Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Endgame on Clay
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Endgame on Clay 06/08/2008 - 3:09 PM


And so it was written. He would come, he would surely come. The one called Rafa, a raw and pleasant raven-haired youth, born, bred and schooled in the art of battle by the squat wizard Toni on a leafy repose surrounded by the sea. He would surely come, leaving behind the sunny climes and sea-washed sands of his home, unable to afford a sleeved shirt, this humble, behind-picking lad, wearing just his piratas and carrying a Babolat and a bandana containing a few morsels for his long and perilous journey.

Come he would, smiling, a student of the question ("No?") and disciple of the raised eyebrow, progressing ever northward through the rain and chill and impending sense of doom shrouding the kingdom of Roland Garros, where he would fulfill what has been written. There, the one called Rafa would do battle with Lord Fed, elegant and well-coiffed master of the glacial peaks and dark-forested inclines of Svizzero, steely-eyed ruler and protector of the maiden princess Mirka d'Bulgari.

Yet he would come, Rafa, bringing hope to legions held in ransom for long years, a humble youth yet well-prepared for the struggle, slugging and picking and topspinning to fulfill what has been written.  And so it came to pass.

And so it came to pass, and I had thought for the past few days that it would come to this, because the theme of the past three years has been that of Roger Federer, gamely fighting to capture the only Grand Slam to elude him - the only Grand Slam, incidentally, standing in the way of his coronation as the greatest tennis player of all time.  For four years now, The Mighty Fed has tried to stay in the hunt, tried to find a formula for beating Nadal or, barring that, hoping to have a great day when Nadal was having a merely good one. Be honest about this - over the past two years, couldn't you hear Federer's fingernails screeching, chalk on blackboard, as he tried to hang on?

Oh, heck, I might as well cut-and-paste the comment I posted four or five hours in the match in the CC thread:

Howdy, everyone. To quote that peerless tennis expert, the late Joe Strummer of the Clash, I have a feeling that today is "Armagideon time" (that's working class Brit, or at least Strummerease, for "Armaggedon time." I think one way or the other the result is going to be seismic: a Federer win, or, more likely - a Nadal 2-1-2  blowout. I just think the tension and drama of three years worth of thrusting and parrying is going to blow up on us. Enjoy the final!

Somehow, I think many of you didn't.  And I can only offer condolences; suck it up and get ready for Wimbledon, because that's exactly what your action hero will have to do. I know there wasn't all that much to enjoy, but to me the worst thing about the blowout we witnessed is that it dims the lustre of Federer's annual achievements here. But that will only be momentary. The Federer-Nadal Roland Garros finals, and the level of excellence they represent , in the getting-there if not the thereness, will be part of Roland Garros lore and legend for ages.

Besides, TMF lost today to a clay-court player of historically unsurpassed abilities. Before this tournament, I gave Bjorn Borg a slight edge over Nadal as the supreme claydog of the Open era. I'm exchanging that order now, because while Borg might have been marginally quicker, the devastating power and increasing accuracy of Nadal, combined with his quickness, seem to represent a clay-court endgame.Which lead to the successive questions I asked Federer in his presser:

Q. Roger, you're by miles the second best clay court on earth.  At the end of this long clay court season and this incessant talk about Rafa, are you a little bit relieved the clay court season is over?

A: No. I mean, the tough part about the clay is, let's say the first three or four weeks, you know.  Not that enjoyable, you know, because everybody is just talking about Paris, everything is just, you know, this big hype.  I mean, it's nice to be part of it.  It means you're playing well.  It is a little bit much at times.

But when sort of the French Open comes around everything sort of calms down.  You focus on your section.  You know, you're only sort of doing press every second day which sort of helps, as well.
Now I'm much more relaxed than maybe, you know, one month back where I don't think it's that enjoyable for us players sometimes.

Q.  Beyond that, your peers look at you as an extraordinary player.  Do you look at Rafa as an extraordinary player on clay?

A: Sure.  I mean, it's not first time I'm saying that.  I'm giving him plenty of compliments.  Yeah, I don't know what to tell you.

I don't want to make too much of this, and this was undeniably a rough moment to pose this question to TMF. On the other hand, I was quite proud of my diplomatic phrasing, and what the hail - why not tell me something like: I feel a bit unlucky to be playing against perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all time? Or, I didn't think this dude could get much better, but guess what - he has! Actually, Federer literally provided the second of those answers in the French portion of the presser, admitting that Nadal simply doesn't hit any short balls anymore, and that it's harder than ever to attack his forehand. Aw, Rog. I feel the pain buried in your curtness.

But let's contrast a heartbroken loser's responses with those of a joyful winner. During Nadal's presser, a little later, Doug Robson of USA Today asked him this succession of questions:

Q.  First, your reaction upon winning was not very emotional.  Can you explain why?  And two, do you believe that a big victory like this, to beat an opponent so badly, can be a psychological blow to that opponent?

A: "First thing, I won 6 0 the third set, no?  And without mistake. I didn't prepare when I celebrate something, when I go to the ground. When I win, I didn't think about this before, so that's the feeling in that moment. Today it was tough for Roger, I think, and I have to be respectful with one very good guy.  I have very good relationship with him, no?  Anyway, doesn't matter.  But I think I feel I have to be more respectful, no?

And later, I don't think so, no.  Roger is too good for that be very important loss for him.  For sure it is  for nobody is easy to lose final of Grand Slam. For me, lost the final at Wimbledon was very tough, too.  I think for everybody it's tough when you arrive final of a Grand Slam and you lose, especially if you are one of the favorites for to win the tournament, no?"

The differences between these responses are telling, and to me the big takeaway is that TMF is under stress. It may be because of his uncharacteristic struggles earlier this year, it may be because the countdown has started on his attempt to shatter Pete Sampras's Grand Slam singles title record. Whatever the case, he's in a delicate situation that will demand reserves of patience, confidence, and unflinching honesty, first of all, with himself.

I'm not sure we need to go into the gory details of the match (like, TMF faced at least one break point in every game he served but one.  Or that this was the worst French Open final-round shellacking since Vilas gave Brian Gottfried just three games in 1977).  But I did jot some notes during the match, and want to amplify them here:

1 - Nadal's serve and backhand are underrated shots. On serve, he finds Federer's backhand as doggedly as a Pomeranian nosing into its owner's pocket for a biscuit. As Mats Wilander (I know, I know: can't you at least leave him out of it?) observed afterwards: "Nadal hit like ninety-five, ninety-seven per cent of his serves to Roger's backhand, but Roger did nothing to step around it. I mean, come on? Take that extra step to the side, let him have a few aces down the middle. . .He does it, why not you?" This is directly related to:

2 - Against Nadal's heavy serve, Federer's backhand simply isn't up to snuff. In the long, second game that set the tone for the match (Nadal broke in the first game, and fought off two break points in the next), Nadal's decisive ad and break points were won via backhand service return errors. Watching Federer's backhand reminded me of the down-side of his essentially "light" (some would say angelic) style - a quality that expresses itself as a great asset on hard and grass courts, less of one on clay. Nadal pushes him around and beats him up on clay, there's no other way to put it, which leads us to:

Fed 3 - The difference between Federer and Nadal, in broad strokes, is the difference between a performer and a fighter. Don't protest too volubly or quickly; remember how easily some of you throw around the term, "Federer in full flight." The expression underscores what I mean by suggesting a recital of some kind, and the word "flight" has associations other than avian. Federer likes to fly high and fly free; but when someone successfully invades his air space, crowds him, does a different set of aerial maneuvers alongside  him, he can get frustrated.That process was on display today; full flight is difficult  when turbulence comes into play. Performing a complicated dance move is hard when someone's grabbing at  your ankles and won't let go. Which opens up discussion on:

4 - How much Nadal has improved - on clay. He addressed this in his presser, saying:

"Well, I think I played almost perfect match.  Roger had mistakes more than usually, and I play more inside the court, having more times the control of the point. . . closer to the baseline. I think I'm playing more inside the court, so not typical two meters behind court, putting the balls with topspin.  For sure I am playing with topspin, no?  But improving different things, no? Having so much slice, changing more directions.  And with the backhand, sometimes putting more flat shots, no?"

