Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Reading the Readers: Lots Left to Prove
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Reading the Readers: Lots Left to Prove 10/21/2010 - 4:31 PM

Va Federer has won. Azarenka is in. Jankovic is tired. New Haven is now women’s only. Forstmann is, among other things, a pretty hilarious interview. Now that we know the latest, it seems like a good time to look back and amplify a few discussions that took place in the commentary box here over the past week.

***

Steve. I hate to pile on...but a post like this is exactly why I can't stand Michael Silver--he picks the easiest, craziest, most moronic readers to respond to. Please, just don't start nit-picking at people's grammar. That's the worst.

Maybe you just needed to get this out of your system. You're too good a writer to bother with crazy fans. Just keep doing your thing.

Sigh...all hail the democracy of the internet message board!Ryan

No, I won't be turning into Michael Silver or Howard Stern. But at the same time, it’s easier said than done to ignore nasty comments when they’re directed at you, no matter how random or irrelevant they are. The main thing is I that wanted the tone to improve here. My job at the magazine/website has changed a little, and I have more time to read and respond to comments, so I’d like it if I, as well as everyone else, got as much out of them as possible.

***

The problem now with Murray is that the UK media only have him as a tennis hope and it has been like that since about the beginning of his professional career, as, then, both Henman and Rusedski were too near retirement to be any serious prospect for a GS anymore. So they jumped on Murray, who, even then, showed he should have what it takes to go all the way (after all, he won the US Open Junior event just the fall before).crazycaro21

Murray handles the pressure at the Slams pretty well. He does a good job of detaching himself from it, but it gets to him eventually. It did at Wimbledon each of the last two years, and it did in the Aussie final. He wouldn’t be human if it didn’t. As someone who has seen the kind of cartoonish scrutiny he’s under during Wimbledon in the U.K., I’m amazed he handles it as well as he does. Once he gets close enough to the title so that it begins to seem like a real possibility, that’s when it hits.

There was some talk after Murray’s title in Shanghai that winning there would only hurt his chances at the Aussie Open next year, because the expectations would grow. I’m not sure about that. There are reporters from the major British papers following Murray everywhere, like the President of the United States, no matter how well he does. There will be stories about him virtually every day whether he wins tournaments or loses in the early rounds. The hopes and expectations and recriminations are automatic for him Even losing can't save him.

***

What's wrong with saying fed has nothing to prove?

it's true. i think it's a statement that indicates that he has achieved so much, and stands as one of the best ever, that there is indeed nothing left to do to vindicate that position. it has already been established. no need for proof. it's not a rationalisation for losses, imo

this observation doesn't conflict with the continued desire to see him play and play well, and adjust to the new circumstances.Susan

And I say that the fact that these "nothing left to prove" comments (just saw one from a Rafa fan about Rafa the other day) tend to come -- no, ALWAYS come -- right after a loss by Roger is very revealing. When this topic was discussed recently on another forum, someone described such comments (nothing to prove, gravy, icing on the cake etc) as "self-comforting" for fans after a loss by their fave. Totally unnecessary, I think.

Also, I repeat...Federer's words (see his first presser on returning to the Tour about how he can beat these guys) and his actions (see his hiring of Annacone and his trying new things) show that he thinks that he has a lot more to do and to prove, if not to SOME of his happy and satisfied fans, then to himself. I admire this attitude, the attitude of a real champion.—Ruth

This was a mini-dialogue earlier in the week between two smart posters, Susan and Ruth. The argument is over the appropriateness of fans downplaying their favorite player’s loss by saying that he’s done so much already that “he has nothing left to prove.”

Susan’s point is that it’s true that, say, Federer and Nadal have nothing more to prove, because each of them has won all four majors and established themselves as all-time greats. Ruth’s is that it’s a protective cushion, a way of inoculating player and fan from the ramifications of any defeat. “OK, Federer lost to Nadal again, but everything is gravy after the French 2009 anyway.” “OK, Nadal isn’t the master of hard courts, but he’s still won all the majors.”

I side with Ruth on this one. Federer and Nadal have proven themselves, that part is true. But if they had nothing left to prove, they would retire. Nadal wants to prove he can stay at No. 1, he wants to make a run up the major title ladder. Imagine what he would feel like if he could surpass Borg in French Open titles; I’m sure it has started to cross his mind, and I’m sure he knows it would be an incredible achievement. Federer wants to get back to No. 1, and I’m sure he wants to change the head to head trend against Nadal. Not that he’s thinking, “I have to get it to 11-15 before I retire," but the natural competitor in him still believes that he’s good enough to beat Nadal anytime they meet. You know deep down Federer still believes he's the man. He wouldn't bother playing if he didn't want to show that to the world.

I mentioned “pre-cuses” last week, where you downplay your favorite player’s chances before a tournament. “Nothing left to prove” sounds like a post-cuse—from now on, no loss matters. Michael Jordan, the Federer/Nadal of basketball, said that no matter many titles he won, he went into every game trying to prove himself—to the crowd, to his opponents, to the world, to himself—all over again. He didn’t even have to think about it. Once he started playing, the competitive juices came over him again just like the first time he’d played. That’s why these kinds of guys—the self-motivated guys—keep going. That's why they love to do it even when they’ve already won it all. Because they always have something to prove, and all of their wins and losses matter.

***

I've never thought of it this way before, but I wonder how much the spectator fatigue during the seemingly 2nd tier fall season is due to....too much tennis on television.

Amidst all the hoo-ing and hah-ing over how poorly tennis is served by the cool medium (see: Wertheim today), virtually all of which I agree with, it's worth noting that before Tennis Channel, ESPN and online streams tennis fans rarely got to watch tennis live and could barely keep up with players' wins and losses. For most of the tennis world, most of the time, getting tennis news was a matter of scouring the box scores in a newspaper. Even that wasn't consistent; there were times we'd be able to follow the first few rounds of a tourney and then not know anything until it was over!

I wonder if, as a consequence of that, tournaments like the Stockholm Open weren't better attended. After all, it was the only opportunity for Stockholmians to see live professional tennis. Today they might not only be able to watch their hometown tournament on Swedish television, but they've been able to watch tennis all year long to a degree that far outstrips what was available when Mac beat Borg.
Is too much of a good thing is killing the fall season?Skip1515

Too much tennis on TV—I don’t know. I could see it working both ways. You see a lot of Federer on the tube, and that makes you want to see him in person. Or you see him so often already, you’re less likely to make a special trip to a city to see him one more time, even if it is live. There must be theories of publicity that address this—how much is too much exposure for a celebrity or athlete or politician? One thing that’s interesting to me is how the Internet will affect viewing. Being able to watch virtually every professional match anywhere on my computer almost makes waiting for the weekend to see the semis on the Tennis Channel feel ridiculously dated and  limited, the equivalent of watching the Wimbledon men’s final chopped to pieces on tape delay at 4:00 in the afternoon (yes, that happened). Maybe we’ll reach a time when there will be no bleachers at all; we’ll all be watching at home or at work.

Fan interest grows in an area when there’s a local star to cheer, and then fades when the star fades. Borg, and the next generation, in Sweden; Becker and Graf in Germany; Connors and Mac in America. No accident that Ion Tiriac took his tournament in Stuttgart and hauled it to Madrid a few years ago.

***

The number of Tier II players (and Tier III players), on the other hand, has been very strong. These would include Ivanovic and Jankovic, Dementieva, Azarenka, Kuznetsova, Safina and more recently Stosur. Wozniacki must be included in this group given her record, or lack thereof, against top 10 and top Tier competition. These players are all fine, talented, even very interesting and exciting players who share a common trait of great athleticism. But they have proved themselves undependable, and have excelled only in the absence of more accomplished players. Dementieva, Ivanovic and Jankovic have at least shown themselves capable of knocking off the big name players with signature wins, but all have faltered when they had big chances to win.Northern Boy

I’ve written about the lack of top tier women to debut this decade, but the flipside, as you say here NorthernBoy, is true as well. The second tier is pretty strong, with a lot of players theoretically capable of winning majors. I don’t know if anyone has an answer for why the tour has begun to develop this way. The opening of the Eastern bloc has changed the dynamic at training academies and led to a flood of new players and talent, but as this list shows, this generation has mostly landed in the second tier. Is there a difference in mentality or motivation among today’s young players that doesn’t allow them to dominate, or win with as much consistency as Navratilova, Seles (two Eastern European players gone west), Evert, or Graf? Or are they just not as good as the Williamses and the Belgians? Either way, the women’s sport has shifted east in the last 30 years, and the results of that shift seem to still be playing out. We may see another Navratilova someday, but this feels like a transition period to . . . ???


 
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Posted by Rachit 10/21/2010 at 04:52 PM

cool

Posted by What Would McEnroe Do? 10/21/2010 at 04:55 PM

Steve,

I applaud your efforts to improve the comments section. As one of the top writers in the sport, you deserve it. A rising tide lifts all ships, right?

