Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Rushing to the Finish Line
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Rushing to the Finish Line 11/28/2010 - 7:06 PM

Rf There’s a phenomenon in basketball where a team gets behind, scraps hard and expends maximum mental and physical energy catching up, evens the score, and then immediately deflates. It isn’t just that they’ve exhausted themselves physically. The psychology of the game changes as well. There’s no longer a target out in front, urging them on. 

Something like that happened to Rafael Nadal today, and it happened in the second point of the third set. He had begun the match, as he had begun the tournament, on the flat side, and his opponent, Roger Federer, had succeeded in changing the usual dynamics of their encounters by nudging him out of the patterns he likes. Nadal forced himself to find some more energy in the second, and his dedication to aggressiveness tilted the rallies back in his favor. The first point of the third went the same way, as Nadal ran Federer along the baseline to go up 0-15. Federer’s early confidence had vanished, and he looked as if were groping for an answer. Getting broken here would extend Nadal’s momentum and begin to make Federer’s first-set performance look like a mirage. Now Nadal had him on the run again in the second point. Rafa moved inside the baseline and lined up for an open down the line backhand. He had the lead in his sights for the first time all day. It must have blinded him, because he caught the ball late and fanned it into the alley. He put his hands to his head in disbelief. Federer held. While Nadal would put together a strong hold of his own in the next game, Federer had evened the scales back up. Nadal’s run was over.

And that’s all it took. Federer began to serve well, as he had in the first set, and he had the confidence on Nadal’s next service game to chip and charge successfully on one point, and then break serve by cracking an aggressive return, a tactic that he had been trying to employ, with various degrees of success, all afternoon. He was, as they say, in full flight from there, and Nadal couldn't turn the tide a second time. 

This was a quality match, but not an intense one by Federer-Nadal standards. Points and games went by quickly; it took just 90-some minutes to get through three sets. What can we take from it? As far as the play itself, the most intriguing element was Federer’s determination in the first and third sets not to let Nadal lock his forehand into his backhand and dictate the terms of the rallies. This is as effective as Federer has ever been with his topspin crosscourt backhand against Rafa. Just at the point in the rally when he usually loses control, Federer stepped forward and sent a surprised Nadal scrambling to his left. In the crucial game of the first set, with Nadal serving at 3-4, Federer fended off a ground stroke assault with his backhand, and then broke serve by snapping off a sharp crosscourt backhand angle, an angle that stunned Nadal.

Is the topspin crosscourt backhand the answer for Federer? Notice that Nadal changed things up in the second and had success going wide to Federer’s forehand. Nevertheless, along with the backhand, two other gambits that Federer tried today worked. He won points serving wide to Nadal’s backhand in the deuce court, and his commitment to returning aggressively, while it resulted in a quite a few free points for Nadal, worked when he really needed it. It's a gamble, yes, but one he almost certainly needs to take in the future.

So we end the year exactly where we’ve ended it for the last five seasons. With Nadal and Federer at 1 and 2, and with another big title going to one of them. This event felt more like déjà vu than normal, though. Federer capped a post-U.S. Open stretch where he went 21-2, and looked as sharp as he’s looked over any extended period in the last three years. He seems energized, and more important, more narrowly focused on what wins for him, after a few months with a new coach. There’s a sense of slashing urgency to his game right now, particularly on the return side. While Nadal was able, as he usually is, to throw a wrench in his plans, Federer was simply playing too well all week to be stopped for long, even by Rafa. Maybe it was the lighting or the bright red shirt or his attacking game, but Federer seemed to stand a little taller in London. He’s brushed aside all talk of decline, added a new wrinkle to his match-up with Nadal with his backhand and his return, and made 2011 a two-man race to start. Still, my favorite Federer moment of the tournament came in his semi-rambling and highly excited victory speech. He thanked the ball boys and said that if the players had to pick up their own balls, the matches would go on forever. How does that come to his mind right then? Brilliant and goofy, Federer goes out like the Federer of old.

Nadal, on the other hand, looked weary in his runner-up speech. Weary from winning, I guess; he did a lot of this year. Whatever happened today, 2010 still belonged to him. He lost the final, but it was a characteristic tournament for him—there was a sense of deja vu to his performance as well. In every major event aside from the French Open, Nadal has struggled at first, improved over the course of a couple of years, and finally won it. In Australia, he reached the semis in 2008 before bringing home the trophy in 2009. At Wimbedon, he lost two finals to Federer before winning the third. After semifinal appearances in 2008 and ’09 at the U.S. Open, he struck gold this summer. Nadal had never been to the final of the WTF, and he started this one looking like he never would get to the final of it. Now he has—after his first-set loss to Andy Roddick on Monday, he seemed to will himself to believe that he could. If history tells us anything, we know what will come next for him here.