So as glum and out of sorts as Federer appeared in this match, let's not forget the trigger for his mood. If you said, 12 months ago, that there was a lot of room for improvement in Nadal's clay court game, I'd have rolled my eyes. Today, that improvement was obvious and decisive. Skeptical? Federer had exactly one Grand Slam title when he was Nadal's age.

Rafa_2 And finally, consider this exchange with Matt Cronin:

Q.  You're very respectful, modest, humble type of person.  But don't you feel if you play your best on clay courts, and you've said you've played near perfect the whole tournament , you're the best player on clay court in the world.  Hands down.

  A:  Doesn't matter if I'm humble or modest, the numbers say I am the best player in the world on clay for the last years.  That is true.  I am humble, but the numbers are the numbers, and the rest, just be respected with the opponents, no?  And I know, and I say it honestly when I go on court.  I feel every match I can lose a match, no?  I didn't. I speak seriously when I say that, no?  It's not a humble position, no?"

Oh yes it is. So it is written.

PS - That's it for me from Paris; I'm off traveling tomorrow, but Rosangel will be going to Queens, and I Ed McGrogan has already teed up a Lundi Net Post. I'm fried, but it was a good tournament. Hope you enjoyed the coverage and if you have any questions to raise next week, maybe we'll do a Roland Garros chat party or something. Thanks for reading, everyone!

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Posted by tommy 06/08/2008 at 03:22 PM

I think we'll have an interesting Wimbledon, since the #2 and #3 are both having better years than Roger.
And the women's side looks a little more open. Safina has been the oldest slam finalist this year, and she's 22. The younger women might be taking over.

Posted by Viren 06/08/2008 at 03:26 PM


And most definitely Sad today :(

Posted by Andrew 06/08/2008 at 03:26 PM

Thanks for the reports, Pete.

I think it might be worth letting this one sink in, just as you let the Federer-Roddick AO 2007 SF sink in, then came up with a revised take. But way to go on the premonition that this might break open, big time. So it was written...

Posted by Beckham (fairy god mother granting wishes) 06/08/2008 at 03:30 PM

"TMF is under stress. It may be because of his uncharacteristic struggles earlier this year, it may be because the countdown has started on his attempt to shatter Pete Sampras's Grand Slam singles title record. Whatever the case, he's in a delicate situation that will demand reserves of patience, confidence, and unflinching honesty, first of all, with himself."

I agree he's been under stress all year, but I don't think he's taking into account his earlier season, if he doesn't win Wimby and underperforms the HC season, then I'm sure his confidence will be severly shaken but now I don't think it is, no matter how horrendous this loss was for him...also he's employed Higueras and I think this should help in his continuous quest to be a better player...

PS: Pete, at one point they showed a stat and Rafa had hit 100% of his first serves to Fed's BH and Fed didn't cut it off once...he's not comfortable doing that and he never will be...

Posted by crazyone 06/08/2008 at 03:36 PM

I wish he weren't stressed at all, but frankly given the situation he's in, this GS count that has gone on since at least the 2004 US Open, the frenzy over the calendar/career slam, the age difference between him and his nearest opponents, how could he NOT be stressed? I'm actually surprised that he hasn't gone off the deep end but has basically been improving almost every tournament this season. And right and left everyone's writing his obituary in the press, the worst was an article by Simon Barnes after his *straight sets* victory over Sam Querrey that declared it "the beginning of the end".

Borg quit the game early because of tension, McEnroe took a break and never was the same player again...Federer's handling it pretty well I'd say. Of course, so did Sampras but Sampras never had the same kind of expectations riding on him that Federer does.

Posted by Markic 06/08/2008 at 03:37 PM

Federer still has time on his side... he's good for another five years, unless he 'does a Juju'...

Posted by 1221 06/08/2008 at 03:38 PM

Rafa's developing his offensive game...and his getting very good...

Posted by Amit 06/08/2008 at 03:39 PM


I think we have to partially attribute this win to Nadal being in a zone of sorts, and Federer just getting blown off the court. Of course Nadal has greatly improved his game, but he possibly couldn't have improved that much from MC or Hamburg, right ?

Would you say this match is a true measure or indicator of how future clay matches between the two will go ?

Posted by Matt Zemek 06/08/2008 at 03:40 PM

Every comment/assessment, Pete, is on the mark.

I would only say that I don't think Fed is carrying quite as much stress as it might seem.

Sure, he IS carrying a lot of stress, but I don't sense the burden being so hugely substantial.

If anything, Fed carried a lot more stress after last year's French final, when he dropped out of Halle, skipped the Bud Collins NBC interview, and had a very pained expression after Rafa beat him at Roland Garros. This carried into the Wimby final.

This time, I think Fed has an oddly clearer head because there wasn't much he could do... and he acknowledged as much in his presser.

Weirdly enough, I think a Fed-Rafa final this year at Wimbledon will be less stressful than the '07 one. I think that will ALWAYS be the most stress-filled match Federer will ever wind up contesting. No one thought Rafa could ascend to the throne then, but it almost happened in front of Borg, with Roger trying to tie the 5 straight championships.

This year, I think that Roger knows Rafa can take it away from him, but that might have the effect of relaxing him on his "home court."

This was a good French for Fed. Not great, of course, but good. He should definitely reach the finals, and if he plays Rafa, it will likely come down to a handful of points, likely in 1 or 2 tiebreaks. Win or lose, I think Roger himself knows that there's only so much pressure he can put on himself at this point. Last year was so much worse, and 2006 Wimby was pretty intense as well when Rafa unexpectedly reached the finals at Centre Court.

Posted by Whitney 06/08/2008 at 03:42 PM

Just wanted to say thanks for these posts from Paris, Pete. I have fun reading them and all the comments that follow.

Posted by Tari 06/08/2008 at 03:42 PM

Not sure what you were trying to say here, Pete. I think you picked out the shortest quote from Roger in regards to Rafa, though. What I've read sounded like he praised him to no end in the most flattering way possible - basically saying he didn't feel he could do anything today against him. Again, not sure what you were trying to say with picking that quote out...

As for Roger being stressed...I would think that is a given, no?

Posted by Jenn 06/08/2008 at 03:45 PM

Pete, thanks for the reports all week. I liked the Lord of the Rings vibe (at least, that's what it invoked for me) of the first part of your post. Today, although it was not a good competitive match, Rafa just took my breath away. Wish I could have been there to see it live. Aside from the tennis, the respect that these two champions show for each other, the fans and the game is admirable and refreshing.

It is difficult to argue that Rafa has not improved on clay. The real question, of course, is whether and to what extent that improvement will translate to grass and, more importantly, to hard courts. I feel Djokovic is still improving a lot too. It underscores something that you said, Pete, last year: that every GS title Fed gets from here on out will be that much more difficult than the ones that have come before.

Posted by Whitney 06/08/2008 at 03:46 PM

I don't really want to talk about the match - plus there is nothing I can say that someone hasn't already said. But I do like the fact that Fed wants to continue playing for many years to come. He always brings up Agassi when talking about how long he wants to keep playing and I'm glad he has that mindset.

