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Rivalry! 01/30/2009 - 3:01 PM

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by Pete Bodo

Alright. Now that we've all stopped hyper-ventilating over the Rafael Nadal/Fernando Verdasco bull fight (personally, I had trouble telling the bull from the matador through long stretches of that one), let's just wipe our brows and take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to have yet another Nadal vs. Roger Federer Grand Slam final.

In fewer than three full years, we’ve been awarded six Grand Slam finals pitting Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal. By comparison, the last pair of players who had anything like a comparable rivalry, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, met in Grand Slam titles a grand total of just five times – and that’s in an 11-year span (compared to the mere 37 months during which Nadal and Federer have had at each other).

Any of you Nadal fans who aren't air-kissing your beloved Federer fans are ingrates; you Federer fans who aren't sacrificing furry little animals before Nike posters of Nadal are clueless. It's about time y'all realized that nothing in sports is better than a great rivalry, and a great rivalry can only exist between equals - or players close enough to being equal that the differences are academic, especially when they meet.

Rivals2 What? The outraged Federer fan might say. Roger is 24 hours from equalling Pete Sampras's Grand Slam singles title record. How dare you make that comparison! I'll tell you how: Nadal is 12-6 vs. Federer, 5-2 in Grand Slam play. It's a fact, get used to it. It underscores the validity of the hall of fame quote Mats Wilander uttered when he told me, at the height of the "Wilanders" controversy, "It's weird that Roger may be the greatest player ever, but that there's one guy in his own time who he can't beat."

On Sunday, Federer gets another chance to chip away at the inconvenient truth of the record.

So what we've seen created, in just over three years, is an all-surface, all-continent battle between perhaps the greatest player who ever lived and someone who might have been - fairly -  called a "provincial" player until it turned out he wasn't. The speed at which Nadal morphed from upstart into understudy into nemesis was remarkable. And while it may be irritating to TMF's fans, and the source of serious complications in Federer's life, Nadal's maturation into an all-around player has accomplished some things that no number of Grand Slam titles (not 15, not 22, not 38) could really do - heighten the awareness and appreciation of his abilities, add a measure of heft (the kind that can only come from one source - a guy you don't own) to his reputation, and provide him with a unique, personal yardstick by which to measure - and demonstrate - his worth.

We think of great rivalries as consisting of two components: Bird and Johnson, Sampras and Agassi, Namath and Unitas. The truth is that a great rivalry is a unitary thing, organically produced by two individuals. It exists independent of the individuals, even though it could not exist without the principals. A rivalry is an entity as well as a state-of-being; great rivals are Siamese twins, each tries to beat the other's brains out, but he's sustained by the same hot blood and leaves his counterpart showered in equal glory. Pete Sampras, it turns out, was right - we have proof of it right before our eyes: Nothing, but nothing, is as good for tennis as a great rivalry.

And there's more. I think we can all agree that we've got perhaps the greatest player of all time playing against perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all-time (an item that seems to be traveling southward on Nadal's resume, as in: Other Interests and Hobbies: Greatest Clay-Court Player of All-Time). We all love Andre, but Nadal has shown us what the Sampras-Agassi rivalry might have been, had Agassi's attention span in tennis been more consistent. If anything, Federer and Nadal are on track to be the next. . . Chris (Evert) and Martina (Navratilova).

Rivals In fact, some of the the parallels are striking, in a trans-gender kind of way: you have the mercurial "talent" pitted against the worker; the artist with the one-handed backhand matched with the bludgeoning double-fister; the slashing, attacking stylist dug in against the dogged, recalcitrant defender; the unsophisticated, un-intellectual athlete squaring off against the world citizen (oh, how often, upon hearing Martina air some vaguely political grievance, have I rolled my eyes, murmuring, . . Oh, please, Martina. Spare me.Thank God the comparison only goes so far. . .)

If they keep rolling down this path, can the day be far off when Federer and Nadal share a bagel (as Chris and Martina once did) while they wait to play yet another Grand Slam final?

I'm going to enjoy these finals - pass the lox.


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Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 04:31 PM

Rosia -

And Roger will grow older before Rafa does, so that should balance it out.

Another point to consider. Roger won his first slam in July 03. From that first Slam, it took him two years to make it to his first clay Semi, his worst surface. BTW, he lost to the eventually champion then, Rafa himself.

Rafa won his first Slam in May 05, it took him 3.5 years to make it to his first Slam Semi. He didn't lose to the champion then.

I just can't see how the fact that Roger developed as an all-court player faster than Rafa, who took a while to mature into the all-court player he is now, can be used 'against' Roger in the GOAT debate.

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 04:31 PM

Vincent: that's what you think. You're wrong. Unless you think that when champions play tennis matches they are not interested in winning.

Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 04:34 PM

"It took him 3.5 years to make it to his first HC semi" of course.

Posted by JMR 01/30/2009 at 04:34 PM

Herns/Lenard Ali/Frazier Chamberlain/Russel Nicklaus/Palmer Borg/McEnroe any others?

Posted by Pierre 01/30/2009 at 04:36 PM

The Chartreuse Bull vs. the Swiss Clockmaker.

Let's get ready to rumble.

Posted by Well Left 01/30/2009 at 04:37 PM

Hey Corrie
You display sheer lunacy in your comments about Sampras. The guy had a 120 mph second serve. Who is going to beat that? He could be top ten this year if he felt like playing right now.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" *Serena the ultimate assassin of the WTA Tour Matt Z (2009)* 01/30/2009 at 04:37 PM

Or - that would be 2.5 yrs , 06, and 07 being two years and half of 05 ;-) He made his first HC semi in 2008. Unless of course you mean his first HC finals ;-)

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 04:38 PM

Or: we don't know what will happen in the future, so we can't know whether the "rivalry" will be balanced out or not.

My point isn't meant to put down either player, just to note that it's Rafa's career so far that's been defined by Federer's far more than the other way around. It's no-one's fault - just the way it is.

In any event, Rafa is far more of a prodigy than RF in terms of initial Slam wins, so the time of development between his first Slam win and the rest of the development on HCs doesn't tell the whole story, does it?

