Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Queen's: New Aura
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Queen's: New Aura 06/17/2008 - 5:58 PM

RnSteve here again. Let me interrupt the early rounds of Eastbourne to take you back a couple days, to the late great rounds of Queen’s. As Pete Bodo mentioned in his blog, we were busy with meetings yesterday around the offices of TENNIS Magazine, but I felt the need to get in a comment or two about the tennis from the weekend. Something important may have happened there; it felt like a new aura had begun in men’s tennis.

The aura I’m referring to, of course, is the one that surrounded Rafael Nadal everywhere he went on the Queen’s grass. It was the natural product of his performance in Paris the previous Sunday—you crush Roger Federer in a major final, tennis players tend to show you a little respect.

The odd thing is that Nadal seemed to intimidate Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic in the semifinals and final more than he did Kei Nishikori and Ivo Karlovic in earlier rounds; each extended him to three sets. But by the time he reached the weekend, Nadal had clearly reached deep into his opponents’ heads. From the beginning, Roddick looked tamed, subdued, unable to summon the cocky lack of respect that serves him so well against lesser players.

As these things tend to do, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Roddick, after holding every one of his service games in his previous matches, was broken late in each set and went down in straights. It’s been noted on this blog in the past that Roddick has an exaggerated sense of pecking order: He hates when lower-ranked players challenge him, but he’s overly respectful to guys like Federer and Nadal. He can’t get outraged when they hit winners past him, and that robs him of a source of motivation. The most telling moment of his match with Nadal came fairly late in the second set. After losing a number of cat-and-mouse points around the net, Roddick finally got one to go his way, dropping a short backhand behind Nadal for a winner. When he saw the ball take a second bounce—it’s never over until it’s over against Rafa—Roddick turned toward the baseline, threw his arms in the air, and blew a few mock kisses to the crowd. “I finally won something against this guy,” was the message. It was a funny move, but it also revealed Roddick’s state of mind. He didn’t seriously think he had a shot, even though he had beaten Nadal just a few months ago in Dubai.

It didn’t take that long for Djokovic to reveal his state of mind in the final. Despite coming out on fire, rifling balls into the corners, breaking Nadal immediately, and going up 3-0, he was still agitated, still anxious, still jumpy. Djokovic had break points for a 4-0 lead but let them slip. When Nadal finally held, the Serb shot a look at his entourage as if to say: “Here comes this friggin' guy again.”

You can understand the sentiment. While the surface was different, it must have been hard for Djokovic to face a guy who had just rolled him in three sets a week earlier in Paris, and who had come back from a similar early deficit to beat him in Hamburg the previous month. In that match, Djokovic had thrown his absolute best at Nadal for long periods of time, but it hadn’t been enough. I’ve said before that one problem Djokovic may have mentally is that he plays with an edge of impatience and frustration that always lurks just below the surface. Against Nadal, you could see he was expecting to be frustrated. It built up until finally, after holding a set point, he lost the first-set tiebreaker 8-6 and slammed his racquet to the ground. I got the feeling he’d been waiting to do that all afternoon.

Djokovic’s seeming lack of belief—something you rarely see from him, if ever—continued in the second set. He went up a break at 5-4; on grass this is usually an automatic ticket to a third set. But he went down 0-30 right away and was broken. Then, down match point at 5-6, he threw in one of his obligatory half-hearted match-point drop shots (he did the same against Nadal in Rome last year and Hamburg this year, and against Federer in the 2007 U.S. Open final), which Nadal gladly took for the title.

Nadal has the aura of a No. 1 player right now. Judging by his record and his game over the last month, he deserves it. At Queen’s, he hit his backhand better—stronger and more consistently—than I’ve seen him hit it all year. Down set point in the first-set breaker, that shot more than held its own in a long crosscourt rally with Djokovic’s forehand. Nadal also anticipated the big serves of Karlovic and Roddick at just the right moments and blocked his forehand returns at their feet with ease. He was at his athletic best around the net; his footwork—discrete little steps rather than long slides—was fully adjusted for grass; he was taking the ball closer to the baseline; and he’s begun to make the wrong-foot play with his forehand, both inside-out and crosscourt, a major part of his repertoire. It’s always said that the wrong-foot is a great play on slippery clay; it’s equally effective on slippery grass. Most impressive of all was Nadal's forehand pass. All that topspin and sidespin made it look like he couldn’t hit it out even if he tried. The shots I’ll remember most from this tournament were the viciously swooping forehand passes he kept hitting from no-man's land, even as he was running full speed toward the net. You wouldn't know it from watching Nadal, but it’s a deceptively hard shot to judge (a lot of these balls end up in the net because the player is worried about hitting it long), like a floating one-hander in the lane in basketball.

As Roddick said, Nadal seemed to be in cruise control from having played so many matches—winning is a habit, just like losing. Anything could happen next week, after he’s gone a few days without winning a tennis match. Nadal may lose a little momentum, he may get a tough early draw—Karlovic would certainly make things a little scary—he may blow a close set and shed some of that bullet-proof confidence he’s been walking around with. Despite all that, I think Nadal is the favorite to win Wimbledon. Djokovic and Roddick have already seen and felt the new aura—they helped create it. How about Roger Federer? While he’s coming in on a long grass, and Wimbledon, winning streak, if he meets Nadal in the final on Centre Court, he’s going to feel it, too. Making it go away will be the biggest challenge of his career.

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Posted by Vie 06/17/2008 at 06:19 PM

Steve, I appreciate your analysis!

Posted by moxie 06/17/2008 at 06:29 PM

We can always count on Steve to bash on other players in order to elevate Nadal or, his personal favorite, Federer.

Posted by linex 06/17/2008 at 06:31 PM

Very nice article Steve. I like it because apart from the mental aspect you usually focus on those small technical and strategical details of the matches and the players.

I hope that your prediction turns out true. I think that it is long deserved for Nadal to win a Grand Slam in a different surface than clay. He has continued improving his game and has always carried the same focus and determination to succeed. No money, prices, trophies, sponsors have distracted him from his goals.