Posted by crazyone 06/08/2008 at 03:46 PM

Matt Zemek and Tari: exactly what I was going to say about the stress. How could you NOT be stressed in that situation? And given the situation, he doesn't actually come off as that stressed.

Posted by Master Ace 06/08/2008 at 03:55 PM

Today was the best that I have ever seen Rafael Nadal play as he took everything away from Roger.
(1) Won the baseline battle dictating play
(2) When Roger attacked the net, Rafa passing shots were great especially a lob in one game for 0-15.

Posted by Syd 06/08/2008 at 03:55 PM

Pete, thanks for your insight and analysis, nothing to quarrel with here.

It is extremely difficult to evaluate this year for Roger; sorry, have to say it, because of the illness. It has affected everything, most especially his all important training at Dubai, and it seems he's been a step behind.

The ball was bouncing very high today at RG and Roger was obliged to hit balls on his backhand side around his shoulders—from what I saw, he didn't have time to step around, not on serve anyway. Nothing really came together for him today and something was missing on the mental side.

Posted by Alex 06/08/2008 at 03:57 PM

The disappointing thing is that I don't really think he even tried anything different. Apparently Higueras has been stressing minimal unforced errors. Well, anyone could have told Roger that. The thing I didn't see was unrelenting attack. If, like he said in the French portion of the press conference, he sort of felt like it wasn't his day early on, why the heck didn't he at least go out doing something totally different - i.e. attack on every single ball. True I saw him attack, and true he was passed. But attacking even two or three times in a row does not test the passer's resolve. Nadal might hit two or three passing shots, but why not see if he can 60 passing shots under pressure? Anyway, I think he should have just attacked on all sorts of approaches - down the middle, angled, slice, etc. - and just let it fly. Instead, he reverted back to old habits. He didn't even TRY to hit penetrating slices off his backhand. If you have time to hit mediocre topspin backhands, you definitely have time to hit a driving slice. He did try a few drop shots, but they failed miserably. He tried them at the worst possible times, though. I have to believe he saw or at least heard about Starace's match against Nadal in Hamburg and the continuous onslaught of drop shots that he unleashed. Then again, he himself played against Nadal with more variety than I have seen from any player in recent memory this year at Monte Carlo.

Oh well, it's all done now. Long live the Nadal complex...

Posted by evie 06/08/2008 at 03:58 PM

Seems like you were irritated that Fed didn't answer your question in a way you liked. The presser was filled with compliments about Rafa and his game. What more is he to say?

Posted by Nancy J 06/08/2008 at 04:01 PM

I wish some of the women (and their fans) would take this lesson of respect and humility for a great opponent from Rafa. What a sweet guy.

As I wrote in the previous thread, although I agree with John McEnroe when he said on NBC that Rafa was the best he'd ever seen on clay (he said that during the Novak semis match), I still say that Bjorn Borg has my greatest respect for having the strength to win back to back both the French-Wimbledon championships three times.

Seeing how tough it was and has been for Pete Sampras and Roger Federer to accomplish such, I have a whole new respect for all of the iron man/women players of the past, especially Borg, who have accomplished that mighty feat. Although, I don't see it being accomplished this year (I hope that Rafa proves me wrong, but I think Novak might make a presence at Wimbledon...).

The difference between Wimbledon for this Rafa fan and the FO for a Roger fan, is that I have a whole lot less confidence in my man on grass than Roger fans have for him on clay. Sure, Rafa came awfully close last year, but if Roger shows up at even close to his best, I believe he will win.

The question is, with what's been happening with Roger so far in 2008, which Roger will show up to Wimbledon this year?

Posted by john smith 06/08/2008 at 04:03 PM

Somehow I don't see Nadal as finalist on Wimbledon. I think he has been a bit overrated there. Yes, he has got 2 finals in a row... success made on pure hustle but there are several factors:

1- Roddick never landed in his draw
2- We have an improved version of Djoker

Having said this, I think it gets more difficult... he won't be able to dodge Roddick forever and I don't believe Djoker is going to play 4 and 5 setters from round to round spending 10 hrs in two rounds this time. He's a lot better player this year.

But definitely it's going to be fun... the most interesting Wimbledon since Pistol Pete retired.

Posted by Sher 06/08/2008 at 04:06 PM

I had the same feeling Pete - win or lose it would be crazy, it would blow up

And I enjoyed it after a fashion. Yes, my heart hurt for Roger, but I could see how brilliantly Rafa was playing.

Posted by 06/08/2008 at 04:06 PM

I personally don't think that Pete was getting critical by quoting Roger.

I am not sure why we have to be defensive of how Roger answers a question. Part of what makes a champion a champion is he/she despises losing. If they are curt or honest on a day they lost a major match, so be it. I hate the criticisms of Roger as much as I hate when people talk about how "nice" he is. Cursing at opponents during a match or ballkids and umpires are not professional and deserve reproach. As long as they shake the opponent's hand, say congratulations, and acknowledges their accomplishment, that's all that needs to be done on a professional level in my opinion.

On a different note....... As fans, some of us think of these athletes as our "personal" acquaintances. Do we really know what any of these athletes are like on a personal level? O.J. anyone?

Posted by sally 06/08/2008 at 04:06 PM

roger has let the media put too much pressure on him to break sampras's record and it has screwed up his game and mind. stop thinking about the sampras record and just play your wonderful game.

Posted by naughty T 06/08/2008 at 04:09 PM

gosh Pete I am a bit worried if Mirka is a maiden.. maybe that is the problem with our boy fed... he needs a little release. Mirka give it up girl for the good of us all.

Posted by crazyone 06/08/2008 at 04:09 PM

NancyJ, sorry to be picky but it's not correct to put Sampras and Federer in the same sentence when it comes to their attempts to achieve the FO-Wimby double. Federer's been one match away twice against possibly the GOAT on clay, while the closest Sampras has ever been is QF at the French and winning in Wimbledon. Ironically, the year Sampras made it to the SFs at the French Open he lost in the QFs of Wimbledon (the one loss that broke up his string of Wimbledons).

Yeah, Wimbledon's interesting, the USO's interesting.

Posted by Matt 06/08/2008 at 04:11 PM

With the way the grass plays now I still think Rafa will at least make the final. It's the closest thing to clay nowadays other than clay.

Posted by Beckham (fairy god mother granting wishes) 06/08/2008 at 04:12 PM

I'm glad that Roger wants to break Pete's record but I wish to hail he'd stop talking about it, it's just adding unnecessary pressure before he'd refuse to talk about it now just a slight prompt and he waxes on eloquently about it...

I still say Wimby will tell where the Fed's head is, if he puts on a dismal showing at his most beloved slam then you know something is terribly wrong...yes this was a horrendous loss but it was on his worst surface...a loss like this on a HC or Wimby would be catastrophic...

Posted by Alexis 06/08/2008 at 04:13 PM

First off, I want to congratulate Rafa on a stellar tournament. Winning 4-straight FOs is a wonderful accomplishment. I did not expect Federer to win today, but it is too bad that he didn’t play better. Nadal had his “A+” game and Federer probably only a “B” or “C” which is not good enough against Nadal on clay. This is one of those matches when you just have to say “too good”. Nadal was way too good today and didn’t allow Federer to really play his game. All credit to Nadal. He was great all tournament and deserved to win.

I will say that both Federer and Nadal were incredibly gracious today and it was nice to see. Roger gave all the credit to Nadal and made no excuses. Such a great sportsman whether he wins or loses (as Nadal even said to J-Mac). And thanks to J-Mac for pointing out what a credit Roger is to tennis for his sportsmanship and his willingness to keep coming back and trying. I agree.

