that he now wants to play the game to 'enjoy' it and not because he is expected to win every time. I first thought it was a typical Roger excuse, but now I'm finding some validity in his honesty. Moments later, I read their post-match pressers and my puerile logic was quickly snapped. The heat is on and these tennis deities are out to get each other anytime anyplace. :)

Friends always ask me why do I follow tennis so much. If this quintessential rivalry between two greats is not a soap opera waiting to be made (and topped off with Djokovic's allergies, Rezai's surprise tournament, etc.), then I don't know how to better explain the attractive force of why I love tennis. Any given day is a different game and playing field.

Posted by CWATC 05/17/2010 at 07:46 PM

Nice article, Steve.

Small correction: about the coin toss, last year Fed intentionally waited for Nadal to get up for it; he told that to the Swiss press. After a five match losing streak, he figured he might as well do sth different.

I guess this year he decided to do the same, since it maybe brought him luck last time.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 05/17/2010 at 07:54 PM

Great writing as always, Steve. Thanks ; )

Posted by Deuce 05/17/2010 at 07:55 PM

Very nice article Steve! It was very nice to have a Fedal final again. Let's hope we see another one in three weeks time!

Posted by Larry 05/17/2010 at 08:06 PM

While Nadal is a great player and may be the GOAT on clay, the conclusion of Steve's piece implied that Nadal and Fed are basically at the same level overall. I think they are certainly close, but Fed's continued run at the Majors certainly makes it clear that he is the best of his era. The chance for Rafa to be considered Fed's equal is after Fed starts to really slip - and if Nadal wins 6-8 more Majors, including on grass and or hard courts. If he wins three more RG's but does not take Majors on other surfaces (I realize he has won two non-clay Majors), then Federer's career record will still be unrivaled.

Posted by sally 05/17/2010 at 08:09 PM

will roger ever beat nadal again?

Posted by California Ace 05/17/2010 at 08:11 PM

Great piece, Steve!

One of the interesting parts of yesterday's match is that neither Federer or Nadal played near their best, IMO. The level of play was certainly not near Wimbledon 08, Rome 06, Wimbledon 07, or the first four sets of AO 09. Nevertheless, it was great drama.

Here's one interesting note that hasn't gotten a lot of press recently. Federer is set to tie the Sampras record for weeks at #1 the week when the French Open ends and then break it the next week. Someone double-check my math, but I believe Nadal could overtake #1 if he wins and Federer loses in the quarters or earlier (not that I'd ever put money on Fed losing before the quarters, but still . . .) Imagine if Nadal takes over #1 and Fed never gets it back? We could end up with a Sampras-Federer tie for years to come.

One interesting potential Roland Garros matchup would be Fed vs. Verdasco. Typically the Spaniard hasn't seemed to believe in his chances against Fed, but Verdasco seems more confident than ever and Madrid was most likely an aberration.

Posted by richie 05/17/2010 at 08:24 PM

This edition was a bit more tense, a bit less free flowing, simply because they both know each others game so well, therefore to outplay the opponent they had to work harder, think sharper and at the same time be that much more cautious so as not to get outplayed in the process. They aimed to stunt each others game more than anything, by coaxing errors. It was more a chess game than ever. Still, there were many great and brutal winners from both sides. And all the while you could almost hear the little wheels turning, the game edge swinging this way and that.

Enjoyed the match very much, because this time I was almost able to be relaxed watching it, simply admiring the solving of puzzles they both kept throwing at each other. And Nadal, the perennial problem solver, came out tops once more.

Posted by sarifaherman bin omar 05/17/2010 at 08:25 PM

rog onli testin nadal .....n wait n see RG! dnt panic n oredict too much!!!!!go fed express!

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/17/2010 at 08:30 PM

Lovely article, Steve.

These two are such a joy to watch. Their rivalry is indeed unique and special. They bring out the best in each other. I just love their matches.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 05/17/2010 at 08:31 PM

oh and what am I thinking? Congrats Rafa on your 18th Masters title! The King of Clay and the Greastest Ever. You and roger make a great team.

Posted by TennisFan2 05/17/2010 at 09:09 PM

Great stuff as usual Steve!

Sit back and enjoy the era of Federer and Nadal tennis fans! A few decades from now we'll all be talking about the glory days of these two fine champions.

Here's hoping Rafa gets his "Golden" Career Slam to go along with his MS record...and as Steve said above:

"I’ve always liked Nadal’s attitude: Go for the win every time you set foot on a court, give every fan in every venue a chance to see you put yourself on the line, and honor them by celebrating and being equally proud of every win, no matter where it takes place."

Love that line Steve...

