Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Killing Him
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Killing Him 12/17/2009 - 12:40 PM

Yesterday at ESPN.com I wrote that 2009 was all about the trophy ceremony. “God, it’s killing me.” “I’m one of the lucky few who gets cheered for.” “My lovely wife, who’s pregnant!” “We were yoking…” Whatever del Potro said in Spanish at the Open. In 2009, the Emotional Generation soared to new heights on the Grand Slam winners’ stands.

Nowhere was this truer than at the Australian Open. The now-immortal tears and words of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will forever overshadow what was, on second look this morning, a sizzling tennis match that might have defined this era, if Federer and Nadal hadn’t already done that the year before at Wimbledon. Only Federer’s final set collapse, which is largely absent from the highlights above, keeps me from rating it higher than No. 7 for the season. It was a good year for trophy ceremonies, but it was a good year for matches as well.

—Federer starts out hot, hitting some outrageous winners reminiscent of his best stuff from Wimbledon 2008. But even in this very early stage, where he is controlling the action, is there a sense that he’s pressing more than he presses against anyone else? As someone wrote about Jimmy Connors when he played Bjorn Borg in one of their Slam finals, Federer’s winners should count for two points each—that’s how big a risk he’s taking with them. But that's also because Nadal is pushing him out of the middle of the court and forcing him to take chances.

—The revelation, though, is Nadal. Is this the same guy who finished the season in such tame and dispirited fashion? Here he's up on the baseline, pushing Federer off the center hash mark, outfoxing and out-varying him with drop shots, on-the-run reflex winners, and short-angle volleys, and playing with that famous determined kick in his walk and snarl on his lip. He’s also changing directions with both strokes much more often than I recall. The biggest difference, though, is that Nadal’s backhand is a weapon. I haven’t seen that full-swing, up on his toes, sharp crosscourt two-hander in months. I seem to remember he tried it when he had a break point in the final game of the Madrid final against Federer and missed it wide. (I remember it because I’ve never felt the air go out of a building the way it did when the ball landed in the alley.) Did he make that shot again in 2009?

—These were still the days when the only question worth asking in tennis seemed to be, “Why doesn’t Federer come in against Nadal?” The answer is right in front of us here: Because Nadal, at his best, can hit a passing shot on a dime, from either wing, from any spot on the court, with frame-shaking topspin. You try to come in against that 50 times in a match.

—These were also the days when Nadal was routinely outplaying and outhitting Federer when it mattered most. Look at the point he constructs on set point at 6-5 in the first set. Nothing defensive about that. Even better, look at the rally he constructs on what would prove to be the most important point of the match, at 5-3 in the third-set tiebreaker. For most of these five sets, he stood at the center of the court and hit his forehand forcefully but safely crosscourt, to a spot just behind the service line and well within the sidelines. The fact that he can tilt the rallies this way and dictate them without much risk has always been the fundamental reason he owns a 13-7 record against Federer. But at 5-3, when he knew that a winning point would put him in position to take a two-set-to-one lead, but that a losing point would still leave him ahead 5-4, he moved his forehand target all the way to the sideline. Nadal hit that spot, made a rare dash to the net, and angled away a backhand volley. The set was his, and the lead was too much for Federer to overcome. For anyone who still thinks Nadal is “one-dimensional,” realize that he’s one-dimensional by choice. When he senses the right moment to do more, the resources are there and the surprise factor is built-in.

—And then it’s all drowned out by the ceremony afterward, which is what the world will remember from this day. We all know what happened, but seeing it again I’ve found my two favorite moments. The first is the earnest ovation that Nadal gives Federer from behind him as Federer is beginning to lose it. Nadal pushed the joy of winning the Australian Open all the way down inside him and became instead a respectful and concerned friend. Do you resent that Federer in a sense stole some of Nadal’s thunder? You shouldn’t: He inadvertently brought out a gracious and gentlemanly side of the Spanish kid that many tennis fans didn’t know existed below the biceps and fist-pumps. Even on the trophy stand, Federer brought out the best in Nadal.

The second moment is the look on Federer’s face when Nadal finally gets him to smile and walk back up to finish his speech. The greatest tennis player of all time looks, at that moment, like a nice, embarrassed kid—a nice, embarrassed kid we’ve all been at one time or another.

No wonder we like these two guys so much.


 
75
Comments
 

Posted by rafa4ever 12/17/2009 at 12:55 PM

VAMOS Steve! Another heartwarming piece from you.
It brought tears to my eyes. That is why Federer and Rafa have brought tennis to a new level besides the mechanical parts of the game. Some of us think we know more of the guys in their hearts than in their games. :)

Posted by ACBU 12/17/2009 at 01:38 PM

I'm glad you brought up Rafa's graciousness at the trophy presentation. His sportsmanship is what I remember most about it, not Roger's tears. I was simply just a fan of Rafa's tennis before this match, but I definitely became just a Rafa fan after his display of graciousness. The sport is so much better with a person like him around.