As painful as seeing Federer miss another opportunity to win the FO, this loss doesn’t really bother me too much because Roger was never really in this match. Today was all Nadal and you just have to tip your hat to him.

So, this will be my only post today as I’ll let the Nadal fans have their day. It was a great win and they deserve to celebrate.

Anyway, the good news is NBC played the Wimbledon final from last year in their extra time so I still got to see Roger beat Rafa. :) Plus, Roger protected all his points so he’s good to go for the rest of the year. And the clay season is thankfully over! yeah!

Later gators…

Posted by Matt Zemek 06/08/2008 at 04:13 PM

Well, let's look at the draws. They will shape the trajectory of Wimbledon this year.

But without the drawsheets, I think it's entirely fair to put Rafa and Roger ahead of everyone else, with Djokovic a very small smidgeon behind the two.

Posted by Federer Bhakta 06/08/2008 at 04:14 PM


Before you asked your question, from the beginning of the press conference, Roger had nothing but praised Nadal on his display today. I don't see his response as curt at all. I think you were just trying to rub it in by asking that quetion.

Posted by evie 06/08/2008 at 04:17 PM

one match away three times, no?

I don't think the press is putting pressure on Fed to break Sampras's record, I think he's doing it to himself. But I do agree that as soon as he acknowledged thinking about it, even focusing on it, it made every win that much tougher. Still, what are we talking about here? He lost the AO in the semis and the RG in the finals (killed in the finals, but still, the finals). Let's see what happens later this month.

Rafa is not overrated on grass, he's underrated, imho. Djoko and Roddick will both be tough, but they may end up on Fed's side. Rafa's got another great shot at a final.

Posted by crazyone 06/08/2008 at 04:22 PM

evie, he was two matches away in 05 and one match away in 06 and 07. But of course if he had actually won the FO in '06 or '07 we have no guarantee that he would have won Wimbledon afterwards. But the general point is that he came a lot closer to replicating Borg than Sampras.

I can't believe there's already grass court tennis!

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 06/08/2008 at 04:26 PM

Hey, Pete - This was a fun one - more fun than the match almost! Safe travels home!

Posted by twist serve 06/08/2008 at 04:37 PM

Wow. I've never been this wrong about anything. I predicted Federer would win in three sets, maybe five sets.

But I still think Nadal can be beaten at Roland Garros. I say this based simply on the fact that just about every "unbeatable" athlete or team eventually gets solved.

Posted by embug 06/08/2008 at 04:39 PM

What you said here is key... "Whatever the case, he's in a delicate situation that will demand reserves of patience, confidence, and unflinching honesty, first of all, with himself." I hope TMF can calm down and not blame, like he seemed to be doing in the press conference to some extent. Right before the trophy presentation, I thought he looked pissed as hell. Then he took the mike and spoke as if nothing was the matter, like the diplomat he is and because Rafa did play well. I know that podium isn't the place to rant. However, perhaps behind closed doors, with Mirka, he can at some point scream his way clear of this disappointing loss.

Posted by Heidi 06/08/2008 at 04:39 PM

I am looking forward not just to Wimby but the warmup tournaments. If Federer plays Halle again this year and Nadal goes to Queen's, the warmups should be very interesting.

Posted by la boheme 06/08/2008 at 04:43 PM

I have always found that in the interviews he's given over the years Roger shows that he is firmly grounded in reality. His game may reflect fights of fancy and other imaginative and artistic modes of genius, but his analysis of his own game and that of his opponents is always the most trenchant and knowledgeable around. He understands his strengths and weaknesses better than anyone.

Roger has said in many recent articles that he has to keep improving in order to play competitively into his thirties, even as he acknowledges that the fundamentals of his game will not markedly change. I expect that he will do just that - continue to work hard to improve his fitness and keep adjusting strategy and tactics (although mostly through tinkering and not by trying to become a different kind of player).

The poise he exhibited after this loss (especially the oui, c'est moi comment) bode well for his mental composure going into Wimbledon. Of course, his confidence would have to be affected somewhat by the magnitude of this loss, but his ability to keep it real with himself will pull him through. He's a champion of the highest order.

Posted by jb 06/08/2008 at 04:47 PM

Pete - nice wrapping post - sigh - I just wish it would have had a different tone. hail, i wish the match would have had a different ending. :(

today's match was amazing, i've never seen rafa play inside the baseline like that. it was nuts. He definately hit a new level in this tourney, definately different play from any of the other tourney's this spring. imo at least. not sure if was a factor of it being a slam, and having the days off between that helped or what, but rafa took a quantum leap forward these last weeks and in particular today.

it will be interesting to see if he can take this aggressiveness to the grass and to the rest of the hard court season.

still, if this had happend in monte carlo - it would have been a LOOOOONG clay court season... :)

Safe trip home Pete - again thanks for all the posts!

Posted by twist serve 06/08/2008 at 04:50 PM

john smith:

I agree totally with your 4:03 comments. How many times can Nadal play Wimbledon without facing an in-form Roddick or a fit Djokovic?

Posted by L. Rubin 06/08/2008 at 04:57 PM


He looked "pissed"? I actually thought he looked heartbroken. At one point, he looked up at Higueras and Mirka with the saddest expression. I agree with you, however, about the therapeutic powers of Mirka V. She's a loyal one, no doubt, and I expect her to stay awake tonight and incessantly whisper "Wimbleldon, honey, Wimbledon" into the slumbering Roger's ear.

I'm surprised, too, that some folks insist on interpreting Fed's comments as curt. This man would never demean himself (what with his 12 grand slams and all) by saying something along the lines of "Pity me for always meeting this Rafa guy." Roddick, who has suffered at the hands of Roger far more than Roger has at the hands of Rafa, has dismissed that sort of attitude in several press conferences by saying (and I paraphrase) that such an attitude is ungrateful and whiny. Roger obviously seconds that.



Posted by bobcat 06/08/2008 at 04:59 PM

I had the good fortune of listening on the radio as Matt Cronin joined Raz and Eli? So much better than the Mc/Robinson duo. Wish they had these guys on radio at all the slams and Master's Series. It's a dialogue not a monologue!!

Posted by highpockets 06/08/2008 at 05:00 PM

"On serve, he finds Federer's backhand as doggedly as a Pomeranian nosing into its owner's pocket for a biscuit."

Love that line, Pete.

Posted by Jenn 06/08/2008 at 05:00 PM

Twist serve and John Smith: how many times can Rafa come close to winning Wimbledon before people will stop saying that his success is due to nothing other than "hustle" and easy draws? Time will tell.

No doubt Rafa v. Roddick on grass would be a very interesting match. But I don't recall Andy ever taking Roger to 5 sets in any of their Wimbledon matchups. I'm not sure why you think it is a given that Roddick would beat Rafa on grass. Also, since you brought it up, Federer similarly has not had to beat an in-form Djokovic on grass. All of these potential matchups will be intruiging.

Posted by embug 06/08/2008 at 05:06 PM

L. Rubin... thanks for the insight. I didn't see him look up at Higueras or Mirka. That must have been hard to watch and could've been why I missed it.

Posted by Mr Rick 06/08/2008 at 05:07 PM

Great post, Pete. In temperament and appearance, Rafa has always made me think of an ancient heroic character - long hair flowing and relentlessly, inexhorably determined.

But although his clay season has been a stunning success, I think our hero's real goal is Wimbledon.

In fact, I think he has spent every waking moment for the past year preparing for it. I see the improved serve, the drop shots, the more freqent inside court play as unmistakable evidence of that. He has made it to the finals in Wimbledon the past two years relying to a great extent on his mental strength (rain delays...)and confidence built up through the clay season --- but this year he really has developed a truly dangerous arsenal of weaponry to go along with all that.