Posted by 06/17/2008 at 06:36 PM

"The odd thing is that Nadal seemed to intimidate Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic in the semifinals and final more than he did Kei Nishikori and Ivo Karlovic in earlier rounds"

It's not odd at all. There are more expectations on Roddick and Djokovic to play well and win. They both also have more experience playing Nadal and have learned fear. Karlovic and Nishikori do not have pressure to win or beat a player like Nadal so they play more freely.

Posted by Sher 06/17/2008 at 06:49 PM

Great article.

[Then, down match point at 5-6, he threw in one of his obligatory half-hearted match-point drop shots (he did the same against Nadal in Rome last year and Hamburg this year, and against Federer in the 2007 U.S. Open final), which Nadal gladly took for the title.]

This made me laugh.

I would only add that Roddick, coming off an injury and with too little if any match play would have to be a bit delusional to believe he stood a great chance against Rafa at that point. So he treated it a bit like a practice match.

Djokovic however had no such excuse for his impatience. I also got the sense that he wanted to slam that racquet all day.

Posted by FedFan 06/17/2008 at 06:53 PM

Nadal has everything but he is still not pleasing to watch. He just seems like a machine. I know Fed is going to be nervous if he sees Nadal in the final. That's why I want the following players to be in Nadal's half:

Mahut (1st round)
Soderling (2nd round)
Karlovic (3rd round)
Ancic (4th round)
Roddick (Quarter final)
Djokovic (Semi-final)

Posted by M-life 06/17/2008 at 06:57 PM

Very nice "take" invisible one. I think you are right on on this one.

Nice post Steve. And it is good to see that you're still alive. I really think that you are at your best when you cover a tournament live, but your "read" into a players mental state is also quite excellent. You have wonderful insight and analysis into a players mind, and you ability to eloquently write and articulate that insight is what sets you apart than from the average run-of the-mill sport writer. It's why I continue to read your post almost exclusively for tennis as a sport, and why I proudly say "I'm a Tignor guy." Just wish you'd work a little more, and write about someone other than Roger and Rafa once in a while. But I realize that they are the news, and it's better than writing/reading about gas prices. Now what about the women???

I hope that somewhere out there, Skip1515 is smiling.

Posted by Voice_of_reason 06/17/2008 at 06:59 PM

I can't help but wonder over the similitudes between Nadal of now and Fed of 2005/'06/'07 and for that matter Sampras in the mid 90's

I think each and every player who dominated the game during his time had that Aura and most of the matches were Won because the opponent got blinded by that Aura.

Same thing is happening with Nadal now and it "MIGHT" be the start Nadal's period of dominance (or Nadal Era). I say might because he generaly loses steam after Wimbledon.
End of 2008 win tell us if that Aura is made of stone or just a bubble waiting to be pricked.

Stranger things have happened!! :)

Posted by Chiconinja 06/17/2008 at 07:31 PM

I think either Rafa taking Wimbledon or reaching the #1 spot later this year would be awesome for the sport.

I'm not sure that it would bring more people to follow tennis, but I'm sure all of us who already do would be watching closely to see how Roger deals with this.

I think Roger needs a blow like losing Wimby or the #1 spot to once again start playing like on those "old" youtube videos from 2004-2006. I miss those killer forehands and out-of-nowhere winners. Haven't seen those in a while, even when he's winning.

Posted by Asad Raza 06/17/2008 at 07:38 PM

Yup, Steve. Great piece, I agree with every word.

If Nadal does meet Federer at Wimbledon, it's gonna be berrrry interesting.

Posted by calbearo 06/17/2008 at 07:51 PM

Yes! I could not agree more and I commented as much after the Queens final. I really sensed that Rafa (not surprisingly after the recent results) hadn't maybe gotten into Djokovic's head. I could see a similar replay if they meet again in the semis of Rafa running through him relatively easily.

Rafa's backhand has been surprisingly better to me, I think most notable in the final at RG. From that very first game of the match where Rafa easily broke even though every shot of the game save one was hit to Rafa's backhand, I knew it was over for Fed.

Djokovic has also improved quite a bit from last year, it will be increasingly interesting to see their combined improvement. Right now Rafa has a sizeable lead in their head-to-head. I wonder if Rafa could ride this momementum with a resulting stymying of Novak's progress. I always thought Fed's utter dominance really stopped Roddick from progressing as a player.

Posted by calbearo 06/17/2008 at 07:56 PM

One other contrast with Djokovic. I made this comment earlier in the season and got somewhat ripped for it, but here again is demonstration of a difference. Rafa comes right out of his huge RG win and tears through a good draw at Queens. He could have easily been happy with a QF finish and get back to Mallorca and rest, but he doesn't. When Djokovic has had his biggest wins, he has tanked early in the following tournament, somewhat stifling his momentum (after Montreal, AO and IW). He did very well following Rome this year, so he might be turning the corner in that department. But if he is going to make a strong enough finish to take number 1 soon, he has to be able to play more consistently, especially through the outdoor and indoor hardcourt circuit this late summer and fall.

Posted by Di 06/17/2008 at 08:18 PM

wow! Great Post! Had so much fun reading it
can't even pick my fav line ;)

Posted by MZK 06/17/2008 at 08:27 PM

I'm amused by the rush in all quarters to coronate Nadal the favourite for Wimbledon following his brilliant Queen's triumph. It's still Roger's title to lose, in my opinion, but if he does falter, Rafa does seem the clear second, with Djoko not far behind. But isn't the case with just about every tournament this year?;)

I think it's too early to say anything until the draw is released. Like Borg says, Nadal has a great shot if he survives the early rounds, but that's still a considerable if, taking into account his narrow escapes early on the past few Wimbledons (Kendrick in '06 and Soderling last year). So there are still plenty of potential banana peels out there.

