Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Brilliantly Routine: The Wimbledon A-List
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Brilliantly Routine: The Wimbledon A-List 07/06/2010 - 12:52 PM

Rn Every Grand Slam is a trade-off. If the first 10 days are dull and by the book, chances are the final weekend will be a dramatic one. And, conversely, if you see a lot of action—i.e. upsets—through the early rounds, in the end you’re going to be left without the tension and potential for historical fireworks that the marquee names bring with them. Novelty and surprise quickly descend into the fluky and forgettable. The past decade, in which the majors went to seeding 32 players, thereby reducing the chances for first-round shockers, has been one where the excitement at the Slams has typically peaked over the final two days. This year’s Wimbledon was an exception. Early chaos led to quiet endings; the finals were a pair of efficient masterpieces by the world’s No. 1 players that, from a dramatic standpoint, bordered on the tedious. Whether this tournament heralds a new era of chaos and tedium—particularly on the men’s side—remains to be seen.

Now, however, is not yet the time to look ahead. It’s time to review, to judge, to praise, to mock, to trash what transpired over the last two weeks at the All England Club. Let's start with the praises.

Rafael Nadal

The last three Wimbledon men’s finals were all-time classics that lasted into the early London evening. So when Nadal hit a winning crosscourt forehand to end this year’s final, it seemed way too early in the day for the match to be over. When he fell on the cracked brown dirt at the baseline, it hardly seemed like the end of a Wimbledon final at all. There'd been no seesaw drama. The crowd was never brought to its feet. There was no victor’s climb into the stands. Even Nadal’s most notable celebratory gesture—he somersaulted soccer-style on the grass—looked like it had been rehearsed, as if he’d been so confident of winning that he’d scrapped his last practice session so he could perfect his roll on the turf.

Of course, if you know anything about tennis, and the subtle ways in which excellence in the sport works, you couldn’t have been bored by Nadal’s performance. The fact that this match felt like a foregone conclusion is, more than anything, a credit to his all-business mastery of the moment, and the long-term improvements he's made to his game over the years. Yes, Berdych failed to capitalize on his few opportunities; the squandered break points at the start of the second set were particularly crucial. And he fell apart at exactly the wrong moments. But Nadal was also not at his best. He was blatantly nervous to begin the second set, and he never reached his peak level of shot-making energy the whole afternoon. But he didn’t need to be, because, in an inconspicuous way, he had taken Berdych out of his own game. Remember, the Czech was a former nemesis of Nadal’s. He beat him three straight times at one stage, and his assets were seen as the template for how to beat Nadal: He was tall enough to handle his topspin, he could hit through the court on either side, and he owned a two-handed backhand that could go toe-to-toe with Nadal’s crosscourt forehand.

Considering that Nadal has beaten Berdych in their last seven matches without dropping a set, how do we like that template now? Watching the final, I started to think that Berdych’s game is exactly the wrong one to throw up against Rafa, and the reason for that turnaround was obvious: Nadal had transformed all of Berdych’s old strengths against him into weaknesses. He drew errors by hitting low slice backhands that forced Berdych to bend and dig. He hit his crosscourt forehand at a safe and slightly wider angle than normal to take advantage of Berdych’s lack of reach with his two-hander. And most important, he stretched Berdych with his bending slice serve to the backhand side and fired the ball into the tall man's body to jam him.

Turning your opponent’s strengths into liabilities, and your own liabilities into strengths: There’s the mark of a mature player, and it’s got nothing to do with muscle or speed. Nadal and his uncle Toni once said, with all sincerity, that when Rafa began his pro career he had the worst serve on tour—the worst. Look what that shot is doing for him now; he just went through a Grand Slam final unbroken. As I said, all of those holds did not make for a crowd-pleasing performance. But that’s exactly what we used to say about Pete Sampras, and, in his days of utter dominance, Roger Federer. What else does this "dull" duo have in common? They're widely thought of as the two greatest tennis players in history. Nadal has always been celebrated for the youthful vibrancy he brings to tennis. But it may be a sign that, at 24, he’s reaching his mature peak when we can give him an even higher compliment. Wear it as a badge of honor, Rafa, because only the very best are lucky enough to have it pinned on them: You were good enough to be called boring. A+

Sw Serena Williams

This was also Serena’s no-drama Slam. She was even more efficient and Sampras-like than Nadal, and she made the women’s final seem even more of a foregone conclusion than the men’s. By the end, she was playing what I think of as men’s-style grass court tennis. Her serve, her return, and her first stroke allowed her to clamp down on rallies immediately, to the point where she didn’t even need to assert her superiority with the rest of her game. Serena didn’t need to show that she was faster, or a more powerful and accurate ground-stroker, than Zvonareva. She could win Wimbledon and still keep something in reserve.

But over the fortnight Serena showed that she can win in various ways. She absorbed Maria Sharapova’s biggest hits and sent them back to the corners with even more pace. She fought off the inspired athleticism of Petra Kvitova, as well as her own nerves, in the semis. In both of those matches, when the two or three points that made the difference in the match arrived, Serena won them. For all the talk of the grass game has changed, it still comes down to those few moments. It’s about hanging on to what you're given—namely, your serve—and being patient enough to take what your opponent gives you—in this instance, a double-fault at 9-9 in a tiebreaker by Sharapova, which Serena, opportunist extraordinaire, followed up with a soul-crushing ace. We’ve always said that Venus Williams is the greatest women’s grass-court player of her era. When this era, the Williams era, finally does end, I don’t think we’ll be saying that anymore. A+


The modern game meets the pre-modern format on a side court in the first round. Awesome and dull, its high quality was mind-numbing. After 40-odd years of professional tennis, with all of its technology, training, and shot-making evolution, these two second-tier players showed how proficient—bizarrely proficient—the men’s game has become. They also showed, especially in the words of the loser, Mahut, how gracious it has become. The prize ceremony afterward was awkward but sweet. And deserved. A+

Vera Zvonareva

She’s always had the ball-striking skill, but this time she managed to channel her famous well of emotion into something positive. She cried when it was over, but what I’ll remember from her over these two weeks was the determined but controlled way she pulled ahead in her third sets with Clijsters and Pironkova. Zveonareva looked like she was learning on the spot that she really does have a top-level game. A