Posted by mirko337 12/17/2009 at 01:44 PM

Totally agree with rafa4ever.tears in my eyes...great writting..I can just imagine how we would look not only at this match butat this rivalry in a decade or so..

Posted by Ali* 12/17/2009 at 01:52 PM

I actually felt that this could have been in the top 3 be cause of the remarkable ground strokes in the first 4 sets. Can't wait to find out the real top 3!!!

Posted by Master Ace 12/17/2009 at 01:58 PM

Wonder what 6 matches were better than the AO final:

My guesses:
Roger/Andy R - Wimbledon F
Rafael/Fernando V - Australian Open SF
Rafael/Novak - Madrid SF
Roger/Juan Martin - United States Open F
Serena/Elena - Wimbledon SF
Roger/Tommy - French Open R16

Posted by Diwakar 12/17/2009 at 02:04 PM

Very nice Steve! I started hating Nadal in the beginning and slowly started to love him because of his personality. Like warrior ON court but friend OFF... Incredible Rofa-Rog fight! Hope it renews in all its vigor 2010.

Posted by Diwakar 12/17/2009 at 02:04 PM

Very nice Steve! I started hating Nadal in the beginning and slowly started to love him because of his personality. Like warrior ON court but friend OFF... Incredible Rofa-Rog fight! Hope it renews in all its vigor 2010.

Posted by Diwakar 12/17/2009 at 02:11 PM

Master Ace: I would vote - Rafael/Fernando V - Australian Open SF

The resurgence and subsidence of Verdasco then and there :)

Posted by Mr. T. 12/17/2009 at 02:23 PM

Beautifully written Steve - Not only the tennis part but also the emotional ceremony. Interesting comments during the ceremony about Nadal's chances of winning the FO are "almost a lock" and then talking about the Grand Slam possibilities - the reality being that he did not win another major. But in looking at his dominant form in the AO, it is not hard to conceive of him getting all that back and making the Federer- Nadal matches in the future something to look forward to. Even more appealing is that Djokovic, Del Potro and Murray have to be considered in the equation so that year 2010 looks very interesting.

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 12/17/2009 at 02:25 PM

Will Rafa be able to find the form to defend his Australian Open crown? At least the surface is more suited to his style than the US Open hardcourt (he still reached the semis of the USO two years in a row).

Vamos Rafa!

The Rafa/Verdasco AO semi gets my vote as the best just for the sheer number of incredible rallies, but IMO the Roger/Randy Wimby final is also a strong candidate for the suspense and drama.

Posted by Mr Rick 12/17/2009 at 02:47 PM

"For anyone who still thinks Nadal is “one-dimensional,” realize that he’s one-dimensional by choice. When he senses the right moment to do more, the resources are there and the surprise factor is built-in."

This statement is SO true. Whenever people complain about Rafa's style of play, I become frustrated trying to explain why he is so great. You finally found the right words.

"Do you resent that Federer in a sense stole some of Nadal’s thunder? You shouldn’t: He inadvertently brought out a gracious and gentlemanly side of the Spanish kid that many tennis fans didn’t know existed below the biceps and fist-pumps. Even on the trophy stand, Federer brought out the best in Nadal."

I have to admit you are also correct with this statement. At first, I was not pissed off at all about Roger's meltdown. But as the year has gone on, of course, now I'm pissed everytime I see it. I know it ended up being Rafa's one big day in the sun, and Roger put quite the damper on it. But you are right, it ended up giving tennis fans even more to admire about Rafa.

Thanks Steve - great piece. As has been said so many other times, we are so lucky to have both these players in our sport (and great writers to write about them!).

Posted by avh 12/17/2009 at 02:49 PM

'Just remember that you are the best of the history and you will improve on the 14 of Sampras for sure' Gets me everytime! The graciousness and the personality of Rafa that isn't seen very often! Its like something you wouldn't expect under the muscles!

My top Matches of the year (mens) are
Rafa-Verdasco AO Semis
Roger-A-Rod Wimbly Final (simple reason less rallies)
Rafa-Djokovic Madrid semis
Roger - Del Potro USO Final
Roger - Haas FO 4th round
Hewitt - Stepanek - Wimbly 4th round (stunning from Lleyton)
Rafa - Roger AO final (first 4 sets were good)
Stepanek -Ferrer Davis Cup Final

Again great writing Steve - Always strong from you

Posted by TennisFan 12/17/2009 at 02:57 PM

I did not like Nadal in the beginning. But I started to like him more and more. Just like Roger, Rafa is authentic about the game and genuine toward his fans. Vamos Rafa! Long live Roger!

Plus, Novak is growing up; Murray is getting mature. As party-spoilers, DelPo, Davydenko and A-Rod proved to be worthy competitors who make matches exciting and unpredictable. It is like a movie, none of these guys can be missing from the game.

Sponsors: it's time to switch from Golf to Tennis. I never heard of any active tennis player to cheat on his wife or girlfriend because tennis is too demanding and it requires the player to be 200% focus in order to have any chance to win a tournament.