Nadal also gave us what he usually gives us: a classic, grueling, back-and-forth, emotionally draining match. His semifinal with Andy Murray may have been the best of 2010, and it ended with what was the highlight of the week for me. Nadal was nearly apologetic when he hugged Murray at the end. As Murray walked away to his chair, Nadal gave him one extra pat on the back, with a look of commiseration that his opponent would never see. It was, on a smaller-scale, similar to the arm he threw around Federer’s neck after their 2009 Aussie Open final. Brilliant and empathetic, Nadal went out of that match, and out of the best season of his career, like the Nadal of old. 

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Posted by Bob 11/28/2010 at 07:17 PM

Great post Steve!


Posted by evie 11/28/2010 at 07:19 PM

Nice description of the match. All positive for both players, which is fitting.

And I agree, Rafa will win the WTF sooner or later. Probably next year, if his typical schedule holds.

Posted by Paula V. 11/28/2010 at 07:19 PM

It definitely was a great match, but not "epic" by tennis standards. Tough to live up to Wimbledon '08. I recall Rafa saying once that sunshine gives him strength. Could be that playing indoors gave Fed a slight (albeit mental) advantage. Also great to know the Rafa/Fed rivalry is alive and well. It will be a sad day when that comes to an end.

Posted by TheExpert 11/28/2010 at 07:35 PM

Nice stuff, but you missed the most important fact...Federer's conversion on Break points. 3 for 3, That was the key to the match for Fed, cos historically he has struggled BIG TIME in that department when playing Rafa. Today he played the break points well...Now if you'd listened to Goodall and Koenig as i did on, you would have heard that...

And speaking of Fed's wide serve to the Deuce court...he only lost 1 POINT on his 1st serve to that spot ALL WEEK! How's that for backing your statement/observation up Steve?? (But i can't claim it cos it came from Goodall) Was that analysis specific enough for you?

Posted by lurkingna 11/28/2010 at 07:36 PM

I always enjoy reading your posts. Thank you!

Posted by S. H. 11/28/2010 at 07:43 PM

Great comments Steve -- you made a good tribute to two great players!

Posted by federerbestclass 11/28/2010 at 07:48 PM

roger is true class. love roger

Posted by phil 11/28/2010 at 07:48 PM

annacone's coaching deserves some credit. the "go for it" attitude and the ability to keep rafa from gaining a rythm comes from him. kudos to fed for seeking him out !!

Posted by boojay 11/28/2010 at 07:53 PM

It's sickening how every match that Nadal grinds out whilst emotionally and physically wearing himself out is considered the greatest match of the year when Federer would've crushed the same opponent. Federer mauled Murray just prior to Nadal barely eking out his win and had Federer played Verdasco in that '09 Aussie Open SF, he would've straighted Fernando. Federer need not outrun, outmuscle, outgun, or outlast his opponent, he's simply betterer.

Posted by Sidd 11/28/2010 at 07:58 PM

I had the feeling the ball wasnt bouncing too high so Federer's backhand was more comfortable than usual against Nadal.
Anyway I don't think Nadal could have won against Federer today, he seemed a bit slow for his own standards, it remainded me of the Nadal pre-injuries, mental willness alright but something missing nevertheless.

Posted by denise 11/28/2010 at 07:58 PM

I have tremendous respect for Nadal.

But can we just all agree that Federer is the better player?

I think it's time. Honestly.

Posted by Fernando 11/28/2010 at 07:58 PM

ATP finals just proves how skewed the H2H Fed -Nadal statistic is So many of their matches were played on clay. If Fed and Nadal played on hardcourt as many times as they played on clay, what would the H2H be? And why are so many of their matches played on clay? Because for the past 5 years,Fed has been the second best clay court player in the word and only recently is Rafa going deep enough in tournaments to even get to Fed. Put the H2H on the shelf for a while.

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

Seems that Tignor lost some money on this one. His note is partial to Nadal and misses the fact that Annacone is providing Roger with the necessary strategic tweaks he needed to dispatch Rafa by taking a page from Sampras: a strong wide serve in the deuce court and -more importantly- going for it with the return, instead of Roger's customary passive approach on that. If Roger had implemented this tactics earlier in his career and not be that stubborn, he would be comfortably ahead of Nadal in their head-to-head right now. Congratulations, Roger!!

Posted by Julian 11/28/2010 at 08:10 PM

*sigh* Here we go again with the H2H war ...