Tomas Berdych

If he never reaches another major final, Berdych will go down as a footnote in tennis history—conqueror of Federer, victim of Nadal, and, if the men’s game continues to get taller, a sign of things to come. When he first appeared seven seasons ago, he looked like the next step, after Marat Safin, in towering, effortless power. But for years he was a cold and indifferent competitor, and the smoothness of his game got lost underneath that icily frustrating surface. But it rose back up in the quarters and semis at Wimbledon. The inside-out forehand that Berdych seems to caress for 90-m.p.h. winners, in particular, is a shot I’ve never seen from anyone. It was fun and inspiring to watch him exceed himself in the final game against Federer, but that success made it a little surprising that he couldn’t find a way to do it again in the final. Where Berdych had been bold, he was hesitant, his shot selection confused. He missed balls even before he got a chance to pull the trigger on a big one. 

Is Berdych the next del Potro, a guy on his way to better things? Or is he the next Soderling, a guy who may have hit his ceiling? If I had to guess, I'd say the latter. It's tough to make yourself significantly more confident, to re-imagine yourself and your place in the game, in the middle of your career. Either way, when he’s striking the ball smoothly and competing with heart, Berdych is an appealing addition to the top tier. My favorite unexplained moment: What inside joke was he laughing at as he pointed to his box after beating Federer? Who would have thought that the cold-eyed Czech would consider the biggest win of his career so hilarious? A


Back with the rest, and the worst, tomorrow.


Posted by Frances 07/06/2010 at 01:11 PM

YEY been waiting for this!

Posted by Frances 07/06/2010 at 01:25 PM

"But it may be a sign that, at 24, he’s reaching his mature peak when we can give him an even higher compliment. Wear it as a badge of honor, Rafa, because only the very best are lucky enough to hear it: You were good enough to be called boring."


Posted by David 07/06/2010 at 01:32 PM

I do think Berdych can be fairly called a poor man's del Potro. That forehand, big though it may be, is just not quite as devastating, is it?

Posted by just horsen(Laverorwellafafeden for GOAT!!!) 07/06/2010 at 01:34 PM

"Wear it as a badge of honor, Rafa, because only the very best are lucky enough to hear it: You were good enough to be called boring."

Never thought about it that way, but you're right. Being called boring usually does only happen when in cases of greatness, whether that be Fed dominating the tour for 5yrs. or Isner\Mahut driving us crazy with 130mph serve for 11hrs. Interesting thought: alot of Rafa fans first were attracted to him because he seemed like a breath of fresh air right when TMF had made everything seem boring, now that he's reached that level himself who's going to come along and mix things up again?

Posted by Charlie 07/06/2010 at 01:49 PM

Fun read, looking forward to the rest tomorrow

TGIT comment a ham-fisted rehash of something that's already been gone over on another thread. Yes, duh, player A makes excuses, while not liking it when player B does as it seems to diminish from player A's great victory. Next!

Really curious how Delpo will be when he returns at the US, if he'll go deep into the tournament. Is he playing a warm-up or two, before?

Rafa boring - ha! if put like that, yes. Think the stuff I saw against Murray was really intense at certain points in the match, and Berdych didn't drive him to those levels. We were waiting though, thinking it all might break out into something a little more epic. Oh well, small sacrifice for order being restored.

Posted by JJB 07/06/2010 at 01:50 PM

Rafa has ascended into the top ten males players of the open era IMO. People are free to think otherwise, but try this: see if you can list ten others who were better. I tried it myself and couldn't get past number seven or eight.

I admire how he is usually able to right the ship against players who previously gave him lots of trouble (Berdych, Blake, Tsonga, Soderling . . . waiting to see his future matchups against a healthy Del Potro, could provide plenty of fireworks both ways!).

Posted by VE 07/06/2010 at 01:53 PM

What's interesting to me is that despite the fact we have a sport that runs for 11 months out of twelve, the period from the end of April-early July (Monte Carlo - Wimbledon) really can change everything.

Eight weeks ago the ATP landscape looked very different than it does today. To wit, Federer, Nadal, Soderling, Querrey, Isner and Berdych are all in very different places than they were leaving the American hardcourts.

If you predicted Francesca Schiavone and Vera Zvonareva in the finals of Paris and Wimbledon respectively, e-mail me, I've got a ticket to Vegas for ya.

Posted by Frances 07/06/2010 at 01:56 PM

@ just horsen

you have a good point.... many rafa fans are not used to of him being utter dominant... however i think Rafa deserves this "level" right now.. he's been fighting all his tennis career.. we want to enjoy this moment.. because for sure it will not last forever..

wonder if someone 5 years younger will challenge him!

Posted by BrooklynNY 07/06/2010 at 02:04 PM

Yeah, I've been saying this to anyone who ever said Sampras was boring. I used to always say I wish I was so good that watching me destroy someone became boring.

Kudos Rafa. Ruthless efficiency is the way to greatness. Not being exciting.

Posted by JJB 07/06/2010 at 02:06 PM

About Fed's game being so-called "prettier" than Nadal's, beauty is completely in the eye of the beholder. Who sets the standard for what defines "pretty" tennis? There is no objective standard. Good tennis is that which wins matches. Pretty tennis is completely a matter of opinion.

Posted by temsu 07/06/2010 at 02:07 PM

federer was and will never be able to play shots that nadal effortlessly produces during crunch time..@TGiT .. there it goes.. both are different players but i prefer nadal any day.

Posted by adman 07/06/2010 at 02:08 PM

the whole last week was outrageously disappointing. I was hoping for so many good match ups in the quarters the semis and I was really looking forward to the final. But all of them turned into ridiculously boring matches in where one player didn't have confidence against the person he was playing. Lu didn't even care that he got absolutely smoked by Djokovic, and Djokovic didn't seem too upset when he lost as the higher seed to Berdych. It will be very interesting once the US Open comes around. I am picking Roddick to tear through the US Open series like he did in 2006 (after having a shocking loss to Murray at Wimbly) and for him to go to the final of the US Open again. Who's your Pick?