As a fellow sports writer, I can say two things are true:
1. Most criticisms are stupid. Either they read something that wasn't there or they're just dumb.
2. Readers are all to happy to dish it out but are completely unable to take it in response. Don't criticize unless you're willing to be criticized in turn.

Posted by tina (ajde, Novak: handsome and talented Balkans #1, world #3, Davis Cup hero, AO 2008 titleist, reigning USO finalist, cutest butt in tennis, rapper, the face of Belgrade t-shirts, Novak water and Restaurant - don't u wish your polyglot was hott like me) 10/21/2010 at 05:03 PM

Well, of course Navratilova also came out of the "Eastern bloc" back when one had to defect. And Yugoslavia was never behind the wall, thus the opening would have little impact on the Serbian tributary of this "flood".

But I don't really know what the cause for this non-dominating difference is - I don't think of the Williamses and Belgians as being "physically gifted" nearly as much as I consider them mentally gifted. And none of them measure up to the greats of old, either. Wherever I see the name Graf listed with Martina and Evert, I must insist on including Seles - who was dominating AND consistent, probably the toughest competitor ever.

Posted by karin1492 10/21/2010 at 06:09 PM

Part of the problem with the younger generation in the WTA is that they basically play in one of two ways: they either play only offense - power tennis and go for the lines every single time (the Azarenka's and Rezai's of the world), or they play only defense - counter-punchers trying to use other people's errors against them and retrieving everything (the Wozniacki's and Radwanska's of the world). There are no up and comers who can play offense and defense at the same time. If you think about it, that's what really has defined the great tennis players over the years.

Justine, Serena, Venus, and Kim all have the ability to play both offense and defense when they need to. Serena and Venus play a little less, but how many times do you see the two of them run down balls and then hit incredible winners afterwards? Sure playing either only offense or only defense might win you a slam or two, but it also ensures that you are also going to lose a lot more matches. Mainly because it's likely that at least once in a slam you are going to play someone who is playing the opposite style a little better than you are playing your own. That's what makes the others so special is that if their offense isn't working, ther defense might win them the match instead or vice-versa. The up and comers don't have that to fall back on, they just have plan A.

Posted by crazycaro21 10/21/2010 at 06:38 PM

"The hopes and expectations and recriminations are automatic for him Even losing can't save him."

And when he loses, the critics are absolutely awful to him. In the end, though, you're right: he handles it amazingly well in the circumstances. Especially when you see how low-key the guy seems to be.

Karin: About women's tennis, I totally agree with you! I basically watch next to none of it because it's too much like that: hitting hard and hitting harder if hitting hard doesn't work. That's why I like Clijsters and Henin so much and respect the Williams sisters. And that's why Mattek-Sands is one of the players I enjoy the most watching, along with some of the Spanish ladies (Martinez Sanchez and Suarez Navarro in particular): they are not like the others. Pity there aren't more like them. Maybe Sharapova when she's in good shape.

Posted by Gabriel 10/21/2010 at 06:45 PM

The only thing Federer and Nadal have to prove is that they love the sport more than anyone else.

Posted by Reality 10/21/2010 at 06:57 PM

because of the way interactivity has evolved, everyone has an opinion. this opinion over clouds their judgment; and because people hide behind a computer screen they lose all sense of emotion.

for example if i say im going to commit suicide now, absolutely nobody here would care... but of course they would have an opinion about it

Posted by tennis express 10/21/2010 at 07:07 PM

Oh Steve..the Federer/Nadal of basketball? So in your estimation Federer and Nadal are on equal footing in terms of their place in the history of the game? Really?

Posted by RobinDAMAN 10/21/2010 at 07:07 PM

Reality-

I understand your point to a degree but don't use a tennis blog to discuss commiting suicide(even if it is just an example). I do not think its appropriate.

Posted by Just another lurker 10/21/2010 at 07:10 PM

Great section Steve, like it.
Regrading not having top tier players in the next generation, I wonder how much of the age restriction has to do with not having top tier players and it is not just a coincidence that you don't have dominant players in WTA after Serena Williams as by the time of implementation of ag restriction, William sisters were already on the pro tour. Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were fearless 18/19 yr olds on tour since they had tough losses at an younger age and were full of hunger to prove the world wrong. The current players don't play a full schedule until they are 18yrs and so takes longder time for them to get settled and by the time they settle, they know whats at stake which makes it harder for them to have a stable head on the shoulders.
"To a great extent, the accomplishments were kept in perspective because of my youth," ... "At the age of 18 or 19, I was able to cope with the pressures much easier." This was what Steffi Graf said after her reitirement.
That said, I am not sure I know the right answer for what the appropriate age for playing on tour is as we know what happened to Capriati which brought the rule in the first place but at the same time can't ignore the age retsriction as well.
Sorry, if it is too long.

Posted by Just another lurker 10/21/2010 at 07:11 PM

Wow, didn't realize that I am so bad at typing with so many typos.

Posted by Just another lurker 10/21/2010 at 07:12 PM

Wow, did not realize that I was so bad at typing with so many typos.

Posted by Steve 10/21/2010 at 07:15 PM

Jal: the age restriction rule is talked about a lot, but i can't believe that graf or seles or the williamses would have been slowed down for long by it.

tennis express: no, just saying jordan is an all-timer like them in another sport

Posted by my name is..... 10/21/2010 at 07:17 PM

amaziiiing post steve

Posted by Samantha Elin, Caro, reigning World's no 1.1. 10/21/2010 at 07:25 PM

Wrong Northern boy, Caro isn't a tier two player, she is the reigning world's no 1, she is at the top of the sport and at the top of her game, winning more titles this year at five then ALL other players. Kom sa, Caro, du er den bedste, world's no 1.

Posted by MZK 10/21/2010 at 07:35 PM

I think far too much is being made of Wozniacki's supposed lack of match wins against top players. The stat I see most is her poor record against the Top 5. Take a look at today's Top 5: the Williams sisters, Clijsters, Zvonareva and Caroline herself. The first three are part-time players - it's not exactly shocking that Wozniacki hardly ever gets a chance to play them. (This isn't similar to say, Jankovic, who faced Henin something like 7 times in 2007 and never won.) She can't defeat herself, obviously. And as for Vera, she's defeated her in two relatively big finals, but the loss at the USO was really silly - at the very least she could have made it more competitive.

Posted by Mike 10/21/2010 at 07:36 PM

To think that Fed has to worry about his H2H with Nadal at this stage in his career is ridiculous, IMHO.

Fed is 29, and started declining from his peak 3 years ago ... Rafa is 24, and has been peaking for 2 years. Rafa has always been a bad match up for Roger, but 2 1/2 years ago their H2H was even. It's only natural at their individual stages that Rafa has run up the win total on Fed's fave surfaces in addition to clay the last 2 1/2 years. They are at entirely different points in their respective careers ... why is it so difficult to see this?

Posted by David 10/21/2010 at 07:43 PM

As far as discourse is concerned, internet comment sections are probably several rungs below, say, the Constitutional Convention. Still, I think it was a noble effort by Steve to better this site's reader comments, many of which are quite good but get lost in the rubble. And as a former English major, I say be as ruthless as you can when it comes to egregiously bad grammar.

Posted by Steve 10/21/2010 at 07:43 PM

like i said, mike, i wasn't saying federer is worried about the head to head numbers. i was saying that he still wants to beat nadal because he's a competitor, and the guy has taken the spot he owned for so long.

Posted by karin1492 10/21/2010 at 07:46 PM

When Wozniacki gets more than 3 wins over people who have held the number one ranking, let me know. She's 3/17 against those who have been number one. There's a reason why she has such an awful record against those who have been number one. She's 0/1 against Henin, 0/1 against Clijsters, 0/2 against Serena, 0/4 against Venus, 0/4 against Jankovic, 0/1 against Safina, 1/2 against Ivanovic (with her only win coming in Beijing recently), 1/2 against Sharapova (with her only win coming famously at the US Open this year), and 1/0 against Mauresmo.

Posted by Ruth 10/21/2010 at 07:53 PM

Steve: Thanks for elaborating so well on the point that I tried to make in my comments on the "nothing left to prove" idea. I'll reveal my age --but what the heck! -- when I say that it reminded me of how boxing fans (including one of my uncles) had to explain to non-fans why it was such a big deal for Floyd Patterson to be the first man to REGAIN the heavyweight championship of the world in 1906 (back in the days when you had one undisputed championsjip). Patterson had been the youngest to achieve the crown, he had amassed an amazing record, and he could have retired before (or even after) he lost to Johansson in 1959 without tarnishing even slightly his glory. But he returned to do what had never been done before -- regain the championship by beating Johansson -- in 1960, and beat Johansson one more time for good measure. :)

I believe, as you agreed, that Roger wants (among other things) to reagain the #1 spot; and whether he does or not, the fact that he is willing to give importance and effort to that and other quests is, to me, just as praiseworthy as (and maybe even more praiseworthy than) the fantastic record that he has already achieved.