Posted by CL *TMF-Undefeated when rested & fit* 05/17/2010 at 09:12 PM

Steve - just one little correction. Fed 'outwaited' Nadal at the beginning of last year's final in Madrid as well. But you are right, 'the waiting game' didn't win or lose the match. The real difference between last year and this year, when all is said and done, is that last year Fed played the big points better. This year Rafa played the big points better.

Hey Deuce!!! long time no see!

Posted by Obispo 05/17/2010 at 09:16 PM

As their rivalry has evolved so has my reaction to watching it. As a huge Fed fan, I used to get really involved emotionally to their matches but yesterday (aside from a occasional "What was that Roger?!" towards the end) I was mostly just watching the specific type of tennis that they play. No big let down. Maybe I'm just accepting that Nadal is so good on clay.

I do think that more people should recognize that the head-to-head is skewed so heavily in Nadal's favor because of the fact that Federer usually makes or has made it to the final of almost every clay tournament while Nadal doesn't do that on the other surfaces. Oh well, it's still an amazing rivalry and I'm glad we get to see it.

Posted by Kate 05/17/2010 at 09:19 PM

Does anyone have a link to the two post-match interviews? Transcripts would be best for those of us (sigh) stuck in Dial-Up.

Posted by Josema 05/17/2010 at 09:19 PM

Congratulations Stive on a truly inspired & inspiring article. Thank you very much.

Posted by Ryota 05/17/2010 at 09:20 PM

Now imagine if the two ever played doubles as partners...

Posted by thebigapple 05/17/2010 at 09:33 PM

Steve, you flatter Rafa. Roger is better tennis player - you know that. Brothers, hahahaha!!

Posted by JamesOQ 05/17/2010 at 09:33 PM

Hey Steve.
As I was reading this article, an interesting thought came into my mind about the head-to-head record between Fed and Rafa. If there were more tournaments on grass, obviously their H2H would be different, we all know that. But I was wondering: do you think Nadal would beat Federer more on grass than Federer beats Nadal on clay? Or do you think Federer would beat Nadal on grass as much as Nadal beats Federer on clay?

Posted by JamesOQ 05/17/2010 at 09:36 PM

and I too, was disappointed in this article Steve. You make it seem like Federer doesn't try to win every match he plays. That's not right. He does try his hardest to win, but lets face it, the slams are MORE important than the masters so subconsciously, EVERYONE tries harder at the slams.

another thing, who says Nadal will retire with the most masters titles? Fed is only two behind, and considering his record on the other surfaces is better than Rafa's, he may end up surpassing his own rival's record. Talk about revenge.

Posted by Vic 05/17/2010 at 09:38 PM

A won game is always an achievement, whether it was won in the Slams or the Masters. One is not more important the other because the level of play, the amount of energy and the passion it requires to lift the cup (or the shield) at the end of the tournament are always invariably equally high. A great game is a great game and a botched one is just that no matter where you play it.

Posted by MJ 05/17/2010 at 09:47 PM

Awesome piece. As always.

Posted by CL *TMF-Undefeated when rested & fit* 05/17/2010 at 09:52 PM

sally - didn't you ask that exact same question LAST year...just before Fed beat Rafa in Madrid?

Really, you gotta put a new record on every once in a while.

How about...will the Djoker ever beat Murray again? Just for variety.

Posted by sally 05/17/2010 at 10:01 PM

but rafa was exhausted after that epic battle with djoker.
so that doesn't count.

Posted by Bhai Mirzai 05/17/2010 at 10:02 PM

"will roger ever beat nadal again?" ... yes, I believe it will happen if they meet at the FO.

Posted by CL *TMF-Undefeated when rested & fit* 05/17/2010 at 10:11 PM

sally - well, Roger was exhausted from tending to the twins...so obviously his loss Sunday doesn't count. Also he is older than Nadal. Plus, he had a hang nail!

See...anybody can play!

Posted by Kombo 05/17/2010 at 10:15 PM

I can't stand the time wasting. If he wants to 'control the tempo of the match' Rafa should do it on his own serve and not encroach on opponent's service games. It's rude and if the reverse was happening as a response each time we'd all see how absurd it is. That's why I don't mind when opponents do somewhat obnoxious antics, they're just trying to highlight the absurdity of how this guy's 'special' time issues disrupt their rhythm, it's just annoying, do it on your own serve.

Posted by skip1515 05/17/2010 at 10:20 PM

"They say that married couples begin to resemble each other as they get older. "

Without a doubt one of the best ever lines in a sports article about rivals. Just friggin' tippy-top shelf.

Posted by Anna 05/17/2010 at 10:23 PM

James OQ,
I believe that federer is better than Nadal on grass, but the difference is not as great as it is on clay (the other way around). The proof? 2008 Wimbledon. Now, if Wimbledon was played on the fast grass of a decade ago, it would have been different. But between 2006 and 2007, Nadal clearly tried to improve his grass game and he wsa successful.