Posted by crazyone 01/30/2009 at 04:40 PM

*Because my worst nightmare involves a freak accident that cuts Fed's career short.*

Grant, mine too. This is my absolute nightmare.

Posted by Amit 01/30/2009 at 04:41 PM

Crazyone,

This GOAT business is a bit tricky. I can imagine a scenario where Federer retires with a poor H2H against Nadal, who is by and large proclaimed as a superior player at that point, except he has a lopsided losing H2H against Nalbandian. Unlikely, but conceivable if they only keep meeting 2-3 times a year in the Fall.

I think this sort of labelling has to be tour-averaged over other players - some sort of thermodynamic head-to-heads, if you wish.

Personally, I buy more into the style+success argument. I am/was a hardcore Pete Sampras fan. However, I have never seen anyone do anything as well as Roger Federer plays tennis. That is my criterion.

This may very well change in 10 years time. We should hope it does.

Posted by randomlurker 01/30/2009 at 04:42 PM

Beckham- I also think a Fed/Gasquet rivalry would be a very interesting scenario. Granted if Gasquet had some fortitude. He to me is a real pity. Would have been great to have him at his best playing against the top guys. What do you think of Djokovic/Federer matchups??

Posted by Andrew 01/30/2009 at 04:43 PM

Nadal long ago dispelled the notion that he can't win on all surfaces. I think IW 2007 put that one to bed. We know a lot about his current form.

Federer has won every GS final he's played in except 4 (out of 6) against Nadal. Had Verdasco broken Nadal in game 9 of the fifth set last night and gone on to win the match, I think Federer would have been the prohibitive favorite on Sunday. We know a lot about Federer's current form.

There's a lot we don't know about Nadal's future. Is he burning quickly through his competitive potential, or will he still be as strong at 26 as he is at 22?

Many people act as though we know a lot about Federer's future. The word "decline" was a murmur at the start of 2008, spoken louder through the summer, and became almost a roar when Andy Murray won three matches (plus an exo) in a row against Federer in the fall of 2008 and January 2009. I sometimes feel like a reverse Cassandra: I prophesy doom a lot less than many of my fellow Federer fans seem to. I think there's a lot about Federer's future we don't know.

This is the third out of four consecutive GS finals the two men have contested, and Nadal fell only a whisker short of making it four of four in New York. There is a Big 4 now in the ATP, but two of the four are still bigger than the other two.

This is the first HC final the two men have contested for three years, which I think is an aberration. At the end of 2007, I did a bit of math and came up with an expected number of six meetings per year for the two players (in 2008 there were four). If Federer and Nadal continue to play well, we might expect over thirty matches in this rivalry, which I think a genuinely rich feast.

I can't speak for Nadal fans, only for my own version of Federerism. I would like to see Federer reassume the no 1 ranking, and had Nadal gone down to Verdasco last night, I honestly wouldn't have cried for the next two days (although I would have felt for Nadal fans at TW). But I know Federer doesn't fear the prospect of playing his greatest rival in a GS final, and I can't see why his fans should either.

Like Grant, I haven't followed Federer's matches because I think he's the Bestest Evah, I follow them because I enjoy watching Federer play tennis more than I have any other player. Nadal might yet win a calendar GS, or 18 GS titles. If he does, I'll be up there with his fans cheering.

Four of the best tennis matches I've seen in my life - Miami F 2005, Rome F 2006, Shanghai YEC SF 2007 and Wimbledon F 2008 - were played between these two men. I 'd like to see some more good stuff.

Nadal fans were very gracious during 2008 when their champion went 4-0 against his rival. I'd love to be able to extend them similar courtesy this year. In (only very very slightly frazzled) anticipation...

Posted by Corrie 01/30/2009 at 04:43 PM

Well Left: I'm sure Sampras could still be a very competitive player now with his serve, but if he was playing now, could he still win 7 Wimbledons now the surface is 40% slower?

Posted by Contracturado. 01/30/2009 at 04:44 PM

Senna/Prost Holyfield/Bowe Sebastian Coe/Steve Cram and Ovett

Posted by L. Rubin 01/30/2009 at 04:44 PM

"Any of you Nadal fans who aren't air-kissing your beloved Federer fans are ingrates; you Federer fans who aren't sacrificing furry little animals before Nike posters of Nadal are clueless."

Bravo! I want my effing federbears, and I want them NOW! Get to to it, Fed KADs! Do you hear me, Or?

--Liron

Posted by KD 01/30/2009 at 04:44 PM

Indeed this is a great rivalry. IMO, better than sampras-agassi just because they have been 1-2 consistently and have been meeting in finals of most touraments that both of them appear.

I dont think 'nadal having 12-6 h2h' puts any dents in federer's GOAT status. If you compare Borg, Sampras, Federer (not putting Laver in the mix as it was a different era), you will realise that their record on their favourite surfaces ( fed on hard and grass, sampras on hard and grass, borg on hard and grass) is pretty equal. But when you look at their records on their respective least-favorite surfaces, Federer's is much better than Sampras and is pretty close to Borg's.

Plus Federer should get bonus points for records like 19 consecutive GS semis, 18 GS finals, 237 consecutive weeks at #1....lot of "domination statistics".

And his career is not over yet. So what if he has lost more against Nadal than he has won? If Borg would have continued playing, he might have lost more to Mcenroe and Lendl. Who knows?

And its quite possible that Nadal might accomplish more than Fed...let things play out guys.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 01/30/2009 at 04:45 PM

Right on, Pete!

About that Wilander quote -- "It's weird that Roger may be the greatest player ever, but that there's one guy in his own time who he can't beat."...

My sense is that were Nadal's game style not so physically demanding, we'd actually be looking at a guy who will eventualy supplant both Federer and Sampras for Slam titles won. And oddly enough, there are a couple of fellows who sdeem to give Nadal fits, as well -- Djokovic and Murray.

Funny, but Murray also seems to have Federer's number, except in the Slams, where we all know it really counts.


Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 04:48 PM

Murray's h2h with Roger is also what I'd call misleading. Should still be in Murray's favour due to recent victories, but Rog was dead on his feet at Cinci 05, so much so he was blamed of tanking the match, and Dubai 08 Roger was barely out of mono, and it was a first round.

