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Beyond Words 11/28/2010 - 12:17 PM


by Hannah Wilks, TW Contributing Writer

The biggest challenge in writing about Rafael Nadal (apart from not letting my bitterness as an Andy Murray fan overwhelm me) is finding something new to say. It’s not just that his undeniable brilliance has already been heavily chronicled, as much as the fact that it’s very hard to avoid a certain mythologised persona, irresistible because it participates in the reality of the man. It’s difficult to see beyond the stereotype. It’s hard even to avoid certain words—raw, brutality, power. Before you know it, you’re using bodice-ripper phrases like powerful thighs and gleaming muscles and then there’s officially no help for you.

There’s one word that hovers in the air around Andy Murray. Slam. More than any other player I can think of, he’s defined by the lack of one. It’s the reason that he can’t really win today, or at this tournament for that matter. If he beats Nadal, he’ll only get asked why he can’t do it when it really matters, at Wimbledon this summer with the prospect of a Federer-less final waiting. If he doesn‘t, he’ll be a loser. It may seem logically impossible that someone with nothing to gain can have so much to lose. Welcome to the world of the British No. 1.

From the first point of the match when Nadal blasts an inside-out forehand winner, only for Murray to respond with his own forehand and an ace to hold serve, there’s a sense that this might be the one we’ve been waiting for, an epic contest to set the World Tour Finals alight at last. The arena has been filled every day by people hoping to see the promise of the event realized; the best in the world playing their best tennis against each other. Nadal has looked sharper with each match, shaking off whatever nominal rust was accumulated by skipping Paris. Murray has been at his best and his worst this week, but today he is playing, to paraphrase Carrie Bradshaw, like himself at his most fabulous; aggressive, striking out on his forehand with supreme confidence, thumping down ace after heavy ace. Using his groundstrokes like a crowbar to pry open the cracks in Nadal’s supreme defense, he works his way to the net to drop soft volleys into unreachable places on the court. It’s the game that the fans and media beg him to play on a more or less daily basis; intelligent, courageous, a sight to see.

Such an equal match-up has the effect of making me see Nadal in a different way after all. As commenters wiser and wittier than me have pointed out, when you tend to be rooting for Nadal’s opponents, it’s difficult not to view him as a larger-than-life automaton possessed of a preternatural ability to slough off multiple death blows and come back stronger, like the killer in a slasher movie. Not so tonight. When there is a kerfuffle at 4-5 with challenges and scoreboards, it displeases both the crowd and Nadal, at one in wanting things to be just so. A noise in the ceiling between first and second serves brings a double fault. With Murray seemingly intent on hitting winners past him at every opportunity, one is forced to accept Nadal as vulnerable, fallible. His concentration can be threatened, his invincible self-belief disrupted.

This only makes what he does in the tiebreak more remarkable. Murray fluffs a forehand down the line that would have given him the mini-break, then nets a defensive slice he should be able to make in his sleep. Once he gets to set point, Nadal is always in control of the rally; a backhand cross-court, a short ball down the line that leaves Murray floundering in no man’s land, and a volley that the world no. 1 is not about to miss. Game and set because one young man kept his head better than another. I think I preferred him as an invincible force of nature who was simply too good.

The spotlight now falls on Murray’s resilience and self-belief, or lack thereof. Surely, Nadal will steamroll from here, as he did to Berdych yesterday; capitalizing on the momentary floundering that comes from losing the tightest of tiebreaks. Once he gets the bit between his teeth, he’s unstoppable. When a net cord takes Murray’s ball wide, followed by a successful Hawkeye challenge from Nadal to get the point replayed, it’s impossible not to feel that events are conspiring against Murray. He plays his first tactically ill-advised drop-shot; he’s driven to his knees by Nadal’s forehand in the next game as the DJ, displaying a masterly sense of timing, plays ‘Sledgehammer’. It’s understandable; after the loss of the first set, I want to take to my bed in a darkened room for a week or so, and I‘m just watching.