Posted by antoinette 10/21/2010 at 07:55 PM

Mike

Thank you for tackling the h2h argument again ...brave of you! lol. One of my chief disappointments is the dishonest and lazy analysis of the development of the h2h with Fed/Nadal. At the end of 2007 the h2h was 9-6 in favor of Nadal and Federer had just thumped Nadal at the TMC in the semis. At that time there was no reason to think that FED would not have a lot of oppurtunites to improve the h2h. Then came 2008 and Fed's annus horriblis, when he was felled by mono and back problems. Fed should have taken time off the tour to recover, instead he decided to try to play his way into fitness and form fully aware that he could lose. He made it to 3 clay finals in 2008 and got thumped by Nadal, lost in the epic Wimby and skewed the h2h markedly in Nadal's favour.

Fed is who he is, he is prepared to show up and take his losses, and so while the competitior in him would surely love to improve the h2h with Nadal, I doubt he loses any sleep over it and neither should his fans. It is what it is.

Posted by skip1515 10/21/2010 at 07:56 PM

For the record let me state that the wealth of tennis on television compared to years ago does not lead me to ignore *any* tennis. My musing, which Steve so graciously replied to above, was about the overall interest in the game at this time of year – the interest of the 2nd tier fans, if you will – and not relevant to either dedicated followers of tennis nor those who could not care less about the game.

Posted by Ivo 10/21/2010 at 08:15 PM

Oh this is great, I definitely like seeing this happening - this response to reader's comments. It provides some of us with the opportunity to be famous for 2 seconds (how nice when you cite people's comments and when you take them seriously).
This is certainly the way to go to improve the overall decency of the debate here too - call it "positive motivation".
Third, it creates a feeling of a general debate...sort of like a community.

Looking forward to reading more of these.

Posted by susan 10/21/2010 at 08:43 PM

oh, no, he didn't side with me! i'm crushed! i'll skip work today and sulk and eat loads of chocolate! to hail with my deadline (today).....and capital letters!

good points...but i assumed that slice-and-dice's and mindy's 'nothing left to prove' was more figurative than literal... that's why i emphasized his sterling achievements (to date) to support their statements.. oh, dear, it's actually a statement that i have never said on this board or elsewhere after any federer loss! not characteristic of me at all....but i tried to see it from their point of view and i still don't view it as *only* a rationalization to ease the pain of losses. (but i can't read their minds, either). i do see where they're coming from... .. we could parse the sentence to death..its meanings, w/ or w/o context...but we also could not ... and i do have a deadline to meet. :)

Posted by Ivo 10/21/2010 at 08:50 PM

Now I'd like to ask the simplest question in the hope someone will actually explain this to me: what's up with the Brits?
I mean why do the Brits turn crazy when it comes to their tennis athletes? Is it just because they have Wimbledon there? Or because they consider themselves to be a tennis nation? (not to offend anyone but Britain has not been a real tennis nation for way too long now).
Now I am asking this because it puzzles me on some level. I mean, the French wouldn't go around following any of their players the way the British media do with Murray. By that I don't mean to say that French media don't put lot of pressure on their players during FO, but what's happening to Murray is somewhat beyond the ordinary. Now let's think about Germany: a nation with a real tennis history in the past decades. Again, I just don't see this crazed hype about any of their players. Okay they don't have anyone as good now as Murray but still - did they follow Stich the same way Murray is followed around? (I say Stich because in terms of achievements he'd be on par (actually better with a victory in Wimbledon) with Murray..i.e. not a total super-star.
Okay you can say that the Germans had their Becker and Graf during Stich's career. I take that. And I agree that there was a lot of hype created around Becker (especially due to his toilet affairs:) or Graf when she had issues with her tax reports but overall, despite these players being such huge icons in tennis, the hype German media created around them wasn't as annoying as it is with Murray..or put it differently it was appropriate given the status of Graf and Becker (and Becker's personality:).


An obsession and tradition that Brits have with soccer would explain why a fairly boring chap like Murray would receive so much attention if he was a soccer player, but he is not.

So again, I just don't get the hype. Here's a guy who is not totally personable, who's sometimes a horrible pain to watch on the court if things don't go well (his lamenting, sort of "crying-boy" pissiness about him when he's loosing is irritating..I believe especially to the British sensibilities).

Why is Murray such an interesting story material? It's a puzzle to me.

That said, please don't get angry at me. I appreciate Murray as a tennis player, especially the last time he played Federer was phenomenal,or the way he pushes Nadal. But the media attention he gets, and the amount of time we spend debating him here seems to me out of proportion of who he is and what he has achieved.

This particular brand of British tennis nationalism is very hard for me to understand. A country that has so many things to be proud of why are they hung up on Murray so much?
a mistery indeed.

Posted by LAP 10/21/2010 at 08:59 PM

Mike, you are wrong. Federer was never tied to Nadal in the H2H 2.5 years ago, except in 2005 after the Miami Masters. One of the thinks that NOBODY realizes is that Nadal defeat Federer when FEDERER was on top much more frequently than the other way around (and I am a Federer fan). After being tied 1-1, Nadal won 5 consecutive matches, 4 of them in 2006, when Nadal was still becoming a better player and Federer was the indisputable #1. It is true that 4 of those matches where on clay, and that Federer should have won the Rome Masters (to me the game that changed the dinamics of both) but at that time Nadal record in hard courts was 2-1 to Federer. From Wimbledon 2006 to the end of 2007, Federer found a way to beat Nadal except in clay: his record was 5-2 in the next 7 games after being down 1-6, to get 6-8 (close to Nadal). Then in 2008 Nadal won 5 consecutive matches (including the French, Winbledon and the Australian Open, the most painfull lost to Fed because he should have won that game) and then they have only face each other twice, with a 1-1 result. Therefore, Nadal DID BEAT Federer a lot when he was not in his prime and Federe was in his (05 to Middle of 06)...

Posted by LAP 10/21/2010 at 09:04 PM

Antoinette: The mono may explain Federer loses in 08, but it sure does not explain his loss at the Australian in 09. Nadal was exhausted after almost losing to an inspired Verdasco, and found a way to defeat Federer in a game that Federer should have won (as a matter of fact, Federer won the total point count 174-1733 despite losing the last set horribly).

Posted by Ramana 10/21/2010 at 09:09 PM

Steve,
You write a lot about forehands, backhands, serves etc. How about writing about "some guys just know how to win a point". It does not matter how they do it but at every level in the sport some guys just know how to win a point and beat their opponent. This true for all the great champions including Rafa. No one would be interested in watching Fed's wondrously fluid shots and movement or Rafa's muscular and utilatarian style if these guys were not winning. The guys and the other lowly guys win because they know how to win a point. Thoughts??

Posted by Ivo 10/21/2010 at 09:11 PM

To LAP:
That's pretty accurate what you're saying. And I'm Fed's fan as well - though not unconditionally (when he becomes prickly and makes excuses for losses that were due to the other opponent's good play, he's irritating...though to his credit it seems he does have a tendency to correct himself with time...I remember he did that with Nadal, Murray and even the Berdych loss at WO.....it just took him longer to respect some of the players:)).
But what you're saying in terms of the stats is true. That said, Nadal didn't make quite a few finals in majors in which Fed was playing really well and could have/ would have probably beaten him.
If people say Nadal beat Federer when he was in his prime, they are not saying the truth. IF they say that Federer didn't get as many opportunities to play Nadal during his prime on courts other than clay, that's something which needs to be taken into account.

Btw. good observation about the Rome game: he should have not lost it but he did...and this sort of repeated itself a few more times...most painfully in the AO.
There's two games though in which Nadal did the same..he should have not lost it but did, almost choked. Miami..their first master's title (Federer was 0:2 down and 1:4 or something) and then Wimbledon 2007...Federer wins in 5 sets but he was lucky back there that he got out of the successive games with 15:40 on his serve early in the 5th.

I find it sort of a stroke of genius by some kind of godly creater: first they give us Federer and then they give us Nadal - the anti-prototype of what Federer likes.....high topspin to his backhand, consistency beyond belief that frustrates a guy who likes to dictate and play a fast game, somehow who takes his time before he hits the ball against someone who keeps the same pace whether loosing or winning. Oh we are lucky to have them both together.
I wonder two things:
1. When Federer looks back at Rome or any other tournament someday in the future: will he signal out one particular match where things turned for him?
2. If Nadal played in the Sampras era, how would the two pair-up?
Somehow I can't see Sampras loose...but it would be fascinating to see them both square off. That said, if Federer played with Sampras..both at their peak, my sense is Fed would squeeze through. fascinating to imagine: Sampras beats Nadal, Nadal beats Federer, Federer beats Sampras.
:)
start bombing me, devoted friends of whoever.

Posted by Ivo 10/21/2010 at 09:13 PM

correction:

If people say Nadal beat Federer when he was in his prime, they ARE saying the truth! IF they say that Federer didn't get as many opportunities to play Nadal during his prime on courts other than clay, that's something which needs to be taken into account!