Same like I always get annoyed when I hear commentators speak about Ferrer beating Rafa in the USO, when Rafa was so clearly injured.

Posted by Alice 01/30/2009 at 04:48 PM

Glad you acknowledged the Chris - Martina rivalry, one of the great rivalries every. And Chris record as the Queen of Clay beats Rafa as the King of Clay - didn't she win something like 120 straight on the dirt?

The rivalry I think most compares to Fed-Nadal is Ali-Frazier (except that Fed and Nadal are nice to each other off the court). But the competitive dynamic is similar - Fed is the elegant stylist like Ali - "float like a butterfly sting like a bee" is actually a pretty good description of Fed's tennis. Nadal has the relentless intensity and heart of Frazier, who was able to bring the champ down to earth with shear force of will and effort.

Posted by Well Left 01/30/2009 at 04:50 PM

good question, Corrie. I think today's players are better returners of serve, as Tignor pointed out a while ago on Concrete Elbow. The slower grass would give Sampras' opponents a better look, but I still see that bomb of a serve followed by impeccable smashing and volleying as a winning combination, even with today's bigger, faster players. Passing Sampras was never easy, even for Agassi. Pete'd win a lot, even on slower grass, IMO.

Thanks for the post Andrew. Gives me a smile to consider how many finals Naderer has given the fans and how much we have to look forward to this year.

Posted by 1221 01/30/2009 at 04:50 PM

Or-

If you use the 3.5 years argument, I would say there are a lot less clay court specialists these days to stop you from making finals. Coria? Gaudio? Puerta? Heck, other than Rafa all the other Spanish guys prefer hard courts (Feli, Nando, etc). Even the South Americans prefer faster surfaces (Nalby, Del Potro, Gonzo).
So Roger had a a lot less to improve on. Take where Roger was as a clay court player in '03 and look at what he had to do to make the '05 semis at RG. Not a night-and-day type transformation.
Now take a look at Rafa's hard court game circa summer of '05. And look at what he had to do to get to '09.

Posted by fedfan 01/30/2009 at 04:52 PM

Pete, I know you throw a lot of stuff out there just to get us going, but drudge vs. talent? Really? You know its more beauty vs. beast. Rafa is a huge talent, with his foot speed, incredible hand-eye co-ordination, ability to concentrate, flexibility, etc., etc.,. His game just doesn't have Rog's airy beauty. It is great to watch, though, it's like a rocket launch vs. Rog's Blue Angel air show. The talent vs. hard work comparison is more apt in the Andy Roddick post. Although we know, of course, Roger never works! Actually the Andy Roddick I saw play Federer in the semis looked pretty talented. He probably would have beaten at least nine out of ten ATP players with his performance. If Roger's shots hadn't gone in, as sometimes they don't, Andy would have moved into the final.

Posted by Tigress (Lucky 13) 01/30/2009 at 04:58 PM

Tigress Hunter: Grrrrrrr! Did you notice that Nadal did Not defeat (or even play) Federer at Olympics, Montreal (or Toronto), or Queens. And Montreal isn't even that fast. I readily agree that Rafa has greatly improved on hardcourt to become one of the top players. Two semifinals and one Final in the last 3 Grand Slam hardcourts (plus the Olympic and Monteal wins) make that abundantly clear. What is and will again be made clear on Sunday is that Rafa is overmatched against Federer on hardcourt, especially in a Grand slam.

Be wary and be careful. Remember what they say about "he (she) who rides a tiger".

Posted by shrHSN 01/30/2009 at 04:59 PM

What is with this insane obsession with the head-to-head record? If the season had as many games on grass as it does on clay, it wouldn't be so lopsided.

I think it's crazy that Fed doesn't get as many matches on his best surface, as Nadal does on his.

Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 05:01 PM

Avid sports fan -

I don't think my math is that bad. May 05 (First slam win) -May 06, May 06-May 07, May 07 - September 08. Three years and 4 months or so, till the USO 08 Semis.

Rosangel - I'm not sure I agree with you. What did Roger prevent from Rafa? Early success in Wimby? Maybe. He was ready for it in 07, not sure someone else wouldn't have been able to take him out in 06.

Rafa's problems in HC slams did not come from Roger.

However, Rafa stopped Roger from GOATHOOD status for two years at least, 06 and 07, without Rafa, Roger would have taken the SLAM 2 years in a row.

Rafa had more impact on Roger's career, than the other way around.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" *Serena the ultimate assassin of the WTA Tour Matt Z (2009)* 01/30/2009 at 05:07 PM

Or - That is what I am saying. He was at the AO 08 as his first semi not the USO 08 ;-)

Posted by Tigress (Lucky 13) 01/30/2009 at 05:07 PM

Andrew at 4:43:

"Four of the best tennis matches I've seen in my life - Miami F 2005, Rome F 2006, Shanghai YEC SF 2007 and Wimbledon F 2008 - were played between these two men. I 'd like to see some more good stuff."

Hey, what about Wimbledon Final 2007? That wasn't too shabby. In fact, before last year it was on the short list of greatest Wimbledon Finals ever. In fact, I think it still is.

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 05:10 PM

Nice pic of Fed and Nadal. Wonder what they're discussing. Hot Sauce hitting on Ivanovic in the far court?

Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 05:11 PM

1221 -

So, according to your logic, Rafa isn't much of a claycourt player either? Because the field is weak?

Because that argument works both ways.


Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 05:13 PM

Avid sport fan -

Opppps. True. Sorry, slipped my mind.

Posted by Andrew 01/30/2009 at 05:14 PM

Tigress: my DVR packed up at 1-1 in the fifth set, so I only saw the last six games days later after I knew the result. So I didn't "see" the whole match, in terms of participating in the experience.