Posted by avh 12/17/2009 at 02:58 PM

'Just remember you are the best of the history and you will improve on the 14 of Sampras for sure'... To me this just shows everything about Nadal's personality, the want to help reassure and comfort especially because it is the opposite of the way he acts on court with the 'famous determined kick in his walk and snarl on his lip'

Top men's matches for me are...
Rafa - Verdasco AO semis
Roger - A-Rod Wimbly Final
Rafa - Djokovic Madrid semis
Rafa - Roger AO final (simply this low because of Roger's implosion)
Roger - Del Potro USO Final
Stepanek - Hewitt Wimbly 4th round
Roger - Haas FO 4th Round
Stepnek - Ferrer Davis cup final

Great heartfelt writing from you Steve like usual!

Posted by avh 12/17/2009 at 03:00 PM

Sorry I pushed the wrong button...it was meant to go on a different website

Posted by Dan 12/17/2009 at 03:01 PM

The commentator of that vid didn´t even feel the need of conceal his preference for Federer... See for example Nadal´s passing shot for 6-5 in the first set. His reaction: a revealing silence.
Steve, thanks for another fantastic post.

Posted by avh 12/17/2009 at 03:03 PM

I didnt mean to post that twice and if this has appeared like 8 times its because my typepad is screwed!

Posted by TennisFan 12/17/2009 at 03:04 PM

I did not like Nadal in the beginning. But I started to like him more and more. Just like Roger, Rafa is authentic about the game and genuine toward his fans. Vamos Rafa! Long live Roger!

Plus, Novak is growing up and Murray is getting mature. As party-spoilers, Del-Po, Davydenko and A-Rod proved to be worthy competitors who make all the matches exciting and unpredictable. It is like a movie, none of these guys can be missing from the game.

Sponsors: it's time to switch from Golf to Tennis. I never heard of any active tennis player to cheat on his wife or girlfriend because tennis is too demanding and it requires the player to be 200% focus in order to win a tournament.

Posted by Stewart 12/17/2009 at 04:39 PM

A good choice - surprised you didn't mention that Nadal was wiped out after the 5'14" semifinal match against Verdasco, especially since he only had 2 days before the final and Roger had 3 after dismissing Riddick in 3 sets.

Seriously though, don't overlook the women's matches! Serena/Dementieva is the obvious top pick, but Clijsters/Serena and Dokic/Kleybanova are worth spots on the list(8-6 in the 3rd, run all the way to nearly the semifinals [she was so close to beating Safina] overcoming the wrenched ankle at a crucial point late in the 3rd set, and the backhand winner down the line on match point).

Posted by Roastie 12/17/2009 at 04:53 PM

I still resent Federer for stealing Rafa's moment of glory. He should be horrified with himself. I know I am. And I've always known what a great guy Rafa is. Totally humble and unspoiled. It was a great match but not quite as good as the Rafa-Nando semi-final.

Posted by O 12/17/2009 at 05:19 PM

So Roger cried. Big deal. At least on the court where it matters he shows respect to his opponents,unlike Nadal who grunts,wastes time,sends hate filled stares across the net.
And after the Wimbledon final climbs into the players box dripping sweat on the losing players family.But how easy to get a reputation for humility by mouthing pious platitudes,
and tired sporting cliches,when everything in his behaviour indicates he's the exact
opposite of humble.

Posted by mel 12/17/2009 at 05:44 PM

A great post, thanks very much Steve for cheering my day up.

This was an awesome game and certainly one to remember. I watched this at some friends and we were in the Rafa camp and they in the Rog camp. In my heart I really didnt think he could do it after that incredible game against Fernando but I forgot that he really is the best fighter that we have seen for a long time. I think I actually fell asleep at work the next day as down here in NZ the game went so late that I didnt get home til about 4 or 5am as I had to analyse it over a few beers.

I hope in my heart that both Rafa and Roger can give us at least one more year of specactular tennis, they have proven themselves to be big fighters and Im sure they, in particular Rafa, wont let us down. its good to see challenges being made to their dominance through the likes of Del Potro, Novak, Andy Murray etc, but in all honesty I dont get as excited at watching their games - wheres the passion? Rog and Rafa seem to have that extra touch of brilliance which keeps you on the edge of the seat the whole match, you never know what they are going to do next, and thats exciting. In comparison the rest of the field can look like mere mortals!

Vamos to Rafa, merry Xmas to you all, and heres to a cracker 2010 in the tennis world!

Posted by wilson75 12/17/2009 at 06:35 PM

I have to admit that after that match I became a fan of Rafa's not because he won but with way he conducted himself during the trophy ceremony. It showed that he is really a great guy and erased any doubts I had that Roger and Rafa are truly friends. As for Roger crying it was surprising but not embarrassing to me. Those who accustomed to watching World Cup soccer will know that many players cry after they are knocked out of the competition. It's no big deal and in my opinion did not take away from Rafa's victory nor made Roger any less of a player.

