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The (Un)Conventional Wisdom 06/06/2008 - 4:15 PM


Since I started writing a weblog, I haven't spent nearly as much time as in the past in the curious zoo called the player lounge, with its colorful assortment of characters, ranging from scores of former stars to the most irritating - and sometimes bizarre - assortment of behind-the-scenes operatives, hangers on entitled scenemakers, and Ion Tiriac. It's a little easier to get that kind of valuable down time a little later in the tournament, so yesterday I wandered down into the lounge.

Within minutes, I bumped into Tiriac, and then old friend and former champion (1978) here, Virginia Ruzici. Not long thereafter, the woman she beat in that final, Mima Jausovec, showed up. They're friends; Mima (who won at Roland Garros the previous year), is staying at Virgi's flat this week, just reliving old times. Pat Cash walked by, waving "hi." Then I encountered Andres Gomez, champion here in 1990, and you might find some of what he told me about the men's final interesting. 

I'll paraphrase, because I didn't jot notes. Basically, Gomez thinks Roger's best chance to beat Rafa is on a damp court on a cool day - which goes against the conventional wisdom that a dry, hot day -  a day when the court plays "fast" - offers Federer his best chance. Andres's reasoning was refined. He thinks that on a fast clay court, Nadal's forehand simply has too much power and action for The Mighty Fed to handle on the backhand side. It leaps high, and arrives so "heavy" that Roger has a hard time getting his racket around to drive it with sufficient pace and accuracy.

A slower court, however, reduces both the bounce and pace. Theoretically, it gives Federer a greater chance to draw a bead on the ball, as well as to employ his slice approach shot and drop shot. The idea, which often goes unremarked, is that Nadal has plenty of power to compliment his extraordinary retrieving and angular shotmaking. Anything that takes Nadal's power away gives TMF more chances - and opportunity to use his versatility.

While this analysis came from Gomez, bear in mind that he's good friends with Federer's new coach, Jose Higueras. In fact, the two of them have appeared on camera here, watching a Nadal match (among others). So I think it's pretty safe to assume that even if this analysis is all Gomez, Higueras certainly has heard it. And remember, as a former Roland Garros champ (which Higueras was not), Gomez has what you might call street cred. The weather, incidentally, is supposed to be cool with scattered clouds. If the showers forecast for tomorrow materialize, we might get a chance to see how much of Gomez's analysis shows up in TMF's game.

What I really like about this entire scenario is that here you have two of the great clay-court players of their era, one from Spain and one from Equador, working with a Swiss kid who's best on grass and hard courts - despite the fact that Nadal is Spanish. It's funny, but Higueras won't even discuss Nadal with the Spanish press in his official capacity as TMF's coach. Is there a more emblematic comment on the transnational nature of tennis?

I think one other factor may come into play here. I noticed during TMF's match with Fernando Gonzalez that he seemed to take particular pleasure in ripping his flat or topspin backhand down the line. This shot, while conceivably the toughest ask in the groundstroking repertoire, is also the most dangerous. And given that Nadal is a lefty, who really enjoys pinning Federer in his backhand corner, the shot could be of particular value to Federer.

Fed We don't often think of opening up your backhand side to an opponent as a good thing, but if Federer gets pushed far over to that side, it actually takes away his backhand down-the-line (everything he hits from that position would essentially be a cross court shot, right?). So it seems that if TMF wants to avoid being handcuffed and neutralized, he needs to keep the action closer to the center of the court. That luring Nadal into making you hit the toughest groundstroke in the game can be considered an effective strategy sounds nuts. But you know the reality - it isn't about what you want to do or hope do do or wish you could do - it's about what you can do. And if anybody has the skills to pull off a stunt like this, it's Federer.

I'm sorry I haven't been able to come up with a post on Gael Monfils, Rafa, or Novak Djokovic so far this week. I watched today's matches with one eye, while preparing the women's final preview. Djokovic is out of here, Rafa probably will figure in a finals post (hahahah), and my strongest feeling about Gael Force is he made great strides this week but he needs to back it up.  He has one significant shortcoming, strategically, which is an indifference or reluctance to transition from defense to offense.

You saw what he did to David Ferrer. Monfils used his superior athleticism and great defense to swamp Ferrer and his lesser athleticism and great defense. But there were many times in that match when I felt Monfils could have saved himself some time and energy by using his superb defense to create offense - hail, sometimes just to run up to the net or something after putting Ferrer on the end of a very long string.

I can't blame him for not doing that, because he didn't have to.  Ferrer couldn't really hurt him with anything. But many other quality players can, and if Monfils wants to climb the rankings, he'll need to bring a little more offense into his game. He doesn't have to serve and volley, he doesn't even have to start with an offensive mindset - he would just be better off if he were looking to make the transition from his superb defense to offense when the opportunity arises. A wingspan is a terrible thing to waste.

Monfils is a powerful counter-argument to one of the most powerful but conditional of the received truths in tennis, which is that being raised on clay and having a clay-court game for your base is the ticket to success. Let's leave wear and tear out of the discussion here. I think it may have hurt Monfils to become so like a textbook clay-court expert, for the exact opposite reason that it helps Ferrer to be one. When you're blessed with the kind of power and athleticism that Monfils has, variety becomes an asset and - more important - a quality that enhances makes power even more deadly.

After the second semifinal today, El Jon and I were down in the press lounge. There, the short stairs that lead up from the underground locker room open onto a spacious open area that separates the bar and restaurant. The hall was fairly crowded, as it always is, mostly with friends and fans of Monfils. Suddenly, people started clapping, and Monfils emerged and took the stairs. He's an appealing kid, and unlike most players, he looks smaller in person than on television. Surprisingly, he looked almost frail.

Monfils was dressed in tribute-to-Rafa, clamdigger-gray sweats, a No. 29 (Marshall Faulk) Rams football jersey, and black high-top Nikes, with the Swoosh logos filled with very conspicuous sparkle glitter. His fans began to slow-clap, and then he did something I'd never really seen before. He started to work his way around the perimeter of the room, air-kissing and exchanging intimate words with one person after another. Most of these were man-kisses (although La Mere Monfils got an extra heartfelt one), and - most astonishing -  not a one of them was hurried or perfunctory. If anything, Monfils was working the room in extra-slow time, and it took a good ten minutes for him to acknowledge everyone. Then he went off and did press for one last time this week.