Posted by Andrew Miller 10/21/2010 at 09:34 PM

I have a question for Mr. Tignor about Guga Kuerten and Brazil. Kuerten's triumphs as a player did not seem to improve the country's tennis. Is this because national systems don't really matter when it comes to talent, or because a champion doesn't necessarily improve their country's talent?

Posted by Nick Ogren 10/21/2010 at 09:44 PM

To Antoinette (7:55pm): Wow... just wow. Clearly, you are one of those crazy Fed fanatics. I like the guy too, but those comments regarding his rivalry with Nadal are not only way off base but are also kind of pathetic and desperate... at least to anyone not in love with Federer. Fed discloses that he had a mild form of mono over the winter of '07/'08 that affected him during his AO run, and now this minor setback is supposed to explain his results for the entire 2008 year. Fed must have really been hurting during the clay-court season when he went 21-1 against players not named Nadal. Oh yeah, then he won Halle AND made it to the finals of Wimbledon without losing a set. Oh, but he suddenly pulled it together for the US Open right??? Another problem with this irrational logic is that it opens pandora's box. It's a slippery slope. Anyone hung up on Nadal could counter that he was physically shot at the end of 2007, suffering through tendinitis that killed his USO run. And his only loss to Fed after that 2007 match (Madrid '09) can be explained by fatigue from the 4+ hr SF marathon contested against Djokovic 18 hrs earlier. Oh, and in 2007 Wimbledon final, I do remember Nadal tweaking his knee up 4-0 in the 4th set, leading to an injury timeout & loss of momentum in that match. Bottom line: the injury argument goes both ways, but EITHER way, it is a red herring and does not explain why Nadal has routinely bested Fed ever since he was a 17 yr old in 2004. Nadal is 14-7 overall, 6-2 in grand slams, and 5-2 in GS finals. Fed, in his best 3 years on tour (2004-06) - the most dominant 3 year statistical stretch in Open Era, was still 3-6 to a "pre-prime" Nadal. In the end, there is no excuse for the product of the rivalry. It's simply a bad matchup for Fed.

Posted by Mike 10/21/2010 at 09:56 PM

First off ... both Fed and Rafa are all time top players, and Rafa's game has always been a bad match up for Fed, but ... how many of the early wins were on clay, LAP?

Posted by Mike 10/21/2010 at 09:57 PM

Uhhh ... who's making excuses now, Nick?

Posted by Mike 10/21/2010 at 10:05 PM

First off, I never said that Rafa wasn't a top player ... he's always been a bad match up for Fed, but most of the early wins were on clay, and most of the latter were after Fed's best years were behind him. Can you argue that?

The fact that Rafa chased Fed for 4 years at #2 must tell you something about how much the H2H is worth ... no?

Posted by Nick Ogren 10/21/2010 at 10:22 PM

Mike - read what I wrote: "Either way, it (the injury argument) is a red herring..." I was simply illustrating how it might go both ways. But either way, the argument is irrelevant. There is no way to objectively dispute the results of this rivalry. But to answer your question (9:56pm): 3 of their first 4 matches were contested on hard courts. Aged 17-19 yr old, Nadal was 3-1 overall overall during this stretch, winning 2 of the 3 hard court encounters. The one hard court match he did lose was a 5 set match in Miami. So... I guess the answer to your question is "1" They played one clay court match early on.

Posted by Ivo 10/21/2010 at 10:22 PM

To Nick Ogren:
Again, I am a Fed fan - at least find myself always rooting for him, especially when he plays Rafa:). that said, your logic is right on.
At the end of the day Rafa is a tough match-up for Roger. And all those who like Federer should acknwoledge it or they'll make it look even more than it is: i.e. not Federer in denial, but his whole fan base in denial. And since I am part of his fan base, I don't want to be labeled as in "denial":).
That said, as i pointed before, it's too bad that Rafa didn't make some of the finals that Fed did during his prime....the scoreline would be probably less skewed than it is today.

Posted by Ruth 10/21/2010 at 10:44 PM

Mike: I think that Nick's point, which he made pretty clearly, is that the pre-cuses and the post-cuses could and do emanate from both Fed fans and Rafa fans. At least, that's what I got from reading his comment.

Posted by Game Lover 10/21/2010 at 10:47 PM

Re: Andrew Miller "a champion doesn't necessarily improve their country's talent? "

Ilie Nastase, one of the all time greatest and probably the first modern player did improve tennis a lot in Romania: i.e. tennis is much more popular and many more people are playing it, although none so far got his talent...

Posted by Nick Ogren 10/21/2010 at 10:51 PM

Ivo: I understand what you are saying, and ultimately we will never know for sure because that is a hypothetical. How many slams would laver have won if he had not turned professional in 1963? But then again, how many of those 6 amateur slam wins would Laver have lost had guys P. Gonzalez, Ken Rosewall, and Lew Hoad (guys that owned him during his first couple of pro seasons) been able to compete against him on the amateur circuit??? How many slams would Borg have won if he played the Aussie Open... or didn't quit at age 26? The point is... we can only judge what has happened. Federer and Nadal are separated by 5 years. A "pre-prime" Nadal simply did not have the game to consistently meet a "prime" Federer at the end of hard court tournaments as a teenager. If their earliest matches are any indication, it would certainly not be as lop-sided as some might suggest. Currently, they are 3-3 on hard courts overall. Fed had 4 opportunities to take Nadal out at the French, but Rafa held his own. In turn, he made the most of his opportunities off of clay, scoring grand slam victories on 3 different surfaces against Fed. And that's the reality... that's all we can judge.

Posted by Ivo 10/21/2010 at 11:16 PM

To Nick Ogren: we don't have really have any major disagreement.
But your examples compare guys who played vs. those who did not. (the same goes for Borg who retires too early or could never be bothered to make the stupid trip to Australia cause he couldn't crack the USO).
That said, Rafa was in the same tournament as Federer was in...he just didn't make the finals at that time while Federer did - and Rafa, maybe not in his prime, was pretty close to being already in his prime, having won all the clay court tournaments etc. So that's the difference in terms of how you look at it...i.e. the only thing you can say in Fed's favor is: he was there while Rafa was not always there. But again, it's all hypothetical.

Posted by FoT 10/21/2010 at 11:17 PM

I like the "mailbag" issue. Hope you keep it up each week.

Posted by Game Lover 10/21/2010 at 11:24 PM

Ivo and Nick: to me Roger was the more complete player (and I'm a Rafa fan).

Rafa:

a) Is a force of nature and probably no one will play like him (topspin, defense etc) ever again as they don't play now (nobody does, correct?).

b) Developed his game since/made progress/become and all surfaces player.

Play ball everyone! :D

Cheers!

Posted by Game Lover 10/21/2010 at 11:24 PM

Ivo and Nick: to me Roger was the more complete player (and I'm a Rafa fan).

Rafa:

a) Is a force of nature and probably no one will play like him (topspin, defense etc) ever again as they don't play now (nobody does, correct?).

b) Developed his game since/made progress/become and all surfaces player.

Play ball everyone! :D

Cheers!

Posted by Ivo 10/21/2010 at 11:24 PM

To Nick Ogren: just want more idea:
the age difference between Rafa and Roger does make it difficult for comparison. I think that we'll be able to make those calls about "prime-time" etc. really only after their time is over in professional tennis. Seems to me that every player hits his prime in different times..Agassi started really putting all together in his 30s. i mean he played great before that but only when he "shaved his head":) and got married to Graf that I think he imposed himself on the sport (and yeah, Pete was on decline at that time). What I am trying to say is that we have to wait to be able to say who was in his prime at what time. The tennis life of these athletes is a very problematic proposition: did Martina Hinggis really hit her prime when she was a teen? The same for Becker in many ways. Or Roddick...he seemed to me he played better (more aggressive) when he was younger than now.
With Rafa I can't never tell what will happen - it's a question of the physical that typically worries me.
That said, Rafael Nadal will be always on the mind of Roger Federer - no other player will define what Fed's achieved and did not achieve as this guy from Mallorca.

Posted by Northernboy 10/21/2010 at 11:45 PM

Jesus Cripes enough with the Fedal Wars. Can we please establish a forum for Fedal flaming and have moderators prevent this rabid discussion from taking over all the other boards?

Karin1492 we seem to be of the same mind about women's tennis. Great post: "When Wozniacki gets more than 3 wins over people who have held the number one ranking, let me know. She's 3/17 against those who have been number one. There's a reason why she has such an awful record against those who have been number one. She's 0/1 against Henin, 0/1 against Clijsters, 0/2 against Serena, 0/4 against Venus, 0/4 against Jankovic, 0/1 against Safina, 1/2 against Ivanovic (with her only win coming in Beijing recently), 1/2 against Sharapova (with her only win coming famously at the US Open this year), and 1/0 against Mauresmo."