Posted by dennis 12/17/2009 at 06:45 PM

i personally thought rafa should've won the best sportsmanship award instead of roger because of how he acted on the trophy stand towards roger. roger conducts himself fantastically especially during press conferences which may be why he won the award (and rafa might be too if his command of english was any better) but rafa is always the classiest and humble and gracious oncourt.

Posted by robert 12/17/2009 at 07:48 PM

It was not about "mouthing pious platitudes, and tired sporting cliches". All it took was that casual but rough arm squeeze, accompanied by few whispered words of tough love, by the looks of it. Federer looked almost ashamed for his wailing and Nadal looked the grownup between the two.

Posted by Master Ace 12/17/2009 at 08:08 PM

Dennis,
Rafael may get the sportsmanship award coming up in a few months for 2009.

Posted by tignor sucks nadal's balls 12/17/2009 at 09:26 PM

You love the hairy spaniard. we get it.

Posted by jerry 12/17/2009 at 09:35 PM

great read

Posted by Rodrigo 12/17/2009 at 09:43 PM

Completely agree on how gracious Rafa was during the presentation. I certainly did not like how Roger started to cry during the trophy presentation-yes he came so close to getting the 14th slam and all but still. I think the way that Roger acted and carried himself after the match kind of ruined the moment for Rafa. Still Rafa was gracious and consoled Roger. You got to appreciate a player like that.

Go Rafa!

Posted by Kate 12/17/2009 at 09:44 PM

I didn't think this match was as spectacular as you say.... I was there live and there were moments of briliance but really, I thought Rafa wasn't as sharp as he could be and Federer was not lunging for balls or ripping his forehand like normal, not to mention all his serves landed at the bottom of the net and plenty of double faults (Rafa's epic semi and Roger's dodgy back played a big part in this match which keeps it from being one of the best of the year for me).

Also, the Australian crowd were pulling for Roger big-time and they really did push along the breakdown at the ceremony. Everyone was calling out support for Roger as he was trying to speak, the combination of that affection and kindness with the emotional release at the end of a major would have been tough for anyone to handle let alone someone as emotional as Fed :)

He was all class to get out what he wanted to say so Nadal could have the final word. I think Nadal's act of support made it possible for Roger to keep going and the fact that he was so determined to shows what a great sportsman he is.

Posted by Liz 12/17/2009 at 09:50 PM

How can you seriously bag a guy for crying? Because breaking down is just "so controllable" *rolls eyes* He swore right before it because he REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO. Also what else was Nadal meant to do?! Glare at him? Seemed like a pretty obvious thing to do, not only do I think everyone else on the planet would have but everyone else on the planet could do nothing else.

I prefer acts of sportsmanship that are not the easy and obvious thing to do.

Heck the day Rafa doesn't look up to see if the umpire and opponent are waiting for him and THEN continue to fiddle with his things is the day I declare him a beacon of sportsmanship. That consistent and blatant lack of respect (your time and your rules don't apply or matter to me) is mind-boggling.

Posted by Ali* 12/17/2009 at 10:23 PM

As far as 'memorable matches' go, shouldn't Sodderling beating Nadal at RG be right up there, memorable does not have to mean the highest order of play - but what we will recall 2009 for???? (I may be off the track a little here)

Posted by Tim (Year of Red Rogie ) 12/17/2009 at 10:35 PM

The fact that he can tilt the rallies this way and dictate them without much risk has always been the fundamental reason he owns a 13-7 record against Federer.

Steve, cmon, the fundamental reason he owns that record is 11 of the matches are on clay, period end of story...

Posted by rafadoc 12/17/2009 at 10:36 PM

Steve: Thanks again for your year end summary of best matches in words and video. It has been so enjoyable!

This is so well written: "Nadal pushed the joy of winning the Australian Open all the way down inside him and became instead a respectful and concerned friend"

This is so true...you can practically see Rafa swallowing hard as he claps intently for his friend. An awesome moment. This is one match where the match and the ceremony are forever intertwined. Beautiful for sport.

Posted by SAM 12/17/2009 at 10:52 PM

Steve sucks Rafa's nuts. What on this earth was that? For one I can GUARANTEE rafa cannot keep up same quickness for ages. You have to give ti Roger in the way he easily makes his shots instead of running from one end to another. Do you think Rafa will be able to do this all his life? You gotta be kiding me. Roger has made it to semis and finals so many times that I lost count of it. It was very evident in 2009 what Rafa's gamee can do to this overall fitness. Dont blame Roger if Rafa cannot stay fit and play all the matches. he was pushing himself more than he should and well won few games, but in the end it is going to hurt him big time. I like Rafa though but Roger is ultimate. Most of Rafa's wins have come on clay. So please stop this nonsense of saying Roger being in some way not better than Rafa.

Posted by SAM 12/17/2009 at 10:57 PM

"The fact that he can tilt the rallies this way and dictate them without much risk.." Steve are you drunk? Are you watching Rafa's butt? What do you mean he does not take much risk? Are you aware how much he is stressing his body? Do you even know why Rafa did not figure in Winbeldon 2009 and could not fare any better after he made come back?