His clay court and hard court play has obviously benefited from all this hard work, and who knows maybe there will be a USO or AO trophy also in his case before its all over.

But first stop, for sure, is Wimbledon. If he stays healthy, I don't see how he doesn't win Wimbledon this year, I really don't. And if you gave Rafa the choice of either the number #1 ranking or Wimbledon, I bet he would take Wimbledon every time.

And this is to take nothing away from Roger - or even Novack. People who say Roger is in decline are just being absurd. Roger got off to a slow start this year because of illness, but talent his sublime doesn't just go away and his time in the sun is a LONG way from being over.

But anyone who plays Rafa in Wimbledon this year really better bring it - nothing less than a A game is going to cut it with him this year. He wants it BAD and I think he has figured out how to get it.

Posted by Marian...vamos Rafa! 06/08/2008 at 05:07 PM

Congratulations to Rafa's fan, comisserations to Roger's!

But, didn't I "tell you so"?

a) Rafa is in top form
b) Roger is imprecise

And contrary to what him and some posters here suggested, this is not the "form of the day"; the situation has been like this at least since Hamburg...

Two things happened though since Hamburg, that tilted the ballance even more in Rafa's favor:

1. His blisters must have healed more
2. He learned his lessons and didn't want to allow Djokovic, nor Federer another early lead.

I agree that Wimbledon will not be easy with so many heavy hitters/servers, but I've just rewatched the 2007 final and Roger got a lucky win...Since then he went more then a notch down in many areas (starting with volleys, FHs, etc), while Rafa seems to have improved. Of course Roger has been sick and this whole season could and maybe should be considered a wash; hope he gets back on track next year or even sooner, such as in US Open. And he needs a coach on a constant basis. One that he would listen to and that implies honesty for himself as well, as you Peter so well put it, when you expected more honest answers from Rogers about his defeat by Rafa.

Go Rafa!

Posted by Monica 06/08/2008 at 05:09 PM

Didn't Pete Sampras say in an interview about Roger that his biggest challenge was going to be motivation? Sampras knew what he spoke of. Quite frankly, I don't know how Federer is not bored to death with tennis at this point, especially after dominating for the past four seasons (even at his "weak" tournament he made the finals two years in a row). I'm sure he wants to tie Sampras' record, but is that in and of itself motivation enough, especially for someone with Roger's temperament?

Posted by Junebug 06/08/2008 at 05:18 PM

I haven't visited this blog in almost 2 years, but it is great to see it's bigger and better than before with lots of great commentary and more rationale posters.

Today's final was just a plain old beatdown that an experienced and more physically matured grown-up puts on a 17-year-old high school jock. Once the going got tough, Federer didn't have it in him to push back, and how can we blame him? He would have won 2 games max in the 3rd set even if he tried as though his life depended on it.
A lot of people are denying that Roger quit, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say he actually did. No energy and no will. Even he wasn't prepared for the level of intensity and play that Nadal would play with in the final.

Congrats to Rafa and his loyal fans. He is truly a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena and it is a joy and a privilege to watch him move his feet on this surface. I hope he keeps on improving so one day can win RG dropping less than 10 sets throughout the entire tournament.

I hope that Roger's psyche isn't too affected by this loss. Sadly, has his career already reached the "solid-but-not-enough-to-win-titles-consistently" stage? Only Wimbledon will tell us.

Posted by vetmama 06/08/2008 at 05:25 PM

monica -

Never underestimate the stubborness of Roger Federer
nor his desire to win.

He is a highly motivated individual. No one ever pushed him to become what he is, he begged and pleaded for it. And worked, worked, worked.

It is well known his other interests are minor in his life... for goodness' sake, what does he do with his down time during tournaments, even in the hotel?
He watches tennis.

Motivation is his middle name because he can't stand not winning.

Posted by Staz 06/08/2008 at 05:25 PM

Maybe, in a perverse way it's a good thing that Roger didn't win because he was saying that if he won RG he would have completed everything he wanted to in his career, so surely he wouldn't have been so motivated after that and the level of his play would have dropped significantly for a while at least. So while Roger might think it's a bad thing to have lost, maybe it's going to benefit us tennis fans and tennis history?...Guess I'm grasping at straws now ;) That was a hard final to take!

Posted by Kathy 06/08/2008 at 05:25 PM

Congratulations to Rafa on a wonderful tournament and a fantastic match today. I can't believe that after winning 4 consecutive French Open titles the majority of people can only snipe and gripe at Rafael Nadal. What he has achieved at his young age is amazing and yet we get comments like "How many times can Nadal play Wimbledon without facing an in-form Roddick or a fit Djokovic?" "The poise he exhibited after this loss" What about the poise displayed by Rafa following his win? This should be Nadal's time to receive the acclaim. Once again congratulations to Rafael Nadal on a well deserved win.

Posted by vetmama 06/08/2008 at 05:27 PM

Staz, I hadn't thought of that. That's definitely a silver lining.:-)

Posted by svelterogue 06/08/2008 at 05:29 PM

hi pete

firstly, vamos rafael! :)

secondly, rafa's quote on improving his offensive stance on clay by playing more inside the court, employing more slice, varying his shots --- particularly flattening out his backhand --- will serve him in good stead on faster surfaces, i believe, which gives me a lot of hope for his wimbledon campaign.

thirdly, i am not ready to crown him the king of grass or hard courts yet, but i don't think anyone can deny that this kid is learning how to play on surfaces he's not comfortable with by working on his game on his favourite surface. genius!

thank you for the last report. vamos rafa, king of clay!

Posted by Staz 06/08/2008 at 05:29 PM

vetmama-yeah, that's my one consolation ;)

Posted by tcool 06/08/2008 at 05:37 PM

As a Rafa fan I am so glad he won, But as someone who respects Roger I feel very bad for him. It certainly sets up an interesting 2nd half of the season. Can Roger regroup and go on to dominate like he always does at Wimbledon and the US Open? Can Rafa win Wimbledon? I think he is closer to winning Wimbledon than Roger is to winning The French Open. Or will he fade in the second half of the season as he(unfortunately) tends to do? Where will Novak Djokovic factor in(I believe he will be a major force for the summer hardcourt season)? It makes for an exciting time in tennis.

Posted by john smith 06/08/2008 at 05:38 PM

Jenn, you cannot measure players who never played a game by comparing them H2H to others. That's just wrong... we're not into a computer program this is sport...

First of all, Roddick is a 2-time finalist. Strongest serve ever and ace machine. Wimbledon is a perfect tournament for him, since it's a tournament where you need probably least variety to win. Fast serve and booming FH is pretty much enough. Some point an net here and there.

The only problem with Rodick is in his head. Best example is last year's game he lost to Gasquet. He just went down mentally.

The reality is, this year he's having a pretty much solid year. I think most of people forgot about him because of recent injury... but the fact is he has a 25-4 record. He already beat Nadal, Federer and Djokovic.
I also think that because of his recent WB failures and a miserable record vs. Federer tend to underestimate him. That's a big mistake.

His serve is still huge and he can beat anybody on any given day. Only Federer has made him look smaller because he has such great read of Andy's serve, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous.

In fact, behind Federer I would still put Roddick way before Nadal. If they play H2H some day I'm sure Nadal would have though time...

Posted by john smith 06/08/2008 at 05:45 PM

And regarding the past year finals. Yes, it was 5 set match but it wasn't nearly close as "the fairy tale" I listen here every day.

It ended 6-2 in fifth set. That's 3 breaks up! Get real, Federer was never going to lose it. He just went to extra-gear and finished strong. Nadal reached his maximum right there...

Posted by bob 06/08/2008 at 05:48 PM

I'm interested in 2 comparisons.