I know she's your favorite player SamanthaElin but that last paragraph is pretty self explanatory. Jankovic, Ivanovic and Safina have all been world #1. Ivanovic has 3 major final appearances, 1 GS title. Jankovic has 1 final and 5 semifinals, Safina has 3 finals appearances and 1 semi. Dementieva has 2 finals and 7 semifinal appearances. All have wins over Venus and Serena Williams.

Caroline has 1 final and 1 semi. The biggest opponents she's beaten in her career are Kuznetsova and Sharapova at the USO. I like her game, but facts are facts. Caro is a Tier II player until proven otherwise. Good news is she's got plenty of time to do so, as well as the work ethic and athleticism to make it probable.

Posted by Steve 10/21/2010 at 11:50 PM

susan, i hope you met that deadline. next time let me know beforehand and i will definitely side with you.

ruth, i like the patterson analogy (though i don't believe you were alive in 1906). one of those fights was the famous rabbit punch, i think. not sure who did that to whom.

andrew: guga and brazil. as far as any country's tennis interest, i was talking about fan interest, not whether it led to more great players. i know there was huge fan interest in kuerten there, but borg and becker/graf were another level. maybe it was a matter of germany and sweden having more tennis tradition and infrastructure than brazil to start.

ivo: the brits. one boring but basic element is the amount of print media they have compared to other countries. it requires more coverage of everything to fill the space. and then there's the whole, we used to be awesome, why aren't we still awesome thing that runs through everything there, and which finds an extremely natural home with tennis, which, as we know, they invented.

skip: did i misunderstand your post? an easy thing to do on this blog

Posted by Tenis lv 10/21/2010 at 11:54 PM

Steve and karin1492,

Let's see the stats:

1)Wozniacki vs Venus, 4 matches played and won by Venus (2-0), between 2007 and 2008, when Caroline was ranked #160, #73, #64 and #43, and Venus #54, #8, #8 and #7.

2) Wozniacki vs Serena, 2 matches played and won by Serena in 2009 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(3), and 6-4 0-1 (ret.), when Caroline was ranked #12, #4, and Serena #2.

3)Wozniacki vs Clijsters, 1 match played and won by Clijsters in 2009 7-5 6-3, when Caroline was ranked #8 and Clijsters NR.

4) Wozniacki vs Henin, 1 match played and won by Henin in 2010 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4, when Caroline was ranked #2 and Henin #33.

5) Wozniacki vs Ivanovic, 3 matches played, 2 by Ivanovic in 2008 6-1 7-6(2), and 6-4 6-1, when Caroline was ranked #64, #34, and Ivanovic #3 and #2. The last one won by Wozniacki in 2010 7-6(1) 6-4, when Caroline was ranked #2, and Ivanovic #36.

6)Wozniacki vs Jancovic, 4 matches played and won by Jancovic, between 2008 and 2010, 2-6 6-4 6-2, 3-6 6-2 6-1, 6-2 6-2 and 6-2 6-4, when Caroline was ranked #30, #18, #4 and #4, and Jancovic #3, #2, #8 and #9.

Based on these data, is insane to establish to Wozniacki like a Tier II player. Very very close matches against Serena, Henin and Clijsters, and clearly she was an immature player in 2007-08 when lost to Venus and Ivanovic. Jancovic case is a different thing, because Wozniacki is not having positive results no matter the circumstances (a bad match for her?)

Anyone doesn't like her style of play, ok, perfect. But at least try to be a little bit more serious, show objectivity in the judgment.

Posted by jewell - officially on holiday. Yay! 10/21/2010 at 11:59 PM

yay, a day early! Nice to be able to read before I go on holiday. :)

"what's up with the Brits?" - I ask myself this most days. :) Regarding tennis I guess it is because Murray is our only top tier competitor on either tour and he's so close to winning a major.

Oh wow, we haven't had a H2H argument for all of about three days, of course it must be time for another one. :)

antoinette - I actually kind of agree about the mono. I think the recovery took an edge off for Roger in the later stages of tournaments. But players don't always make the wise decisions - JJ playing too soon on her ankle injury recently, Vera Z who likely did the same thing last year, perhaps Rafa overplaying on his knees in 2009. Maybe all of that is making excuses but I do think not mentioning known injuries or illnesses serious enough to likely affect play makes for a skewed narrative in itself.

That said to make the whole story about any of those injuries is unfair to all the players who worked hard on their games and made improvements - Roger to beat Rafa in Madrid in 2009, Soderling to do it at the FO in 2009, Rafa who rounded out his game and played magnificently to beat Roger in those clay finals and at Wimbledon 2008.

When people said "nothing to prove" I always assumed they meant in terms of legacy or to the press, not in terms of what the players think. I agree they're competitors, there's always something else to try for - it doesn't mean the players themselves think they don't have to bother because they've won everything. But even if it is about self-comfort for fans what is so wrong with that? So's a shot of whisky in my cup of tea. ;-)

To be fair to Wozniacki, she's still only 19, she's got time to improve those stats.

"For most of the tennis world, most of the time, getting tennis news was a matter of scouring the box scores in a newspaper. Even that wasn't consistent; there were times we'd be able to follow the first few rounds of a tourney and then not know anything until it was over!"

This reminds me of one of my favourite Jilly Cooper books, Imogen. (yes, I have no taste, it's well established.) It was written in the late 1970s and one of the romantic interests is a tennis player - and there aren't enough tennis players in romance, more please* - and while on holiday on the Riviera he goes to great trouble to get a British paper so that he can find out the tennis scores. He also partly throws matches to pick up pretty girls in the crowd...

*speaking of romance/bonkbusters, it made me smile to see Rafa get name-dropped in a recent one. :)

Posted by karin1492 10/22/2010 at 12:03 AM

The fact that Wozniacki played close matches against the top players doesn't really mean anything. So she played them close, she still lost. In the end, she just doesn't have the game to beat the top players. Who cares if someone plays someone close or loses easily, at the end of the day there's a winner and a loser. Jelena Jankovic has played Justine Henin close in just about every one of their matches, but has never beaten her. Who cares that she played her close? I'm sure Jankovic finds that so comforting. At the end of the day, you don't get bonus points for playing someone close. As Herman Edwards so famously said after a loss, "you play to win the game!"

Posted by jewell - officially on holiday. Yay! 10/22/2010 at 12:12 AM

"we used to be awesome, why aren't we still awesome thing that runs through everything there, and which finds an extremely natural home with tennis."

Sometimes I think we prefer the disappointment, in an odd sort of way, so we can dust off all those stories about the decline of Empire, Britishness and what-not.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 10/22/2010 at 01:03 AM

Well, the only thing I care about in this column is that it had better be the case that Steve's duties at the site/mag have changed due to a promotion. Anything else makes no sense, as the quality of Steve's work seems to be firmly parked at a very, very high level.

Posted by Tenislv 10/22/2010 at 01:06 AM

karin1492, and because Wozniacki plays and win with the best consistent in the tour, she is ranked #1. Contrary to you, I showed the complete data as a way to have a better context to analyze the issue. Raw data, without the context means nothing, in case that you want to get some level of understanding of an event. If that isn't the case, just stay seeing black or white.

Posted by Northernboy 10/22/2010 at 01:27 AM

Tenislv - can you address some of the other things I addressed in my more recent post? Personally I feel the matchups that you've pointed out don't really help your case. Caro is still young, and may YET prove herself to be a Tier I player as she improves. However, if we were to go by closeness of matches, it'd be ridiculous. The win is the win. Dementieva and Jankovic in particular have lost close matches to the big 5 ladies but they're still Tier II.

Caro right now is at a snapshot point in her career. The whole reason we are having this debate is because of Ivanovic, Jankovic and Safina - if we had taken a snapshot of them post-FO 2008 they would have seemed like the top 3 up and coming stars on tour.

Woz hasn't proven she's a Tier I player. She may yet. But the facts just don't support any argument for her inclusion. Can't argue with results.

Posted by calvin kaskey 10/22/2010 at 01:28 AM

I don't know how you can say there is too much tennis. Basic television covers only three of the four majors and the coverage is limited. Espn2 may cover all the majors but you might not see Federer play even or Nadal. Espn2's coverage combined with basic cable's coverage is extensive but even then during a major it isn't fully covered at least time wise during play (of course not every match will be covered as there will be 32 matches in the first round each day). Basic cable does offer a few finals played in the U.S. such as Cincinnati, New Haven (last check), and Miami. I think 3 matches is it. So on basic cable you can see 6 finals all year. Espn2's coverage of non-majors is not complete even though other tournaments usually last only a week and not two and Masters tournaments almost always have a stronger average field than majors. More tournaments that feature only the best players would i think make tennis much more popular to watch. Maybe a six day best out of three between Nadal and Federer on clay, grass and hard court would be popular?

Posted by manixdk - Caro: is she starting to find her game? 10/22/2010 at 03:47 AM

RIGHT NOW, Caro is the best player in the world. She's ranked #1, and the players who could challenge her are all injured. If she played Jankovic right now, she'd wipe the floor with her. So, right now, in the real world, Caro is the best player.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President.Yes Indeed I am A One Woman Show 10/22/2010 at 03:55 AM

Steve Thnaks.