Posted by Mim 05/17/2010 at 10:36 PM

A+! Beutiful comments. Your thoughts on Rafa just expressed some of the millions of things that I flove about him!

Great job! Keep it up! VAMOS! :D

Posted by Statician 05/17/2010 at 10:40 PM

Great write-up Steve, really. I agree almost 100%, but like others I do feel that although Federer rarely displays the same level of intensity as Nadal, the fire burns inside just as fiercely.

I tire as well of the incessant need to annoint labels such as GOAT to anyone considering there is no concrete, all encompassing basis to establish such claims. Majors are a relatively new standard of judgement, and as such should be considered only a part, a major part, of one's total career and greatness.

Posted by Mim 05/17/2010 at 10:40 PM

Richie, I LOVE your comment! Very thoughtful and spot on!

Posted by Fangorina 05/17/2010 at 10:46 PM

I thought this was more interesting than Mr. Bodo's "only the major's count" piece today. As an admitted Sampras KAD, one of the few qualities of his that I disliked was his use of that mantra especially in the waning of his career, and the fact that, as Roger seems to be doing these days, he used the non-majors mostly for practice. Pete could and Roger can still get up for their biggest rivals at any event. Of course I understand that when you get to the level Pete reached, and Roger surpassed (it still hurts that that ever happened)you earn the grace to do whatever you want. I am happy that Rafa plays all these events to win, and is crushed if he doesn't. As tennis fans, we like our players to live and die on every point as we do when we watch them.

Posted by daniel 05/17/2010 at 10:47 PM

once again fed loses because of weak break points. why o why he doesn't realize its better to lose by going for too much than too little, i do not know.

as for the rivalry. you can't fairly judge who's the better player based on their records against each other because federer has so many disadvantages in the match up. its been covered enough but the lefty factor and the one handed backhand is impossible to escape. and the match up is very simple for nadal; going to feds backhand does easy damage. but for federer to hurt nadal is much more complicated. when they play, nadal needs to play pretty well to win, but federer needs to be exceptional.

Posted by mwu 05/17/2010 at 10:53 PM

That pic is awesome -- they really do look as alike as, say, the Voltaggio brothers from Top Chef. (Now there's a reference alien to the multinational readership of Tennis.com.)

I wonder if there's some genetic benefit to low, dark eyebrows for tennis players -- keeping the sun out of the eyes without resorting to sunglasses...

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 05/17/2010 at 10:56 PM

Fabulously well done, Steve. Thanks.

I totally agree that this is why Rafa is so admired and adored -- he relishes every fight and every victory as if it were his first and last. And what can one say about Federer -- the ultimate master of pacing himself thorughout the year. And yes, match pacing is a huge element in winning the psychological battle of wills on a tennis court. It's all about control. And no one does it better, or more ruthlessly, than Nadal.

Posted by Vic Singh 05/17/2010 at 11:05 PM

Here is it... the break down of what goes on in Fed's head when he plays Rafa.... he does not have enough creativity from a match up stand point to handle the ad court serves he receives from Rafa. This basically goes to say Rafa has a much better serve than people give him credit for but it emphasizes the base on which the modern game can be and has been developed.... groundies. Fed does not know whether to press the pedal or not on those ad court serves ... and if yes then how much. The conclusion is that Fed must approach Rafa as if he was a leg spin bowler... with caution but with the belief that a six is always on. If he settles his own mind on that count.... he will convert the break point chances he gets. fed is way better of the two players if he allows himself to play his best against the King of Clay.

Posted by Steve 05/17/2010 at 11:12 PM

outwaited last year, well, if federer said it, then i stand corrected. but being there, it really seemed like rafa went out earlier than usual; he was at the net by himself for a while bouncing around. my point stands either way: nadal forces his opponents to react to him. it may be annoying, a la sharapova, but it's intelligent from a competitive standpoint.

sorry to disappoint you red and the other person who was disappointed. what can you expect from something that's free, right?

skip, thanks

Posted by Deuce 05/17/2010 at 11:26 PM

waves to CL! Yes its been awhile. I've been lurking here and there but not in as often as I'd like once I returned to work full time. But alas, needed to check back in for another Fedal match as we are watching history:)

Posted by nancy1044 05/17/2010 at 11:26 PM

Does ANYbody know a link to yesterday's post-final pressers for Roger and Rafa???