But I’m not Andy Murray. Break point down, he hits a backhand cross-court winner and gives it a “c’mon”! At deuce, he opens up the court again as only he can and finishes it off with a drop-dead volley. Game point is his eleventh ace. He gets to 0-15 on Rafa’s serve at 3-3 when Rafa pushes an attacking forehand long. If a point on Rafa’s serve in the first set was an opportunity, right now it’s an offer Murray can’t refuse. A superb backhand winner gives him the break, his fifteenth ace consolidates. I cry aloud; we all do. A return winner gives him the set on Rafa’s serve and the match we‘ve been waiting for is going the distance.

There’s a moment, when Murray has 0-30 on Rafa’s serve at 0-1, when neither are playing as well as they have been. Both have an opportunity to seize the match. Two unforced errors, a drop-shot that bounces before it reaches the net, and that‘s it. You can’t give Rafael Nadal an opening and gamble that he won’t come up with something spectacular, because he will. He breaks with a return ace.

The point at deuce on Murray’s serve at 3-5 is the match in microcosm. A sequence of unbelievable shots and yet all it accomplishes is to highlight Nadal’s brilliance and tenacity. Little kids are already running down the stairs to wait courtside for the chance to get Nadal’s autograph, and I am mentally composing a biting epitaph for the match. Murray has won six more points, but all he’s done is give Nadal a nice work-out, buffing up those muscles until they shine with sweat, making sure he looks good for the final. Nadal will not let an advantage like serving for the match go.

He doesn’t. Murray takes it back, forcing errors and sealing it with an inexorable backhand down the line. The roar from the crowd when he takes it to a tiebreak shakes the stands, but it pales in comparison to the one when Murray goes 0-3 up with an ace and two gorgeous winners. This could really happen, I think. These are the matches that can leave careers forever changed.

Before you know it, Nadal’s beaming and raising his arms, telling us once again how many Slams Murray’s going to win. I don’t think I can be the only Murray fan who is tired of hearing those words from him under these circumstances.

Murray takes it like a man. His press conference is dignified, honest; he doesn’t shrink from the harsh realities. "It was a great match to finish the year. But I need to improve because I’m competing with the two best players of all time. So if I want to win these tournaments, I want to win the Grand Slams, I need to get better."

I’m back to my semantic conundrum. The word I keep finding to describe Nadal’s performance is ‘terrifying’. On his supposedly worst surface, against an opponent who’s capable of beating him playing at his absolute best, he still won. The narrowness of the margins merely emphasize his victory. If his opponent tomorrow and the rest of the ATP aren’t viewing 2011 with a serious dose of apprehension then they’re simply not paying attention.

As for Murray, he played about as well as he can play. He stretched Nadal to his limits and brought the tournament to life. He played one of the best matches of the year. He gave the 17,500 people inside the O2, as Mark Petchey tells us in Nadal’s post-match interview, a memory that they will never forget.

Great. What trophy does he get for that?

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Posted by Ross (FOE, even Gael) 11/28/2010 at 07:00 PM

Thanks Roger, for a great start and conclusion for this year, and for your dedication to the game of tennis (and for a career that has given me more enjoyment than anyone else in my 60 years as a fan).

Thanks Rafa, for a historically great year of tennis, and for your continuing quest for perfection (now you’ve even added body serves). You've missed a few things on your to do list, but you have plenty of time.

Thanks London, for your class, enthusiasm, and support of our sport; you deserve the WTF in perpetuity.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 07:01 PM

he he..xfan, i like to do research on them as much as i can..on whatever i can grab my hands on so that i understand what is going on.


Good call. Like i said, we'll see what numbers you put up. If you get next 2 matches right with the Fedal, I will bow to your oracle powers.

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 07:03 PM


you are much more forgiving again :-)

see u later..

Posted by x-fan 11/28/2010 at 07:04 PM

I'm either sane or insane, it's a fine line!


Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 07:06 PM


True..but its part and parcel of the job, no?

Firefighters, soldiers, and other professions..risk their lives for their jobs..not just their bodies.

I just think there should be a healthy perspective to everything, no pun intended. A bit of coverage is fine...too much talk and people start to get other impressions. Why give people the opportunity?

Posted by armonico 11/28/2010 at 07:08 PM

Federer's games were generally clean and fast. Lots of cheap points.

Nadal's games were generally laborous and slow. Few cheap points.