I have to agree with Ruth regarding Roger.He indeed has nothing left to prove.He still has the passion for the game and will always be competitive.I love the fact people are writing him off.Of course he is old in tennis terms are the best years are behind him.Well I watched him live at the AO this year and to me it was one of his best performaances.I would love to have a "smidgen of his talent" I think we all would.In regards to Rogers and Rafa's head to head that is a stat of course.Though for me I look at present at their GS titles.Roger is way ahead.I wish people would just enjoy watching these 2 champions with contrasting styles who have given us soo much tennis pleasure over the years.When either player retire we cann then look back at their records etc.

Until then Peace.

Posted by Ruth 10/22/2010 at 03:58 AM

"ruth, i like the patterson analogy (though i don't believe you were alive in 1906). one of those fights was the famous rabbit punch, i think. not sure who did that to whom."

LOL, Steve. Serves me right! As punishment for my uncharacteristic coyness about my age, my fingers decided to change that first 1960 to 1906.

Posted by petewho 10/22/2010 at 04:58 AM

Steve,

What this boils down to , for me is 2 battles being waged.

There is the overall GOAT battle , which for all intent purposes Roger has won - at least for now

And theres his rivalry with Nadal , which is no longer a rivalry but in actual fact potentially the gatecrasher to his legacy.

This rivalry alos takes on more significance because of how their last 2 gs matches resulted in Roger losing on his prefered / supposedly better surface - not once but twice ( both times in tears )

I dont recall Roger crying when Delporto beat him, or when Djoker beat him , so isnt it telling why he should respond that way in a match , to an apparently irrelvant rival , if he wasnt aware of how important winning that was ?

I dont care what the history books says up until then , a I believe a match can change all that , and just look at what happened since then , up until that is - Rafas health went awol.

So this is my problem with this statement of " not needing to prove anything ".

Cearly he has , he knows it and he knows until he beats Rafa in slam ( preferably a slam final ) hes not going to ever escape that tag .

Every time Rafa wins against him now , it not only dismisses ROgers case as the GOAT , but also strengthens the proof that Rafas wins were no fluke in those finals .

Rafa has beaten him in exhibitions , in Masters, In Slams in equal measures and with consistency whereas Rogers last win comes at the expense of Rafas knees , 5 sets with Djoker being a factor.

Is that truly how you want to remember the would be GOAT being remembered ?

As someone who couldnt beat his biggest challange ( Not winning the slams against weak ear ) but against the one worthy challanger who could ?

That is why Roger for all his achievments will never be considered anything but a " Paper Goat "

Yes, he won all the slams he needed too , dominated but also fell to his only rival repeatedly on / off the big stage , and that is unforgivable, and most defintely NOT goat.

Posted by petewho 10/22/2010 at 06:20 AM

BTW~ I am not Roger hater or obessesed about Nadal ( I like both ) but its hard to ignore that blackhole that happened after WImbledon 08 up until Soderling probably did him the biggest favour in tennis history.

We have yet to see Rafa reduced mobility and improved serve vs Rogers new tatical game plan - just glimpses of what maybe from playing other players ,which in all fairness doesnt count ( at least for Rafa )

I say this , in the sense I feel Rafa has always enjoyed the matchup his game and bragging rights presents rather than vice versa.

You couldnt really say this about any other time in history because , as I recollect , you've never had 2 would-be GOATS vying for the same position , and a place in history.

Now that its clear Rafa has a chance to do that , I suppose Roger is trying is best to raise the stakes of his slam count to make it harder for him ( Nadal ) to surpass him.

Its risky game though if Nadal keeps beating him , and at best will make Roger come off seeing a flawed champion ,while at least in Nadals case ( even if he doesnt surpass Roger ) you can always argue his health was in some way to blame.

Posted by susan 10/22/2010 at 06:57 AM

AM????????!! "he indeed has nothing left to prove."

(steve, yes... met the deadline, thx)

Posted by susan 10/22/2010 at 07:05 AM

AM...anyway, it doesn't matter! :)

Posted by Tak 10/22/2010 at 07:52 AM

Truth of the matter is. Nadal and Fed has a lot to prove. No matter how many grand slam you won. You always go out there and give it more than your best. I believe Nadal stands out as the best. I don't care much for fed knowing that he is old and lazy now. Nadal is what tennis should be at the moment.

Posted by trz 10/22/2010 at 07:53 AM

Roger still wants to prove that he can be no.1 again because for him it is the no.1 ranking that only matters, then maybe and if he gets it back,he will consider retiring.

Posted by Nick Ogren 10/22/2010 at 08:19 AM

To Ivo (11:24pm): Regarding the age difference, statistically we can agree that Fed's 3 most dominant years was btw 2004-06. In that span, I believe his overall record was something like 247-15 (~94.3%). He was roughly 22-25 yrs during that time span. This was easily the most dominant 3 year span in the Open Era. Only Borg comes closes to such numbers. But to analyze these numbers another way: Fed was 244-9 (96.4%) in that time against the rest of the field and 3-6 against Nadal. Nadal was roughly 17-19 during those 3 years. Of those 9 matches, Rafa won all 4 on clay, was 2-2 on hardcourts, and lost their lone grass court encounter in his first Wimbledon final as a 20 yr old in 4 sets. Now, granted... different players peak at different times. But Rafa turned 22 around the FO finals in 2008. So if we extrapolate this time frame to Rafa... we're talking FO 2008-FO 2011. How many times have they played since the 2008 FO final? 4 times. In that span, Rafa is 3-1.
My point is: After both of their careers have concluded, the age difference will be a factor when we analyze this historical rivalry. As it stands today, the argument can be made that Federer has benefited from playing the majority of his matches during his prime years against a "pre-prime = teenage) Nadal who, in retrospect, was just learning to play on surfaces other than clay. And just because Fed's most dominant years were 2004-06, that does not mean he was "washed up" at say ages 27-28 (2008 - 2009). After all, he made 7 grand slam finals in those two years, winning 3 of them. If anything, I think it is more telling that a "pre-prime" had Fed's number (6-3) during a span when Fed was averaging only 5 losses a season. These two guys aren't done yet, but IF there careers ended today.... clearly, the trend is that the ceiling for Federer has always been Nadal, whereas the ceiling for Nadal has always been his health, his body (the knees), as evidence by 2009.
For those Rafa fanatics out there, it is impossible to argue that Nadal is the best ever now b/c it's simply a hypothetical at this point. Rog has five years on him (and a lot of winning in those 5 years). But they can argue for those who blindly claim that Federer is "the best ever" that there is an asterisk by this subjective "GOAT" title. Certainly, Fed is the most accomplished player of the Open Era, but how can you say he is "the best" when you take into account the product (not necessarily the H2H record itself) of their rivalry into account. At all stages (teenager, pre-prime, prime) of his career, Nadal has routinely bested Federer, not just overall but on the biggest stages as his 6-2 GS edge indicates. To say, for instance, that a 26 yr old Federer would have beaten a 21 year old Nadal in the 2007 US Open is subjective, arbitrary and is merely a hypothetical. The numbers certainly did not indicate, as they were 2-2 on hard courts at that time. Another question (perhaps a better question) would be: operating under the assumption that Fed is the best ever, why couldn't he take a match off a "pre-prime" Rafa on clay at the French? He had 4 attempts after all. In far fewer chances, Rafa got the job done against Fed at Wimbledon and AO.

Posted by petewho 10/22/2010 at 08:54 AM

Trz,

Getting the no 1 ranking might be worth more to Fed now he has less chances of a winning a slam ie. he in theory just playing the percentages to save face.

Nothing wrong with that i.e. in theory theres no reason why he should even bother playing the clay court season at all any more - esp given the likelyhood of who he'll face there.

At this point his career I dont know if I would .

My focus would be winning slams 1st ( which Im sure it still is ) , Avoiding Rafa in the process ( unless he feels damm sure of himself ) , and then maybe trying to getting back to no 1 .


Posted by Mike 10/22/2010 at 08:58 AM

Nick, I appreciate your well researched argument. What I'm trying to say in a nutshell, is that Rafa and Fed are both great players ... but that the H2H isn't as clear cut as it appears. Rafa is a difficult match up ... but in the early stages, he was simply equal to Fed on all surfaces but clay. As Rafa started peaking and Fed started his gradual descent, Rafa picked up major ground on all surfaces. How can you honestly expect Fed at 29 years of age to match up better against an in form Rafa in his prime than he has over the last 3 years?

Again ... I'm simply saying that at their respective peaks, they are a lot closer than the H2H makes it appear.

I am a fan of both players, but when you constantly see the H2H tossed around in the context of 'how can he be the best ever if he's not even the best of his era', it gets annoying. I can't see how your H2H against one player makes the leader the better player, overall. If that were the case, Rafa would have been #1 in the world the majority of the last 5 or 6 years ... and though darn close, he hasn't.