Posted by RubyP (permantly delurking) 05/18/2010 at 12:14 AM

Steve, was that you at 11:12 p.m.? What did such an elegant writer mean by "what do you expect from something that's free?" Were you insinuating that because we did not pay to read your post, we should shut up? We expect you to keep up your high standard and not resort to pissy comments at our "disappointment" at some of your viewpoints. We who believe that Federer's fire burns just a brightly as Nadal's, but does not constantly draw attention to himself with fistpumps and leaps in the air, know that Federer's demeanor is not a character flaw but a personality trait, and appreciate it as such. We understand that you are completely captivated by Nadal, and respect you for it, and if you never wrote another word about Federer, we would certainly have nothing to complain about.

Now if this was some other poster impersonating you, I apologise.

Posted by ack 05/18/2010 at 12:23 AM

Great article, Steve. I like Nadal's attitude too. "Go for the win every time you set foot on a court, give every fan in every venue a chance to see you put yourself on the line...no matter where it takes place." His fighting spirit on the court and his warmth off the court make him a great ambassador for the sport.

As I said after the match yesterday, I like Roger a lot, but I’m a HUGE Rafa fan. I know to savor the rivalry as long as it exists because they do bring out the best in each other. So long live Roger vs. Rafa.

On to Roland Garros and beyond!

Posted by peter 05/18/2010 at 12:58 AM

there is only one mountain that roger can't reach:it's called mt.nadal.

Posted by Carrie *Vamos Picnic Pants!* 05/18/2010 at 01:17 AM

RuthP- I did not see Steve being negative and "pissy" as you call him....I just thought he was saying sorry if folks were disappointed. He was not saying that folks could not say what they wanted to as you claim he is saying.

Posted by dnrood 05/18/2010 at 01:23 AM

Very enjoyable piece Steve. I thought the reference to brothers was a good one. Roger the older, more accomplished and more talented brother having to put up with his younger, more volatile, and sometimes annoying brother (in a good way). I had not thought of these two rivals in this way before but it does make sense.

Whether you agree with the analogy or not what you can't deny is that these two have defined greatness since 2005. In essescence they are the gatekeepers to tennis immortality for this era. There have only been two other players to win a grand slam since 2005. That would be like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson winning every major in the next five years except for two other players. I think most golf fans would see that as an outragous possibility, but it has been the case in tennis for 5 years. Simply put these two players make the men's game special right now, because to crack these two players in a tournament and win makes anyone who does it a player worth watching, i.e. Murray, Djokovic, delPo, and Roddick.

Posted by KATCH22 05/18/2010 at 01:37 AM

Thanks for writing an article from a fare & logical perspective, Steve. If we all have to compare every acheivement in life with the greater ones before ours we might as well give up and do nothing because our achievement will always come up short against someone.

Rafa's right to take one match at a time and his fans have every damn right to celebrate EVERY single match he win. We don't need the history snobs to validate whether that victory's worthy of celabrating or not.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 05/18/2010 at 02:54 AM

"Let me return to the two rivals on the victory stand, looking a little like brothers. Why choose between them at this point? Here you had the greatest men’s Grand Slam winner in history next to the greatest Masters Series winner. Here you had two guys who keep coming back coming back coming back, even as the contenders/pretenders below them fade into the woodwork. If they’re starting to look more alike as time goes on, that may be because, as they continue to defy the odds of tennis gravity year after year, Federer and Nadal both keep looking better and better to us."

So much word on that!

Posted by Akshay 05/18/2010 at 02:56 AM

Awesome article on the greatest rivalry ever !! I am a huge nadal fan, with equal respect for federer. Its like a warrior taking on a wizard.

Posted by Charles 05/18/2010 at 03:12 AM

let's not forget that Roger has a winning record against Rafa when not on clay. Their head to head is deceptive because of the overabundance of clay matches in it.

Otherwise, great article, Steve. Very insightful, great analysis.

Posted by Cynthia Lo 05/18/2010 at 03:13 AM

Great to see for once comments from intelligent Fedal fans compared to some low IQ:ed-comments on other sites including FB. I totally agree that Roger wanted Rafa to get the limelight and get his confidence back and I think he's happy for Rafa to have something historic so people will stop hyping that he (Roger) has vacuumed (which incidentally I read that he's pretty good at in the house) the tennis world of most of the slam titles, hogging the number one spot etc..etc.. Fedal lives on!! Andre Agassi, eat your heart out! ;-)

Posted by roy redondo 05/18/2010 at 03:20 AM

I like Rafa's attitude that every time he sets his foot on the court he's for the win no matter what if its a grandslam or a masters series. Rafa is truly the " Clay KIng ", no doubt!

Posted by zoilena 05/18/2010 at 03:41 AM

Nice comments Steve. About the Federer Nadal resemblance I would like to add that after a year of dissapointments Nadal has grown maturer, if not in his game, at least as a person.He is no longer the crazy trouble-free boy that he used to be. That is in my opinion what makes him glow and reach close to Federer's glow: maturity. As for his tics, short tugging and hair straightening before serving, to be honest, I did not even remember them in this particular match.