What if the 19 year old (2001) immature but brilliant federer would have played nadal today?
What if the 2004 or even 2005 federer had played nadal today?

The 19 year old would have showed his talent in some way and would have made us sit up and take notice. So he would have lost but I'm guessing no less then federer did today.

The 2004/5 federer had no self doubt at all. I know he lost the 2005 rg semi, but he was a break up in the 4th there and though nadal deserved it it was pretty close.

If we're saying that the 2001 and 2004 federer might have done at least as well as the 2008 federer the question must be raised- is federer going downhill?
We're told he's improved his volleying, his second serve, he's fitter, his backhand, his dropshots, his any of this really true? I'm not sure it is.

Posted by crazyone 06/08/2008 at 05:55 PM

bob--in general, those improvements of volleying/serve/fitness/backhand relate to '06/'07, in which he had pretty good results. To keep up even after a great year requires improvement because the other players catch on to your tactics and figure out to defeat you. So yes, I think he had improved since '04/'05.

But too bad the '04 Federer lost to an over-his-prime Kuerten in straights...and only made the 2nd round of the Rome in general Federer's tactics on clay have improved a lot. He may be in slight decline this year, not surprising, but he's actually doing better than the '04 Federer on clay. In '06 he definitely did way better than the '04 Federer on clay, no question.

Posted by TMF Rules - Forehand Dropper King 06/08/2008 at 06:07 PM

This story of a conversation I had today with my son and with some guests who joined us for dinner should make all Fed fans feel good as it made me feel good. My son who is not a big fan of tennis and knows nothing about the game except through what he hears from me watched a little bit of the match today but did not really have many comments to make. Anyway, during dinner, one of my friends asked me so Karen was today the final of the French Open, I said yes. [pause while I chewed]. So, did Federer win. me, nah, he lost. My son: mummy, talk the truth, Federer got his a** handed to him today by Nadal. Mommy, have you seen how Nadal moves. The man sick. Mommy, as good as Federer is, Nadal is just too tough on this surface. Mommy, you see because is dirt they playing on, Nadal move like a snake across the clay. My son then turns to our guests and said - have you ever seen that guy play. Man, if he was doing track and field he would win the 100m every single time. The man hard.

I guess the above story sums up Nadal on clay. We all had a good laugh and I got out of the doldrums after hearing my son describe Nadal's movement as that of a snake - the way he moves quickly.

Posted by sally 06/08/2008 at 06:11 PM

roger needs an infusion of nadal's wilanders.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 06/08/2008 at 06:12 PM

Continue to like some of Rafa's responses to the press.

Today, when asked if he felt like the "number one," he states (slightly paraphrased) that he feels like the number two and closer to number three (Djokovic) than the number one.

Rafa continues to refuse to give his top opponent any "bulletin board" material.

So far, the knuckleheads running the RG website have yet to put up a transcript of Rafa's post final press conference. Just the video, which is not complete.

Posted by Christopher 06/08/2008 at 06:17 PM

I have to agree with Tari and others that Fed has praised the substantial improvements in Rafa's game on clay and elsewhere in some detail. To ask him to do so again at that moment may have been a bit much. Just my humble opinion.

I do agree, Pete, with your claim that Rafa has overtaken Borg. The tennis he played in this RG really was the most perfect clay court game ever to exist. Borg wore people down, and did so in a truly dominating fashion, but Rafa blew them off the court this year. That backhand passing shot he hit almost at Fed (note: NOT saying he tried to hit him) had terrifying pace. Whenever Fed seemed to start pushing him, Rafa just amped up the velocity and the accuracy. That's pretty hard to beat. You can't drop shot a guy who's pounding his groundstrokes to within a foot of the baseline!

Unlike many Fed fans, I do usually enjoy the clay season. That being said, I'm glad it's over and I can wait to look out on the green lawns of Wimbledon (and by "look out on" I mean stare at them on my computer screen).

Posted by twist serve 06/08/2008 at 06:23 PM


I'm not saying hustle alone put Nadal in two Wimbledon finals. I'm just saying it would be interesting if he had to repeatedly face the same thing that Federer does at Roland Garros. For the last four years Federer hasn't been able to get to the final without facing the stiffest clay court opposition there is. And I believe he's 23-0 in the tournament over the last four years against every opponent not named Nadal.

Nadal, on the other hand, has had some especially good fortune the last couple of years (I don't want to say he's been lucky, because great athletes often have a way of putting themselves in position to take advantage of things).
While he has beaten a real threat in Tomas Berdych (that was an underrated victory), it would be good if he has to face the biggest threats to another meeting with Federer. How about beating the two-time finalist who loves grass, serves up to 150 miles and hour and beat Nadal the last time they met on a face court? How about facing Djokovic when he's not out of gas before the match starts? Last year Youzny's had to call for the trainer when he was up 2 sets to love against Nadal at Wimbledon. How about rallying from two sets down when Youzny's back isn't acting up?

Federer hasn't gotten these kind of breaks at Roland Garros.

Posted by twist serve 06/08/2008 at 06:27 PM

I meant to include that Nadal has had especially good fortune at Wimbledon.

Posted by Backhand blaster 06/08/2008 at 06:29 PM

Great post by Pete. I always thought the idea that Federer would somehow change his game or strategy to defeat Nadal on clay was mostly wishful thinking. What made sense to me was that the younger player would get bigger, stronger, faster... and gain more experience. I think this win may have greater significance than just for the clay season. A Rafa 2.0 may take his great play onto the grass and hard court seasons more than he has in the past.
Tip of the cap to Federer, a champion for all seasons, and to his many loyal fans here.

Posted by crazyone 06/08/2008 at 06:31 PM

Is it just me or have Nadal's footwork and anticipation improved greatly too? In the past, I'd always be amazed by those shots he managed to get while out of position, of course he didn't make some but he also managed to get balls back for winners at (for me) the most inconvenient times. Nowadays he still gets everything back of course, but he no longer looks out of position, almost never.

Posted by Amit 06/08/2008 at 06:39 PM


Not to forget, this is not Nadal of 2005 or 06. I have never seen Nadal play so well in any tournament as this one, including the previous RG. People talk about Novak's improved game over the past year. I'd say Rafa's improvements are more substantial across all surfaces.

Bob, Federer has certifiably improved on clay, but Nadal has improved more. Therein lies the catch. Federer'08 might've won against Rafa'05, but that's not the match they get to play.

Posted by CR in Alaska 06/08/2008 at 06:40 PM

The idea that Federer has been looking for "the formula" to beat Nadal is simplistic. The right "formula" was aptly expressed by the great Bjorn Borg at courtside following this latest debacle. Asked how he, Borg, would go about beating Nadal, Borg said words to the effect that he would be prepared to spend the day out there, and mentioned a three-hour first set. Three hours. Fed, deep down, probably knows this. But with his length of time at the top, his celebrity, and resulting complacency, Federer has not been prepared, or willing, to spend the day out there, or spend three hours playing one set. And until he is he will not defeat Nadal, and cannot be considered to be in the running for the best of all time.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 06/08/2008 at 06:41 PM

I'm Spanish and a huge Rafa fan.

However, i'm still not convinced that Rafa would have the edge over Borg on clay given the same racket technology.

Not only was Borg one of the top two or three quickest players on clay, but Borg had tremendous endurance. (Allegedly, he had a resting pulse rate in the 30s.)

Borg would have been/would be willing to turn any match with Nadal into a battle of attrition--one that Nadal would not necessarily have won.

Incidentally, where Nadal has been bothered by foot blister problems this year, Borg may have been denied one USO title against Connors in 77 or 78 (when it was played on green clay) by hand blister problems.