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Posted by MJA 06/06/2008 at 04:24 PM

First ?

Posted by Rips 06/06/2008 at 04:25 PM

Somebody need to Give the Reason ....

Why and How Fed would defeat Nadal on Sunday?

Just because he is No1 and won 12 Grand Slams..

To me, Fed is same like Paul Henri Methieu or Novak or any other one who gets defeated by him on clay..

same question goes for Nadal in Wimbledon..

Why & How Nadal would Defeat Fed in Wimby?

Just because he is 2 Finals..


Posted by Syd 06/06/2008 at 04:31 PM

Lovely, Pete. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Really great stuff, engaged me all the way through.

Sounds like your having fun too catching up with old friends in La Paris...Looking forward to your take on the Women's Final tomorrow.....can't wait.


Posted by Beckham 06/06/2008 at 04:32 PM

"It's funny, but Higueras won't even discuss Nadal with the Spanish press in his official capacity as TMF's coach."

I continue to be eternally grateful that dude went out and hired himself a coach, not only for clay but for his overall game...I was soo happy to see Higueras in a RF hat...means he's fully on board now, and I hope the partnership yields great fruits this year and beyond...

Posted by waylandboy 06/06/2008 at 04:37 PM

Roger can beat Nadal on Sunday because he's beaten him before on clay and has been very close on other occassions. If he plays his best and Rafa doesn't it certainly can happen.

I'm not convinced Nadal is the clear second best grass court player in the world nor is Federer as clearly the #2 clay court player but Rafa did lose once already this spring on clay so it could be different Sunday.

Posted by 06/06/2008 at 04:38 PM

Pete, Brad Gilbert made the exact same argument about Fed's chances in damp conditions last year before the Hamburg final. In fact, he predicted Fed would win in straights.
But this goes again to what your on-site reporter at Hamburg said a few weeks ago - the partitioning to "quick" and "slow" clay does not do justice to the many intricacies of clay tennis.

Posted by Ro'ee 06/06/2008 at 04:39 PM

Pete, Brad Gilbert made the exact same argument about Fed's chances in damp conditions last year before the Hamburg final. In fact, he predicted Fed would win in straights.
But this goes again to what your on-site reporter at Hamburg said a few weeks ago - the partitioning to "quick" and "slow" clay does not do justice to the many intricacies of clay tennis.

Posted by Suny 06/06/2008 at 04:41 PM

Sorry guys Fed is going down. Too bad I am a Fed fan. Note to Fed: Please don't park yourself on the backhand corner and humiliate yourself.Go down with a glorious serve and volley game.

Posted by avid sports fan 06/06/2008 at 04:43 PM

Pete - Thank you for this beautiful piece. I could almost literally imagine everything happening as you described it.

It seems Gael is really a people loving person who regardless of his status will like to get to everyone and let them know they matter and he appreciates their support. I really kind of like that (although I'm sure those waiting for the presser may feel otherwise) sometimes those things that we feel are important can wait....

Posted by avid sports fan 06/06/2008 at 04:45 PM

"Roger can beat Nadal on Sunday because he's beaten him before on clay and has been very close on other occassions. If he plays his best and Rafa doesn't it certainly can happen."

I prefer the scenario where both men play at their best ;-)

Posted by Samantha Elin 06/06/2008 at 04:47 PM

I guess all the debate about who gives Nadal the most trouble on clay has ended. Novak put up very little resistance, in contrast the matches between Nadal and Roger are very close and you can see Roger has the game, but maybe the mental part to win. I think it would be great if Roger could come through this time. Go Justine, real world's #1!

Posted by esha25 06/06/2008 at 04:48 PM

Pete thank you for writing about Monfils... Hopefully, this won't be a flash in the pain and this incarnation of team Monfils and Champion can get him going in the right directions.

Good luck to both Federer fans and Rafa fans in the final.

Posted by Samantha Elin 06/06/2008 at 04:58 PM

Should read maybe not. Great blog on Monfils Pete, I didn't really know much about him. Monfil put up a good fight where Novak did very little.

Posted by nickmagoo 06/06/2008 at 04:58 PM

Does anybody know where I can see the Fed/Monfils match? NBC, in teir infinite wisdom, didn't show it (plus they cut the Rafa/Djoko drubbing down so the second set was totally lost). I am so ticked off. I woke up early for THIS??

Posted by Nancy J 06/06/2008 at 04:59 PM

I have always liked Monfils, and it's great to know that he takes those extra few minutes to show his appreciation to those who believe in him.

Pete, what's the reporters lounge like? Full of former reporters and photogs? Is it cigar smoke filled, with lots of empty whiskey glasses, and guys and gals in front of laptops (surely typewriters have long been thrown out) pecking away? ;)!

p.s. I'm no analyst, but after seeing the amazing power from Nadal today, even I could understand what Gomez was laying out. If the weather concurs.

As for Higueras and Gomez helping a Swiss -- Brad Gilbert helps Murray. And lets face it, how many of the kids in the American tennis academies are actually from the US? The only surprise for me would be if Billie Jean King decided to coach a non US player, especially with all of her effort to try and build or grow or whatever it is the USTA is trying to do -- an American champion. All that stuff is so confusing for me.

Posted by Nancy J 06/06/2008 at 05:01 PM


Fed v Monfils in on Tennis Channel right as I type this. I bet they'll be repeating it all day.

Posted by Pierre 06/06/2008 at 05:02 PM

I think the key for Federer is: "Don't be a Victim."

Posted by CL 06/06/2008 at 05:03 PM

nickmagoo - are you in the US? And if so, do you get Tennis Channel? They are showing it now.

Posted by skip1515 06/06/2008 at 05:04 PM

Interestingly, an email exchange last week after Monfil's defeat of Melzer included the comment that Monfils threw in a number of old school, clay-zy inside-out slice forehands, which Melzer promptly dumped in the net.

The point of the comment was to illustrate how that style of play can still be effective, if used at the right times. In this piece, Pete, you told us how it's indicative of a passivity on Monfils' part.