The difference, IMO, the serves.

Also, this time due to the surface characteristics and be playing indoors, Nadal didn't inflict any damage to Federer's backhand. Just the opposite. It was like Federer was looking to give back that shot with interest. It was a suicide game plan from Nadal. The comentators of the BBC repeated one thoousand times about the no bouncing ball and that will benefict Ferderer one hand backhand. Did Nadal's team spot that and if they did (I'm sure they did), they did not have a second plan ready.

However, the most interesting thing of this week was that only a great Federer was able to defeat Nadal in his worst surface.

Anyhow, an excellent year for Nadal and a good ending year for Federer.

The rest will need to improve a lot or these two will keep on winning the big events for years to come. The close enough is not good enough, but they are seem to be happy with it, which is great news for these two.

The next challenge will be to have the YEC on clay or in a natural surface in one of the southern countries. Just for a change!

Posted by Kwaku 11/28/2010 at 07:12 PM

Ross, 60 years??

Posted by ladyjulia 11/28/2010 at 07:15 PM

Jon W 20 min ago on twitter:

"Still trying to make sense of todays result..let's not cheapen w/ nadal's fatigue...'If you play, you're fit'..."

Am off...see u folks..and thx for the civil discussion everybody.

Posted by TMFunk 11/28/2010 at 07:18 PM

he he ladyjulia - I'm thinking of retiring on a high... :)

anyway, have a goon night!

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 07:23 PM

Super late in saying this Hannah--I was too frazzled to read it before--but I really liked this piece. "The narrowness of the margins merely emphasize his victory". I particularly liked this line and it typifies just how the very opposite of bitter the piece was. Muzz was amazing in his presser

Posted by Ross (FOE, even Gael) 11/28/2010 at 07:23 PM


Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 07:25 PM

Wertheim is of course right. But interesting that he was the one tweeting about Rafa getting an assist from Fed at the USO.

Posted by Deuce 11/28/2010 at 07:26 PM

Checking back in on all the fun. Not a Fedal match without some back and forth banter with Tim and Shelock, is it:)

Tim - you're right the old aussies would be laughing at all this "I'm tired" crap.

Sherlock - you're right - we Fed fans should be estatic that TMF claimed the YEC for a fifth time and notch a W over Nadal in the process. The rest right now shouldn't matter!

Let the games continue!

Posted by Tim (Moonpies lead to violence!) 11/28/2010 at 07:30 PM

GB, guess u missed it, 2 of 3 is a HUGE diff between 3 of 5, you really cant compare the two ... any pro player should be able to play 3 hours of tennis and follow up the next day, especially when they have a day off between matches earlier in the week!

if he WAS tired, thats just poor fitness levels, period, no pro player should be unable to play 3 hours of tennis a day, i think we can all agree on that...

Posted by Master Ace 11/28/2010 at 07:38 PM

Another thread has been posted by Hannah. I really appreicate that Hannah was able to bring the O2 to us at TW.

Posted by GB 11/28/2010 at 07:44 PM

TIm: I'm pretty sure the Fed-Nole semi has within the 3 hr range. Maybe 3 1/2 ish?

Posted by CWATC 11/28/2010 at 07:49 PM

Hi all,

Thrilled to bits. Fed deserves so much credit for resurrecting himself since Wimbledon. So so proud of my boy :)

And no the win is not a fluke, Fed has beaten Nadal multiple times on hardcourts before and the matches he lost were close (except the first, ironically).

About tiredness:

1) As has probably been pointed out winning a tourney is partially about pacing yourself and not losing too much energy in the early rounds. Nadal's draw was no more difficult than Fed's; he spent more energy defeating similar opponants which he paid for in the end.

2)He really should be able to play several best of three tough matches on back to back days. Fed played two tough long matches in the days before the Rome '06 final and still took Nadal to 5 and almost won. No reason Nadal shouldn't be as fit.

I have to say the result of this final really made me wish Fed hadn't decided on those stupid exo's; Nadal seemed a bit intimidated today, and I think his not having played Fed much recently helped Fed. Why give him 2 free training sessions to get used to / explore Fed's game again??
Ah, well.

Us fedfans will always have the 02.