Posted by stan 05/18/2010 at 03:47 AM

"Whether you find his various tics irritating, or whether or not he’s taking too much time—obviously, he shouldn’t be allowed to do this—it’s difficult to play against someone who plays more slowly than you like to play. By the time the serve gets to you, you’re just a little more anxious than normal. Owning the tempo is not a small thing in a tennis match."

But he is allowed to get away with it most of the times, that's an unfair advantage in my opinion, and that is why no matter how good his game has improved through the years, i will never take to him because of his gamesmanship.

Posted by Dick 05/18/2010 at 04:08 AM

Hi guys, Rapha and Roger are real champs and there is nothing anyone can do about that. They respect each other's strength and hope they keep it up for the love of this gentle game called tennis.
Rapha's energetic game and Roger's technique would be a double pair the world of tennis would never forget if this two decide to form a team in doubles. It is just a proposal, and I would wish that these two give it a thought.

Posted by Voltaire 05/18/2010 at 04:11 AM

Steve-Excellent piece as a homage to a still continuing rivalry. I personally feared for it the last so many months when Rafa was on the mend....racked by the thoughts that whether we had too much of good thing and it's all over before we cherished it to the fullest. Thankfully and as an answer to all the prayers, incredibly Roger/Rafa are 1 and 2 and met as matter of course in a final.....actually Roger played rather well not shanking backhands but hitting them crisply, sometimes for outright winners down the line. But Rafa is back to playing where he believes he'll ultimately prevail in any match. His groundstrokes have recovered their menace, his movement is a crazy blur again-how he tracks dropshots-effectively Rafa regained his mojo! Never thought, sitting 1000s miles away Rafa's victory could prove so satisfactory and soul-nourishing. Now waiting for Sod bagel in RG.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa Did Make The Magic Box His 05/18/2010 at 05:13 AM

Thanks Steve. I appreciate what you see and then write it.

Thanks.

Posted by Corrie 05/18/2010 at 05:19 AM

"Whether you find his various tics irritating, or whether or not he’s taking too much time—obviously, he shouldn’t be allowed to do this—it’s difficult to play against someone who plays more slowly than you like to play. By the time the serve gets to you, you’re just a little more anxious than normal. Owning the tempo is not a small thing in a tennis match."

But he is allowed to get away with it most of the times, that's an unfair advantage in my opinion, and that is why no matter how good his game has improved through the years, i will never take to him because of his gamesmanship."


I've always thought this too, but I've thought Nadal has speeded up a bit this year. I haven't watched him very much though, so does anyone else think he's improved in this?

Posted by susan 05/18/2010 at 06:16 AM

"Here you had the greatest men’s Grand Slam winner in history next to the greatest Masters Series winner."

electric.

gave me a bit of a chill when i read that.

Posted by B 05/18/2010 at 06:35 AM

"But he is allowed to get away with it most of the times, that's an unfair advantage in my opinion, and that is why no matter how good his game has improved through the years, i will never take to him because of his gamesmanship."

Have to agree. But as steve says not a reason for Fed losing.


"I believe that federer is better than Nadal on grass, but the difference is not as great as it is on clay (the other way around). The proof? 2008 Wimbledon. Now, if Wimbledon was played on the fast grass of a decade ago, it would have been different. But between 2006 and 2007"

Agree Fed would have dominated on the old grass in a similar way. Grass at Wimbi as everyone knows is closer to clay as its ever been. Ivanisivic/Becker/Sampras did not play on this Grass.

""They say that married couples begin to resemble each other as they get older. ""

yes a great analogy from Tignor.

"will roger ever beat nadal again?"

LOL at this question. Yes but not at the French I think. If Rafa is able to meet him anywhere outside of clay I give the edge back to Roger at the moment.

Concerning Madrid. " The real difference between last year and this year, when all is said and done, is that last year Fed played the big points better. This year Rafa played the big points better."

Agree 100%

Posted by kym 05/18/2010 at 06:46 AM

Surely the friendship and rivalry of Federer and Nadal is much more respectable than that of the two ugly Americans A.A. and P.P.. Nadal is my favorite player; he is a
people's champion, and Federer is the people's embassador. Nadal can still catch up
with Federer in the grand slam trophies though. He is only 23 now. If he can take
care of his health and injury, he can do it. But A.A. and P.P. are as good as dead.
American tennis players are low in all departments: talent, character and attitude.

Posted by Rafur 05/18/2010 at 07:22 AM

Steve,
brilliant piece, captures everything I feel. When did you write it? Cos I just came across it about an hour ago. British Summer Time!