Posted by SSG 07/06/2010 at 02:10 PM

What was dull about this match was not Rafa. It was the fact that Berdych wasn't playing at his best, not well enough to make the match exciting, and he was not the kind of opponent anyone whom thought could come back from two sets down when not playing his best. When Rafa won the first set, I felt fairly certain that would be the match. When he won the second set, the end was completely inevitable, making the third set completely lacking in drama. Had Nadal been playing against Fed or Djokovic, and one of them had been down two sets, you still couldn't assume the outcome and the third could have been more interesting. I'm a Nadal fan, so am completely happy, but agree it wasn't a very interesting afternoon.

Posted by london 07/06/2010 at 02:12 PM

Serena deserves an A++

Posted by ack 07/06/2010 at 02:19 PM

"TMF never made it seem boring. Nadal is boring. When TMF was crushing opponents his game was a marvel to watch. Shots no one has and will ever be able to duplicate."

Depends on your perspective I suppose. Nadal is NEVER boring to me. Never. Fed on the other hand, has a beautiful game but it can be boring, especially when he dominates.

Sorry, I guess I don't appreciate your man and you don't appreciate mine. I'm just glad Rafa is back. The last half of 2009 was dismal for Nadal fans. Simply dismal.

Posted by lilscot 07/06/2010 at 02:23 PM

It's always such a shame when a post goes up simply trying to praise someone's greatness and accomplishments and some troll has to go ahead and throw trash on the pile out of bitterness. Fed isn't a part of this post, it's about Serena and Rafa, and Isner/Mahut. Can we not just stick to the topic for a change? There'll be plenty of time to re-ignite the Fedal war, but for today at least let's appreciate the stupendous effort by both Serena and Rafa. It's THEIR time right now.

Posted by bobby 07/06/2010 at 02:38 PM

Berdych's performance needs careful analysis as it throws light on federer.

Berdych struggled in the early rounds showing no indication of what was to come.
in the final he was dreadful./
in the semifinal he started nervous but djokovic was even more nervous and passive gifting berdych the first set.

Djokovic woke up in the end of the second set and almost pulled it round before disgracefully making minimal effort to come back from 2-0 down in sets.

Berdych has improved a bit, he is more consistent and mentally tougher but there is NO way he could beat a fit federer on grass of all surfaces. Even if federer is in a decline (and based on his performance in Australia which was better then anything since 2007 thats unlikely) his performance would not drop off so spectacularly.
he was injured, with back injury restricting his movement and serve especially as the match wore on. A fit federer would have been in the final and it would be a 50/50 match.

So leave off the berdych praise and lets see if he repeats it at the usopen and at wimbledon next year. i know where my money is on that one.

Posted by GB 07/06/2010 at 02:56 PM

"now that he's reached that level himself who's going to come along and mix things up again?"

Just horsen: Rafa is a world away from utter dominance, where we're searching for a rival for him! In this tourney alone, he was down 2 sets to 1 twice, and he had a 4 setter as well (plus the MAndy match could easily have gone 4 sets). Plus, he's never owned the h/court season. And, for a variety of reasons, his pattern is always finding his confidence and going on an tear, for a period.

Ultimately, after the last year I just really, really wanted him to win Wimby and was super thankful for a three set win! But, I flove Rafa for being Rafa, rather than the results. The way he plays, just how much he wants each and every point, the way he won't give up..., I don't think that's going anywhere. He's gonna get himself embroiled in plenty of epic struggles, where it'll be his refusal to lose that will bring him through or not, no?

Yup, as a KAD, I'm with ack - Rafa's never boring to me:) I didn't think the somersault seemed like a rehearsed move - it me it showed just how much joy Rafa had.

Posted by GB 07/06/2010 at 03:12 PM

"Of course, if you know anything about tennis, and the subtle ways in which excellence in the sport works, you couldn’t have been bored by Nadal’s performance. The fact that this match felt like a foregone conclusion is, more than anything, a credit to his all-business mastery of the moment, and the long-term improvements he's made to his game over the years."

I loved this Steve! Thanks for once again looking at the intricacies of what Rafa does.

Posted by Rafalicious 07/06/2010 at 03:13 PM

It's Nadal's time now. Federer's time has past.

Posted by Frances 07/06/2010 at 03:14 PM


Kodus!! Actually I am happy of this three set finals for rafa now.. it will do him good on the later part of the would be great that because he has not been completely exhausted mentally in the first part (i.e. no major dramatic nor classic tennis yet)..I hope rafa can propel and deliver his best in the last slam of the year!!!

Posted by mike 07/06/2010 at 03:25 PM

steve what are you smoking? berdych pointed up at his box and laughed after he beat fed because he was so happy.

Posted by Wafto Weefie 07/06/2010 at 03:32 PM


Posted by roGER 07/06/2010 at 03:59 PM

I never found Roger Federer boring, in fact his game is often at it's wonderful best when he's crushing some unfortunate journeyman and producing sublime "Matrix" tennis.

On the other hand, I actually changed channels while enduring some of Pete's victories, esp on grass. I've never come across a more unpopular Wimbledon champion - something the sports press would only allude to every once in a while.

Rafa is somewhere in between. I love his speed and power around the court, and his wonderful simple approach to the mental side of the game; "I play the next point, no?"

But I hate his ridiculously long service routine, and his mind games before the start of a match - so unnecessary! Maybe I'm jealous too - half the women in the office (aged between 21 and 60+) want to bed the guy :-)

Posted by yeahisaidit 07/06/2010 at 04:34 PM

S.heer E.nergy + E.motion + N.uclear A.mbition=SERENA, and this Wimbledon she was just simply the MOST...Congrats to her, Rafa, all the challengers, winners, organizers etc...You all gave me life over the two weeks of the tourney, THANK YOU...!

Posted by espnalanaldo 07/06/2010 at 04:57 PM

I believe Rafa and Uncle Tony had it all planned out all along --- master the clay first, then grass, catapulting him to a Borgian aura of excellence, then hardcourts later.

The US open can wait, but the OLYMPICS comes only once every 4 years. Thus, the immediacy of the opportunity to get the Gold Medal vs. a New York title. I think that was brilliant; convinced now that that is exactly how it went down considering the extent of Rafa's schedule in 2008. Sure enough, it had its attendant risk and cost. Dismal 2009.