I'd have to say both points are valid. Your additional comment that Monfils can't climb higher without more insistence in his game is the cherry on top.

Posted by econmit 06/06/2008 at 05:23 PM

What are the stats for net court action from Federer this FO? Is he running the net significantly more. What about his backhand down the lines? (Today I felt he was looking to come forward and not looking so much for the lines, playing relatively safe inside the court. But I have no stats.)

More generally, has anyone broken down his strategy and found a pattern. I'm fairly sure he has one and it would be quite interesting to know and spot it statistically.

Posted by crazyone 06/06/2008 at 05:25 PM

econmit: He went to net a lot because it's a strategy to use against someone like Monfils who can pretty much retrieve any groundstroke.

Posted by Zeitgeist 06/06/2008 at 05:33 PM

waylandboy: can you (or anyone) prove roger is not the second best clay courter? (and one of the best clay courters ever!!!!)
and can you prove rafa is not the second best grass courter?

Posted by econmit 06/06/2008 at 05:34 PM

I say it would be fun to dissect the pattern with more data than one match, see if one can spot that he has been prepping for some particular final strategy...

I always see the analysis based on some impression of what the player did more, but rarely do I actually see some shot counts; or even anything much to back up all the editorial comments... I'm not going to count and categorize shots (backhands, forehands, run around FH, slice, attempted winners, etc.), but perhaps those more professionally dedicated to this could! I kind of think it would be useful and fun.

For example, the shot (and serve) placement and hitting positions done on TV (and in some articles) are beautiful and insightful, I wish this kind of information were sometimes available.

Posted by crazyone 06/06/2008 at 05:38 PM

econmit: Well, you can certainly see from the RG website how many times each player approached the net. A caution: the winners/unforced errors stats are clearly wrong.

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie!) 06/06/2008 at 05:42 PM

i cant wait to see Roger squirm out of all those break points in the 4th set...bravo! im acutally grateful to NBC for covering the semis so poorly, because I would have had a coronary watching it live...

Im not watching the final until its over and I know Roger won :)

Posted by Scott 06/06/2008 at 05:51 PM

Good theory but I see two counterarguments. 1) Nadal beat Fed on a cold damp day at Roland Garros in 2005 and 2) it's been cold and damp for most of the last two weeks and it doesn't seem to have hurt Rafa much.

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie!) 06/06/2008 at 05:53 PM

I think other than WImby, Rafa hasn't done much on grass, so its a little tricky to call him by far the second best grass courter...

Rogie wins MAsters and gets to finals on clay other than the French, it would help if Rafa was winning Queens and beating guys like Roddick on grass once or twice to strengthen his case, but the grass season is so short, wimby pretty much tells the tale and as runner up twice, its hard to pick anyone else, no? ...

Posted by nickmagoo 06/06/2008 at 05:56 PM

sadly, i do live in the US but don't have the tennis channel. i just assumed that nbc would show the #1 player in the world some respect and actually show his semi-final match. go figure. so, anyplace else?

Posted by federerfan 06/06/2008 at 06:01 PM

i think the gem from nadal's presser would suit well for is a very simple game, if you "do" what and how you know you should do, then there is nothing to change....fed should just do the thinking before he goes in and there just remind himself...if its plan A or B or C and then focus on just executing until...rafa....stops playing and comes around to shake feds hands...i.e. he doesnt even realize it was match point and that he had won it.

Posted by achilles190 06/06/2008 at 06:09 PM

there was one intersting stat released midway...through the second set or Rafa Djoko.........of the rallies three strokes and under Djoko won more than 80 % or over.........of the longer rallies over Ithink 6 or 8 strokes the pattern was 80 % for Rafa.......this seems to bode well for first strike tennis if you have the tools

Posted by AJ 06/06/2008 at 06:10 PM

Nadal to win. The semi excitement came from Monfils which made Friday interesting but I think the women's final is going to be the highlight of the FO this year.

Posted by Locomotive 06/06/2008 at 06:10 PM

Here's what Fed needs to do to win:
1. Morning of the match, dig those manicured nails into the clay, grind them down, rub his hands in it, put a bit on his tongue, grind a little grit between his teeth, and rub a line of the dirt on each cheek. Take a deep pull of the musty penumbra into the nostrils.
2. Have his best friend cut his bangs off with a razor.
3. Run a couple of suicides on the clay, flat out.
4. Remove one perfectly strung, brand-new racket from the bag, and bash it bits on the clay; whip it aside at leave it there.
5. Get your mind right.
6. In the match if he goes down 2 sets, or blows a large lead, bash the living sh*t out of the racket. At time, quick-step it to the baseline and take about five hard shadow strokes with the new weapon. Be prepared.
7. Then do whatever it takes, which means super-aggresive net rushing, and going all-out on every point with no regard for conserving energy, ever. All out. Every point. Period.

Posted by L. Rubin 06/06/2008 at 06:11 PM

"Im not watching the final until its over and I know Roger won."

Riiiiight, Tim! And you're going to give up your GE vice, join the local bowling club, and join John Isner's fan club. For whatever reason, I think you'll be up with them birds on Sunday, fervently praying for your wicked powers to mess with the alignment of Rafa's bottles.


Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie!) 06/06/2008 at 06:17 PM

Liron, I can mess with Rafa's water bottles without watching the match...Ill breeze through the match all on, see the fireworks and dancing cows, and know all is well with Red Rogie :)

besides, after 3 years of suffering and extreme disappointment, Ive learned my lesson... not again, a tape delay of TMF's historic win will be a GE delight, and save me a year's worth of stress as well...Russ is also banished from watching until the tape delay, as we all know...


Posted by jerell 06/06/2008 at 06:19 PM

Monfils suprised people, and I'm really proud by him.

But damn, he needs to do more of what he did aganist Federer in terms of being more aggressive on the return of serve. I swear, sometimes I thought he was standing at the Effel Tower instead of on the baseline.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 06/06/2008 at 06:22 PM

Well then, I'd say it's high time Court Philippe Chatrier received a liberal dousing of water from the sprinklers, a la Crash and his buddies in Bull Durham!