I could say the same, I guess for Shanghai YEC SF 2006, which was shown on tape delay. But that match is special to me for some of the most insane hitting ever.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" *Serena the ultimate assassin of the WTA Tour Matt Z (2009)* 01/30/2009 at 05:14 PM

Or - That's ok. He was blown away by Jo-Willy anyways ;-) and no your math is not bad ;-)

Posted by crazyone 01/30/2009 at 05:15 PM

Also, it's a general truth that the younger players, by virtue of being younger and newer to the scene, have time and the motivation to hone their games to defeat the older generation...it's pretty much how the game evolves. I think this is especially true of Murray vis-a-vis Federer, and in both Murray and Djokovic I see elements of their game that would not have been there, say, if Roddick and I dunno, Karlovic, had been dominating the game for the last 4 years. So it's not a vacuum. Taken as a whole, the tennis world is set up so that younger players both take elements from the players who come before them and then also develop their games to exploit the elder players' weaknesses...

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 01/30/2009 at 05:16 PM

And an important fact to be considered in this "rivalry" - Nadal is 5 years younger than Fed ! Makes a helluva difference ! When Fed was up and coming, he built his game to be able to beat his contemporaries - Hewitt, Safin, Roddick. Only when he was already established as the number one player, did Nadal come along - and gave him fits, because now it was Nadal who had the benefit of having studied Federer's game, and played him differently from anybody else. If Federer had had the benefit of playing a Nadal during the years when he was still developing his skills, how would this rivalry have turned out? Something to ponder.

And Sampras never had to face a "nemesis" such as Nadal under the same circumstances. Sure he faced great players in Edberg and Becker, but, remember he used to lose to Edberg, and, the bulk of his majors were won when Edberg and Becker were on the decline. So the biggest competition he faced on a regular basis was from Agassi. Sampras was undisputably better than the likes of Courier and Chang, who I do not consider in the same league as the current top 4 players.

But if you use the argument that you cannot be known as GOAT unless you have a positive record against every player of your time, then, you're right, Federer is not the GOAT. I guess it's his bad luck that Nadal came along when he did.

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 05:20 PM

CrazyforR -- Chang wasn't even as good as Roddick, IMHO.

Posted by Daniela 01/30/2009 at 05:21 PM


from bbc
"He's my big brother. Still today he is my idol."
Safina makes it clear for anyone still unsure that she is a fan of big brother Marat.

"I idolised Marat, too. I can totally understand."
Serena Williams reveals that Dinara was not alone in her admiration for Marat.

"I got my letter from Safin, the birthday card. It just said, 'Happy birthday and all the best.' But it's good enough for me."
Even 15-year-old Laura Robson is a member of the Marat fan club.

"He's not really the guy who has enough patience for this, you know, to have a woman's talk."
And Safina makes the shock revelation that Marat has not always been the most sensitive person in dealing with his younger sister.
everybody loves Raymond sorry Safin

Posted by bluesunflower 01/30/2009 at 05:21 PM

'Now that we've all stopped hyper-ventilating over the Rafael Nadal/Fernando Verdasco bull fight'....
I could not watch this match live in its entirety as was at work but have caught up on the replay. What a match. I dont know how the nerves of those that watched it live held up. I am so pleased that Nadal won and as worried as I am that Roger has an unfair (not his fault) adavantage I am glad Rafa has made his first grand slam semi final. Even if he looses like he did his first wimbledon its an amazing achivievement at his age.

Reading this very excellent article on the rivalry makes me think that we sometimes forget how much younger than Federer Nadal is. Somehow we dont compare him to his generation, the Murrays & Djokovics. He seems to have transcended them to become a worthy rival for Federer. Initially I feel he was unfairly judged against a player of greater experience whilst he was still a developing. Which makes it all the more remarkable that his development has been so rapid that in 3 years they seem on an equal footing. Take away Rafa's hard clay advantage and Federers seniority and I feel that you have two players who are true equals and this first hardcourt final is the begining of them competing on an equal footing. The GOAT should be measured by who does better from this point hereon.

I feel almost sorry for the breakthrough players the afore mentioned Murray Djokovic and the later developers Simon tsonga and surely now Verdasaco. Federer and Rafa might very well take a stranglehold on the next 15 majors as well.

Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 05:21 PM

Did Rod Laver had a losing record to anyone?

BTW, in his recent interview, he claims he's not the GOAT, if compared to Sampras or Roger.

Posted by Simon 01/30/2009 at 05:23 PM

People need to watch Nadal develop more beofre they say he is in the area of the greatest of all time.

Federer has earned that talk. 18 consecutive grand slam semis. You have got to be kidding. I think Rafa's at 5. The reason I think it will be hard for Rafa to achieve GOAT status is that he is more of a defensive player than offensive player. I don't care how much he improves on hard courts, a good opponent will always have a chance against him.

That isn't the case with Federer. TMF rendered his opponents hopless if he was playing well. Rafa will and only will ever do that on clay. Your hopeless against Rafa if your a mental midget or out of shape. But as the Verdasco match showed, if you can smack the ball on hard courts you'll give him problems. Sometimes I wish Federer would start whacking a few more returns agaisnt Rafa instead if just slicing the return.

Finally Nadal has to prove he can last a whole season. Does anybody notice he usually is toast when the US open rolls around?

The head-to-head match-up is a bit damning for the case of Federer. But who do you think the other tour players think they have a better shot of beating? You can play well against Nadal and have chance of winning, the onus is on you. You play against Federer and get routined 7-6 6-3 6-4. That's why he is the best.

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 05:24 PM

Or: RF didn't prevent Rafa from anything other than (possibly) two Wimbledons. But Rafa has won all his Slams by beating RF. Other than Puerta at RG in 2005, RF has always been the one who turned up in Rafa's Slam finals, and even that year Rafa needed to beat him. In that sense, his Slam career has been defined by growing up in RF's era. It's not possible to argue the reverse because of the age difference.

Posted by Ted Koehner 01/30/2009 at 05:24 PM

Oh, how often, upon reading some reference to his conservatism/religion in an otherwise enjoyable article, have I rolled my eyes, murmuring, . . Oh, please, Bodo. Spare me.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 01/30/2009 at 05:24 PM

Hmmm... did Rafa impact Roger's career more or the other way around? Let's see ... Rafa ended Roger's streak at Wimbledon, preventing him from breaking Borg's record. Ended his grasscourt streak of consecutive wins. He prevented him from achieving a career slam by stopping him at the French. Prevented him from achieving 2 back-to-back Calendar grand slams, in '06 and '07. Ended his record consecutive streak at number one. All this single-handedly, during Fed's prime years.