Posted by Mike 10/22/2010 at 09:13 AM

'Pre-prime' Rafa? You'd have to go back to 2004, I'd think.

He had his best overall year in 2005 (disregarding slams), with a 79-10 record ... 11 titles in 12 finals out of only 21 tournaments played, and the first year of his long time #2 reign. Aside from winning slams, he hasn't been more dominant since.

Posted by @work 10/22/2010 at 10:40 AM

"He had his best overall year in 2005 (disregarding slams)"

I don't understand this statement. Maybe it's meant to indicate that he had the best overall win-loss record and wins vs finals ratio?
Surely when assessing a year's performance the quality of the tournaments has to account for something ?

These are wins/final results for 2005
W: Costa Do Sauipe
Acapulco
Monte Carlo
Barcelona
Rome
Roland Garros
Bastad
Stuttgart
Canada
Beijing
Madrid
F: Miami

Posted by @work 10/22/2010 at 10:42 AM

Still, I do think Rafa has been playing at high level for quite some time now and he started younger than many.

Posted by ixvnyc 10/22/2010 at 10:59 AM

Let's get a basic thing straight: if you play someone 4 times within a few years and loose all 4 matches, even if they were close (by looking at the score at least, as in: they were not obvious blowouts), you are NOT in the same league as that player. That player owns your ass, and to get back at that player, yet another close loss will not do it!

Right now, Wozniacki is nothing more than another Safina. Before she can even begin to be considered to be another Serena or Justine, she has to beat at least one of those on the big stage - meaning: en route to winning a GS. I wish her to get to that level quickly, but as of now, she is simply not there.

Posted by Nick Ogren 10/22/2010 at 11:00 AM

Nadal is now 14-7. That's 2 out of 3 matches. We can both agree that Nadal is now a better player than when he was 17-19. During that time though, a "pre-prime" (for lack of a better word) Nadal was 6-3 against against Federer during (arguably) his 3 most dominant years on tour. (Keep in mind I said "dominant" which does not necessarily mean "best," but whatever) The ration is the same, that is, 2:1 or 2 out of every 3 matches. Thus, at there respective peaks, the H2H numbers are not really any different. I don't think Fed is a good matchup against Nadal at any stage of his career. If anything, it's a credit to Nadal that he has had so much success against Federer during Fed's peak years. The "generational" argument only works against Fed. As for the H2H, I cannot emphasize enough that it's not merely the 14-7 overall record itself that is so important, but rather it is the fact that Nadal has had so much success in the really important (ie grand slam) matches that is meaningful. 25 years from now... those are the matches that everyone will remember. And Nadal has won 6 of 5 overall, and 5 of 7 in GS finals. As such, I keep saying that it is the "product" of the rivalry that matters, and up to this point, Nadal has an overwhelming edge in the outcome of this rivalry, regardless of how competitive many of their matches have been.

This is different from say Fed-Murray. Murray leads 8-5, and as such, it is a bad matchup for Fed. But this rivalry is not as clear cut as Fed-Nadal. Murray and Fed only played twice before the 2008 season. I believe that have contested all of their matches only on hardcourts. But more importantly, Fed is 2-0 in their grand slam finals matches. As such, I would argue that the product of their rivalry was no more significant to Fed's legacy, than say, Krajicek was to Sampras's. I understand your point about H2H in general, so this is a perfect example where the H2H carries a lot less weight.

Regarding your comments about Rafa's 2005 season... Even though he racked up the titles, that was far from his best year. His title count was inflated with wins at Costa Do Sauipe, Acapulco, Barcelona, Bstaad, Stuggart. Even though he scored 2 important MS1000 titles on hardcourts that year, he performed very poorly at the majors outside of FO. He was labeled primarily a clay-court specialist then, and unfortunately for him, I don't think he completely shed that label by all of his critics until he won AO in 2009. Rafa was 18 going on 19 that year, and as of today, his game has evolved substantially.

Fed was number 1 in the world for so long because he was dominant on all surfaces against other players not named Nadal. He was #1 starting in 2004 as a 22 year old. He was always a top talent and I remember his name being bounced around for years, but he did not have the success as a teenager like Rafa. He showed his promise when he took out Sampras at Wimbledon, but in some ways, he was a late bloomer (at least compared to guys like Borg, Becker, Sampras, and Nadal). The reason Nadal is number one now because he is proficient on all surfaces. Nadal has always been (almost) unbeatable on clay, but you can win all the clay court tournaments in the world, but that won't necessarily take you to the top.

Posted by Nick Ogren 10/22/2010 at 11:04 AM

*** excuse me, Nadal has won 6 of 8 (not 6 of 5) GS matches, excuse the typo

Posted by Ruth 10/22/2010 at 11:17 AM

I just read AM's 3:55, and I think a slight correction is in order. I did not say that I think that roger has NOTHING left to prove, nor do I think that he has something specific left to prove. What I think is very clear is that, based on Roger's words and actions, he, like the great champions that both Steve and I cited, obviously believes that he has more to prove to himself and, perhaps, to others. And I love and applaud his attitude.

(Please, I hope that no one equates what I'm talking about where Federer is concerned with the sad spectacle of way-past-their-prime athletes pushing themselves to continue to perform -- detached retinas and broken limbs be damned!! -- because their oversized egos or their low bank accounts force them into extending their careers.)

Posted by tennis express 10/22/2010 at 11:41 AM

".....how can he be the GOAT when he is not the GOHG?...because overall greatness is measured against the entire field, not just one player. It is only because Nadal has such a positive h2h vs Federer that all of a sudden it is an absolute must that for a player to be considered the GOAT he has to have a positive h2h with every player in his generation. In fact is Nadal even of Federer's generation to begin with?

I dont really care about this whole GOAT debate, but I find it so amusing that some Nadal fans find it necessary to demean Federer's legacy in order to elevate Nadal's. Why not just enjoy your fave's accomplishments and leave the fans of other players to do the same?

Why must it always be Federer is not that great and his achievements are not worthy of respect because to quote " Rafa owns his ass" in the h2h and so clearly Nadal is a better player than Federer and ergo must be the GOAT, is that the argument? Am I missing anything? Hilarious!!

Posted by Searching for a new Moniker 10/22/2010 at 12:00 PM

Steve,

I love this post, and I appreciate all your efforts. David said it best:
"As far as discourse is concerned, internet comment sections are probably several rungs below, say, the Constitutional Convention. Still, I think it was a noble effort by Steve to better this site's reader comments, many of which are quite good but get lost in the rubble."

I like Karin's analysis at the beginning of the comments thread.

Thank you all.

Posted by Steve 10/22/2010 at 12:27 PM

Searching for a New Moniker: good moniker.

jewell, you're right it is borderline obvious that the players themselves still feel they have something to prove, but i agree with ruth that the line is trotted out by fans as a way of cushioning a loss. it just isn't worth mentioning, imo. but a small matter in the grand scheme, that's for sure. if, say, the phillies were to lose this year, part of me would keep their 2008 world series win in mind to soothe the defeat. wouldn't work, though.

Posted by Nick Ogren 10/22/2010 at 12:32 PM

To tennis express: I haven't read all of the posts submitted here, but nothing I have read or, at least that I have written, would suggest that "it is an absolute must that for a player to be considered the GOAT he has to have a positive H2H with every player in his generation." (Look at my post from 11:00am specificially). H2H itself is not an end-all-be-all. But in specifically Rafa & Fed's case it is a factor in determining their respective legacies. How unique for us as fans that two of the arguably greatest players ever (up there w/Laver, Sampras, Borg, P Gonzo - you name it)have played within the same era, albeit they may be techinically from different generations due to the 5 yr gap in age. Fed is arguably the most "accomplished player" of the Open Era, and he has received his recognition for that. There has always been and probably will always be this subjective "GOAT" debate amongst fans for years to come. Ten years from now, we may be talking about someone else entirely new to enter that conversation. People can believe what-ever they want, but "Rafa factor" is a valid argument against those who openly annoint Fed as the "best" or "greatest" player of all-time.

Posted by CWATC 10/22/2010 at 12:49 PM

Steve, it seems the implication in your posts is that fed fans should be as upset if fed loses a big match nowadays as they were when he lost a big match 5 years ago.

I disagree. The expecations are lower now because his level is lower; it's normal and happens to all players.

And I certainly don't think players should be encouraged to run off into retirement the moment their form starts to dip in order to "preserve their legacy" or prevent overdramatic media responses to the inevitable losses.

The analogy to the phillies doesn't work for me as sports teams, unlike tennis players are immortal :)

Posted by Sherlock 10/22/2010 at 12:55 PM

"As far as discourse is concerned, internet comment sections are probably several rungs below, say, the Constitutional Convention."

Lol. Well said, David. :)

I've been reading the comments on some ESPN articles this week about the NFL's enforcement issues with helmet hits, etc. Whew. Quite an eye-opener. Makes me thankful for the discussions we have here.