And congrats to Rafa for his great season and giving us some exciting matches in this tourney as well. :)

Posted by crazyone 11/28/2010 at 07:59 PM

CWATC, just as a warning, that's exactly what I thought after the 2007 YEC, and look what happened in 2008 ;)

Posted by CWATC 11/28/2010 at 08:05 PM

great minds think alike :)

wait: which do you mean? the stupidity of the exos? or non-flukiness??

Posted by Diane 11/28/2010 at 08:28 PM


Great words as a Fed fan I am just over the moon (and not moon pies) about his win and really don't care about trying to make Rafa fans feel bad about today's match.
Of course I know how it feels when your fav loses a big match, goes with the territory being a Fed fan this past year. It hurts, but Nadal fans have had little to get upset about this year.....he has won almost everything, is the clear # 1 and dominate player on the tour.
Annie, glad you got to see the semi win and sorry that you had to see your man go down in a tough final.
Waiting to hear from Or; she called Fed's semi orgasmic so I just can't imagine how she will describe today's final!

Posted by jodiecate 11/28/2010 at 08:37 PM

You know what - i define "upset" being if the one you thought would win loses, or the one you thought would lose wins. Completely subjective.

Was it an upset for me today? Hardly! But a little :)

Talking about injuries or fatigue is not making "excuses" for not winning. It's simply being honest about what it felt like and where their head's at. I'm glad players today are honest about the injuries and difficulties, it's important to see what the "cost" of a professional sporting career involves.

As someone upstream said you live by the sword, you die by the sword and Rafa knows that as much as anyone! OF COURSE he's tired - was a brilliant match yesterday, but he's been a LOT tireder in the past and still pulled off a win. But he didn't because Roger was giving a Master-class in indoor hard court tennis!!

I am really excited about this win for Roger. I really hope it shuts everyone up about Roger being over the hill already. Kind of ironic that it's been Rafa saying to the press all this year that they've written off Roger to early and NO WAY is the guy finished yet!

I'm really looking forward to the exho's, the more they play each other the better for tennis, in my opinion!!

Posted by Or 11/28/2010 at 09:25 PM

I said it in Steve's post, I'd say it here.

I'm sure Rafa was tired, that's not a bluff - but that is not to his credit, though, nor should it excuse him.

In 2006, when Roger was even older than Rafa (26 to Rafa's 24), he played a lot more matches than Rafa did this year, he won the same amount of majors (plus another final), won one more Master event, and I believe had more tour titles as well.

And then he went and won WTF, beating Rafa in a great semi along the way, and then killing Blake in the finals.

Rafa has issues at the end of the year. Even now, after pacing himself and playing less. It's what it is, it's not one difficult semi, it's the pattren of his seasons since he became a top player. I mean, had he lost against Andy it would have been what? Rust? He was inches away from losing to Murray too - what would that have been, if not tiredness nor rust? The support for the homebody? Andy's superior HC skills (superior to Roger's? I think not!). Rafa did not play well in this tournament, period.

Roger showed he can have consistent and LONG TERM peaks in different points of the season, all through the season. Rafa improved on his results to some degree winning the USO, but failed to show he can peak at June, in September AND in November.

It's not the surface, I think - and if it is - it is all mental. Roger never spoke of the clay with the same hesitation Rafa speak of indoor hard. It's just that Rafa really want the season to end with the USO, and just doesn't.

Posted by Or 11/28/2010 at 09:26 PM

LOL - homeboy, not homebody :)

Posted by Ruth 11/28/2010 at 09:29 PM

"And no the win is not a fluke, Fed has beaten Nadal multiple times on hardcourts before and the matches he lost were close (except the first, ironically)."

And that is why it is absolutely silly to call this result today an upset. If all a player had to do to be the favorite and to cause an upset by losing was that he had to be ranked one spot above his opponent, we'd have to say that all those Nadal wins at the FO and in other clay events when he was #2 and Roger was firmly #1 were upsets and that Federer was the favorite going into those matches. Ridiculous!

I admire and congratulate x-fan who looked at how very well Roger had been playing all week, factored in his amazing winning record at this indoor event (compared wih Rafa's weak record here), and picked him (Roger) as the man to win today, eschewing the talk and excuses/rationalizations about Fed's age and other nonsense.