Ancic looms largest, still ranked ten spots out of a seeding, but Wimbledon's wacky rejigged seedings might bump him up enough for one if they consider his QF and Ordina title the year before last (I'm not sure how far back they go). Neither Fed or Rafa had any trouble with him lately on clay but grass is another story. Soderling also won't be seeded and could be the villain yet again. Gulbis is another unseeded headache.

Posted by KP 06/17/2008 at 08:39 PM

Taking away aces, Nadal had 30 winners in that semi, while Roddick only had 6. Thought that was pretty amazing since it was a fairly close match on paper.

Posted by darthhelmethead(lurker in reform) 06/17/2008 at 08:50 PM

I know this is really really really off topic but I need someone else to be as angry and offended as I am by reading this disgustingly irreverent article over on espn.

I threw up a little in the back of my mouth at the thought that this is how tennis outsiders view this sport.

Thanks Bill Simmons(the author of this article) for being completely ignorant.

Posted by Chris 06/17/2008 at 09:05 PM

re Ancic...

I don't think he can be seeded no matter how many grass points he has. The grasscourt formula only applies to the top 32-ranked entrants now (in fact, this is what started the whole 32 seeds in the first place!)

Before, someone like Patrick Rafter could be rebounding from injury and be seeded #10 even though ranked outside the top 50. No longer.

As for Nadal... well, brilliant. Finally a written account of what really happened last Sunday.

Posted by Christopher 06/17/2008 at 09:28 PM

Very solid piece, Steve. As we all know, confidence is hugely important in tennis and Nadal rightly has buckets of it at the moment. I think Wimbledon will tell us a lot about how the rest of the year will shake out. If Federer takes a 6th title in row, he'll silence a lot of critics and probably get some of his own "aura" back. If Djokovic wins it he'll go into the hardcourt season ready to do a Roger and win 3 of the 4 slams this year. That would be a real arrival. If Nadal finally breaks through I think we'll see him have a much better HC season than usual. I frankly cannot see anyone but these three having a realistic shot at the title.

As for "We can always count on Steve to bash on other players in order to elevate Nadal or, his personal favorite, Federer," what nonsense!

Posted by Brandon 06/17/2008 at 09:42 PM

That analysis of Roddick from a mental standpoint seems to really make sense now that I think about it... going to be tough for him to rise up to the top with that mindset...

Daily Tennis Deals with a Splash of Personality

Posted by Dee 06/17/2008 at 09:56 PM

Steve, thanks. I have been waiting for some words from you on Queens.

Perhaps there was an aura of intimidation but certainly no aura of invincibility surrounding Nadal. It wasn't as if he had an easy time, nor did he have average opponents. It's the person that he is. It is having an enormous indomitable will to fight tenaciously for every point. It is keeping your head cool and not letting the oppponent see your frustration, something that Djokovic is still to learn. Rafa had to fight through two 3-setters. During the 2nd set with Novak, he seemed to lose concentration, going down 3 break points 0-40 in the 2nd set, and Novak broke at first opportunity. Unfortunately for Novak, up 5-4 with a break, Rafa is not the person you will want to close out the set on, and we all know what happened. How could something like that happen to Djokovic, some sudden loss of self-belief? Novak says it is just a few points here and there that made the difference, plus luck.

Perhaps the intimidation factor is to blame.

Posted by Nick 06/17/2008 at 10:39 PM

I heard something John Castle said watching the Nadal - Karlovic match and I want to make sure I heard him right. I thought he said Karlovic has lost in the 1st Round at Wimbledon for the last 3 years. Is that true?

Posted by PA 06/17/2008 at 11:04 PM

Nick, I just checked, yes indeed. Ivo's best showing was a 4th appearance in 2004. WOW!

Posted by PA 06/17/2008 at 11:05 PM

I meant 4th round appearance, where he lost to Federer in straight sets (2 TBs).

Posted by joy 06/18/2008 at 12:19 AM

Why did Tignor ignore the fact that Roddick was coming back from injury and had two opponents retire on him leaving him with very little match practice? Of course Roddick was going to lose to Nadal, but not for the reasons Tignor listed.

As for Djokovic he will not make the same mistake at Wimbledon as he did at Queens by playing right into Nadal's game, you can be sure of that.

About Rafa's new "aura" that was something Federer himself created when he went into the French Open final defeated and surrendering to Nadal from the first game on. Interestingly, nobody on Tennis.Com noticed or mentioned this fact.

Think about it: if one as dominant and powerful as Federer is afraid of Nadal and has given up then what chance do the others have against him? Again, Tignor ignores this, and prefers to blame Roddick and Djokovic for creating this Nadal monster.

Posted by Tim 06/18/2008 at 12:42 AM

Nadal's monster? how about he wins ONE non Paris Slam first? how about he win 3 Slams in ONE year first? people go nuts over Nadal now and a few months ago, people were going nuts over Djoker, talking about a calendar Year Slam for the guy!

can we at least make up our minds who's going to take over tennis and shove Federer to the old folks home?

Posted by K.K. 06/18/2008 at 12:43 AM

Can someone in the editorials write a rebuff article to the stupid ignorant Bill Simmons article? I was reading it and I am totally (as someone in the post has said) disgusted by his comments. He obviously does not know tennis and he has little respect for a sport he hasn't even seen probably. The only valid point is how we can spread the sport to the ADD public nowadays?

Posted by Tim 06/18/2008 at 12:46 AM

Joy, Federer lost to Nadal on CLAY, two matches were extremely close...why does this paint the entire tennis year as Nadal's?? he's done this three years now, and we all know how the rest of the year turns out... does everyone have complete amnesia?


Posted by Dee 06/18/2008 at 02:01 AM

Nick, I heard that too from commentators during Queens - about it being strange that Karlovic has lost in the 1st round in WImby for the past 3 years. I'm trying to look up data on this.

Posted by Dee 06/18/2008 at 02:05 AM

Karlovic lost in the 1st round from 2005 to 2007, reached 3rd round in 2003 and 4th round in 2004.