Go Fed! You CAN do it. You just gotta believe! Use the entire court, take the ball early on your backhand side, through in some high topspins to the corner from your forehand to complement your boms, and do everything you can to shorten the distance between you and Nadal and turn this match tomorrow into hand-to-hand combat, because when it comes to hands in and around the net, you've got the best in the game. And remember, no matter how good he is, he's not a natural lefty (hail, he can't even pick his tighty whites out with his left hand, ever notice?).

Posted by Moderator 06/06/2008 at 06:37 PM

Gentle reminder to posters that Pete's posts are On Topic - please try to address the subject matter of the post. General RG discussion is for the Cris Centers and overflows. OT stuff to the Deuce Club. Thanks.

Posted by Matt Zemek 06/06/2008 at 06:56 PM

I thought that after the 2006 final, in which Fed was having to hit all those eye-level backhands (while also wearing down physically), that a hardened, sun-baked surface at Chatrier played into Rafa's hands.

Conventional wisdom about the weather and surface speed at Chatrier--in a Fed-Nadal match--has changed since the Roger and Rafa met there in 2005.

Posted by nica 06/06/2008 at 07:01 PM

Somewhat off topic but McEnroe-Shiras calling of the Federer vs Monfils was more palatable than McEnroe-Robinson. At one point McEnroe brought up that in the fall Federer and Nadal would be playing some exhibition matches and that he and Borg would be on the ticket. Shiras without skipping a beat said something to the effect that McEnroe better get his wins while he can. Ha, ha. Such fresh air instead of kissing Macs behind.

Posted by mariej... vamos king of clay ! 06/06/2008 at 07:12 PM

damp and rainy day ? that's what supposed to be the winning joker card for roger ?
i'm sorry but roger needs more than that to beat rafa on sunday, plus the weather forecast for sunday is : no rain and some sunshine through the clouds ;)

rafa said many times that a faster court at RG helps him more, because his ball takes a higher bounce, it's not a big secret out there, you know :)

roger needs to serve very good, and i sincerely doubt he can crush a DTL bh winner on a return of serve or even in a rally knowing at what height he needs to hit most of the bh against rafa...

the first day i met you, i told you how effective roger's bh is when he can hit that shot at the good level, against ancic he was hitting many winners that day... against rafa, at best he won't make the error but he won't hit almost any winner unless he uses the bh drop shot ;)

roger has many tools in his bag, but he needs to play as much fh as he can. i don't believe his bh can hurt in any ways long enough in a 5 setter mr nadal.

vamos rafa à por el numero 4 !

Posted by jhurwi 06/06/2008 at 07:14 PM

I posted this on the CC thread, but it's also relevant here:
Le Journal (France 2 news, shown on New York channel 25) led off its evening broadcast with an extended recap of the Monfils-Federer match and an interview with Monfils. As an afterthought, they also showed match point of Djokovic-Nadal.
Unfortunately the news program is no longer subtitled and I found the accent of this particular announcer (as well as that of Monfils) difficult to understand. I gather that Monfils was asked if during the match he really thought he could win it (yes), how did he feel about being compared to Yannick Noah (a great honor)and whether he would play Davis Cup for France (hopefully next year). Nothing earth-shattering there, but just imagine an American network news broadcast headlining a tennis match--not even the sports newscasts do that!

Posted by aceman 06/06/2008 at 07:24 PM

I love watching Federer play such beautiful tennis. However, against Nadal, he's got to serve well to get some cheap points. It's harder for him on clay. Also, if you notice, he chips his backhand to start some points. Against every other player, this doesn't hurt him. Against Nadal, he attacks these soft shots with extreme spin and pace and immediately puts Roger on the defensive. Roger can sort of feel his way into points to start rallies. On clay, against Nadal, he cannot get away with this strategy.Nadal rarely hits these soft shots. His shots on clay have pace, spin, extreme placement, and lethal purpose. That is why Roger looks uneasy on clay against him. He has to attack him with effective serving, sharp angles, and take the net. If he makes to the Final against Nadal, I don't think he will feel tight. This time, he has to play with abandon and attack. He can't wait for Nadal to make errors. Nadal usually doesn't. He proved in Hamburg and Monte Carlo, his smart attacking game can be effective.

Posted by 06/06/2008 at 07:38 PM

jhurwi - i don't think tennis is a major sport in America and when every player in the quarter finals is european it is clearly sports news in europe. for eastern europe Novak is still the only one.

Posted by WideAwake 06/06/2008 at 07:43 PM

"vamos rafa à por el numero 4 !"

Aren't you a fan of Nadal's? then why would you wish him to go to number 4 in the world? I know he's about to slip to number 3, but that's a bit mean, especially coming from a fan :-)

Posted by crazyone 06/06/2008 at 07:47 PM

WideAwake: She means Number 4, as in the 4th straight RG title.

Posted by 06/06/2008 at 07:50 PM

mariej - fortunately Rafa is talented and also gracious. it's hard to imagine him feeling it's necessary to belittle his opponents by suggesting conditions would favor either of them enough to make a difference to the outcome of the match.

Posted by mariej... vamos king of clay ! 06/06/2008 at 08:19 PM

wide awake : of course numero 4 is a RG number 4 !! don't get me wrong ;) and if he could do it in straits à la borg i would be even more pleased :P

rafa has played on all conditions at RG since 2005 : extreme heat 2006 semi and final, cold (like 13°C in 2006 when he broke vilas streak), cool and rainy this year, windy today, and he's there again in the final...
what does it say : conditions are a tiny little factor in his game, because his game is almost perfect on clay whatever the weather is.

for roger, only the rain made him lose a set to montanes, and he tends to play very conservative when windy. other than that, he's in the final too, no ?

vamos rafa a por el RG numer 4 !

Posted by 1963USCtennis 06/06/2008 at 08:54 PM

As I mentioned earlier. Rafael Nadal is now riding a wave of confidence that is only getting stronger.

It will not matter what Roger does. This wave will come crashing down upon the Swiss Master.


Posted by jhurwi 06/06/2008 at 09:03 PM

BBC article on the Federer-Monfils match says Monfils blamed a broken contact lens for costing him a chance to win the match:
Monfils blamed a broken contact lens for ending his hopes of becoming the first Frenchman to win the Roland Garros crown for 25 years. Was this in his press conference? I haven't seen anything about it on TW.