But now, a resurgent, newly re-minted No. 1 Nadal is concentrating on the fast US Open hardcourt. Interestingly, during the interview after the Roland Garros final, Rafa mentioned, "on to the US open", as if the Wimby is already a given. And indeed, it was.

I have no doubt that Rafa and Uncle Tony are going to surprise us at the US Open with flatter serves, and since Rafa is now very confident and successful at the net, it will be a RAFA3.0, the serve and volleyer.

This is not beyond the realm of possibilities. Rafa has already demonstrated that he can transition from clay to grass. And now, as he said it, "you find a way to win", regardless of the surface.

New York, here we come!

Ooops, here comes RAFA!

Posted by espnalanaldo 07/06/2010 at 05:01 PM

Too premature, but I think Roger will claim injury at the US Open when he loses in the 3rd round.

See you all next month.

Posted by ellen 07/06/2010 at 05:18 PM

The 2010 Wimbledon Final was really boring!

Posted by Charlie 07/06/2010 at 05:19 PM

wow, ellen, you really brought something new to the table here!

Posted by Nam1 07/06/2010 at 05:25 PM

Ellen, no one forced you to watch, there's a world of stuff to do out there, in fact you can go try some of that right now , if you like!!!

Posted by leigh 07/06/2010 at 05:39 PM

Mike, I agree with you about the pointing and laughing. Berdych was so happy.
I also think the pointing was giving his box of supporters some credit for the win.
I really like Berdych. I like his game, his personality, and even his post-match comments
were right on in my opinion. (About Fed talking about injuries after their match, Berdych said
something like "he might have been making an excuse. We all do it.") So no problem with me
that Berdych was trying to understand why he didn't play as well as he thought he was capable.
Two weeks of best out of five matches have to be brutal. Did you see Soderling's feet?
They are probably pretty sore after almost every match.

Posted by Mike 07/06/2010 at 05:39 PM

I'm a Fed KAD .... but a Rafa Fan, as well, so I hate to see either put down to raise the other. It's been Rafa's + Fed's time ... for the past 6 years. Rafa's on a roll now ... I hope Fed has a roll or 2 left in him, you never know. ;)

Posted by ack 07/06/2010 at 05:40 PM

Yep. If it's boring, move on. (Unless you're being held prisoner by some sadistic tennis fans and /or getting paid to watch.) I can't tell you how many years I didn't watch the Wimbledon final because I wasn't interested in the finalists or their games.

I thought the Nadal/Murray match was much better and I had hoped Berdych would give our boy Rafa a little more trouble. But, oh well, I certainly didn't want to see another serving-exhibition-too-long-no-tie-break-five-setter.

So it's all good!

Posted by leigh 07/06/2010 at 05:42 PM

Not Soderling's feet being sore after every match, but the players being sore after every

Posted by Mike 07/06/2010 at 05:44 PM

Leigh, that was mike ... I'm Mike, the Fed KAD from NJ, USA that has been in and out the past 3 years, or so. Not sure who the other mike is. mike ... feel free to identify yourself if you wish. ;)

Posted by leigh 07/06/2010 at 05:53 PM

Hi Mike,
I'm pretty new here. Don't know what all the abbreviaitions mean, but catching on.
I'm also a Rafa fan. Enjoyed DelPotro's summer last year and the summer before.
So sorry he is injured this year. (I'm back - I had to look up how old he is - He'll be 22
September 23rd - so still young to make a come-back next year.)

Posted by leigh 07/06/2010 at 05:55 PM

Well, I'm out to go do a 'world of stuff'
Thanks for all your posts!

Posted by Gotham21 07/06/2010 at 05:56 PM

oh, that's right, only Nadal is allowed to claim injury and call medical time outs at crucial points in the match.
I get it.

As for Berdych, he played a horrible final.

Posted by Mike 07/06/2010 at 05:58 PM

Hi, Leigh. I'm also intrigued by Delpo's rise ... such a shame that he ran into so many problems just as things were getting good for him. Hope he can make a complete recovery and pick up where he left off.

Posted by Steve 07/06/2010 at 05:58 PM

The berdych pointing thing was just kind of a joke by me. he was happy, obviously, but he seemed to be celebrating some kind of inside joke. that's all.

but nonetheless happy, yes, you are correct.

and no, i'm not calling nadal boring myself. but it's a label that gets pinned on all dominant champs at some point; at least their dominance itself gets called boring. this, and the sod final in paris, were the first time i heard people say a slam final featuring nadal was dull.

Posted by Abraxas 07/06/2010 at 06:15 PM

Nadal is a true gentleman (as is Federer), but Rafa has now crushed Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych in the finals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Nadal will never said it openly, but he certainly intended to crush both Soderling and Berdych, and break their spirits, and he did.

Why? A bit of history:

Berdych tried to humiliate Nadal when he won their match in the Madrid Masters in 2006. It would be the last time Berdych would win one set, let alone a match against Nadal. That’s seven down and counting.

Infamously, Soderling publicly imitated and ridiculed Nadal during their Wimbledon match in 2007. Yes, he beat an injured Nadal last year at the French Open, but Soderling has been now been slaughtered by Nadal in the finals of the French and the semis of Wimbledon.

Rafa and Roger have elevated the game of tennis and have done so with class. I am happy to see Rafa crush the arrogant and crass Soderling and Berdych.

Posted by RC27 07/06/2010 at 06:26 PM

What happened to the guy who thought rafa did not deserve to be in the final? Rafa is once again #1 and by a large margin. 2009 was an aberration due to injury and familial distress. By the way I think Rafa has a shot at Feds 16GS, unfortunately the only thing that can stop him are physical problems due to his style of play. Here is to hoping his team manages his schedule with a tactical eye on the majors! At the end of his career this is what he will be judged by, not masters series wins.

Posted by Aube,Rafa seconds Serebaby... 07/06/2010 at 06:48 PM

London,my point exactly!!!I think Serebaby deserves A +infinity...She was exquisite!!!
I'm going to by Sports Illustrated now,I'm so happy for her and also I want to spare some of the joy so when comes the chastising of her beautiful personality, I can go back and fetch some joy!!!Yo-hoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!