The discussion of the Tier I and II issue is quite interesting. Can Caro take the next step to Tier I? Who else will make the leap? Maybe somone we're not even talking about much yet? It'll be fun to watch it unfold.

Posted by Chris 10/22/2010 at 01:00 PM

Both Federer and Nadal are great players. Federer's technical skills are text book and many will agree is better than Nadal's. Nadal is better athlete, and his work ethic is like no other. I do not think Federer is the greatest of all time because unlike other greats he could not beat his main rival. Second look at all those players that he beat to rack up those grand slams. Roddick, Hewitt these guys cannot really even compete with the players of this day. Now I don't think Nadal is the greatest of all time either, maybe if he wins 17-20 slams he will be. Time will tell. What the history books will show are two things, one grand slam totals and two head to head. If Nadal is to win more slams than Federer by the end of his career I think we all can agree that he would have been the better player.

Posted by always lurking 10/22/2010 at 01:14 PM

"You know deep down Federer still believes he's the man. He wouldn't bother playing if he didn't want to show that to the world."

There is also that incredible love of the game he has shown time and time again...and any player who doesn't think he's the man (or she's the woman) shouldn't be on a court.

Posted by roxyastor 10/22/2010 at 01:40 PM

wozniacki will not, can not, be considered a tier 1 player until she has won a major, regardless of her record.

i just can't help think all this nadal/federer greatest ever discourse is way too premature. as we have all said these two are clearly in different stages of their career. makes it very difficult to compare bc we don't know what will happen. Just last year - one year ago - people were writing nadal off as finished or ready to retire bc of his injury...who's to say another injury or some unforseen circumstance won't plague him...or that he that he won't experience a natural decline but sooner than Fed's began. If there's one thing watching this game for over 20 years has taught me - from the matches themselves, to the larger game and its players - anything can happen and you don't know what it's going to be.

Posted by tennis express 10/22/2010 at 01:47 PM

I find it funny how some posters zero in on a snippet of a post and chose to respond to that snippet rather than look at the point being made in the entire post. Ah the glories or not of anonymous internet commentary.

I agree somewhat with the notion that Federer still has a lot to prove, not the least because the player himself seems to think so. See his recent interview where he heaps the pressure on himself by saying among other things that he knows he can still beat the top guys, that #1 is the only ranking that matters and he will try to get it back and that he thinks he can win 20 GS among other things. Some people say his words smack of arrogance and I say so what if they do, he put it out there and if he fails then it is on him, a point that I am sure is not lost on Federer. Personally I don't think Federer is as hung up on his "legacy" as certain tennis pundits and some fans.

In his own words his dreams in tennis have all been fulfilled i.e winning Wimbledon and becoming world#1, question is where does one go after the dreams have been achieved, well you go on to have the best possible career you can have. I don't think anyone can question that Federer has done exactly that, notwithstanding the fact that Nadal "owns his ass"...

Posted by Ross (FOE, even Gael) 10/22/2010 at 01:47 PM

“You know deep down Federer still believes he's the man. He wouldn't bother playing if he didn't want to show that to the world.”

I don’t know what this means. Does it mean that 99% of pro tennis players shouldn’t bother, because they’re not “the man,” and have never been, and will never be “the man”? Does it mean that Andre Agassi, and Jimmy Connors, and Ken Rosewall should have quit earlier, because remaining a wonderful tennis player is not enough, if you’re not “the man”? If so, I disagree heartily.

Posted by Ross (FOE, even Gael) 10/22/2010 at 01:56 PM

Apologies if this is a duplicate, but my first try didn't seem to work.

“You know deep down Federer still believes he's the man. He wouldn't bother playing if he didn't want to show that to the world.”

I don’t know what this means. Does it mean that 99% of pro tennis players shouldn’t bother, because they’re not “the man,” and have never been, and will never be “the man”? Does it mean that Andre Agassi, and Jimmy Connors, and Ken Rosewall should have quit earlier, because remaining a wonderful tennis player is not enough, if you’re not “the man”? If so, I heartily disagree. :)

Posted by tennis express 10/22/2010 at 01:57 PM

@ Ross

yes it is a duplicate, but point well made sir.

Posted by Ruth 10/22/2010 at 02:01 PM

"The expecations are lower now because his level is lower; it's normal and happens to all players."

I definitely agree with you on this, CWATC. And that's why I think that the trotting out (to borrow Steve's word) of the nothing-to-prove, it's-now-just-gravy lines is so unnecessary and even a little insulting (like a pat on the head) to the player who is proudly trying to continue with his/her career,and/or even achieve greater heights, after what may be considered his major glory days.

Posted by AL 10/22/2010 at 02:02 PM

Debating the GOAT tennis player is a nice exercise, but comparing Rod Laver with two Grand Slams playing with a wood racquet vs Federer or whoever 40 years later is ludricous. Bjorn Borg won 11 grand slams by 25 and abruptly left tennis after losing his 2nd straight US Open final. He was the best of his time, as was Laver.

Also too early to say whether or not Nadal (better HTH) is better than Federer at this point. In grand slams, Federer is substantially ahead now, is older than Nadal, and Nadal has crested the last two years. For right now, Federer is the best of his time, no more, no less.

If Federer makes significant, perhaps subtle even, changes in his game, he might recoup his form of 2004 - 2007. Who knows. We're fortunate to have a Federer-Nadal rivalry now.

Posted by Ruth 10/22/2010 at 02:28 PM

BTW, Steve, I thought of our ongoing discussion here a day or two ago when Federer was apparently asked by a reporter whether he was happy about winning his first match in Sweden, at not exactly a mjor event. I'll paraphrase his reply (but I'll try to locate the exact quote): Of course, but I'm here to win (or I'd prefer to win) 4 matches, not one. I'm not here for fun. If I want fun, I'll do an exhibition.

So much for the idea that he's dragging himself and his family around the globe and working his tail off with his new coach mainly because of his love for and delight in playing the game.

Posted by tennis express 10/22/2010 at 02:42 PM

@ Ruth

Just because Federer wants to win it does not negate the fact that a big part of his motivation is his "love for and delight in playing the game" The two are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by Ruth 10/22/2010 at 03:04 PM

I don't think and I did not suggest that the two are mutually exclusive, tennis express. I just think that people who suggest that love-of-the-game is his main (that's why I said "mainly") or only goal, as some have done, are way off the mark IMO. Incidentally, there are lots of other ways (other than playing competitively) of continuing to express one's "love of the game," as is shown every day by the many retired professional players who coach, own tennis academies, work with their country's DC teams, FC teams, and their tennis associations.

Posted by Michele 10/22/2010 at 03:34 PM

All the H2H points are making my head spin. My view is that Fed is the GOAT but it's an emotional opinion backed by some powerful stats. I imagine those who think it is, or will be, Nadal, feel the same way and he's got some powerful stats as well.

There are always stats to compile and point to in this argument but at the end of the day, I'll never be convinced to change my opinion because I'm so emotionally attached to Federer and the way he plays. These arguments will never die but I'd be absolutely shocked if one side ever gave in to the other based on a statistic.

Posted by tennis express 10/22/2010 at 03:51 PM

@ Ruth

my apologies...clearly I did not read your post carefully enough. I am not of the view that love for the game is the main motivation for Federer at this point in time, but it is an important one and can help explain why he seems to be able to get over losses so quickly and does not appear to get too down on himself when he has a run of poor results. I think it will also keep him in the game when he inevitably falls out of the top 5.

Posted by contennis 10/22/2010 at 04:36 PM

@AL
You cannot take into consideration the years that Nadal has not played. If you are to compare Nadal vs Federer you have to do it fairly. Nadal has a positive record against Federer. Nadal has a positive record against Federer in Grand Slam finals (important). At Nadal´s age Federer had won less Grand Slams. There are records Nadal currently has that will be hard for Federer to achieve, the Masters 1000 trophys, the Olympics.
If Nadal cant reach the 16 Grand Slams titles because of injury and is forced to retire, I would say he was better than Federer but did not play as long.

Posted by Ruth 10/22/2010 at 04:40 PM

No problem, TE. I agree with what you said, and I'm sure that, if love of the game were not part of Roger's motivation for continuing to play, he would find it rough going. I don't see him being like Agassi who, supposedly, hated tennis but labored on for years.

Posted by GC20 10/22/2010 at 05:02 PM

Steve,

Just curious about what kind of access you have to viewing tennis matches while at Tennis.com HQ. Do you get special access to feeds/replays to all the matches televised around the world or are you kind of like most of us stuck with an inadequate combo of Tennis Channel and internet feeds like From Sport?

Posted by TMFunk 10/22/2010 at 05:03 PM

Ruth: "So much for the idea that he's dragging himself and his family around the globe and working his tail off with his new coach mainly because of his love for and delight in playing the game."

I'll put it this way: Love of winning/competition cannot be sustained without the foundation of love for the game in the first place. Just ask Agassi.

Posted by TMFunk 10/22/2010 at 05:04 PM

oops - Ruth, just saw your 4:40 where you pretty much said what I just posted...:)

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