What did Roger prevent Rafa from achieving? 2 Wimbledon titles when Rafa was still only 19 and 20 years old? While he was still a very young player with an entire career span still ahead of him.
He was unable to prevent him from equalling Borg at the French, unable to prevent him from breaking Vilas' consecutive wins claycourt streak (which he could have done had he had won the Rome '06 final!).

Seems pretty clear to me !

Posted by gillyrosh 01/30/2009 at 05:24 PM

Diehard Fed fan here. For years, I viewed Nadal as an irritant, standing in the way of my favorite's glory.

But last year, something crazy happened. I fell totally, completely, head-over-heels in love with Rafael Nadal. I'm not sure how it happened. But the minute I was ready to change the channel while watching a Nadal match for fear of wathcing him lose, I knew I'd become a fan.

I only want one thing for Sunday: a great match between these two amazing talents.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 01/30/2009 at 05:26 PM

mcakron ... I agree ...Roddick definitely better than Chang. I also wonder how a limited player like Jim Courier could have gotten to number one ... but you could say the same for Lleyton Hewitt !

Posted by OCtennis 01/30/2009 at 05:28 PM

WOW this finals is going to be the rumble down under! The fact that Roger lost to Rafa every time they met in 2008 (4 times) could make one argue that Nadal is the favorite in the match. Unfortunately for Rafa his 5 + hour semifinal match might have taken just enough out of him for Federer to finally overcome his nemisis. Im still putting my money on Nadal.... in five. Could be and instant classic.

Posted by Tigress (Lucky 13) 01/30/2009 at 05:28 PM

Andrew: If I were you, I'd have taken that DVR immediately (after several sledgehammer smashes) to the nearest incinerator and melted it, as slowly and painfully as possible.

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 05:30 PM

Daniela -- And as Fed said the past week, Marat's bigger than life. You 365-a-year types probably know the tale, but I was amused to here the story of Marat showing up at one of his sister's tournaments with two black eyes after a fight outside a bar in Moscow. Marat's reply when asked about the incident: the other guys look worse.

I'll miss the big lug.

Posted by crazyone 01/30/2009 at 05:32 PM

Crazy-for-Rog: I see you made a similar point to my 5:15 in your 5:16...

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 01/30/2009 at 05:32 PM

Rafa may have played a long SF match, but, he has 2 days till the final. Given his fitness level, I think he'll be fine on Sunday, and his physical fitness should not be an issue.

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 05:33 PM

CfR: and what exactly did any other player who met RF in a Slam final prevent him from doing? The guy won 11 Slams without ever encountering Rafa, so of course his Slam career is less affected by Rafa than the reverse.

Posted by Moderator 01/30/2009 at 05:37 PM

Daniela: this is an On Topic post. Posters are asked to stay on topic. Thanks.

Posted by Vincent 01/30/2009 at 05:40 PM

"Wouldn't it be terrible if Rafa's "ugly" HC game is good enough to keep Roger from winning another HC slam? Might end his total at 13..."

First and foremost, I'm not stat-obsessed. If Fed ends at 13, fine with me. I was even resigned to see him lose last year at the US Open. Fed's legacy doesn't only reside in numbers. It's less mundane.

Secondly, yes, it would be terrible if Nadal would win, especially for the next generation. I shudder to think of all the kids which might start emulating Nadal's style of play. The worst thing that could happen to tennis would be the emergence of an army of topspin robots, although probably none of them will have the extraordinary, surhuman athleticism of Nadal, and therefore won't be nearly as successful. It is an interesting rhetorical question : would you prefer seeing 128 Nadals battling it out in a GS, or 128 Roger Federer ? I would question the sanity of someone choosing the first option.

Posted by CL 01/30/2009 at 05:41 PM

Memo to self: Send mash note to Grant. Send fan letter to Wertheim.

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 05:42 PM

Moderator -- ooops, I was guilty as well. Just seemed like a nice/brief distraction from the usual Fed/Rafa catfight. But point taken.

Posted by Eric 01/30/2009 at 05:44 PM

I think the interesting thing here is, if roles had reversed and Nadal ousted Verdasco in straights while Federer toiled over five against Roddick, we would give a tired Federer virtually no chance against a fresh Nadal. But the current scenario being the case, it's not a stretch at all to imagine Nadal reaching deep to prevail on Sunday.

I think this juxtaposition indicates pretty pointedly how much Nadal has closed the gap since this time last year. In fact, you could already argue that it's no longer a gap and that Nadal would surpass Federer with a title on Sunday, if not in the record books yet then at least in our hearts and minds. Given his current trajectory, would you be surprised if Nadal won 10-12 majors or more?

Federer and Nadal are indeed equals in this rivalry. Not every opposing force in the universe must present as perfectly symmetrical to have an equal chance of offsetting the other.

Posted by rafadoc 01/30/2009 at 05:44 PM

Pete...wonderful piece and a great reminder that we really should be celebrating this rivalry, not nit pickin/cherry picking statistics to back up what we, as fans, wish/hope is the truth about our favorites (see other thread:)). That said, I think most of the posters here absolutely know that we are the luckiest sports fans alive and celebrate these two amazing athletes. Cheers to Fed fans!

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 05:45 PM

Unfortunately, I don't have much hope for Roger. Rafa's defense is practically impenetrable, which on hard courts is a new thing for him. He's basically playing clay court defense on hardcourts which is sick. Roger will have to hit 3-4 winners to win points and will not be able to do it I'm afraid.

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 01/30/2009 at 05:46 PM

Rosangel ... Nadal became a factor in their rivalry in 2005. My point is who affected the other's legacy the most? Since Fed is 5 years older and on the decline, Nadal will have many more years at his prime without Fed being able to negatively impact his legacy, because he can still achieve all the things that Fed failed to achieve. Fed, on the other hand, had Nadal to contend with during his prime years, years that he cannot get back. Had Nadal not been around, imagine Fed's legacy ! 2 consecutive Calendar slams, completed the career slam, record number of consecutive French Opens and Wimbledons, the list goes on and on.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 05:46 PM

Vincent - the world we live in prefers more Rafas then Rogers. I suspect it's an anti-Northern European thing.