Posted by rick 06/08/2008 at 06:44 PM

an interesting exchange between corretja and wilander in the ford piece over at

fed fan here but i have to say this is beyond disappointment. in a major final you don't take 4 games. you figure out a way to fight, you cowboy up, you get off the mat and take the count. people have played through cramps, tossing their lunch, injuries and more and still find a way to fight. win or lose, they fight.

at 4-3 in the second the mighty fed was nowhere to be found.

Posted by crazyone 06/08/2008 at 06:45 PM

Amit: I know Nadal has improved massively. That's why I wonder if Federer regrets not working on tactics for '05 or '06, when Nadal was much greener. Improved execution of tactics and fewere unforced errors today would still have resulted in a straight sets loss, or at absolute maximum a four setter. Unforced errors changed the scoreline from a 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 kind of win for Rafa.

I'm still shaking my head at how massively Nadal improved from Monte Carlo to Paris! In Hamburg we might say that he was still suffering the blisters but no way was he this good in that MC final.

Posted by ptenisnet 06/08/2008 at 06:49 PM

So wilander's apology lasted all of like a week and a half.

Posted by sic 06/08/2008 at 06:52 PM

Twist serve: what a steaming load of crap. That tired argument that Nadal is just lucky to get into the finals at Wimby because of [excuse] and [excuse] and [excuse] is so lame. He's a two time finalist and he pushed Federer harder than anyone has ever pushed him in all his years playing at Wimby. When Rafa wins it all this year I can't wait to hear the "full flight" cognitive dissonance:_Oh but Roger had a pimple on his nose and Djokovic accidentally put his shoes on the wrong feet and the laces were tied together and Nadal didn't have to play McEnroe and whatever other nonsense you come up with every year.

Here's a raspberry for you: ppppht

Posted by Beckham (fairy god mother granting wishes) 06/08/2008 at 06:56 PM

Just for my sanity has anyother champion come back from such a horrific beatdown in a GS F????

Posted by twist serve 06/08/2008 at 06:57 PM


Borg's hand blister was in 1978, the first year the U.S. Open was held on hard courts. 1977 was probably his best shot. The was the last year it was on clay, but Borg had to retire with shoulder injury in the early rounds.

Posted by sic 06/08/2008 at 06:58 PM

Back on topic: I have often heard that Rafa beats Roger at RG because Roger doesn't bring his A game. This is true and false. It's true that Roger doesn't play his A game, but the reason why is because he DOESN'T have an A game against Rafa on clay. Nadal neutralizes all of his best weapons on clay (eg his backhand slice), Roger doesn't have anything else in the arsenal. The only way Roger can win RG is if Rafa isn't in the final or if Nadal plays injured. That's the only way.

One thing I noticed during the match is that on one of the only blistering backhand winner that Roger hit he had actually dropped back a couple of meters behind the baseline. He waited for the ball to drop instead of trying to take it on the rise as he usually does (without success). Perhaps he need to player farther back to be able to hit the ball in his sweet spot?

Posted by Christopher 06/08/2008 at 06:59 PM

Just remembered that Brad Gilbert's "3 Reasons Why" in the latest issue of the print version of Tennis is "Three Reason's Why: Rafael Nadal will not win his fourth straight Roland Garros title."

The reasons are:
1)He's a half step slower
2)Less of an air of invincibility
3)More contenders

Well, depending on how one defines "contenders" (I would define it as players who would have a decent shot at actually beating him, not just other "clay courters") I'd have to say that's basically 0 for 3.

Brad, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE pick anyone but Roger to win Wimbledon. You truly have the reverse Midas touch.

Posted by hibbardtony 06/08/2008 at 07:01 PM

In my opinion, I think Rafa is the the greates clay court player to play the game. Borg comes as 2nd and Federer is not far from these two. Let's not forget Fed has mad the FO finals 3 years in a row an lost a Semi Final to Nadal. At 22 years old, Nadal already has 4 FO, I see him winning next year for sure again and the next few more years.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 06/08/2008 at 07:09 PM

question re: brad gilbert's statement that Rafa has lost half a step.

Obviously, when Rafa is affected by foot blisters, he's a bit slower.

but when he's blister free, do other experts agree with gilbert that Rafa isn't as fast as he was a couple of years ago?

Posted by Amit 06/08/2008 at 07:11 PM


I truly think Federer was smarter and more aggressive in MC. The matches against Nalby, Djoko and Nadal are the most mentally engaged I have seen him this entire year. He used the width of the court against all 3 very well, didn't feel under pressure to paint the lines at all times and chose net rushes very judiciously and executed well. As a result, he even pushed Nadal in the final. Nadal was playing at a higher plane today, but a MC Fed would make this competitive, as we all hoped he would. Without taking anything away from Nadal's brilliance today, but I refuse to believe a player can realistically "improve" this much in a month.

My suspicion is Federer regrets not adding to his tactics and tools last year, and not just for clay courts. I would assume he wants to have a more active coach in Higueras than Roche ever was.
He ruled so supremely till AO'07 that any additions seemed unnecessary. He must've felt the others catching up during 07, and this is where I feel his complacency might've let him down. Of course there's no way to know this for sure. His raw talent was enough to get him two more slams in 07, but an observant coach would've been more alert to the shortcomings in the horizon. Sorry, but Mirka
simply doesn't cut it.

Posted by hibbardtony 06/08/2008 at 07:12 PM

manuelsantanafan, Whether Borg was better than Nadal, it's just your opinion now, because now there are numbers that back up Nadal...not just words or opinions. Nadal just tied Borg's record for 4 FO in a row. Not only that, But Nadal also has a record of most consecutive wins on clay and 115-2 overall. Nadal also faces one, if not the best player in tennis history...Federer. And also don't forget about Novak who has enough points to be #1 compared to other #1's in the past. So... In my opinion Nadal is the greatest Clay court player in history as of now, of course he is only 22 and has at least 5 to 8 more years to keep setting new records.

Posted by fedfan 06/08/2008 at 07:12 PM

Could Nadal really have improved that much since Hamburg? Maybe mentally, he's more confident... but physically, i feel it's the same.

As for Fed losing - it just seems he's already lost the points even before they've begun. You can see it in his body language, his shoulders are slumped, his head is bowed - almost as if he feels so exasperated he just want the torture to be done and over with. The way he played, i can't really say that was normal - he may have the game to beat Nadal (or even just make a contest of it) - but maybe he was putting too much pressure on himself (first was to win the match, second was just to win his service games, third was just to win points!) - it seemed to me that he was just stuck in a position of wanting to play aggressive and at the same time being scared of making an error - even 2 sets to 0 down, he still wasn't doing anything aggressive - i don't know where that leaves him - but the game he played was hugely anticlimactic for him, the fans and most esp for Nadal (you can see it in the way he won - it was like winning a first round match rather than the finals). Fed's still got the game - it's just that, he faced Nadal in the finals - and if he sees Nadal at the other side of the net - his brain goes haywire and he gets stuck in this position.

For all his talk about being excited on the prospect of beating Nadal in the finals of the FO - I wonder if this is for his fans' benefit or for his benefit.

I feel for Fed - he's getting (relatively) old while Nadal and Djokovic are only getting to their prime. There is no question they will catch him - and this still won't take anything from Fed since he's had a great, great run so far - for all his accomplishments, I just feel he deserves a French Open title (c'mon, he's finished second THREE STRAIGHT YEARS) and at least 3 more slams so that he can cement that "greatest of all time" title.

Posted by MrsSanta 06/08/2008 at 07:13 PM

Beckham - Pete Sampras after getting semi-mauled twice by Lleytsie and Safin in the USO finals finally won in 2002. But he had an excuse for his beatdowns. He was old.