Posted by LJ 12/17/2009 at 11:04 PM

Rafa's game is very low-risk and safe but the price of safety is the stress on his body. He makes the choice (or claims the choice is out of his hands). The upside of Roger's style is it's easy on the body, the downside is it is much higher-risk and requires pinpoint execution and courage.

Posted by Marie 12/17/2009 at 11:33 PM

Boy I sure miss seeing that spanish kid hitting those sizzling tennis shots of his. I hope he is back in good health in 2010 he has brought tennis alive again. Hard to watch at times but very exciting matches no matter who he is playing.

Posted by rg.nadal ( ♫ Viva España!) 12/18/2009 at 12:58 AM

Nice article. Agree with you Steve. Recently I read Roger's side of the story about the trophy presentation. He said that when he said "this is killing me" he was not talking about losing per se , but about him not being able to control his emotions and give Rafa the cheering he deserved. Both these guys have immense respect and affection for each other, which is so nice to see.

Posted by pogiako 12/18/2009 at 01:06 AM

If the line judge can foot fault Serena, why can't the umpire penalize Rafa for taking longer time to serve. He and Novak are always going beyond the alloted time to serve. This was the reason why Robin made fun of Rafa before. Somehow he was pissed of Rafa's antics. Even before the tossing of the coin to determine who served first, Rafa took time in gettting to the net. This maybe the reason why Rafa could not win the sportsman of the year award because that alone discredit him. He is a prima donna in tennis. He makes people wait for him, adjust to his ways. He is lucky that no players are complaining about it. I guess the men are more patient than the women. If Rafa happens to be Rafaella,she would be hearing a lot of blah,blah, blah from her fellow players.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/18/2009 at 01:49 AM

"No wonder we like these two guys so much."

I wish this was more true. ;-)

Really enjoying the best-of posts, am especially pleased that Karlovic-Stepanek in DC got a mention. :)

Posted by avh 12/18/2009 at 05:08 AM

Re: O

And Federer is humble and gracious to losing players by running around in a tracksuit that is commemorating a win before he had even won the tournament!? That just shows that he never thought Andy Roddick had a chance to beat him (which he nearly did!)
Federer always has excuses for losing whereas rafa just goes...The other guy played better than me! IMO Roger is the one that doesn't show respect to losing players!

Posted by elise 12/18/2009 at 05:45 AM

"So Roger cried. Big deal. At least on the court where it matters he shows respect to his opponents,unlike Nadal who grunts,wastes time,sends hate filled stares across the net.
And after the Wimbledon final climbs into the players box dripping sweat on the losing players family.But how easy to get a reputation for humility by mouthing pious platitudes,
and tired sporting cliches,when everything in his behaviour indicates he's the exact
opposite of humble."

Best comment Ever!!!! Thank you for putting into words everything that I feel.

And this one- "How can you seriously bag a guy for crying? Because breaking down is just "so controllable" *rolls eyes* He swore right before it because he REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO. Also what else was Nadal meant to do?! Glare at him? Seemed like a pretty obvious thing to do, not only do I think everyone else on the planet would have but everyone else on the planet could do nothing else.

I prefer acts of sportsmanship that are not the easy and obvious thing to do.

Heck the day Rafa doesn't look up to see if the umpire and opponent are waiting for him and THEN continue to fiddle with his things is the day I declare him a beacon of sportsmanship. That consistent and blatant lack of respect (your time and your rules don't apply or matter to me) is mind-boggling."

Posted by avh 12/18/2009 at 06:11 AM

And Federer swears at officials (see 2007 Wimbledon final and 2009 USO final!!!)

Posted by C.F. 12/18/2009 at 06:22 AM

Oh dear... if this - a very respectful post about a great match and great players/great guys - is something that can start a Fedal war, I gotta say, people must be way too stressed. Must be the Xmas shopping, too many people on the malls, and on the streets, or the prospect of having an annoying mother-in-law and noisy nephews and nieces for dinner...

Kidding. But seriously, I see no point in starting yet another Fedal war over something that happened almost a year ago. I only took good things from that trophy cerimony - Federer has always been emotional, he showed not only how much winning still meant to him, but how much the crowd support, their cheers move him. I think it must have given the people who were there watching everything a warm feeling, because even if he seemed so sad, how gratifying must be for the audience to know that their support was felt. And I think Nadal behave wonderfully, he showed what an excellent person he is. Sure, it shows that he has class, but I'm not talking about class - that we already had other displays that he does have a lot of it, I'm talking about feeling here. He could feel for Federer, he showed that he is capable of a lot of empathy. Federer, on his turn, appeared to be trying very hard to hold the tears and really did look bothered by the fact that he was "stealing" Nadal's thunder - he even said that he didn't want to do that. This cerimony showed how much respect and understanding these guys have for each other.

You can choose to see otherwise, but watching the cerimony again, judging either player badly for what happened there to me just looks like unnecessary "biased fan" bitterness.

Of course, maybe I'm the one who's bitter about the Fedal war.