"I couldn't see well, so I tried to put some eye drops in at the beginning of the match," said Monfils.

"Then it didn't work, so I asked the doctor to come on the court. That didn't work.

"I think part of my contact lens stayed, remained in my eye. I managed to take the other part out, but there was one part left."

Monfils added: "I am disappointed, there was an opening for me there."

Posted by VE 06/06/2008 at 09:35 PM

Taking nothing for granted on Sunday, who would you say has left a stronger legacy, 3-time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal or 3-time Grand Slam Champion Maria Sharapova?

Posted by crazyone 06/06/2008 at 09:45 PM

VE: I think that's rather easy--Rafael Nadal, by a long shot. He's pretty much established himself as one of the two best clay court players ever to play the men's game. Maria Sharapova has a long way to go before she can even be considered an all time great.

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie) 06/06/2008 at 09:51 PM

ok dear Rafa kids, dont get smug now, lets play the match first, it isn't in the books yet, and follow your hero's lead a bit when it comes to Mr. Fed ...

vamos Red Rogie!

Posted by Sher 06/06/2008 at 10:02 PM

Also not to be discounted that Rafa loooove sunlight. It's like he's solar-powered. The more sun there is, the better he seems to play. Rain, clouds put a damper on him somehow, I feel. Pun intended.

Posted by jb 06/06/2008 at 10:12 PM

nice post about our young gael pete. when i was watching (online) earlier today - there was a very nice french gentleman talking about monfils, and his serious unwillingness to do anything but play fom the baseline. Apparently, he has finally realized that he need to do more than that to win. Today, once he started to get his act together in set 2, he became to much more agressive. and the results were tellin, imo.

it will be very interesting indeed to see if Monfils can back up this performance. Because we all know, almost any one of these guys on the tour can product a great match, or even a couple. Its backing it up that tells the tale. Consistency, its completely unsexy, but it totally wins this chicas heart!

Posted by mici 06/06/2008 at 10:16 PM

molfis didn't suprise me at all, I know it won't be easy, you just had to see their other matchs and how the match up egest each other. and fed new it also.

the problem with molfis is the same probkem MURRAY, bGDHADIS have, their gave is and should be attcking game, But for some reason they play difancive game, and it's hard for them to change as they are so used to it by now.

jhurwi: anothe media spin. I think he was talking about the 1 game, or set. any anyway fed also wear contacts.

*****I agree I THINK damp conditions is batter for fed.

the big problem with damp conditions is what he looses in his serve, THAT IS THE Big PROBLEM. IF fED HAD SAMPRAS SERVE I would love he chances a lot more, but he needs cheap point but in dampy condisions he looses a lot of power on the serve and it gives nadal cjance to get on the rellys.

****the kep bh in fed-nadal match for fed, is the bh cross cort with angle.

but he also need the don the line bh if it is slice or whatever he need it to be stady. becouse that is ehere nadal changes defance to attck in the reallys and then goes around his bh and his fh top spin that trubles fed.

I hope fed runs around his bh a lot when nadal runs aroundhis his bh and hit fh down the line.

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie) 06/06/2008 at 10:18 PM

wow none of the Euro dailies give Fed a prayer on Sunday...interesting... Id hardly call him 'frail' as one paper did...

and watching Djoker and Rafa again, I notice that Djoker makes the exact same mistakes Fed does, and falls into the same patterns that we all lament with Fed...we have to remember its not just Fred blowing those supposedly easy setups or littering the court with unforced errors... Djoker did his fair share today, I dont see him getting BBQd for it anywhere...

Posted by econmit 06/06/2008 at 10:28 PM

Mici: Just curious. How do you know Fed wears contacts? What is his eye correction for? Shortsighted or longsighted? I always thought great athletes tended to have perfect vision. I'm surprised.

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie) 06/06/2008 at 10:34 PM

oh wish Fed would watch that Starace match from Hamburg, its perfect tactics for Rafa's defense ... he hit some beauties today love that forehand dropper!

Posted by 1963USCtennis 06/06/2008 at 10:38 PM

"I notice that Djoker makes the exact same mistakes Fed does, and falls into the same patterns that we all lament "

Isn't it "funny" that the goat and the #3 player in the world keep making "mistakes" against this one particular player?

Could it not be that "mayyyybe" it is the other guy over the net playing so well that they just can't play any better?

"Funny" how these players just "happen" to pick the day they face Nadal as the day they will go out and make all these....


Posted by Twist Serve 06/06/2008 at 10:41 PM

Glad to hear that Gomez thinks cool slow conditions favor Federer. He definitely needs more time to set himself for the high backhand.

I think there might be another connection between Federer and Gomez. Tell me if I'm losing my mind: Didn't Gomez say after beating Tomas Muster at the French Open in 1990 that he (Gomez) had held back a little when he had lost to Muster a couple of weeks earlier?
Federer in his two clay court matches this spring with Nadal repeatedly race out to double-break leads in most of the sets, then suddenly stopped doing what he was doing to take those leads. It almost seemed like Federer had figured out exactly what to do but didn't want to totally show his hand just in case they met in the French final.

Anyone else notice this, or am I seeing something that's not really there?

Posted by ms. tangerine popsicle (tangi) 06/06/2008 at 10:50 PM

*who would you say has left a stronger legacy, 3-time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal or 3-time Grand Slam Champion Maria Sharapova?*


This was an easy one. Maria hasn't dominated a surface or tournament the way Rafa has. Rafa holds the all-time consecutive match win streak on clay and will go down as one of, if not the best, clay court players of all time. Slam dunk for Rafa.

Posted by Beckham 06/06/2008 at 10:51 PM

"Anyone else notice this, or am I seeing something that's not really there?"

Your'e definitely seeing something that's not there...

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie) 06/06/2008 at 10:54 PM

acutally 1963 thats exactly what I meant, we're so hard on Fed, but Djoker does the same thing its not just Fed's being a headcase thats to blame...

by the way smugness isnt all that necessary when your boy hasnt even lost a match at RG, why rub it in? but its funny how those mistakes on clay dont happen so much on hard courts, as Rafa's more than one year title drought off of clay points out...