Posted by Abraxas 07/06/2010 at 06:51 PM

This is what Andy Murray had to say after he lost to Nadal in the semis:

"I love watching him play. He's my favorite to watch, and I hope he wins. He can take as long as he wants on any point, I don't care. I just love watching the guy play."

Isn’t it interesting that the world’s top four tennis players can genuinely like and admire one another? They have class on and off the tennis court.

Posted by Melanie 07/06/2010 at 07:15 PM

I think the match lacked that tension that the past few Wimby finals have all displayed, instead of a lot of breaks and drama, Rafa just fired up at the big moments and shout out Berdych. I think its a bit unfair to say berdych didnt play well, my opinion is that he wasnt allowed to play well. He didnt get a lot of short balls to smack for winners, instead he was being moved side to side to side to side, and facing balls that had a lot of spin or were low slices. He was out-thought and when Rafa started to turn the screws and play a few magical shots at the big moments he couldnt handle it.

Seems quite ironic that for his whole career Rafa has been admonished by people for running for too many balls, playing 'crazy' as Rafa himself would put it, and yet when he plays efficient and ruthless tennis, only really going into 5th gear when he needs to he gets told he is boring!

While the game lacked the passion of 2008 it showed to me that Rafa has learnt a lot from 2009, that must have really hurt him, and once again he has shown what a true champion he is by learning and improving his game.

I have a feeling that the US Open is going to be big for him this season, and another important thing is that he has got his 'aura' back so that probably gives him a bit of a head start anyway.

Vamos Rafa, and its going to be a long few weeks until Montreal!

Posted by Sher 07/06/2010 at 07:19 PM

Do wait, is it the weak era time again? Cause if Rafa's victories are "brilliantly routine" then obviously ;-)

Posted by wilson75 07/06/2010 at 07:30 PM

As I said the other day when Steve called Federer's match against Clement or Melzer(can't remember which one) a snoozefest, it means that he doing everything right. Steve, I'm glad you've come around to seeing things my way.

Posted by Ryota 07/06/2010 at 07:42 PM

Can't wait for New York. That's all I'm going to say err... write.

Posted by andrea 07/06/2010 at 07:43 PM

i agree with steve's post - good enough to be called boring. i don't take it as a slag. i mean, when you are that good, you are that good. many a fed match have been called boring cos the end result was always the same - he won. i personally like this part of fed's career...where it's not a given he will win. it's agonizing, but his dominant ways were over a while ago so i'm used to it.

it's too bad that women's finals have been so dull at the GS's as of late. we need another davenport/williams to kick start the WTA tour.

Posted by Steve 07/06/2010 at 07:44 PM

Didn't see your comment, wilson75, but yeah, agreed

Posted by mightywind 07/06/2010 at 07:54 PM

There's quite a few obituaries being written about Roger. Though I am as big a Fedhead as anyone, I cannot dismiss them. I've been watching the same matches that everyone else has since Melbourne. All I can say is that I hope that Roger still has some great tennis left in him. Lopsided as it is, the Nadal/Federer rivalry is our version of the great rivalries of the past. Evert/Navratilova, McEnroe/Borg, Agassi/Sampras. How could you not be thrilled at the prospect of another chapter, even if your guy is getting pounded? I hope both are resting up, and I hope Roger is ready to finally concede that what he did in 2003-2007 is no longer available to him. Rafa is determined to win the Open. I don't think they've ever played each other there. Though it's probable that they will be on the same side of the draw, even a semifinal would do. New York. Under the lights. It's time.

Posted by Autleafaki 07/06/2010 at 08:06 PM

Have been waiting for 2 days to read this, Steve. Loved it to bits. Respectful, in awe of the performance but rational enough not to jump into predictions of future unknown grandeur for Rafa and Serena (as other tennis columns). The ending on Rafa's review is priceless.

Posted by Wafto Weefie 07/06/2010 at 08:12 PM


Posted by Steve 07/06/2010 at 08:12 PM

Thanks, autleafaki. glad to see the last line's meaning is clear to you.

mightywind: yes, it's about time nadal and federer played at the open. it would complete the fedal career slam. thanks for the comment

Posted by Michelle 07/06/2010 at 08:27 PM

Love this article Steve. Excellent post. I particularly paid attention to the last lines of both Rafa's and Serena's reviews. No one has spoken about your comment about Serena and not Venus going down as the best grass court player of this generation. I have to agree with that. I love Venus but her serve is a total liability. She is so so stubborn though that she has tricked herself into believing that she has a great serve. It is a bad serve that is totally unreliable. She would do good to watch her sister more because SERENA HAS THE BEST SERVE IN WOMEN'S TENNIS EVER!!!!! This is without dispute. Venus' serve goes south and so does the rest of her game. She needs to reinvent her game and come up with new tools. She and Federer both need to reinvent their games. People know how to beat them now with efficiency. Serena can still say if she is playing at her best, she can beat anyone on the other side of the net because she is that GOOD!!! She does everything good and something she and Rafa have TONS OF is MENTAL STAMINA!!!! I am sick and tired of hearing that Sharapova is tough as nails....bull.... if her serve goes south, her game falls apart as well...she and Venus both still serve a bunch of double faults. No one on the female tour has the mental capacity of Serena....NO ONE!! Rafa is a MENTAL BEAST on the court. He literally played "cat and mouse" with both Murray and Berdych and then went in for the kill at the right momemt. Murray would have beaten several opponents as well as he played Rafa but Rafa was just a step above him for the match.

Thanks again Steve for the quality article.

Posted by zolarafa (Hail TMR, the mighty Rafa!) 07/06/2010 at 08:28 PM


great writing as always. You are the Rafa of the sportswriters!

Federer is only 20 points behind Djoko. he can get to number 2 at any time. Rafa is in a very good position now and will perhaps finish the year as the number 1. I am enjoying his achievements and wins. But Federer is still very much alive. He lost in the QF of a GS. when Rafa was down last year and everyone was writing about him being dead and finished, I think they did not realize how hurtful those comments/articles were to the fans. Same here. If Federer is done, we will see it in the next months. If not ( which is the case probably), you might see a revitalized Federer, rested and hungry to win in the US series.