Posted by sic 06/08/2008 at 07:14 PM

I think that Rafa's not quite as quick as a couple of years ago (but still amazingly quick!) due to his injuries. But that is offset by the fact that he is quite a bit stronger and smarter tactically and just better in every other way than he was in 2005.

Gilbert's keys sure make him look foolish in retrospect.

Posted by Beckham (fairy god mother granting wishes) 06/08/2008 at 07:14 PM

Roger Federer don't read any press at all for the foreseeable future, team RF, kidbly keep all newspaper clippings on this match away from Roger...they are not pretty, he thought he was getting killed after AO??? Dude, you ain't seen nothing yet...he's positively getting annihilated in ever press release I've read...

He's been accused of bad tactics, rushing to the net like an idiot, playing so poorly, his FH in the gutter, packing in the towel and various other assortment of horrific things he apparently did in the match...I'm such a glutton for punishment...but now I say no more, enough is enough....I don't have to read this anymore...

Au Voire TW...see you in Wimbledon!!!

Posted by fedfan 06/08/2008 at 07:16 PM

He played great during the entire clay court season - but in this match, he seemed to have gotten lost. I would like to think (being the HUGE fed fan that I am) - it was simply a matter of ill-timed coincidence that he woke up on the wrong side of the bed and played poorly - but chances are, he played the way he did because he was playing against Nadal. Fed just can't seem to play his game when he plays rafa

I wonder how he would play if Nadal took the top spot in the rankings and Federer went down to 4 or 5 in the world - maybe then the pressure won't be so great and he would relax and play his game....

Posted by Balazs 06/08/2008 at 07:17 PM

It seems to me that this Fed-Nadal thing comes down to a mental block in Federer. We can talk about forehands and drop shots, but in the end, Roger, for 4 years, haven't been able to play well when it mattered the most.

And I dont even think it's b/c of Nadal. True, he improved a lot, but Federer played well in Rome 06, Hamburg 07 and, in patches, in MC and Hamburg 08. But when it comes to Paris, the pressure to win the FO and complete the career slam seems to crack Roger.

Until he admist (at least privately) and tackles this mental blockage, there's no point talking about tactics and strategies, he wouldn't be able to execute them anyway...

Posted by sic 06/08/2008 at 07:17 PM

"Fed just can't seem to play his game when he plays rafa"

Yes, and it's such a mystery as to why.

Posted by Syd 06/08/2008 at 07:22 PM


Agree: Definitely a mental block when it comes to Rafa. I mean all credit to Rafa's amazing mastery of clay—but I doubt Roger would have been so passive against any other player, even if he knew he was going to lose.

Posted by Lucius the Luscious 06/08/2008 at 07:25 PM

Being a true blue Rafa fan (whether it's clay or hard court season), I think these past two weeks have finally given me a glimpse into what being a Fed fan for the last 4 years has been like. Domination!


P.S. never before have I so wanted to give Fed a hug.

Posted by aussie fed/dal fan 06/08/2008 at 07:26 PM

Usually just lurk around to read some comments, but I'm so friggin miserable today I need a place to commiserate.

Well done to Mr. Vamos-Rafa-the-King-of-Clay. Awesome tennis playing that I would've otherwise enjoyed immensely if it wasn't Roger on the receiving end. I always thought (and claimed) to be a fan of both boys, but last night, it became heartbreakingly clear to me who I was rooting for. *tears*

A good day to you all, and bring on the green stuff I say! I still believe in Federer, and can foresee that he'll be serving up some bagels of his own in a month's time. God bless.

Posted by Quadruple Bagel 06/08/2008 at 07:26 PM

I've said it once. I've said it more than once ...

Nadal has Federer figured out.

Folks, it's only going to get worse.

Posted by hibbardtony 06/08/2008 at 07:27 PM

fedfan, Federer does not need to win the FO to be considered the best tennis player in history. He already is. The fact that he made it to the last 3 FO finals is amazing. He looses to the best Clay court player in history. Which adds even more greatness to Federer. Federer is the BEST ALL AROUND PLAYER IN HISTORY. While Nadal is the best Clay court player in history. To me, the greatest rivalry in Tennis history, one that will be talked about for years to come. Don't worry, Fed will win many more Grand Slams, and even though he might never win the FO, hi will still get to the finals, and the Fed-Nadal rivalry will be epic. Im so glad to be alive to watch these two artist play each other. Nadal makes Federer bigger and Federer makes Nadal motivated. They are both on the same team to me. Thanks to each other, they will continue to write history and keed adding records.

Posted by cleo 06/08/2008 at 07:28 PM

I'm shocked. I'm a Rafa fan and thought he could win this, but never expected this level of dominence. Actually I though this was Federer's best chance this year. I thought Rafa would win a brutal semi with Djokovic which would leave him drained for the final with Fed. I was surprised that Rafa beat both Fed and Djok in straight sets - I thought it would be much more of a Herculean task for him.

Rafa's clay game has improved because of his efforts on hard courts. He has tried hard to improve his hard court game, and the result has been that he is even better when he gets back on clay.

Posted by Rick 06/08/2008 at 07:31 PM

"Just for my sanity has anyother champion come back from such a horrific beatdown in a GS F????"

I don't know but when a 32 yr old Connors lost to McEnroe in the '84 W 1,1 and 2 he was asked if he could admit McEnroe had surpassed him as the better player his reply was "Never". He went on to make that remarkable comeback against Penfors at W, 10 years his junior and his great run at the '91 USO.

I read somewhere a line that said something like he was pathologically incapable of giving in.

That's some fight.

Posted by la boheme 06/08/2008 at 07:34 PM

Fed knows the problem. He admitted in one of his pressers that it's a matter of belief, and it's obvious that he doesn't believe he can beat Rafa. No amount of strategy or change in tactics can overcome this psychological deficit. Whether he can tackle the problem and resolve it depends on how much he really wants it. It's in his hands. I've said before that Fed is a realist, and that he doesn't fool himself. But whether the motivation exists is an existential question that only he can answer and so far he hasn't passed the exam.

As a committed fan, I'm hopeful he will do it.

Posted by avid sports fan 06/08/2008 at 07:36 PM

I'm still shaking my head at how massively Nadal improved from Monte Carlo to Paris! In Hamburg we might say that he was still suffering the blisters but no way was he this good in that MC final.

crazyone - I totally agree with you. In fact I think one of the things that may also be underrated is how Nadal goes back to work on what needs to be worked on for the moment and improve. I told myself that if Nadal and probably uncle Toni are smart (and men! they are smart) they will work on what will make Nadal not be a break down in any set talk less of 3 or four breaks down. And the more deadly thing about Nadal is how small subtle changes to his spins, FH, and BH can make such HUGE differences.

Posted by Or 06/08/2008 at 07:38 PM

Um, I think Roger said in his presser that at some point during the match he stopped believing, and who can fault him for that.

I think he had LOADS of belief before the match.

Posted by hibbardtony 06/08/2008 at 07:40 PM

Has anyone noticed how Borg said that Federer would be Nadal in the final of the FO...and now he says Nadal would win Wimbledon this year....

I think Borg just doesn't want players to tie or beat his records. Because If federer wins this year at Wimbledon, Fed will set a new record of 6 straight wins, Borg has five.

I think Borg just goes for who ever defends his own records. Poor Borg, he is watching these two giants who will take over as the two greatest players in the history of tennis. I'm a Nadal fan, but for Federer, I hope he wins Wimbledon this year to set a new record. I know that Nadal has many more years to win Wimbledon. But I'm going for Fed this year and I hope the final is Fed-Nadal again.

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