Posted by avh 12/18/2009 at 06:28 AM

Good for you C.F I gave up ages ago trying to stop the Fedal war because they are both great players and instead just chose my side!

Posted by noa 12/18/2009 at 06:52 AM

great stuff, steve. i think this match belongs in the top 3, or at least the top 5. i actually do remember the match for it's quality and not for the heart breaking trophy ceremony. i also think that this is one of Fed's most upsetting losses,he had 21 more winners than Nadal!! (71 vs 50)... but from the beginning he had that look on his face, he seemed very stressed out, even AFRAID, and that was awful to watch. i'd like to see him a bit more determined in the next encounters with Rafa.

Posted by GERALDINE STRAUGHN 12/18/2009 at 08:32 AM

Well all I have to say is . Rafa is really one of the most outstanding sports personality of the decade, not only because of what a great player he is on the court , but because of the humility and respect he shows for his fellow rivals. On the court he is as fierce as a bull but when the match is over you can see the genuine love and goodness in him . This is a testimony to his good upbringing . I wish him all the best for the future. Last but not least SHUT UP "O" we are not interested in your opinion because you are as A--

Posted by elise 12/18/2009 at 08:45 AM

SHUT UP "Geraldine Straughn"

Posted by maedel (vamos rafa and the armada!!) 12/18/2009 at 09:10 AM

CF, thank you for your calming words. Steve, thank you for the analysis of this memorable match and the two superb players that made it so, on the court and on the podium.

Posted by antoinette 12/18/2009 at 09:52 AM

I am baffled by the moderators on this site.My post calling into question the capablities or lack thereof of american sports journalism is deleted but posts by "tignor sucks rafa's balls" which are just crude and childish are not moderated. Maybe I should just stick to crude childish insults in order to get my point across. I don't think this match was a very good one certainly not one of the 10 best of the year.

Posted by Ken 12/18/2009 at 10:00 AM

In the 5th set Roger faded some which lessens some of the greatness in this match. However, it does not take away from the accomplishment of Nadal. The day before he played the most physical match of all time against Verdasco and won, then plays the final the next day and takes out Federer arguably the best player ever. All you can say to that is that Nadal is a physical beast and probably the best athlete in the world.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 12/18/2009 at 10:09 AM

A great post Steve: It was a shock to me when Nadal won this match after the gruelling match with Verdasco the previous evening. I was upset when Federer cried and ended up doing the same myself.

But lets all appreciate and enjoy these two great athletes in what must be the most wonderful rivalry for a very long time. They, obviously, have the greatest respect for each other and are friends too which is highly unusual in this day and age.

Posted by Alexis 12/18/2009 at 10:29 AM

avh at 5:08am - just shows how little you know! Watch the tape - Federer was given that tracksuit with the small '15' AFTER the match when he was oncourt. Federer didn't even know about it. Federer has more respect for Roddick than most fans and media do. Stop being a hater and actually get your facts straight instead of posting lies.

Posted by Alexis 12/18/2009 at 10:37 AM

The fact that this match turned out to be a 5-set almost-thriller is interesting. No one expected Nadal to have much left after his tough semi, and Roger was really struggling with his serve (from his back) during the match - all those DFs is your first clue. Federer even said he knew he was in trouble going into the 5th set because he knew he wasn't going to have his serve and you need your whole game against Rafa.

As for the trophy ceremony, how anyone can find fault with either guy is beyond me. It was soooo obvious that Roger lost it because of the overwhelming show of love from the fans. And then he was upset at himself for not keeping it together out of respect for Nadal. And then Nadal was wonderful in response. Both guys know what it feels like to lose tough matches so of course they feel for each other. I'll never understand why Rafa and Fed fans feel the need to hate each other when Rafa and Roger are friends and admire/respect each other.

Posted by heythereman 12/18/2009 at 10:45 AM

Great article, Steve! I agree with every word.

One of the more upsetting things that often keeps me cringing all through comments on this site is that every time Nadal gets any praise, out come the anti-Nadal faction to comment on how his achievements mean nothing, NOTHING, because he plays on clay, or he's not as technical as Fed, or whatever. I hardly ever see this kind of personal vendetta directed toward Federer. Really. Just stop.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 12/18/2009 at 10:58 AM

Another good pick, Steve, though I might have been tempted to rank this one a bit highter (in the top 5 IMO).

You hit the nail on the head when you wrote: "For anyone who still thinks Nadal is “one-dimensional,” realize that he’s one-dimensional by choice. When he senses the right moment to do more, the resources are there and the surprise factor is built-in."

It's no accident that he has developed his unique version of the buggy-whip or lasso forehand -- he can, by nearly imperceptible degrees, whip it "more" or "less" with no discernible change in his preparation or swing path... until the very last, in which he either pulls up ferociously or keeps the wrist more laid back. The only giveaway is the degree of snap or flourish produced at the end of the stroke, a byproduct of how much wrist acceleration is generated. I've mentioned here before that he seems almost to let his hand follow his racquet after contact, rather than the more conventional approach of controlling the racquet head to the end of the stroke. It's genius. It's also supreme confidence in his stroke, his preparation, and in the spin he generates to keep the ball between the lines. The magical part is how, as you allude, he "senses the right moment to do more" and actually hits within centimeters of the line, if not square on it. With such an organically grown and executed stroke, it is one of the wonders of the world.