Posted by Andrew 01/30/2009 at 05:47 PM

Hmm... lessee now... Pete writes "Any of you Nadal fans who aren't air-kissing your beloved Federer fans are ingrates; you Federer fans who aren't sacrificing furry little animals before Nike posters of Nadal are clueless. It's about time y'all realized that nothing in sports is better than a great rivalry, and a great rivalry can only exist between equals - or players close enough to being equal that the differences are academic, especially when they meet."

So we get lots of my guy is better, my guy doesn't get enough respect, my guy is more graceful, my guy is younger and, and...

Business as usual.

BTW, Pete, I don't know if they've ever shared a bagel. But Federer did share his corporate jet with Nadal after Montreal 2007. More money in sports now, not much...

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 05:48 PM

Crazy-for-Rog:

I've already come to terms with the startling possibility that 13 is the final number for Roger. It doesn't make him any less of a legend if he loses on Sunday. But I'll die a bit inside.

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 05:49 PM

FedFan07 -- Not if he follows his approaches he won't. See: Murray, '08 USO final. But yeah, Nadal's defense is scary.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 05:50 PM

mcakron - approaching the net against Nadal on anything but a floater is ridiculous. It's basically the approach Roddick took against Federer and it killed him - again. Federer would be wise to stick to the baseline and sneak in only when warranted by one of those wide-angle forehands that get a weak reply.

Posted by 01/30/2009 at 05:52 PM

I find the GOAT argument rather vacuous and subjective. Its just another chance for people to get idiotic and tribal by piting their guy versus the other guy. To me its absurd to think that just because Nadal has a better head to head with Federer, that that makes him the better player. He may be better when they play one on one, but its the overall record of slams which should be used as the criteria. I mean Canas beat Fed several times and no one thinks he's the better player. While this example is extreme, as Nadal is great by all standards, I think it makes some sense. Federer has 13 slams versus Nadals 5. Fed has more than twice the amount of slams and was number 1 a long time and completely dominated for years.

While I think its a matter of opinion whether or not Fed is the best of all time, its not an opinion that Feds career at this point is more impressive than Nadals. This may indeed change over the next several years, but i guess we will have to sit back and enjoy their play. My money is on Fed, but i could be wrong

Posted by CL 01/30/2009 at 05:53 PM

So since I am still living in the (recent pass), one thing that struck me as really kinda funny in the Rafa/Hott Sauce match was when Rafa would shoot one of his "You Talkin' to ME!?!" looks and Fern would send a "YA I AM lookin' at you...whatya gonna do about it?!?" right back. At time they looked like those Blue Footed Boobies in a mating display.

Oh and I also LOVED Bill McEtee's 'all you can eat buffet' remark about Fern's horde of food and drink.

Posted by Mark 01/30/2009 at 05:54 PM

I can't believe my weekend plans consist of going to bed early on Friday and Saturday night with my alarm set so I can watch the two finals at 3:30am!

Serena vs Safina: I think Serena bags her 10th slam in easy fashion. I love Safina, but I like Serena more!

Federer vs Nadal: It's scary to see that Nadal basically gets every ball back.........Insane really. I'm sure this will be a great match. I'd like to see Fed win.

BTW........Sampras said he would be present for Fed's 14th slam win. Has he been spotted on the grounds in Melbourne?

Posted by CL 01/30/2009 at 05:55 PM

Gee Fed fan 2007 - apparently your fandom curled up and died in 2007. Good thing Fed didn't.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 05:56 PM

headless at 5:52PM:

If Nadal wins 2-3 AO/USO he is GOAT with multiple French Opens, Wimbledon, Gold medal, YE#1 and dominated Roger. If he does all that that will be the most complete career ever.

Posted by CL 01/30/2009 at 05:57 PM

'past' 'times' *Le sigh*

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 05:58 PM

CL - am I supposed to be a blind hater? I'm not going to disbelieve my "lying eyes" when I see players forced to hit 4-5 great shots to win a point against Nadal. I've seen it happen too many times in Fedal finals, so much so it makes me sick.

Posted by Marian aka Mr. Sparkles 01/30/2009 at 06:00 PM

Finally one article from Mr. Bodo that I can agree with lol

Except maybe the last paragraph about parallel: imo, they are both talented, Roger maybe even more so, while Rafa, on the other hand, has more heart- but you can demise Rafa as only "dogged"

Very limited talent would be the likes of Roddick mind you.

Posted by CL 01/30/2009 at 06:00 PM

Federfan - well surely you don't have to have blind hatred of anyone to have just a wee bit of faith in the guy referenced in you handle. Not either/or, IMO.

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 06:00 PM

CfR: you can't possibly know how many more years Nadal will have "in his prime". Or Federer or anyone else.

As I've already pointed out, Nadal was a prodigy - his career may end sooner than some people think. Or maybe not. We don't know.

In any event, my point (which is based solely on statistics) still stands. Nadal went through Federer to win 5 of 5 Slams, Federer went through Nadal to win 2 of 13 Slams. It's pretty simple.

Posted by Rosangel 01/30/2009 at 06:02 PM

....especially given that I don't think that anyone can sensibly argue that Federer's "legacy", career or whatever doesn't include the 11 Slams that he won without encountering Nadal.

Posted by tennisfan65 01/30/2009 at 06:05 PM

Rosangel wrote:

CfR: and what exactly did any other player who met RF in a Slam final prevent him from doing? The guy won 11 Slams without ever encountering Rafa, so of course his Slam career is less affected by Rafa than the reverse.

---

I'm not sure I understand the reasoning here. Roger encountered Rafa only three times in non-clay majors because Rafa wasn't good enough to make the finals. Roger, on the other hand, is good enough to make the finals on clay, which is why his record against Rafa is skewed.