Posted by Geellis 05/18/2010 at 07:30 AM

Steve,

What a great analysis of the Fedal matchup. I'm not a huge Federer fan (though I acknowledge the mastery and artistry that he demonstrates) but Nadal is simply, and always has been, a bad match-up for him. Since their first meeting in Miami of '05, where Nadal beat the then No. 1 Federer on a HC, it has been so. In one sentence you captured it brilliantly: "but Nadal can do more with his two-hander from deeper in the court than Federer typically can with his one-hander". It is, alas, that simple. While both prefer to dictate with their FHs, as to their second alternative, their respective BHs, Nadal is simply more dangerous (and he continues to improve the explosiveness of this shot). Furthermore, as so many opponents have discovered to their peril, Nadal's BH is, in many respects, the lesser attackable of the two. Namely, when players wish to approach, it's a better idea to come in going out wide to Nadal's FH than it is to come in going out wide to his BH.

Fortunately, for Federer, there are other players who match up better against Nadal than does he. On the Tennis.com homepage, there's a survey asking who Nadal's most dangerous opponent will be at the FO. Some 70+% of people said Federer. I think they are wrong. On that list (for it does not list some of the most dangerous opponents, like say a Gulbis or Almagro), I chose Soderling. In order to beat Nadal on any surface, including clay, you simply have to have big shots off both sides, be able to handle the height of the ball and then have a good enough day to hit through Nadal for 3 sets. Federer cannot do this. Other players, such as Soderling on the tennis.com list or Gulbis or perhaps Verdasco (on a lucky day), have a better chance to execute this game-plan over 3 sets. Thoughts??

Posted by jerome 05/18/2010 at 07:31 AM

Nice post.

I like and respect (even more) Nadal but, as you rightly said:

He’s taking waaaaaay too much time to serve; if it's a pain for us viewers, imagine how his opponents feel...

"They" (ITF, ATP, whoever) shouldn’t allow him to do this: give him a few penalty points(Serena lost a match at the US open for less than a "quarter of a toe" footfault, so my guess is that this wouldn't be too much as a "punishement") and he'll shorten his preparation right away

And Roger deserves it

Posted by lilscot 05/18/2010 at 07:37 AM

Great piece Steve. And a great counter-argument to Pete's somewhat misguided piece over at ESPN. I'm not sure if anyone else noticed or commented, but in Pete's article he stated that while Federer has beaten Rafa on only one surface in a GS final, grass at Wimby, Rafa beat Roger on 2 surfaces in a GS final. But the truth is that he beat Roger on three different surfaces at a GS final, Wimby, Roland Garros, and the AO.

It seems almost as if you and Pete switched places in your analysis of these two great warriors. I've never liked the old, "only the Grand Slams matter," argument. Seems pretty ridiculous considering the massive amounts of time and energy put into the other events.

And as far as history goes, yes Roger has the most GS titles, but he and his fans will always have to live with the fact that despite that he still could not master Rafa. Now that says a lot. One could even wonder what Roger's career record would look like if he and Rafa had come on the scene at the same time and of the same age...

Posted by lilscot 05/18/2010 at 07:44 AM

People really do make far too much of Rafa taking too long to serve. For crying out loud, these guys have to try and serve and play with sirens going off, airplanes flying overhead, babies crying in the stands, people moving around after the change-overs, and cell-phones. As if waiting an extra 5 seconds or more to receive a serve is the deciding factor in a point or a game is just silly.

I place the blame on the other players more than I do on Rafa. Is he supposed to carry a timer in his pocket with a little alarm on it, or should his opponents just "grow a pair" and speak up? Who's stopping them from talking to the chair umpire? Either speak up or shut up really. Far too much whining about that.

Posted by Geellis 05/18/2010 at 07:45 AM

@B
I'm a little confused by some of your statements.
First: Nadal no longer takes over 25 seconds to serve. Not sure you watched the match in Madrid, but I counted and he served well within that timeframe. They have fixed this issue.

Is Federer better on grass?? In some senses, I would say Federer is "better" on all surfaces (similar to what Nadal says) with the obvious possible exception of clay. His game simply matches up poorly against this one guy. And it matches up poorly against that one guy on ALL surfaces, including grass.

I'm a little surprised how you so easily give the edge to Roger on surfaces other than clay. Mark my words, if they meet again at Wimbledon, Rafa will beat Roger, again. Especially if Rafa went through Roger at RG. There's a mental component to this rivalry (just like Roger has over his contemporaries: Safin, Davydenko, Haas, Roddick, etc.) that is incalculable in its impact. Only Nadal can make him bawl. He did not bawl like this in either his loss to Nole in '08 AO nor his loss to Delpo in '09 USO. They're simply not lodged in his head like Nadal and, thus, he can afford to spot them a win on the game's largest stages. But every loss to Nadal cements, in his head, his inability to best this one guy. So, I think it will be very difficult for Fed to beat Nadal, outside of two venues that seriously favor him: the USO and the Year-end championships.