The one thing I think that opponents like Davidenko have shown, however, is that Rafa's "surprise" tactics are somewhat predictable. He reminds me of a buddy of mine who almost always goes for the surprise net-rush off his serve when he gets an ad point or is down a break point. I know it's coming, so all I need to do is chip a low return at his feet or to the short sideline or up the line to win the point either outright or off a weak half-volley. My same friend is also prone to "mix up" his service placement just when the suspense of a long deuce-ad...deuce-ad game has built. Rafa does similar things. And with his extra-long pre-serve ritual, stare and slow toss, he begs his opponents to guess.

What I find so amazing about Rafa is his ability to come up with winner after winner from a defensive position... the very best counter-puncher I've ever seen. I found in college that most counter-punchers could be beaten with a forcing attack game, provided I chose my times to attack or force the issue carefully. Not giving away easy points on senseless errors due to over-hitting or rushing the attack is the first order of business. Once you've established that you can trade shots till the cows come home, you've established yourself as equal and then can begin to work the court and your own positioning to get the opportunities -- because they WILL come -- to end the point on a combination of forcing shots or a volley or overhead winner. Where Rafa breaks this conventional wisdom down is by sensing when he is being challenged, often before his opponent even knows he's challenging him, and immediately upping the ante and putting more stuff on his shots and placing them closer to the edges of the court, essentially removing the threat. That'shy, as with Andre Agassi and Bjorn Borg before him, it's often best to use a simple tactic again and again and to play a fearless, high-risk game, not waiting too long to seize control of the point, but striking early while the iron is hot, so to speak.

As for Rafa's attitude and disposition, is there a classier, more gracious winner and/or loser on the pro tour. I think only Roger is his equl in that regard. They do, indeed, make an unusually compatible and complementary pair of rivals based on contrasting styles but similar souls (I cannot for the life of me think of the correct phrase, here... early onset of sometimers disease).

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 12/18/2009 at 11:09 AM

Another thing for some posters to consider is, just who will replace Federer and Nadal when they are both gone? Which players will succeed in creating as great a rivalry as Fed and Nadal have?

There will be a huge gap left when they are both gone and I can't think of two players to
replace them.

Posted by steven 12/18/2009 at 11:45 AM

This is in response to O's comment.

Can't believe how dumb you can be! Rafa represents good manners and true humility in every way on and off the court. And yes, it's big deal when Roger cried because he stole that moment from Rafa. Being a cry baby, I think Roger should enter the field of acting too and maybe you can be his manager, huh!

Posted by cavedweller 12/18/2009 at 11:57 AM

A shame that Steve's great analysis of a great game and two great players has elicited so much bile...
I have never understood why Rafa's pre-game rituals and "slow behaviour" (coming out late, etc.) are so infuriating to so many people. Anyone can see that Rafa is a creature of his habits and tics, and that "slowness" is not part of his game strategy. If anything, it is so consistent and predictable that his opponents should have no trouble dealing with it - as some have said. After all, are they not totally free to try and "outwait" him or employ their own rituals - and some have indeed done so.
Retreating hastily, hoping for a terrific 2010 for Rafa - and Roger also...

Posted by SwissMaestro 12/18/2009 at 12:11 PM

Federer should have won this match 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 and 6-3, period!

Posted by corey 12/18/2009 at 02:56 PM

Regarding what might be in store for us in the remaining 6 matches, what about Soderling v. Nadal at the FO? Huh? The implications, ramifications, and consequences of this match are POWERFUL, AWESOME, and dare I say, TITANIC!!! End of Nadal's 4 yr FO winning streak, opens up the field for TMF, who then goes on to become, by unanimous conclusion, the GOAT!!!

Posted by Haelfix 12/18/2009 at 03:03 PM

I didn't think the match was that great either. Nadal wasn't as good on the ground as we've seen him in the past, and was getting dictated badly on most neutral rallies. Usually in Fed-Nadal matchups the reverse happens.

The biggest problem was that Federer's serve was terrible that match, and he was returning Nadal's weak spinners pretty badly (although he struggles in general with Rafa's serve). Again the opposite usually happens, where this time it was Rafa's serve that won it for him.

Like the USO this year, Federer probably wants that one back b/c it was his to lose. As much as I thought Rafa outplayed him at wimbledon 08, this time I thought Roger was the better player. (Just like I think Roddick outplayed Fed at wimby this year)

Posted by Cupcake lurker 12/18/2009 at 04:37 PM

cavedweller- I respectfully disagree, the "slowness" as you say does influence the match, one of the first things that came to my mind after the Madrid SF was that only Nadal and Djockoviv can turn a 3st match into a 4 hour one, the endless bouncing of the ball and all the pre-serving rituals!, or think of Verdasco in the WTF complaining to the umpire that Federer was serving to fast, only in that case the situation was reversed. What I don't understand is why the rules about this are not enforce.