Posted by Eoin 06/18/2008 at 04:20 AM

Hi Steve,

Rafa is on a roll - hes playing like a number 1, and I would say this is his best chance yet to win Wimbledon. His serve and backhand have made him a monster on grass now as well, and he's stepping up into the court to return and dictate the rallies.

Fed needs all his genius to defend his Wimby title. If he fails,his confidence has to plummet, and Nadal will be number one soon.
Borg - McEnroe 1981 anyone?

Posted by Eoin 06/18/2008 at 04:20 AM

Hi Steve,

Rafa is on a roll - hes playing like a number 1, and I would say this is his best chance yet to win Wimbledon. His serve and backhand have made him a monster on grass now as well, and he's stepping up into the court to return and dictate the rallies.

Fed needs all his genius to defend his Wimby title. If he fails,his confidence has to plummet, and Nadal will be number one soon.
Borg - McEnroe 1981 anyone?

Posted by Kieran 06/18/2008 at 04:36 AM

Funny enough, I was just thinking along these lines - we're headin' into Rafa-time and he's carrying himself with a certainty which befits the world number one.

But he isn't world number one yet, and he has a lot of work to do to get there. Nadal's coming towards his prime, but all we're seeing now is an improved version of his 06-07 summer runs on clay and grass.

For Rafa to be number one, he needs to up the ante at Wimbledon AND make a strong show in the US Open series and European indoors in Autumn. Maybe he'll do this, but it's a lot of work. I doubt he'll get a better chance.

Posted by Eoin 06/18/2008 at 04:42 AM

Hi Steve,

Rafa is on a roll - hes playing like a number 1, and I would say this is his best chance yet to win Wimbledon. His serve and backhand have made him a monster on grass now as well, and he's stepping up into the court to return and dictate the rallies.

Fed needs all his genius to defend his Wimby title. If he fails,his confidence has to plummet, and Nadal will be number one soon.
Borg - McEnroe 1981 anyone?

Posted by Thomas Rooney 06/18/2008 at 04:45 AM

Who is favourite for Wimbledon do we think? Betting against Federer on grass would seem crazy, but the form Nadal is in...I think he might just nick it. He will be World Number One before long aswell.

Posted by Rama 06/18/2008 at 04:56 AM

Tim, you are right, people in this place have severe case of amnesia. I expected better from Bodo. He is not consistent at all with his writings. One day he is praising Roger to the sky and then the next day he is belittling him with his casting doubts on Roger's claim of mono in his ESPN blog. That was a very cheap shot I felt. Jon Wertheim is the only sane writer who has not jumped into the bandwagon of Federer trashers.

Hey Wise guys! Wait till Wimbledon to make all your predictions. With all the troubles that Roger had the past 6 months, his results are very good. He is still more than 1000 points ahead of Nadal. What does it say? Here is a sensible piece by Christopher Bowers in the wimbledon site.

Posted by Mint 06/18/2008 at 05:29 AM

Bill Simmons deserves to have something uncomfortable and publicly humiliating done to him for writing that horrendously stupid article over at ESPN. I just hope nobody reads it and gets any ideas as to tennis actually being the way he describes it.

Posted by AF 06/18/2008 at 06:13 AM

FedFan 06/17/2008 @ 6:53 PM - I would add Stepanek to your list as well, somewhere at the beginning ;-)

Posted by mrhaha 06/18/2008 at 06:17 AM


You make it sound like this is shaping up tbe highnoon and I totally agree.

BUT Im not sure you can say its an aura unless he cant find a way to win on hard and indoors.

If I was those other guys thats what I would remember i.e. hes human very human when that part of the year comes .

Posted by FedFan 06/18/2008 at 06:23 AM

Good suggestion by AF at 6:13AM. Assuming Ancic is not seeded. The following can happen too for Nadal:

Ancic (1st round)
Soderling (2nd round)
Karlovic (3rd round)
Stepanek (4th round)
Roddick (Quarter final)
Djokovic (Semi-final)

I took out Mahut because he is mentally very weak.

Posted by Paradigma 06/18/2008 at 06:28 AM

Tim, it looks to me as if just about anything positive written about a player like Nadal or Djokovic upsets you because you would prefer the spotlights to be on Federer full time and the only talk about other players should be how they are inferior.

Maybe I'm misreading your posts. Sorry if I do.

As far as I am concerned, the top favorite for Wimbledon is still Federer and I know that a LOT of people (Henman, Pat Cash, Becker, JMac, etc etc) agee with me.
But nooooo...somebody suggests that Nadal has a shot and Tim gets upset.

Posted by piyush sharma, ottawa, canada 06/18/2008 at 06:42 AM

inside out backhand is a shot played by both , nadal and joker; not fedex;

Posted by piyush sharma, ottawa, canada 06/18/2008 at 06:43 AM

when is wimby draw out ?

Posted by prettsg 06/18/2008 at 07:01 AM

Nadal is the favourite for the wimbledon and Federer may not be able to reach final if Djokovic is in Federer's half of the draw. Federer is a great player on grass but he is not in the form as he used to be in previous years.

Posted by Papo 06/18/2008 at 07:34 AM

“Here comes this friggin' guy again.”

I'll bet that's what Roger was thinking after hearing Rafa beat Roddick and Djokovic to win the Queen's title. he he

Vamos Rafa!!!!

Posted by Master Ace 06/18/2008 at 07:50 AM

Wimbledon seedings:

Posted by Papo 06/18/2008 at 08:09 AM

Thanks, Master Ace.
Spain has seven seeded players in the men's singles. Surprising since that coutry's tennis players are better known for their prowess on clay.

Posted by Master Ace 06/18/2008 at 08:23 AM

I am not because the Spaniards have learned to apply some of their clay techniques on other surfaces.