And about your summation of this year's Madrid, I think it's incorrect. The real difference between last year and this year, the biggest difference, is that Nadal came into Madrid having paced himself better during the clay season. He was simply one step faster (because of the omission of Barcelona) than he was last year and, accordingly, able to execute his normal game-plan against Federer successfully. That's the biggest diff. between this year and last year at Madrid.

Posted by TennisFan2 05/18/2010 at 07:52 AM

Let's face it....anyone who plays tennis would like an iota of Rafa's mental game (I know I would). Hands down he has one of the best heads in the history of tennis. Up, down, weather, delays, physical exhaustion, age, etc...give the young man his due mentally he is among the GOATs

An argument can be made for "gamesmanship" but don't all players to some degree use "head games" to win matches?

Even as a diehard fan, I have to agree that Rafa is given a great deal of leeway with "time" between points but I do have to point out that his "tics" and use of time are consistent in each match he plays and against all players. IMO this consistency is why officials have not called him on delays.

Posted by lilscot 05/18/2010 at 07:54 AM

Geelis:

Nice. Agree completely. I also think Rafa will beat Roger again if they meet in the Wimby final. People are just now realizing what Rafa went through last year. We all now how important his family is to him and I think his parents' divorce hit him harder than we all knew. And it couldn't have come at a worse time. Yes his knees were bothering him, but I think it was the family situation that threw him more than anything else. His whole life has been built around this bubble that is his family and when that bubble popped out went his confidence and joy for the game.

He's back. And with a vengeance. You see it just in the way he walks and talks.

Posted by Mike 05/18/2010 at 08:00 AM

Sorry ... Rafa destroyed Fed at RG, beat him at Wimby, and then again at the AO during a stretch of just 7 months out of a 6 year rivalry ... a time where it's been verified that Fed had been suffering and not at the top of his game (Rafa fans know how tough it is to take criticism when their man is not in top form and loses) ... we keep reflecting on Rafa beating Fed on all surfaces in the slams, when the other 2 surfaces were contained in a brief stretch of time. Long story short, Rafa has still only dominated Fed on clay.

Looking at things, generally ... without taking in specifics, will not give you accurate results.

Posted by MJ 05/18/2010 at 08:01 AM

Gulbis copied Roger's pre-coin tactic in Rome this year, as well. He stayed seated until Rafa got up. I noticed it because he was clearly using Roger's tactic from Madrid. Completely agree with Steve that repeating the tactic this year was not necessarily a good move. Once was a surprise, twice shows he's too focused on his opponennt, and not his own game.

Posted by Geellis 05/18/2010 at 08:12 AM

@Mike
The problem with your analysis Mike, is several fold. First, you fail to account for the fact that, right out of the gate, Nadal beat Federer (in their very first match, that was on a HC in key biscayne). Furthermore, the writing was on the wall in '06 and in '07 that Nadal would eventually best Federer at Wimbledon. Nadal had a great chance in '07, if you watched that final, but, once again, his knees hobbled him. You may not recall, that, prior to his taking an injury time-out in that match, he had Federer talking to himself. Federer was so unhinged that he requested the chair umpire turn off Shot-spot (a multi-million dollar investment by the ATP venues). Only during that injury time-out, which I recall quite clearly, did one see Federer recompose himself and steel himself for the remainder of the match. However, Nadal, who'd played 7 consecutive days, due to rain delays, simply ran out of gas. So, your theory about Nadal only winning against Fed when the Fed was injured is quite weak and unsupported by facts. Finally, it's silly in the extreme to argue that Federer was injured during the '09 AO. In fact, he was not. Remember, the Fed was the reigning USO champion at that time. So, again, you might want to check your facts prior to posting.

Posted by Mike 05/18/2010 at 08:12 AM

One more thing ... all I hear about is Fed losing to Rafa 4 straight times @RG, and how there should be an asterisk on Fed's win because Rafa didn't make it to the final to win it 'legitimately', yet Rafa has left Fed at the USO alter 6 straight years without making it to the dance (RE: 'Grapple in the Apple'). What's worse? ... making it to the final 5 straight years, and finally winning through raw consistency, or not making it at all?

Posted by Jay 05/18/2010 at 08:14 AM

Add Verdasco to the list of players who insisted that Rafa arrive first for the coin toss. I noticed this at Monte Carlo this year, and at the 2009 Australian Open. Since that tactic hasn't worked, maybe players will start accidently kicking his bottles on the change-overs. LOL.

Posted by Caroline 05/18/2010 at 08:17 AM

"Only Nadal can make him bawl. He did not bawl like this in either his loss to Nole in '08 AO nor his loss to Delpo in '09 USO. They're simply not lodged in his head like Nadal and, thus, he can afford to spot them a win on the game's largest stages. But every loss to Nadal cements, in his head, his inability to best this one guy."