Posted by checkeredme 12/19/2009 at 12:07 AM

duh!!...what do you expect frm tignor...you should marry rafa,no?...

Posted by Carrie 12/19/2009 at 02:42 AM

Wow...once again a post that was meant to be positive in the comments has been overrun by hatred and bile. Why can't we just appreciate Rafa and Roger without being hateful.

And what the heck is it with all of the utterly mean and awful comments towards Steve? My goodness....I have taken a break from TW because I got tired of all of the utter negative energy- and with the mean naturdness of these comments here- I think the break needs to be longer.

I am glad that some folks enjoy the positive energy. I just don't understand why others want to hurl insults at the players and/or say crude comments about Steve. Just do not get it.

I enjoyed your post Steve.

Posted by GERALDINE STRAUGHN 12/19/2009 at 06:11 AM

Elise you are an even BIGGER A-- than O . NOW how many more A--es want to take me on . I am a true RAFANATIC and that's all I have to say about that.

Posted by Garro 12/19/2009 at 03:23 PM

Federer didn't take anything away from Rafa's win by crying. This is just silly. I wish we could put an end to this really. Also, Federer didn't know about the suit beforehand, so we can put that to rest too. Also, Federer doesn't make excuses either, in the same way Nadal doesn't. As for the swearing, Federer is more well behaved on court than just about anybody else, and yes, Rafa taking too much time constantly breaking that rule is a problem and should be dealt with in my opinion. Either that, or the time rule should be taken away, it doesn't make sense to have a rule and then not enforce it.

Posted by Deuce 12/19/2009 at 04:38 PM

Steve - Thanks for another great post! It was great for this Fed fan to review this match and trophy ceremony now after the rest of 2009 played out. I felt at the time Rafa deserved the win and I was truly worried about Roger's game and psyche. Seeing some of Roger's unbelievable winners in the highlight real makes me wonder what did unhinge is FH heading into the American spring swing. His serve wasn't at his normal A+ level, but his movement and ground game where there until the 5th. Can't wait for the first slam of 2010 now!!!! As for the trophy ceremony, I too am struck my the mutual respect both players have toward each other and as a tennis fan cherish the greatness of our sport. If only the mainstream sports fan could see what I see...le sigh (still miffed about Tiger over Roger as AP player of the decade and it has nothing to do with Tigers recent scandal. It has more to do with the golfers as athletes bit. Yes Tiger is an athlete, but take the Top 100 tennis players vs ther Top 100 golfers and tell me witch sport requires a more demanding athletic skill set?)

Posted by Linda 12/19/2009 at 08:08 PM

Nadal is a genuine sportsman of the highest moral character, a true and worthy champion. Yes, Roger may be "one of the best of the history" but a dignified champion needs to have the fortitude to suck up his emotions after defeat and allow his opponent to experience the thrilling joy of his first AO victory.

Posted by Rebecca 12/20/2009 at 07:25 AM

"I have taken a break from TW because I got tired of all of the utter negative energy- and with the mean naturedness of these comments here- I think the break needs to be longer."

Moderators, if you guys are actually bothering to screen comments - which judging by the fact that you let purely pointless commentators post that your blogger "sucks balls" - perhaps you should consider the fact that if you aren't going to do your job, then you can say goodbye your readers.

The comments are ridiculous. People need to get a life. Do they really think that spewing out that bile against a world famous athlete (whichever one they prefer to do it against) somehow makes them a better person? Or do they really just feel better by being such lowlifes?

Posted by Rafanatic (marguritaspecial ) 12/20/2009 at 08:13 AM

Enough about Rafa and Roger let us all look forward to AO 2010 and hope that this rivalry continues because these two are truly the best in men's tennis as Serena is the best in women's tennis can't wait for the end of January so that I can be glued to my TV for 2 full weeks so until then enjoy the holidays.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 12/21/2009 at 10:12 PM

cavedweller: hey! thanks for your post. I happen to agree about the pre-match rituals which take about 60 seconds. Is he breaking any rule there? I don't think so. Most players don't seem to mind and why should they? they could sit and wait for rafa if they wanted. Or rafa could do his little protein gel thing before going out on court.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 12/21/2009 at 10:29 PM

btw, Steve, i loved this post. This happens to be my favorite match from 09, then the semi, then the wimby final. I've seen it numerous times. what i can't figure out is why fed threw in the towel in the 5th set? the match was even and he was so close to getting #14 but he appeared to give up to some degree. I couldn't figure that one out.

Posted by tina 01/14/2010 at 04:00 PM

Somehow it never sunk in with me that Rafa was the first Spaniard to win the AO.

People on here go on forever about how "classy" Federer is, but for my money, Rafa could give him a few lessons. So in that regard Nadal certainly does not need Federer to "bring out the best" in him. At the time, I felt deep resentment that Rafa's thunder had been stolen by such a Narcissist.


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