Posted by Stack 06/18/2008 at 08:47 AM

The suggestion for a possible sequence of draw opponents for Nadal as posted earlier by Fed fans was:

Ancic (1st round)
Soderling (2nd round)
Karlovic (3rd round)
Stepanek (4th round)
Roddick (Quarter final)
Djokovic (Semi-final)

If this sequence instead happened for Federer, Federer fans should consider this only fair after Queens. But would they?

Posted by Papo 06/18/2008 at 09:08 AM

As a fan of Rafa, I wouldn't mind seeing him take on Roddick or Djokovic in the semis, since Nadal gains tremendous confidence from winning vs tough high ranked opponents. Indeed, I would be more worried if he had a cake walk all the way to the final, where he would then likely face Federer.

Rafa vs the Worm would be quite a match ; )

Rafael Nadal, the 2008 Wimbledon Champion. Has quite a ring to it don't you think?

Vamos Rafa!!!

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 06/18/2008 at 09:30 AM

Totally in sync on this one, Steve. If Fed meets Rafa in the Wimbledon final it'll be the ultimate gut check for Fed. And I was struck the same way by Djokovic's gesticulating in his match against Rafa (didn't see Roddick/Rafa) - why such a smart guy doesn't know that he's (a) diminishing his own belief, and (b) increasing his opponent's when he does that is beyond me. It's such basic information - even if he wants to do that, he should stifle it. I almost want to send him a copy of Winning Ugly.

Posted by Tuulia 06/18/2008 at 09:52 AM

Thanks Steve!

calbearo - I wouldn't read much into Djokovic doing "very well" as you put it after Rome by reaching semis in Hamburg the following week. He didn't play full matches in either QF or SF in Rome where potentially dangerous opponents retired injured, and he had a relatively easy tournament all around. It's interesting - tho not surprising - that while Djokovic felt luck was a big factor in his losses to Rafa in Hamburg and Queens (oh poor unlucky little Novak), he apparently thinks luck plays no part when he himself wins. His Rome title had lots to do with luck, and he should also be grateful to the ATP for screwing up the clay court calendar.

Posted by 06/18/2008 at 10:17 AM

I hope the sequence of suggested opponents for Nadal does in fact take place at 2008 Wimbledon. Nadal has already beat them all on grass, and would be a shoe-in for a 3rd final if he gets this line-up.

Posted by Sandra 06/18/2008 at 10:20 AM

Why the big surprise that there are 7 seeded Spaniards at Wimbledon? Spanish players learn their tennis on both hard courts and clay courts now - some are better on hard than on clay. About the only surface that's tough to find in Spain right now is grass.

Posted by 06/18/2008 at 10:24 AM

agree with tuulia. novak needs to stop using the L word to explain his losses, at the risk of having his rome trophy revoked.

Posted by lisak 06/18/2008 at 10:28 AM

It bothers me that you and the rest of the media always has
to site a "reason" for a players lose. Roddick was imtimidated,
Djokovic was festering beneath the surface... blah! blah! blah!
How about Nadal played phenomenal and beat the pants off of them
both!!!! Just ONCE.... call it like it is!!! He was in a zone and
refused to be denied the win!!!! PERIOD!!!

Posted by 06/18/2008 at 10:31 AM

Posted by Sam_G 06/18/2008 at 10:36 AM

Sleepers for Wimbledon? I can't think of too many?

Stepanek has been playing great, but i think he just got injured. He could definitely present troubles for the big 3?

Feliciano Lopez? Love the left serve and the attacking game, but i don't think he can pull it off for 3 sets.

Monfils? Great serve, but i don't think he attacks enough to hurt any of the big 3.

I can't even think of anyone else...

Posted by FedFan 06/18/2008 at 11:43 AM

It is likely that Stepanek will not play at Wimbledon. Here is the updated list for *desired* matchups for Nadal:

Ancic (1st round)
Soderling (2nd round)
Karlovic (3rd round)
Murray (4th round)
Roddick (Quarter final)
Djokovic (Semi-final)

If Nadal does reach simi-finals, he will be beaten by Djokovic this time. If Djokovic lands in Fed's half he will be easily beaten by Fed (this is grass not hardcourt).

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/18/2008 at 11:47 AM

The Aura sounds a lot like "winning the match in the locker room".

Perhaps this is something Nadal has more of and that Federer, given his year and the mounting losses to players he rarely loses to (anyone but Nadal), must feel he has less of. Otherwise I cant explain myself how Roddick went down (the difference, despite the score, seems like miles or kilometers rather than a handful of points) or Djokovic (diddo). I am glad that S. Tignor took a crack at it!

Posted by steve 06/18/2008 at 11:48 AM

thanks, m-life. i'll be at wimbledon next week, so i'll be working hard for once, and even writing about the women now and then

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/18/2008 at 11:53 AM

Fedfan - wow, you really must want Nadal either to win a true trial by fire every round to prove his mettle and win a thoroughly difficult set of matches, or you must want him out of the tournament ASAP to pave the way for a sixth slam at Wimbledon for Federer!

ALL of those players, consecutively, would either sharpen Nadal's game so that it's razor sharp for the final (if he manages those matches, nothing Federer throws at him will surprise Nadal) or will mince Nadal up so that Federer or others can offer up a merciful beatdown that will scar Nadal for the rest of 2008. Somehow I suspect you prefer the latter!

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/18/2008 at 12:06 PM

Gosh, that was an upsetting piece by Bill Simmons. Doesnt sound like he caught any of the Roddick - Nadal or Djokovic-Nadal matchups - actually it doesnt sound like he has caught any matchups at all for the last five years!

Well, the best two things about Bill Simmons' writing is that fewer people will read it and he is getting upstaged by Tennis writers on the ESPN tennis site. The other good thing is that few will notice it because they are just too busy setting large attendance records at the major tennis events all over the world :)

Posted by Russ (Back in Blue) 06/18/2008 at 12:09 PM

Go Tim!

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/18/2008 at 12:11 PM

At the big Wimbledon - I think the environment will make a difference with results. If the courts are slick, that will benefit Roddick but not necessarily Nadal. Nadal seemed to take advantage during his Roddick and Djokovic matches of the dry court condition.