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie) 06/06/2008 at 10:57 PM

hmmm The Guardian seems to agree with me on one thing..

Federer has won only one of his nine clay-court matches against the Spaniard, but given his towering ability he obviously has a chance tomorrow, with the majority of the tennis world outside of the Iberian peninsula willing it to happen.

Posted by 1963USCtennis 06/06/2008 at 11:05 PM

"by the way smugness isnt all that necessary when your boy hasnt even lost a match at RG, why rub it in? but its funny how those mistakes on clay dont happen so much on hard courts, as Rafa's more than one year title drought off of clay points out..."

Did not intend it as a "rub in". If you took it that way I'll publicly apologize. That is not what tennis is all about.

It just gave me the impression that "some" posters do not give credit where credit is due. The reason why Federer and Djocovic and Almagro and.....

all thos fine players seem to have "a bad day" against this guy in this tournament is that he is playing "exceptional" tennis.

That is the reason behind the discrepancy. Nadal's exceptional level of tennis. So, as much as Fed gets praised for his accomplishments over the last 4-5 yrs, so must the incredible accomplishments of this great champion.


HE is playing GREAT!

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie) 06/06/2008 at 11:34 PM

yes Rafa is playing great, on a surface that rewards everything he does very well... but those mistakes dont seem to come on faster courts, was my point, where Rafa simply cannot dominate anyone like he does on clay... hes playing great but the other player knows, because its clay, their shots wont be winners, and thus, they mess it up and try to make it TOO good ...

there's more to it than Just Rafa becuase on other surfaces, he doesnt get those errors, those shots often go for winners, as Djoker and Tsonga and Roger and Roddick and many others have proved...

so yes its Rafa, but its Rafa ON CLAY that draws those UFE, and if youre cheering against him, u cant help but wonder why your guy cant just put it away, it looks so easy on grass or hard court!

Posted by Tim (2008 Year of Red Rogie) 06/06/2008 at 11:43 PM

and cmon, even McEnroe today totally blasted Almagro, the guy just mailed in that match, had no intention of winning and embarrassed himself with that effort in a Slam quarterfinal...Mac as a former player certainly knows it when he sees it...

Rafa would have won anyway, but that effort was pathetic and it was good to hear McEnroe tell it like it is...

Posted by 1963USCtennis 06/06/2008 at 11:52 PM

" it looks so easy on grass or hard court!"

Oh really?

Then why has he reached the Wimbledon finals 2 years running?

Is it all those mistakes?

And why don't you post RNs win percentage on hardcourts to prove your point that it is SOOOOOO EASY.

Or post RN's hard court record against the guy he just demolished. That will surely prove your point that it is SOOOOOOO EASY to beat RN.

This guy wins on all types of courts, that is why he is ranked #2 in the world.

PS the head to head with Djoko is 8-3 and it is 2-2 on hardcourts.
With Fed 10-6 hard court 2-3

So, the results that have been recorded do not back up your statement that it is SOOOOOOOOOO EASY, even for the very elite hard court players.

Posted by JillfromNY 06/07/2008 at 12:05 AM

Pete: Thanx for the words about Monfils. I've always liked him, and I hope he goes on to have more success. And, yes, when I watch him play, he makes me crazy with his ultra-defensive style of play.

Posted by Alex 06/07/2008 at 12:07 AM

Nadal SHOULD get to the final of Wimbledon not because he is the #2 player in the world, but because grass court tennis looks more similar to clay tennis than to the game on a quick hard court or indoor carpet surface. So many of the players just sit back, rally, and even slide around the baseline with ease on what is ultimately loose dirt by the second week. If the grass still played as it did 10 years ago, I would have to still put my money on Federer winning, but I could not see Nadal getting past the first week.

On hard courts Nadal is certainly a top ten player, but definitely not the number 2. He has had some great wins on hard courts, but his results are far too inconsistent especially in the latter part of the season. There is no better evidence of this than how rarely (if ever) in the last 3-4 years he met Federer in the finals of hard court masters series tournaments, the US Open, or the Australian Open.

That said the only way I see Federer having a chance on Sunday is if he plays Rafter-style kamikaze tennis as he did in the 2006 Rome final. He should have at least 20 attempts at the net per set. I don't care how wet the conditions are, he is not going to beat Nadal hitting one-handed backhands at shoulder height (if lucky) or, more likely, above shoulder height.

Posted by 1963USCtennis 06/07/2008 at 12:13 AM

"On hard courts Nadal is certainly a top ten player, but definitely not the number 2. "

Hmmmmmmmmm; can you name two players who have a better record on hard courts than Rafael Nadal this year?

Sounds to me like some of you guys are bitter at the fact that this Spaniard is a great champion.

Posted by 06/07/2008 at 12:31 AM

1963USCtennis - it would be nice if Nadal had actually gotten to the finals, at least, of a couple of hardcourt Grand Slams before you anoint him a great champion on hardcourts. Not saying he can't, but he hasn't so far. And that's not bitterness, just some cold, hard facts. But it sounds like, in your mind, you've awarded him a few US Open trophies already? (Hint: must get past quarterfinals first...)

Posted by 1963USCtennis 06/07/2008 at 12:35 AM

"And that's not bitterness, just some cold, hard facts"

How about this fact: RN has the second best record on hc this year, right behind NJ.

sounds pretty good to me.

Posted by 06/07/2008 at 12:48 AM

Ah, but if you take a short enough time period, then you get lots of anomalous results - like, Nikolai Davydenko being the best hard-court player - remember him and what he did to Nadal? Really, for anyone but a die-hard KAD, would "best" and "second-best" be determined by a couple of hard-court tournaments at the beginning of the year? But I can perfectly understand why you don't want to count any hard-court results starting in the summer, including that trifling tourney called the US Open. That might make your hypothesis sound somethign less than "pretty good", eh? But I know, disabusing true believers of their delusions is a waste of breath. So, so long...

Posted by 1963USCtennis 06/07/2008 at 12:51 AM

"if you take a short enough time period,"

Half the year is a very short period? to consider the best record for the year?

ok, mr anonymous troll.