Think about it this way: If Roger wasn't the second best clay-court player, he wouldn't be making finals of clay tournaments, including French Open. He would have winning record against Rafa if they were not meeting on clay regularly and his winning percentage in majors would have been 93% (13 of 14). Would this scenario have made Roger a better player? On paper, yes, because he'd have a winning record against his closest rival and both Roger and Rafa would still have the same number of majors. I hope we all understand the absurdity of that scenario.

It is silly to even argue who's better between Roger and Rafa, as Rafa and uncle Toni have numerous times given Roger the advantage without any qualifications. Yet it would be silly to deny Rafa's improvements on all surfaces. He's had the same coach his whole life, and a smart one at that, who's controlling his training and knows better than anyone what Rafa needs to improve on in order to beat Roger on any given surface. Roger, on the other hand, has been without the coach for most of his best years. To sum, Raf is the best competitor out there and I can see him accomplishing more in terms of sheer numbers of majors (though this is unlikely), but I don't see that Rafa will ever be a better player than Roger.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 06:05 PM

Rosangel - there is a lot of talk among tennis pundits(Wilander) that those 11 other slams are worthless because of 2-5 against Nadal in slams. You see Wilander is God.

Posted by DMan 01/30/2009 at 06:06 PM

First, the mythical GOAT status is a conversation that cannot really be had until several years in the future. (That said, a Federer win on Sunday would certainly not stop many from ending the conversation now, or at the very least, making a strong case there wuoldn't need to be a conversation for a very long time. I still say wait no matter what happens).

No question Nadal has the H2H advantage. But it's fair to say that it didn't hurt that they played 10 times on clay in less than 3 years, including 3 in '08 during Rafa's rise to the #1 spot. It's a pity they haven't played on a hard court outdoors in a long time. Imagine if they played 10 times on hard courts in 2005-2008 instead of clay. Anyone think it would still be 12-6 Nadal? Ultimately doesn't matter.

I agree with Andrew's comments @4:43.
I also liked JakeIan's analysis @ 4.10 re teh Evert/Navratilova rivalry. Just shows you that 2 great champions can continue to inspire each other.

And while Fed and rafa will never play as many times as Chris-Martina did (no pair ever will), I think the Evert-Nav rivalry was a bit overrated. From a longevity standpoint there's nothing like it. But Evert dominated the early stages. They had a brief period where the outcomes were not clear and they were sort of even (mid '78-'81). But Martina took over and own 13 in a row. They didn't have a very compelling rivalry, especially since Martina barely lost sets to Chris. That said, Evert did herself proud to beat Martina, and compete more competitively, even though Martina still bested her more often.

Also really liked Eric's comment: "Federer and Nadal are indeed equals in this rivalry. Not every opposing force in the universe must present as perfectly symmetrical to have an equal chance of offsetting the other." Really sums up tennis and rivalries.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 06:06 PM

tennisfan65 - you seriously think that Nadal will win 14 slams?

Posted by Mike 01/30/2009 at 06:06 PM

Yes ... Nadal went through Fed to get to 5 of his 5 slams, because Fed made it to the finals on all surfaces ... Nadal didn't.

Posted by CL 01/30/2009 at 06:08 PM

Hey crazyone - did you see? Steve T has now picked Rafa to win. So at least Fed doesn't have THAT monkey on his back going in. lol. Now if we can just get Bud Collins to pick Rafa, Fed can breath easy.

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 06:08 PM

FedFan07 -- oh believe me, i wasn't suggesting following approaches w/out discretion. I just think, in spots, it can be done.

But yes, I realize players in the current era (w/ the help of advanced technology and increased accuracy) make a consistent volley game a near impossibility. But still, I always detect a few easy points left at net in most matches. Even among the best.

Case in point: how often does one see a guy throw up a successful lob and not follow the thing? When I grew up -- and I'm not talking the dark ages here -- that was SOP. Kinda like the old basketball axiom: never foul a jump-shooter.

Anyway, have a little hope. Fed's pretty good on hard court GS's. Re: understatement to point of absurdity.

Posted by Octennis 01/30/2009 at 06:09 PM

Nonone is questioning the fact that federer's career thus far is vastly superior to Nadal's. Nonone is questioning that Federer will be considered one the the best ever if not the best. The question is who is the better player at present regardless of past results. We will see on Sunday. My vote is Nadal.

Posted by Ivo 01/30/2009 at 06:10 PM

Vicent, that is a nice question. I like that.
I think if we had 128 Nadals in the draw, we'd play one grand slam over the span of a few weeks:).
On the other hand, it'd be cool to see so much fighting:).
No I think you're right: having one Rafael Nadal is wonderful, having too many of such players, that would not be fun anymore.
I love the Rafa-Fed competition: it's on so many levels...it's great.

Posted by tennisfan65 01/30/2009 at 06:10 PM

FedFan_2007 wrote:

tennisfan65 - you seriously think that Nadal will win 14 slams?

---

I think I clearly said that this was unlikely, yet possible. I'd place Rafa at 10-12 majors, but then I've been wrong about him few times in the past, most recently when I predicted that he won't make it to the Aussie finals.

Posted by Tigress (Lucky 13) 01/30/2009 at 06:11 PM

Fed_Fan2007 at 5:48: Rod Laver disagrees with you about Federer stopping at 13. So does Sampras. I think I'll go with their opinions over your pessimism. Get a grip, federer fans!

Posted by Ku 01/30/2009 at 06:12 PM

It seems to me these GOAT discussions are like the 'was living in the past better than living in the future?' debates. If anyone thinks they are going to come up to a conclusive answer, I applaud their ambition. Why are these superlatives necessary anyway?

Posted by Beckham 01/30/2009 at 06:16 PM

Rosangel: I beg to differ it's not that simple, did you happen to miss that in 4 of the 5 slams, it's Roger's weakest surface and Rafa's strongest surface, or is that not a major factor????

Posted by Nancy J 01/30/2009 at 06:18 PM

Pete, you have to know how happy I was to see that photo of Chris and Martina on the blog! That duo/duel was one of the highlights of my young life. It felt like being in the presence of royalty to see these two athletes face off. The best rivalry's have contrasting foes -- and there were no two people who were more different than ChrissieE and Martina -- from their game to their politics. Which is why I don't feel the same excitement in the current women's game -- who is really that different! The men's game is blessed at the moment.