I would like Rafa to win the US open and have the career slam. He has been working so hard, making all these changes in his game. Hopefully he will get a results for all that hard work.

Posted by zolarafa (Hail TMR, the mighty Rafa!) 07/06/2010 at 08:31 PM


loved your comment @4:57 pm!

NY, he comes!

Posted by FED FRED 07/06/2010 at 08:46 PM

FED is boring.

He is a dink artist and that is why the big boys
push him all over the court.

Time to hear your excuses FED fans.
He will need them for the USO.

Posted by Blake 07/06/2010 at 09:40 PM

Rafa might of won 'boring', but to those who question whether that'll affect his fan base: it won't :P It's his energy that makes him exciting. He showed that throughout the tournament, and still over the years- all the fist pumps, the running jump celebrations after winning etc... he's like a Rich man's Tsonga :P As flash and entertaining as the frenchmen Tsonga/Monfils are, you get to see alot more of it from Rafa - Since he wins more often. And it's pretty much just a bonus that he has some incredibly wicked shots to watch as well :P

Posted by sajor 07/06/2010 at 09:43 PM

good read

Posted by zolarafa (Hail TMR, the mighty Rafa!) 07/06/2010 at 09:46 PM

I for one, did not find the final boring at all. Never during the match I thought it was a given.
We also should remember the Rafa-Soderling and Rafa-Murray match. Those were really memorable.

Posted by Evelyn 07/06/2010 at 09:46 PM

Yes, this is the time of nadal. He is a relentless champion who will dominate for a couple of years before the muscular game is superceded by someone else.
Why am I sad about this?
He obviously does not have the value system/social awareness we need in a champion. As he strut around, promoting a half million dollar watch, I felt sad that this outrageous demonstration of excess within in a world that has so much poverty, has not been the object of tennis officials and journalists harsh criticism
Rafa--join Serena or Roger in their next trips to Africa. Open your eyes and re-shape your value system

Posted by Northern boy 07/06/2010 at 10:00 PM

What a gorgeous picture of Serena. She obviously had that dress made precisely to match the gold flecked Venus Rosewater dish. Nice pairing.

The main difference I saw between Del Potro and Soderling vs. Berdych was that when they made the final, Soderling and Del Potro were still swinging away, doing what got them there. Del Potro obviously executed to a better extent (but did have those key points that went his way, like the two DTL FHs that saved his 2nd set, as opposed to Soderling's first BP where he misses the DTL BH long) but still. Berdych, however, completely stopped hitting through the ball after he lost serve. So I think there's an issue of nerve there.

Posted by Rafalicious 07/06/2010 at 10:01 PM

Oh Evelyn, get your facts straight! First of all, all top athletes have endorsements and Rafa has a foundation. I suggest you try using google sometime before you shoot your mouth off.

Posted by zolarafa 07/06/2010 at 10:30 PM

why so much anger and hostility?

tennis is as much about business as about sports. Rafa is building schools in India and has been very active with Iberostar, an organization for disabled children.

Do you have the same outrage when you see Federer using million dollar private jets to travel? Or pays $800 for a hair cut? Has Anns Wintour in her box?

Posted by Nadal THE GREAT 07/06/2010 at 10:32 PM

Sher-Weak era? No way! Nadal had to win against Federer for five of his eight slams! And in the final, he had to beat the player who beat Federer.(Soderling and Berdych) It is true testament to his strenth.

Posted by Nadal THE GREAT 07/06/2010 at 10:34 PM

If you don't have respect for a legend, then you don't have respect for TENNIS.

Posted by Kombo 07/06/2010 at 10:49 PM

styles make fights. Delpo has shown he has what it takes to hit through Rafa's topspin. Berdych eased off the pace to keep his errors down (bad idea, just keep swinging, win or lose), Soderling doesn't move well enough, neither Sodes or Berdych hit that well on the run, Murray's serve, forehand and aptitude for offense aren't good enough, these other guys aint it, and Feds getting old. Rafa's the best healthy player and his nemisis apparent is out injured. The USO should be interesting.

we'll see on the court.

Posted by Kombo 07/06/2010 at 10:54 PM

hopefully Gulbis recovers well and keep improving as he was before he got injured.

Posted by ubertennisfan 07/07/2010 at 12:12 AM

Great article. I can't believe it. I was just thinking in the shower this morning, "If I was to write a blog about tennis today, I would say...":

1. Nadal was actually quite a poor player during his 1st 2 FO campaigns, compared to his peak. I remember watching him win, DESPITE having a really quite unimpressive serve that was simply spun in slowly to start the point - and also noticing at the time that his backhand wasn't particularly powerful. He didn't slice much and probably wasn't so good at it during those years.

2. Nadal improved steadily each year, most noticeably at Wimby where he got closer and closer and eventually beat Fed. The serve got more powerful, varied, and effective. His backhand became a flatter more powerful belting stroke. His slice became the incredible heavily spun shot it is now, capable of just clearing the net, and causing errors from top players like Murray in this Wimby. We started to see all kinds of incredible angles, volleys, the full repertoire which we always associated with TMF. At his age I think it's entirely possible if he keeps focused, that he will improve further.

3. Will Nadal reach GOATness? Contrasting yet semi-agreeing with the rather rabid comment someone made about Nadal vs Fed (i.e. that Nadal might get 17 GS and if even if he got 12 he would still be undeniably the GOAT) on another article... My view is that I had for a long time thought Nadal would be the GOAT. Then his knees failed, Fed took FO, and now my view is that Nadal COULD quite possibly reach GOATness. I think, honestly, he has proven that he has Fed's number. But GOATness isn't just about head-to-head, it's achievement across the majors and dominance over the broader field. Yes, the other events can largely be ignored in my book. Fed's GOATness partly derives from his ability to beat all the other players across all the slams. Nadal can't yet claim GOATness because, although he beats Fed, he hasn't dominated repeatedly at the US and Aus. For Nadal to reach GOATness in my view, he has to take at least one US, and also hit 16 (or Fed's eventual total). Then he will be undeniably the GOAT.