Posted by Vladimir Hiritsch 06/07/2008 at 12:54 AM

Tennis fans of all stripes. Federer needs to serve well---i.e. a high percentage.This is the key. He needs to mix it up. so that he serves some spin serves (typical second serve stuff) AS A FIRST
SERVE to keep Nadal off balance. He needs to step 1 meter further to the right when serving into the deuce court and just pick on that backhand by serving out wide and into the body, by mixing up the speed, placement, spin etc. I'm surpised no one has said that so far. Do any of you play serious tennis? He needs to go back to the same place when rallying to counter Nadal's incredible foot speed. He needs to volley much better than vs. Montfils. Does he wear contacts and not see well? Some of those volleys... I could have dome better!Most of all, let's hope Nadal has an off day, great champ that he is.

Posted by prettsg 06/07/2008 at 12:55 AM

Safina is going to be the FO champion 2008

Posted by prettsg 06/07/2008 at 01:00 AM

On the men's final, Nadal will win in straight sets on sunday, which is going to be the worst of Feds lost to Nadal ever, for the fourth consecutive title to join Bjorn Borg

Posted by Naydal 06/07/2008 at 01:05 AM

Nadal needs to hire usc1963 to run his fan club.

Posted by VE 06/07/2008 at 01:14 AM

I'm surprised people find Nadal v. Sharapova an easy call.

I mean we are in the thick of Nadal's strongest season, but Sharapova has won 3 different majors where Nadal has had an incredible streak at one. Nadal has been unfortunately held at No. 2 by a force of nature, while Sharapova has been ranked No. 1. She's also won the Year-End Championships which Rafa has not. Sharapova has never put together a winning streak (even on a surface) near what Nadal has. Nadal has won 11 Masters Series titles to Sharapova's 6 Tier Is. All and all from a resume perspective, they both have attributes the other hasn't, but taken in totality, pretty similar career resumes.

Comparing Nadal to Borg makes sense on some statistics, but Borg also was a Wimbledon champion five times.

I pose the question because history has a way of dulling the luster of champions who shine bright while on the tour. Think of even recent history, who will history see as a greater champion Lindsay Davenport or Guga Kuerten? Does a strong, multi-year presence in Paris outweigh brilliant runs in Melbourne Park, SW19 and Flushing? Does being the best No. 2 in history, outweigh being ranked No. 1. Does finishing year end No. 1 4 times elevate a player who won an equal amount of majors to a player who only touched the post for a moment?

Posted by crazyone 06/07/2008 at 01:24 AM

VE: Um, Sharapova doesn't have a clay record of 110-2 or whatever it is. I don't see what Sharapova has done that is in any way historically relevant, while Nadal is a select group.

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic are also performing incredibly consistently in every single tournament they enter. I can't say the same of Sharapova, who even skips some of the Tier I tournaments.

This may sound like a put down of Sharapova but it's not--it's just that I totally don't see the comparison you're trying to make. Nadal's numbers on clay are simply staggering, and he isn't half bad on other surfaces either, which is why he has more points than all the other number ones in the past--Sharapova won three slams scattered around a number of years, which is not that much different from what Lindsey Davenport, Hingis, and Jennifer Capriati did.

Can you list a historic or near historic achievement of Sharapova's?

Also, the standards on the women's side are much higher because there are so many women with very high GS totals. Margaret Smith Court had 24 slams...Steffi Graf had two Calendar year slams and one of those was a Golden Slam.

Posted by beagleboy 06/07/2008 at 01:31 AM

Novak and Sharapova going to win Wimbledon and US Open!I'm especially more confident about Novak's chances at those two tournaments.

Posted by Nick 06/07/2008 at 01:36 AM

Imagine if you said to Federer: "You'll play Nadal at The French Open and you'll have a Net-Ratio of +30 Winners/Errors; win 59% of your 2nd Serve points, as much as on your First Serve; and win 68% of your net approach points" - he'd probably say "then just go ahead and engrave my name on that trophy". If you then told him "By the way, with those stats you won't win a single set" - he'd probably bet a huge chunk of his $40 Million in earned prize money that you'd be wrong, believing Nadal could never play better than that. Yet those are exactly the stats Djokovic put up today - and got nothing.

Nadal's Net-Ratio Winners? +50!! That's incredible - he hit 50 outright clay-court winners against the alleged "#1 Player of 2008". Second Serve Points won? 70% - that's just sick. Even his net approach percentage was better: 74%. Nadal even clocked the single fastest serve of the match - 212 KMH to Djokovic's best of 208KMH. Oh yeah, and Nadal didn't serve a single double fault. That's what's different about Nadal on clay in 2008 - he's not just steadily hitting from the back waiting to draw errors from opponents anymore. He's dictating now, playing much closer to the base line than he ever has, hitting bigger, harder & faster - and taking the ball earlier too, even on the Forehand Side. And I thought clay was the surface that's supposed to be all about defense. "Conventional Wisdom" always told us clay court tennis was mostly about minimizing your errors because you just can't hit an obscene number of winners on clay like you can on a hard court. Talk about "un"-conventional wisdom!

Federer's task is a tough one. If Nadal plays the same way he did today, Federer has to play better than that to win- which would make this The Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played if he could. Or, he has to hope Nadal's level drops at least 50% from what it was today. Even at that, Federer would need the Djokovic stats from today to win it, all the while trying to keep Nadal's forehand from going deep into his own backhand. And on top of all that, he has to put those chokes in Monte Carlo & Hamburg out of his head. Federer is unquestionably the best tennis player ever, so if anyone can find what's required, he could. It just won't be easy. But - I'm very happy that this is the Final we all get to see. I love watching these two play.

Posted by crazyone 06/07/2008 at 01:48 AM

Nick: are these winners/UFE numbers ones from the RG website? At the beginning of the tournament they were underestimating winners and overestimating errors, but now they are making the opposite mistake and wildly overestimating the winners (the ESPN numbers are far more moderate and seem to match what I see--for example, I don't think Monfils hit 15 winners in the first set of tennis like the RG website says he did). So I'm not sure Djokovic's numbers were quite as incredible as you said they were, though I'm sure he played a fairly clean match. He still had an incredibly low first serve percentage for him, so I can't say he had good statistics.