Posted by Russ (Back in Blue) 06/18/2008 at 12:14 PM

Andrew: "Well, the best two things about Bill Simmons' writing is that fewer people will read it"

Actually, now that you've drawn my attention to it, I'm going to read it. So make that one less fewer person. Or, in English, one more person. ;)

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/18/2008 at 12:32 PM

The Wimbledon site said "it will take a mighty performance" from someone to prevent a sixth Federer championship at All England Club. I think that is definitely true. Nadal does look more comfortable on grass this year and, though I dont see him as the "favorite", he is playing fantastic tennis and that kind of tennis wins Wimbledon titles. I think if Nadal is going to win it, he has to win it this year.

That said, my opinion is that Federer will see any rematch with Nadal on grass as a "statement match" and will see himself through it.

In that frame, Nadal will have to take the trophy from Federer, because I dont see Federer shanking backhands at Wimbledon 2008. I just can't imagine that, because Federer has a sense of what's at stake. He probably sees this moment the same way Nadal does. Should be a classic if they face of on the 2nd Sunday.

Posted by twist serve 06/18/2008 at 12:39 PM

I do think Nadal has a shot at winning Wimbledon and it's not crazy to go out on a limb and say he's gonna do it. But saying he's the favorite (the player least likely to lose a grass court match) sounds like a leap for now. To borrow a phrase from an earlier poster, there really are more "banana peels" out there for Nadal on grass than there are for Federer. For example, Kei Nishikori came within a break of taking Nadal to the limit at Queen's Club. Hard to imagine someone like Nishikori almost beating Federer on a grass court.

Posted by svelterogue 06/18/2008 at 12:45 PM

still the raging debate --- and getting more intense as wimbledon approaches.

steve, great article :)

Posted by 06/18/2008 at 12:47 PM

"Ancic (1st round)
Soderling (2nd round)
Karlovic (3rd round)
Stepanek (4th round)
Roddick (Quarter final)
Djokovic (Semi-final)"

Nadal can't play Karlovic in the 3rd round, he's seeded 18th.

Nadal had a nightmare draw (with the exception of 2nd round) at Wimbledon last year.

Fish (the highest ranked, non seeded player in the draw) Eschauer, then Soderling (5 day match) Youzhny, Berdych, Djokovic, Federer. He's due a softer draw this year.

Posted by svelterogue 06/18/2008 at 12:50 PM

i wouldn't be surprised if someone like nishikori pushed federer on grass. as in football, anything can happen. sure, the guy has five titles. but that was then. 2008 is a different year.

vamos rafa!

Posted by † Hallelujah 06/18/2008 at 12:55 PM

Vamos Roger

Posted by twist serve 06/18/2008 at 12:57 PM

Mysterious 12:47 poster:

If you're Nadal, do you really want to see Youzhny in your half of the draw again, considering Youzhny was up 2 sets to love in their match last year until he had to get treatment for his chronic back problem?

Posted by cathy 06/18/2008 at 01:22 PM

why after RG every year do we have the same discussion about Rafa being the best? and new no 1? and RF should be shaking in his nikes? same old same old (I hope)

Posted by twist serve 06/18/2008 at 01:24 PM

"i wouldn't be surprised if someone like nishikori pushed federer on grass. as in football, anything can happen. sure, the guy has five titles. but that was then. 2008 is a different year."

Svelterogue: You wouldn't be surprised if a player ranked outside the top 100 pushed Federer to a 6-3 final set at Wimbledon? What would surprise you?

Posted by crazyone 06/18/2008 at 01:25 PM

I don't think Nishikori has the stamina or consistency yet to take out any of these top guys over 5 sets in a slam. He was visibly exhausted in the 3rd set of the Queen's match, which I believe was held in good weather and was not *that* long of a match (I checked, it was only 124 minutes). Maybe next year or even later in the year when the kid's built up enough stamina.

Think of what happened with Murray and Eysseric. Eysseric was up 2 sets to one but ran out of steam completely.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 06/18/2008 at 01:28 PM

Dead on, Mr. Tignor. Though I think with the caveat that these are contemporary facts and may change shortly.

Rollo Tomassi makes a good point about Djokovic's negative body language. Roddick does the same thing. So does Safin. Even Federer does it when he's losing. But not Nadal. One theory is that the others are not as mature. Another is that the former are so arrogant they feel that if they were playing "well" they would be winning, so they act out. Slamming the racket, cursing, moping about, yelling, and other self-abuse is an admission only that they are at fault, a denial of the opponent's good play. They don't seem to care that this gives hope to their opponents. They are so arrogant that they think they can win if they start playing better.

Nadal does not partake in this. Nadal is mature. Nadal is humble (apparently). So, if this aura exists, it must be one made without arrogance. This seems unusual when considering some other No. 1s in tennis, like McEnroe, Sampras, Hewitt, and Federer, who dominated with a superiority complex. Is this even possible, to be No. 1 without an oversized ego? Perhaps we will find out.

Posted by My Perspective 06/18/2008 at 02:19 PM


"I think Nadal is the favorite to win Wimbledon"

For starters, how can you ignore the fact that Roger is a 5 time defending champion. And the last man to beat him on grass was Mario Ancic, 59 matches ago in 2002. Agreed, Federer has had an awful year. He was beaten badly in Paris. He has two mediocre tournament wins to his credit in 2008. But how can you doubt his capabilities on grass ? Should you not give him the slightest benefit of doubt when it comes to putting his mind over matters and let his game on grass take over any negative connotation he may have about Rafa holding a lopsided head-to-head advantage (thanks largely to 9/10 wins on clay) ?

For instance, lets say hypothetically next year, Rafa misses Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg and wins only Barcelona. And Roger wins Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg. Going into French Open (assuming both are healthy), pray who would be the favorite - I dont see anyone other than Rafa being the favorite in Paris until someone dethrones him.