4. I will concede that Fed's GOATness has a question mark/asterisk because of Nadal's injury and absence from FO, and the head-to-head. But the question mark disappears if if Nadal stops winning soon and fails to get a US.

5. Nadal is my overall favorite but you have to respect TMF's incredible play and achievements. I think Nadal will eventually prove to be better but the BIG question mark is how much the knees will cause problems! Nadal is as complete or more so than Fed, now. The fact is, his serve is probably not quite as good, but he's equal or better in many departments. Speed around the court, he is clearly the champ. Sheer grit, you have to give Nadal the edge although Fed is no quitter.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/07/2010 at 01:10 AM

Before I start may I say Rafa still has a head to head over Del Potro okay

"rolls eyes" lol!

Steve As I have posted before Rafa has been playing "smarter tennis" even in the Caly season and he carried that forward to Wimbledon

This Rafa fan never finds him boring at all.He brings everything on court with him and then some.

I feel for his passion first many years ago and then got into his game.He reminded me of a younger version of Agassi in soo many ways.

Rafa's serve has improved out of sight.It gave him many free points at Wimbledon.He mixed up his serve soo well especially in the final.He kept Tomas off balance with it.Rafa might not have the fastest serve but his placement is the key.At one time during the final Rafa had more aces than Tomas lol!.

Rafa did what he had to do in the final and just upped his game when he had to.He didnt really have to exert himself at all.Playing the big points soo well like he does.

I hope that transends into the hard court season.He will need his serve there for sure giving him those free easy points.

Rafa in the past has always arrived at the hard court season before the USO exhasuted.Hopefully he has learnt his lesson.I think he and Toni both see this.Actually he commentated on that fact during one of his interviews after winning Wimbledon.

Anyway a lot of tennis to be played before then.I am soo proud that he again won the Channel Slam just one behind Borg now.No mean feat at all.Some tennis experts agree this is the hardest thing to accomplish.

Vamos Rafa!!! soo happy to see you back.The tennis world needs you.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/07/2010 at 01:20 AM

Steve I would also like to give a big shout out to Tomas.I spoke to him personally at Medibank earlier this year.Such a lovely guy.I told him he has always been a favourite player of mine and with his potential should be in the top 10.He replied you are too kind.

I believe with the change of coach Tomas has "new belief".I think his recent great results have been a testament to that.

To defeat Roger on his home turf at Wimbledon is no mean feat.

Even though he lost in the final I hope he takes the positives and builds on them for the rest of the season.

Well done Tomas.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/07/2010 at 01:24 AM

Steve Serena marked her spot with the other womans greats with her Wimbledon win.

I saw Serena live in the final at the AO earlier this year.Apart from her great athletic ability etc to me the one thing that stands her apart from the rest of the ladies is once she has made up her mind nothing stands in her way.The mark of a champion player.

Well done Serena.Take a huge Bow cause you deserve it.I hope your love and passion for the game spurs you on to play for sometime yet.

Posted by wimby moon 07/07/2010 at 02:34 AM

Steve, Rafa said in one of his interviews, when asked about it, that he did not plan to do the little somersault. He said it was just the way he felt at the moment. I totally got the impression it was just joyful exuberance. Seems crazy to even think it was "rehearsed." Perhaps it's something he has done before in a relaxed setting so it had a natural agile feel to it and that's what you mis-interpreted as "rehearsed." Frankly, Rafa is the last person that would rehearse something like that. I'm surprised you're so far off on this.

Posted by EvanG 07/07/2010 at 02:45 AM

Seems that Rafa besides all the virtues he has as a player, has also an excellent team of coaches (lead by Toni Nadal), that study Nadal's opponents and advise him on right strategy to follow on every match.

Posted by Tennisfan 150 07/07/2010 at 05:20 AM

Been a while since I've read your blog but I'm glad I did now :). I suppose to a casual viewer the Final would have seemed boring but to me, it wasn't in the least. Though it wasn't high quality as say Nadal's SF match, it was the final Nadal had earned for himself. Pretty much every match at Wimbledon with the exception of the Nishikori and 4th round match, Nadal had to FIGHT! He had to time and again raise his game, hold his nerve.. He had two amazing five setters. He elevated his game to another level against Soderling and Murray (esp. vs Murray). His SF performance was just breathtaking to watch. Very reminiscent to his 2008 self.

Posted by Mike 07/07/2010 at 05:56 AM

Man, I hate getting caught up in this ... but there's only so much you can stand.

Fed get's no asterisk .... for anything. You have to be in it to win it, and that includes knowing your body's limits and playing within them. We're quick to acknowledge every ill Rafa succumbs to, but Fed's mono and subsequent back issues may have allowed Rafa to pile up the other than clay wins against Fed. Take a look at the stats ... prior to mid 2008, Fed edged the H@H ... and nearly all of Rafa's wins were on clay.

I understand Rafa fans being psyched about his rise (I am one, as well), aided a bit by Fed's decline (which has been happening, albeit slowly, since the mono came on the scene ... with splashes of brilliance, he's simply never been the same). Due to the age difference, there was no doubt going to be a time where Rafa was going to have 'his time', without Fed being as big a factor as he was in the past. But to make predictions when we haven't had the Rafa declining years built into the equation is simply ridiculous.

Long story short ... be willing to listen to ALL the facts, not the just the ones that favor your fave.

Posted by steven 07/07/2010 at 06:56 AM

if being called boring means winning, so be it! what matters is that rafa wins even not playing his best and turning his liabilities into assets is something very few players posses. rafael nadal is an extraordinary tennis player and unquestionably the best. let's leave it as such!

Posted by TeamNadal 07/07/2010 at 07:59 AM

"The fact that this match felt like a foregone conclusion is, more than anything, a credit to his all-business mastery of the moment, and the long-term improvements he's made to his game over the years."

So true! The improvements he always strives for is making him a more complete player. If he can continue to manage his schedule properly and stay healthy, there is no limit to what he can achieve.

I am so looking forward to this year's USO.