Posted by Nick 06/07/2008 at 01:55 AM

Crazyone: According to ESPN today, Djokovic had 21 winners in just the 3rd Set alone.

Posted by prettsg 06/07/2008 at 02:08 AM

For this year, I'll pick Nadal and safina for wimbledon and Federer and Sharapova for US open

Posted by rg.nadal 06/07/2008 at 02:16 AM

What time would be the men's final be tomorrow?

Posted by rg.nadal 06/07/2008 at 02:26 AM

Its 3 pm Paris time, which is 2 pm UK time.

Posted by prettsg 06/07/2008 at 02:35 AM

Did anyone notice Fridays Semifinal Fed Vs Monfils? I'm sure Fed didnt play his best tennis but just played to entertain the local crowd and made it look lively. Monfils played great!

Posted by Vladimir Hiritsch 06/07/2008 at 02:44 AM

Good post! if Fed does not volley better ..he is cooked like dinner...end of story...some were downright horrible. Even a talented player like Fed, who does not practice this part of the game DURING MATCHES...suffers the consequences and the embarassment. Where was Tony Roche during the unglueing of Fed's volleying, having a walk- about?

Posted by Joker 06/07/2008 at 03:03 AM


Donot rely on the match statistics at FO website to count the winners. For all the matches starting with the nadal-alamagro qf day ( atleast that is the day I noticed the discrepancy) they are just adding the two rows above the "winners" row (1st serve points won + 2nd serve points won) and report that in the "Winners" row. (maybe some software bug or stupid intern)

Go check some WTA matches, players have hit 50+ winners in 3sets. Those stats are hilarious. In the Djokovic-Gulbis match, each player, according to those statistics has hit 82 winners.

Posted by Joker 06/07/2008 at 03:09 AM

1963 USC:

So Djokovic serving at 49% 1st serves in the 1st set or 42% in the 2nd set is also beacuse of nadal's game? Djokovic was below par in the 1st 2 sets for sure and nadal was on fire.

Posted by eric 06/07/2008 at 03:24 AM

Hello everyone.

This was a great read on why it's unlikely that Federer prevails against Nadal on Sunday (or ever):

(url edited - removes spaces to copy and paste)

Posted by ava 06/07/2008 at 04:15 AM

Having a strategy to beat Nadal on clay and actually executing it on the surface against him are two very different things as we have seen time and time again. Federer obviously knows what to do but a combination of his own inability to close out sets and Nadal's ridiculous consistency and patience will eventually do him in as we have seen so many times. I do not suppose Sunday will be any different. trust me, RAFAEL NADAL DOES NOT WANT TO LOSE THE FRENCH OPEN!
Nadal himself has said he played near perfect tennis in the first two sets against Djoko and I think he will do it again.

Again, disgusting to see people belittle Nadal's clay-court dominance and blow out of proportion Fed's dominance on grass and hard-courts(which Djoko is slowly creeping up to).

Posted by michael_o 06/07/2008 at 04:18 AM

Andres Gomez's remarks are hardly insightful. Exactly the same observations about the significance of the climatic conditions were being made by commentators this time last year. You only have to look at the '08 Hamburg semifinal (roof closed, damp atmosphere, 11 degrees) and compare it with, say, the '07 RG final or the '08 MC final, both of which were played on sunny, warm days. In Hamburg Nadal's ground strokes never got above waist height whereas in MC and RG Federer was regularly having to hit at shoulder height, especially difficult on the backhand side.

Bad news for Fed fans......tomorrow promises to be hot and sunny.

Posted by Pete 06/07/2008 at 04:45 AM

Eric - please use Tiny URL or some other URL shortening device to post links. Thanks, P.

Posted by Josh 06/07/2008 at 05:02 AM

Moderator - this is a repeat of previous post with tiny URL replacement. Feel free to delete previous post.

Interesting Reuters piece today on Monfils: claims he may have had a broken contact lens throughout the day and that Federer has created a new shot. "I don't know what that is," he says.

Posted by Hiram 06/07/2008 at 05:58 AM

Joker's right. I saw the whole match and Djokovic was a half-step flat in every department. It was a bit like Ferrer against Monfils. Ferrer tried and tried but could not get the ball deep. It was going right into Monfils zone whereas Monfils was hitting deep the whole match. Djokovic was playing better last year against Nadal, lost in three and knew he had done his best.

Compare Djokovic against Gulbis. Gulbis was hitting deep and really pushing Djokovic, but Djok was playing fantastic defense and making far fewer unforced errors. That was a great, close match.

Of course making more unforced errors, being a little flat, shanking a few easy put-aways takes bigger mental toll when playing against a player of Nadal's caliber. Clouds of despair were forming around Djokovic because he knows that if he's off a little bit he can't even make it competitive let alone beat Nadal.

Posted by Or 06/07/2008 at 06:14 AM

Bekham, I hope you see this, I was running to roomate's comuter during yesterday's match and didn't get the chance to do more than whine every 30 minutes or so.

Mats Wilanders was in the commentray boot for Eurosport, and he was channeling you so well (and so obviously rooting for Roger) it was just scary.

First of all, he kept talking about Roger being in "Lala land or whereever he is right now" all through the match, and even said at one point, after Roger went on a walkabout "Lala land again" - I was mentally daring him to say Mirka land.

Second of all, he kept saying throughout the match how there are two Roger Federer here - one is Roger Federer who is in the finals already, and one is the Roger Federer who is still playing his Semis (in other words, TMF and Rolf!)

He's becoming a Fed Kad of the highest order, Mats.

And then, he and Borg were on Game set and Mats. I think Mats believe in Roger's chances more than Borg.

Sigh, we'll see.

Posted by Vincent 06/07/2008 at 07:30 AM

I had to laugh reading Tim, who says he won't watch the final live. I'm doing exactly the same thing, and for the same reasons ! Already booked a tennis court at 15:00 pm local time. It helps resisting the temptation. I did the same for Hamburg 2007, and when I came home I just couldn't believe my eyes. Hopefully there'll be a similar nice surprise tomorrow..

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