You're a good man, x-fan! LOL May some of the Fed KADS (I'm talking to you, ladyjulia) follow your lead when similar circumstances appear in thefuture -- and they will!

Ah, I made it -- time for the TC replay of the final; I'll see how much I can watch before calling it a night.

Posted by Ruth 11/28/2010 at 09:40 PM

Oh, dear, I thought that TC would edit the doubles final and start the singles final as scheduled at 9:30. But they haven't done that. My eyes are closing after a day of very active fun with the grandson et al; I'll have to hope for another reply tomorrow or sometime soon.

Or: I see even more reasons in your comment above why Fed should have been the favorite going in today and why his winning is not a big upset! Thanks. :)

Posted by Jim McLennan 11/29/2010 at 12:49 AM

Anyone out there familiar with gyroscopic stability - and the phenomenon of wobbling or precession
Roger and Pete whirl when serving, staying totally centered as they uncork their deliveries
Andy truly wobbles, his hits can be good but the wobble creates just that uncertainty we see in his delivery

Posted by x-fan 11/29/2010 at 06:10 AM

Thank you! You’re very kind!

I understand that all of us, myself included, allow our fan bias to get in the way sometimes but when it comes to this time of the year and on this surface, I would not consider Rafael Nadal the favorite even with his number 1 ranking and the tremendous success he’s had this year.
One only needs to take a look at his results post-USO over the years.

As much as he has improved and made in-roads on all surfaces, the ending of the season has never been that favorable to him. It’s likely because of his style of play which does not suit the conditions and also puts tremendous cumulative strain on his body.

Some people here talk about amount of time spent on the court, number games, points, sets, etc but they don’t talk about what it actually takes for Rafa to win an average point. The amount of running and the way he twirls his arm and twists his body has to impact in his overall fitness over time, in a way it doesn’t for a player like Roger who can finish four points in less than a minute with a powerful serve and one or two put-away shots.

This is not excuse-making and this of course it’s Nadal’s problem. He wins by playing physical points, he wins with relentless defense and by hitting shots from incredible positions, but every time he does that he’s withdrawing from his body reserves.

Posted by x-fan 11/29/2010 at 06:12 AM


I do research but not on pressers or media theories :)

I like to look at stats, figures and patterns within games, matches and seasons.

For example, I am not bothered by what some call ‘arrogance’ in Fed or ‘fake humility’ in Rafa, or anything about another player’s demeanor or attitude.

I think that anyone in a high profile position is going to have everything they say scrutinized and it will be extremely difficult to always be likeable or even understood.

I think Fed tends to be more of a ‘tell it like he sees it’ kind of guy while Rafa tries to stay with his tried and tested: ‘gonna be difficult’ or 'we goona see’ perhaps due to a combination of culture/upbringing and the fact that as much as his English has improved he still cannot elaborate on a particular answer the way Roger can.

By the same token, I’m not bothered by any player saying he is tired or injured for as long as it is not used as an excuse for losing.
Most of all I don’t really take everything a media person or so called ‘tennis expert’ says at face value or get upset when they say something I happen to disagree with.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 11/29/2010 at 11:09 AM

Today's heartwarming sentiments from a "fedfan":

"I have to say the result of this final really made me wish Fed hadn't decided on those stupid exo's; Nadal seemed a bit intimidated today, and I think his not having played Fed much recently helped Fed. Why give him 2 free training sessions to get used to / explore Fed's game again?"

Thanks for reminding us that the results of professional tennis matches are more important than the philanthropic causes promoted by the pertinent Rafa and Federer foundations, which will receive funding from the exhibitions.

"Beyond Words" is an appropriate heading for this thread and the post to which I'm responding.

Posted by Indian Drama Serials 11/29/2010 at 11:55 PM

Zimonjic is a Good Fighter. But its all are Game.

Posted by SerialsUp 09/09/2011 at 10:34 AM

By TW Contributing Editor Andrew Burton Afternoon, all. We've now reached the mid point of the 2010 Roland Garros tournament, with half of the quarter finalists in the ATP and WTA singles tournaments decided today. I wouldn't say there have...

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