Likewise I dont see anyone other than Roger as the favorite in Wimbledon until someone dethrones him.

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 02:21 PM

Nice one Steve. Thanks.

Yeah, he's on a roll isn't he? Clearly the momentum from clay translates on grass season. I mean it did last two years also, but it was always shaded by Feds overall great performance (read: aura). This time its different. Not only is Nadal leading the race in terms of points, but his more than convincing display at the French shades both Fed and Nole.

Looking from todays perspective, its odd really, that some people thought (including me) that this year Rafa is going to dissapoint comparing to previous years. Remember Tsonga match, or Davy at Miami. Djoko blitzed him at PLO too. But despite those beatdowns, one fact was neglected - he amassed better results overall than ever before on early hardcourt season.

Its clear - the guy is peaking. I don't wont to prognosticate that this season will be his best, of course. But his mental strength and steel will broth the best of him. And it reflected at Queens to perfection. Thats why he's my pick for Wimby. Really difficult to see Fed taking him down at the finals this year.

Regarding Djokovic. Despite his loss, and the fact that he was regarded as somewhat favorite, I gather he wont be too disappointed on the long run with whats happened at Queens. I mean, he also sees that Rafa is extremely confident and the momentum he is 'riding' is huge. In that sense, he can always - still - rely on the fact that he's been improving every step of the way, both in terms of game and in terms of results (except Miami). That way he carries less pressure going into Wimby that it would have expected if he had won this match, while the result at Wimby against Rafa will most likely be the same, regardless of it. I mean even super confident/pressurized Nole can hardly take Nadal in best of 5 on grass. (thats just my take).

That said, there is one 'looser' so to speak in this pre-Wimby 'momentum-gathering-management' - Fed. He will get relaxed Nole at the semis, presuming he lands on his side, or in another version, super confident Nadal in the finals. FO-Wimby back to back Nadal is written all over this entire story.

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 02:30 PM

Steve: I just read that you'll be at Wimby, can you pleeeeeeease find some way to interview Ana, and to find out how's she doing regarding all that emotional/mental thing thats been talked about. I know Pete wrote about it, but I'd really like to read your take on that too. Sorry if I'm out of order here. Safe trip. Thanks.

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 02:45 PM

"He got smoked in the semifinal by that Spanish guy."......

lol. Excellent story crazyone. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

Yeah, thats about it. I mean, I don't wont to rant much about it, considering 'everything' you know... but the connection is there no doubt.


Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 02:46 PM

^sorry, mistaken thread...

Posted by twist serve 06/18/2008 at 02:53 PM

"Really difficult to see Fed taking him down at the finals this year."

Now come on. This is beginning to sound delusional. How is it "difficult" to see the five-time defending champion who will have won 65 straight matches on grass winning the tournament?

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 03:16 PM

twist: I guess Nadal doesn't care much about that 65 straight matches, so If he can gun him down, he wont hesitate. No disrespect to Fed and his awesome record, I just think Nadal will do it this year for number of reasons. I'm not writing a bible here, its just an odds thing based on confidence based on immediate and distant past. Thats all.

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 03:40 PM

Yup, I was wondering when is it going to burst...

Posted by VE 06/18/2008 at 04:32 PM

Everyone needs to chill. A prediction is an educated guess, nothing more. Nadal is on an incredible run as of late; Federer has a historical superiority at Wimbledon. Blah, blah, didn't need 60 comments to figure that out.

This is not 1900, Fed will not be waiting in the final for the winner of a challenge tournament. Nadal's Queen's title doesn't give him a first week bye.

At the end of the fortnight we could just as easily see a Djokovic/Roddick final as a Federer/Nadal one. In that case, i don't think I've seen a single prediction on this board that would stand up as correct, and you know what? That's why they play the matches.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 06/18/2008 at 04:48 PM

I feel compeelled to weigh in here, as some peple are eally getting their shorts in a knot over Steve's implicit prediction that Nadal will win Wimbledon in less than three weeks. What Steve actually said, of couse, is that "...I think Nadal is the favorite to win Wimnbledon." But I won't mince words or split hairs. Stsve's words as close to a prediction as you're going to get from a guy who writes about tennis for a living and has to face the keyboard and thousands of readers each month (more frequently via this blog, of course).

The fact remains that Nadal is a man on a mission and a man on fire at the moment. He recently added to his clay-court dominance by defeating the WOrld's #1 and GOAT contender by the second most lopsided Grand Slam final score in the open era. Add to that the recent fact of his title in the Stella Artois Championshps at The Queen's Club in London and you have a guy who cannot be dismissed, no matter the surface.

As a tennis player of reasonable competence myself, I can tell you that when you strip away all the non-essentials, the bare naked truth is that a hot player is a dangerous opponent, no matter where you play him. Yes, there's a seeming world of difference between the crushed red brick of Roland Garros and the ryegrass of The All England Club, but in actuality the game will be decided on a court with identical dimensions. Geometry, and how well each contestant uses it, will rule the day.

And at present, Nadal is the master, spitting out new theorems faster than I can spit out Watermelon seeds.

That said, Federer is the 5-time defending champion. But he's wounded, and he must defend not only his title but his ranking points. He's got an awful lot to lose this year, and not so much to gain. His left his big opportuntiy in Paris.

I am hoping for a Federer-Nadal showdown on Centre Court, and expect it to be one of the best matches of the century. There I go, predicting. Slide over Steve, you've got company on the bench.