I think that saying that Rafa makes Roger bawl - and that is evidence that Rafa is in Roger's head - is not quite accurate. Roger did not bawl at the AO because of Rafa. He bawled because he was overcome with emotion after he lost a long close match that he thought he could win and which would equal the GS record. The MC laid on the emotion with a trowel and, at the same time, Roger had found out a few days earlier that he and Mirka were going to have twins. All this is well known.

With regard to losses to Nole at AO08, it was straight sets and Roger went into it knowing he was not well, though undiagnosed. If he'd cried after that match even I would have started to ask questions! At USOpen 09, Roger had already got the career slam, the record and twins. All in all, it doesn't have anything to do with the opponent, it's the situation.

If Rafa was so much in Roger's head, I doubt that Roger would be saying quite so often how delighted he is that Rafa is back at the top of his game and how important it is for tennis.

Posted by The Scrutineer 05/18/2010 at 08:20 AM

Great piece Steve.

"For us, as viewers who like to watch tennis more than four times a year, Nadal’s passion for every match offers a lot more entertainment and satisfaction."

Couldn't agree more with this statement. The sport really is more than 4 tournaments a year. I find it insulting to for some to keep suggesting otherwise.

Posted by Geellis 05/18/2010 at 08:22 AM

@Mike,
The list of alters at which Nadal has left Federer becomes shorter with every year. Never forget that he's a full 5 years younger than Fed. His game will take time to mature. Remember though, by Rafa's age, Federer was far behind Rafa in terms of his performance. He'd won 4 GS by his 24th Bday, Rafa will likely have won 7 (okay, RG final occurs one week after Rafa's 24th). In other tournaments, there's just no comparison. Rafa was a FAR more prolific winner by 24 than Federer (excepting THE YEAR Federer turns 24, in which he won, amazingly, 3/4 GS that year, a feat he would do two more times). Make no mistake, Rafa will never achieve the dominance that Federer has. Perhaps no player ever will. But there's a good likelihood that he can threaten the Fed in the GS title arena.

Posted by felizjulianidad 05/18/2010 at 08:27 AM

I don't think the H2H is all that skewed. Almost every single one of their encounters has been at a GS or a MS.

Of their GS encounters, exactly 4 have been on clay courts (all for Nadal) and 4 on other surfaces (a 2-2 split between grass and hard courts).

Second, I don't buy that it's skewed because Nadal is unable to make the finals of tournaments on other surfaces. Look at Nadal's career history with MS tournament wins and runner-ups: only one or two were against Federer (only an early match in Miami comes to mind). Nadal took Madrid 2005 against Ljubicic, he took Indian Wells 2007 against Djokovic, and he took Toronto 2008 against Kiefer. Nadal lost the Miami 2008 final to Davydenko, he lost the Paris Indoor 2008 final to Nalbandian, and he lost the Shanghai 2009 final to Davydenko. Going lower, Nadal beat Federer in Dubai 2006, and his recent loss in Doha was to Davydenko, who beat Federer. It's not like Federer was waiting for him every time, but Nadal failed to reach the final. Both of these guys are way better than everyone else on the field, approximately half of their encounters are on clay (where Nadal holds a sizeable advantage) and the other half on hard or grass (where Federer has a solid, but not squashing, advantage).

Posted by Geellis 05/18/2010 at 08:29 AM

@Caroline
Oh Caroline, Caroline, do not believe everything a player says. For example, Rafa always says Roger is the favorite in their matchup. Do you believe that? Neither Rafa nor Federer has claimed that either injury or family issues has impacted their performance. Do you believe that? Rafa has never blamed a loss on a knee problem, though his pulling out of Wimbledon last year suggests otherwise. Basically, there is generally objective evidence to which we can look to ascertain the veracity, or lack thereof, of the players' statements. Make no mistake, Roger knows that his RG trophy resulted from Rafa's not being there and most astute tennis fans realize that too. But hey, you have to be there to defend and Roger, like any other player, beat those persons in front of him. But that doesn't mean that Nadal's not in his head. What do you do with the stunning loss in '08 RG followed up by a tight loss in Wimbeldon of that year (remember, Rafa was serving down in the final set of the '08 Wimbledon, a strategically inferior position in which to be).

Posted by felizjulianidad 05/18/2010 at 08:47 AM

Geellis, absolutely excellent commentary on the Wimbledon 07 match. I saw the first 4 sets and knew that when Nadal slipped while up 4-0 in the 4th, the 5th set was going to be a very different story. I had to walk out, and when I came back in, Nadal was getting blown off the court, and nearly looked like he was limping.

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