By the way, I don't consider Martina to be an intellectual. In fact, I think Martina a bit scatter brained and loses her way in expression.

As far as Agassi and Sampras are concerned -- the contrast between these guys made them really special. Sure, as a fan it's a shame that Andre wasn't more focused in his younger years on the sport, but as you've said yourself -- Andre is a seeker. His pro tennis journey was not all about being the greatest player, but rather more about discovering who he was. I remember a quote from Gil about Andre when he was retiring where he advised Agassi not to look back with regrets, as his journey was as it was meant to be. The irony of Andre's choice of Steffi Graf as life partner-wife is that as Jim Courier once said about Graf, she was the "anti-Andre." Focused firmly on the game, full of substance, quiet, champion. Andre discovered his inner tennis player and his substance, and by contrast, I feel that Graf discovered her inner humanity and her ability to communicate.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 06:19 PM

Laver & Sampras are delusional when it comes to Nadal's steel trap defense. I would disregard anything they say when it comes to the new balls.

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 06:21 PM

C'mon, Ku. Don't rain on our parade. We have no life for the next 30-odd hours.

Posted by Carrie 01/30/2009 at 06:24 PM

Vincent- If I saw a tournament with 128 Rafas or 128 Roger’s I would be very concerned since we would be in some sci-fi future with clones. One thing I like about tennis is the variety of types of players. I love watching Fed and I love watching Nadal and thank goodness they are not the same. I am glad we have a Tsonga, a Murray, a Nole, a Stepanek, a Nando, etc.

In addition Vincent- I must get this off my chest. In all honesty- I must say that I find your tone in some of your comments to be a bit insulting. We don’t have to all like the same players or matches- but to imply that just because some people enjoyed a match that you didn’t that all means that they don’t have the ability to watch or understand tennis but rather are just caught up in stats is imo off putting. I feel insulted. I greatly enjoyed both the 2007 and 2008 Wimbledon finals- and it had nothing to do with the stats- but the play on court. I respect that you have a different opinion, but please have some respect for people who do not agree with you. I apologize for calling you out here but I had to speak up.

Posted by Ku 01/30/2009 at 06:26 PM

Mcakron,

LOL. You're right. I just think the discussions would be much more objective if we looked at a player's career vis-a-vis the competition they had, as opposed to other generations who had completely different technology and mindset about the game. Laver and Federer thought about tennis completely differently therefore we cannot really justify who the better player is.

Posted by just a note 01/30/2009 at 06:27 PM

Grant - "I guess I didn't sign on as a fan because of some need to cheer for records being broken and for my guy being the BESTEREST EVERS but instead because I like Fed and enjoy watching him play :/"

Andrew - "Like Grant, I haven't followed Federer's matches because I think he's the Bestest Evah, I follow them because I enjoy watching Federer play tennis more than I have any other player. Nadal might yet win a calendar GS, or 18 GS titles. If he does, I'll be up there with his fans cheering."

I am in complete agreement with these sentiments and cannot express it any better but only to add I feel like I "inhale tennis" when I watch Roger play. I've watched tennis for many years and the last 5 years have been extraordinary for me. I hope it continues for Roger and for us.

jan

Posted by federerfan 01/30/2009 at 06:31 PM

My God Vincent, I will say this.

You can trade rallies with the best of them here and defend the point, in almost a nadalesque fashion!

Although I relate to the gist of what you say, I wont say it like you do but then thats why i am not Vincent.

Posted by Nancy J 01/30/2009 at 06:35 PM

"I find the GOAT argument rather vacuous and subjective."
------------------------

It's very subjective (as was once written out in an SI article about the pundit and fan's need to assign the GOAT title).

AS for Roger, I read just today Federer saying how generations can't be compared! The article said that while he probably could consider himself the greatest of those who played since open pro tennis came about in 1968, he probably isn't the GOAT in terms of all time!

In my opinion, Federer isn't even the GOAT of the pro era, that honor would go to Stefanie Maria Graf!!! Regardless of any arguments on how the Seles stabbing may have enhanced Graf's slam count, the fact is that Graf managed to be killer through scandal, injury, illness, legal proceedings, her family being destroyed, and more scandal! No one was more mentally tough, or a better athlete. But that's my opinion, and we know what people say about opinions...

Posted by Liz 01/30/2009 at 06:37 PM

Wonderful post, Andrew @ 4:43. It was worth wading through all the bickering posts to get to that one. Loved Pete's insights into the nature of rivalry, and THE rivalry, too.

Posted by Sam 01/30/2009 at 06:43 PM

"I didn't sign on as a fan because of some need to cheer for records being broken and for my guy being the BESTEREST EVERS but instead because I like Fed and enjoy watching him play :/"

What Grant said.

Posted by Or 01/30/2009 at 06:44 PM

Rosangel -

I don't understand your point about the age difference. This isn't about age, this is about when a player reaches his career peak.

I'd say that Roger's peak years were 2004-2007. What are Rafa's prime years? When do we start counting those?

I mean, in 2004 and 2005, Roger wasn't as good on clay as was in 2006-2008, he never made the French final then. So, are we saying 2004 and 2005 weren't years in which Roger was in his prime?

In about a year or two, Roger will be definily out of his prime, he'll be 28 years old. In tennis terms, that's on the downslide of one's career. Should Rafa make HC finals then, would THEY count less, because of the age difference?

Posted by Octennis 01/30/2009 at 06:45 PM

There are so many reasons why Nadal should win on Sunday. He has not lost to Fed in over a year. He holds the number 1 ranking. He has almost 70% winning percentage against Fed lifetime. His confidence against Fed is very high. I think this match is going to be another dissapointment for federer just like Wimbledon was last year. Go RAFA!

Posted by federerfan 01/30/2009 at 06:50 PM

tennisfan65 @ 6:05
fantastic perspective on rafa/roger, you may be fairer than the fairest here to rafa and roger, all in a few lines...bravo!

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