Posted by svelterogue 06/18/2008 at 04:49 PM

twist serve

so what if roger has five wimby titles? have you forgotten the best excuse for fed's silly losses this year? the best card to bring out for his poor form? looking at 2008 alone, he hasn't won any title of import and even if he's gotten to the semi's and final's of most of the events, he hasn't come away with the W. rafa has, and so has nole. nishikori pushing rafa at queen's was not a given but neither was it presumed. it's the same with roger. who woulda thought janko would test him at AO, bringing him to five sets?

like i said, i don't put much stock in past performance. even if my rafa boy has dominated the clay for the last four years, coming into this year's FO i was in no way penciling him as the winner. i think rafa fans are not as presumptuous as roger fans when it comes to favourites discussions.

that being said, the way rafa walked over roger two weeks ago cannot go unnoticed, least of all by the world number one, whose embarrassment it was.

vamos rafa!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 06/18/2008 at 04:52 PM

Well put, svelterogue :-)

Posted by TD 06/18/2008 at 04:56 PM

The Wimbledon seedings are an absolute joke. Why isn't Roddick ranked higher than Ferrer and Davydenko? He is definitely a grass contender, certainly more so than Ferrer and Davydenko, whether people want to admit it or not.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 06/18/2008 at 05:19 PM

The seedings are unusual, and a bit disturbing, especially given the fact that the Wimbledon Seeding Committee has always reserved the right to seed players according to their (a) recent results and (b) previous results at Wimbledon.

What's more, Roddick made the semifinals at the Queen's CLub, losing to eventual champion, Rafael Nadal. And what did Ferrer and Davydenko do last week? Oh, that's right, Davydenko won Warsaw, a CLAY COURT EVENT!

And Ferrer? It seems he won two rounds at 's-Hertogenbosch.

Okay, that explains it... not!

Posted by svelterogue 06/18/2008 at 05:23 PM

i don't get the seedings either. maybe davydenko's trophy had grass trimmings?

Posted by My Perspective 06/18/2008 at 05:29 PM


"I feel compeelled to weigh in here, as some peple are eally getting their shorts in a knot over Steve's implicit prediction that Nadal will win Wimbledon in less than three weeks. What Steve actually said, of couse, is that "...I think Nadal is the favorite to win Wimnbledon.""

Its not that Steve's prediction of Nadal winning Wimbledon is outrageous. In fact, Nadal is a pretty good pick as anyone else including Roger himself, to win it

However predicting Nadal to win Wimbledon is one thing. Associating an aura with Nadal on grass and adding that Roger will feel the aura and cave in because of it is an entirely different thing. Its pretty much saying that Roger has no mental toughness against Nadal no matter the circumstance or the surface. While this may be true on Clay, its not necessarily the truth on other surfaces.

As an aside, would Steve say the same thing if the man in question was Pete Sampras and not Roger Federer ? Would you not give the 5 time defending champ the benefit of doubt ?

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 05:54 PM

Headless: well we can't disagree on facts certainly. Call it a feeeeeeeeling on my part. Like just prior to AO SF. :)

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 06:07 PM

So considering he played like every tournament and went deep since AO, while having mono, we can safely presume he will lose to Rafa because of mono - just like he did at AO, losing to Djokovic.

Posted by Delusional fan 06/18/2008 at 06:38 PM

"Who cares about biased, dishonest, delusional opinions? That's all."

(You spent so much effort writing down all this facts but forgot to give us the courtesy of knowing who you are?)

To you anon with all the FACTS:

This is a blog, right? Or did I accidentally stepped in I thougt we are free to voice in our opinions (delusional or otherwise) without having the FACTS shoved down out throats. Of course, opinions can be based on evidence or past performance as you obviously are. But some opinions can be based on belief, you call them delusional, or one's hopes, you term term biased or even gut feel that you call dishonest. Whatever they are based on, they are simply opinions. Even expert opinions differ because of a simple FACT, opinions are opinions, based on how a particuloar person sees it.

Anyway, I agree that Roger is still the favorite to win W based on past performance. Let us watch the games and see how they unfold. And then let's update the FACTS.

Posted by Master Ace 06/18/2008 at 06:52 PM

Svelterogue and Slice-n-Dice,
The Wimbledon formula could not help Roddick overtake Ferrer and Davydenko. Roddick is at least 625 pts behind Ferrer and he lost in 2006 to Andy Murray in R32.

Posted by Voks 06/18/2008 at 07:02 PM

re seedings. But will there be an official explanation of logic behind it? I cant remember they ever did it in the past - make such (bad) decision or explain it.

Posted by Cleo 06/18/2008 at 07:47 PM

I'm psyched about this years Wimbledon. Each of the top three has a great storyline going, and this tournament could signal either a changing of the guard or the status quo. For what it's worth, here's my take on the top three.

I think this is a defining moment in Rogers career. After getting whipped in the AO by Djokovic and the FO by Nadal, Wimbledon is his Alamo for defending his number 1 status. He should come in to Wimbledon in a bad mood, ready to kick some ass on his best surface. His victory at Halle was a definate statement - winning any tournament without losing serve once is impressive. Still it will be interesting to see his mental response, especially if he faces Nadal again. He has the most pressure of any of the top three in this tournament.

This is definately Nadal's best opportunity yet in his career to win a non-clay major and become number 1 overall. I think he has the capability to win Wimbledon, but this is a much more dangerous tournament for him than the French. There are any number of big hitters that can give him trouble on grass. His Queens win was huge because it is his first grass court title, and he has now won a title on all surfaces. This may give him the confidence boost to make that major step to becoming the best on all surfaces.

Although he was the best player of the first part of the year, some of the bloom has fallen off the rose. He has lost three straight to Nadal, and also lost to Fed during the clay season. He is certainly a major threat at Wimbledon, but he seems to have some mental problems with the other two at present. Djokovic made great strides getting to the top with his AO title, but now he may be learning how hard it is to stay on top.

I'm cheering for Nadal myself, but whoever you're a fan of sit back and enjoy the show. This should be one of the great Wimbledons.

Posted by svelterogue 06/18/2008 at 08:20 PM

master ace, thanks for the explanation re: seedings.

voks, croatia rocks in euro 08!!! (so do holland and spain) things are definitely hotting up!

cleo, gotta love your storylines. am beside you in the rafa cheering section although a nole win would have me in stitches of joy. :)

Posted by twist serve 06/18/2008 at 11:29 PM


What a sensible post.

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