Posted by Steve 07/07/2010 at 09:15 AM

wimbymoon: just a joke on my part about nadal skipping practice to rehearse his somersault. it did look to me like he'd done it before, but i believe it was spontaneous. he should give celebration lessons once he retires

ubertennis fan: "great article. i can't believe it."

i will take this as a compliment. i'm just trying to get better, one post at a time.

Posted by Frances 07/07/2010 at 11:33 AM

This is one of the very few years that rafa kads ACTUALLY look forward to USO



Posted by Tennisfan 150 07/07/2010 at 11:42 AM

i'm just trying to get better, one post at a time.

Your posts are always great, Steve. You and Neil Harman are my favourite tennis writers, especially when it comes to Nadal. You really get the guy and his game.

Looking forward to another Nadal centric post by you. IW Rafa sightings is one of my favourite Nadal related posts/article.

Posted by TennisRone 1000 07/07/2010 at 01:09 PM

really going out on a limb awarding these 'A's, eh, Steve?

Ok.....that's little is hard to not assign them out there. Although I think Vera's mid-match meltdown during her doubles semi-final may have shown her reverting to her true self, and I find that a bit difficult to stomach. Only b/c you have a teammate there you are fighting for....not just yourself. I don't know if she apologized to Vesnina afterwards.....but i thought she diminshed her TEAM's chance for a Wimby trophy after what really was a personal singles triumph for Vera being in the final.

Hey.....Rafa is #1 right now. Let's see how it translates to the hardcourt season. This is kind of what we are all waiting for. I don't know if the pressure is similar to the kind Federer faced overcoming the French Open....but it has to be a little more pronounced than usual.

I thought the mini-trophy ceremony was a very nice touch. I think it was very amazing to recognize two men that went beyond what the body's potential really should be to entertain us.....and.....frankly.....risk their careers in the process.

However....I think it's time that we institute the 5th set TB. If only for the players health. I don't need a 30-28 final set, personally. a 30-28 TB would be just as epic.....and I'd be home 2 days and 6 hours sooner....and my favorite player would have a chance to make it thru the second round.

Posted by TennisRone 1000 07/07/2010 at 01:20 PM

....I meant doubles final......clearly post-lunch food coma hasn't subsided.....

Posted by Legoboy 07/07/2010 at 04:51 PM

Rafa and Serena.....King and Queen....and well deserved.
I'm contended, even if I wasn't ripped to the edge of my seat.
Applaude their style and game....they DESERVED it!

Posted by wimby moon 07/07/2010 at 04:56 PM

Hey Steve, so it was a joke...that makes more sense. The somersault felt very spontaneous to me and it was a joy to see Rafa so happy after all the injuries and tribulations up till recently. You're right - Rafa should give celebration lessons - he does it with so much heart and spirit. Thanks for the write-up.

Posted by CPM 07/07/2010 at 07:42 PM

Tennis is a sport. If you want somebody to entretain you go to the movie. Nadal is number one because he found a way to win no to be a clown.

Posted by sigmund 07/07/2010 at 08:03 PM

Nadal boring? It's not the fact that he wins all the time, it's the WAY he wins that's far from boring. He wins points that NO OTHER player could have won thanks to his speed an athleticism. As one commentator said, against Nadal, you have to hit 5 winners more than any other opponent, and you might STILL lose the point. The way that guy wills himself to get to a ball, the way he thinks (yes, he's a thinker) and fights through each point is the most exciting thing happening in tennis right now.

Federer on the other hand - beautiful game, beautiful guy. But there is just something about his "I am soooo aware of my beautiful technique and how all the other players gush about me" attitude that makes me not enjoy watching him and think he is incredibly boring. And, I don't like his over-the-top Wimbly outfits.

Posted by Sherlock 07/08/2010 at 12:28 AM

"Considering that Nadal has beaten Berdych in their last seven matches without dropping a set, how do we like that template now?"

Steve, great stuff as usual. Love your writing. Thanks for the line above. After those early Berdych wins, several folks loved to proclaim that Rafa would always suffer at the hands of the Berdych's of the world. Hmm, maybe not so much, eh? :)

Posted by jf 07/10/2010 at 12:17 AM

i think you guys overestimate djocovitch this year; really; he gave up against berdych after down 2-0. And something has happened to his serve in the last 8-9 months; it just isn't there, not just when he needs it when it really isn't there; Comapre this time last year when he and nadal played some of the best clay court tennis matches ever against one another...and djocovitch went on to great things throughout the Autmun season...but this year is really playing like a wet fish. If davydenko and del potro hadn't been injured he would no longer be in the top 5

on murray : just re-watched the quarter between nadal and murray - set 1 and 2 nadal took off of murray, in some great tennis from both; but in set 3 murray gave it to nadal, really. WHich makes me realize how much of a "mental" game tennis is, how much self belief and psychology matter. And it seems that nadal, after a very ough 2009 in terms of getting crushed by players who he regularly had beaten (del potro davydenko djokovitch....)has been able to recapture that self belief, sustained self belief even when down

go rafa

think that mental toughness and discipline is just not there for djokovic and murray

Posted by Kwaku 07/10/2010 at 05:29 AM

"Interestingly, during the interview after the Roland Garros final, Rafa mentioned, "on to the US open", as if the Wimby is already a given."
Yes, I was also a bit surprised by that, and even if I never thought Wimby was a given, I interpreted it as good news for Rafa for both Wimby and the USO.

your news are very old re: Rafa-Berdych. Tomas made a mistake with his gesture to the Madrid public to shut up, but it was long ago and Rafa understands everybody makes mistakes. There is no bad feelings between the two any more (and for a long time now). Rafa beat him the last 7 times just because that's his business model :-D
As for Sod I think it's probably similar by now, but I'm not so sure (although I'm sure it will, sooner rather than later).

What is GE?
What is Kool Aid, and how does it connect with KADism?

Posted by GB 07/12/2010 at 10:35 AM

"Interestingly, during the interview after the Roland Garros final, Rafa mentioned, "on to the US open", as if the Wimby is already a given."

IMO, Rafa mentioned the USO then because JMac had just finished telling him about his many fans in the US, so he was like "see you at the USO". I didn't think it meant that he was getting ahead of himself.

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