Posted by What Would McEnroe Do? 11/28/2010 at 08:12 PM

I'm not about to say Federer has made any progress against Nadal because of the surface. P-Mac and Cliff both agreed the court at the O2 bounced lower than even Wimbledon, and the lower the bounce, the more it benefits Federer. What has Roger done to combat the high spin to his backhand that he'll see at any other tournament? Is he able to hit that sharp angle from his neck? If he can do that, then yes, the dynamic has changed a little.

Or maybe he'll serve like that every time, which would help too.

Posted by WTF 11/28/2010 at 08:12 PM

Great article. It paid tribute to both players.

Posted by What Would McEnroe Do? 11/28/2010 at 08:13 PM

And the idea that Steve is a partisan for Nadal or Federer is silly. Get over your own bias.

Posted by MP 11/28/2010 at 08:15 PM

Nadal has never won this Tournament. Why? I have noticed in all grand slam tournaments and other specific tournaments, draws appeared to be manipulated. Nadal always gets the first three round opponents easy to win. After Soderling knocked Nadal out of the French Open in 2009, Nadal has always avoided Soderling. Soderling is always kept on Federer side. Even in this tournament this has happened. My point is that since this tournament is among the top 8 players, there is hardly any chance for Nadal to manipulate draws.

As for today's play, definitely Federer's performance was superb. He has proved that he is still perfect and will remain around. Nadal is only half way through to reach Federer. In fact, Murray was a bit unlucky and committed some unlikely errors, otherwise he played better than Nadal.

Posted by gamegrrle 11/28/2010 at 08:15 PM

OOPS! I am re-posting this here to respond to Fernando because I posted on the wrong board originally...

I completely agree with you Fernando!

Today's results emphasize exactly why Fedal's H2H record is a ridiculously specious argument when used as the cornerstone to the argument that Federer is not the GOAT or that Rafa is the superior player.

At 29, playing in a year when many have bleated about how he is past his prime, where he has admittedly lost matches on 4 separate occasions while holding match points, and was knocked out in the quarterfinals of 2 Major tournaments, he comes to the WTF to meet a man who has arrived playing some of the best tennis of his life, winning 3 Majors to complete the Career Grand Slam. A man so highly motivated to win this tournament, to capture the one missing jewel in his crown, that he all but declared that he took time off and re-organized his schedule so that he could be properly rested and fully prepared to compete. And it was this man that Roger definitively and with authority, defeated to win his 5th year end title.

The common rebuttal made by Federer's fans regarding the skewed H2H is the number of matches played and won on clay vs. hardcourt...and when factoring out those matches on clay it would be a bit more even. But my point is that today's game shows that if he can win at this stage in his career here against today's Rafa there is little doubt in my mind and there should be very little in any other REASONABLE, KNOWLEDGEABLE tennis fans' minds that the Federer that who showed up to win 5 straight U.S. Open's against 5 different opponents ( showing his incredible versatility) would have beaten a Rafa whose U.S. Open record was 2R, 3R, QT, 4R, SF for those same years for a majority of those matches. He wasn't even good enough to show up to play against Federer on his favorite surface. And during many of those same years Federer was good enough to show up to play Rafa on his favorite surface.

That's why statistics are a tricky thing...they never tell the whole story...numbers need to be viewed in context... they exist on the page not in the real world. Anyone who blindly lobs numbers in your face to prove a point is just being lazy and looking for easy answers. They don't exist in a vacuum. They look pretty in on paper but get messy when start to apply real world variables which you must do.

I'm not making a stand here for the GOAT argument or against Rafa's undeniable phenomenal talent as one of the greatest players ever...just using this match to devalue a highly over-used H2H argument that is lobbed like a grenade during FEDAL skirmishes.

Posted by Qwerty 11/28/2010 at 08:17 PM

Great article! The most fair, balanced and insightful assessment of the match I have come across today.

Posted by Michele 11/28/2010 at 08:25 PM

I'm just really f'ing psyched Roger won this. That's all.

Posted by Carrie 11/28/2010 at 08:25 PM

*After Soderling knocked Nadal out of the French Open in 2009, Nadal has always avoided Soderling.*

Remind me again- who did Rafa play in the 2010 French Open final?

Posted by Nam1 11/28/2010 at 08:32 PM

"Remind me again- who did Rafa play in the 2010 French Open final?"

Hee Hee Carrie, I was just going there!!

Amazaing how Steve's posts attracts the worst kind of trolls.

Posted by andrea 11/28/2010 at 08:33 PM

good commentary on the break point conversion. how often has fed had break point only to have nadal grind out the game? the first set of the FO in 07 (i think?) didn't he have 14 break point chances or something ridiculous like that?

mind you, we all know that nadal's game is far more lethal to fed on clay.

i was suitably impressed with how federer clocked, with authority, so many of the endless assaults on his backhand that nadal was delivering. you almost wanted to whisper into nadal's ear "ok buddy, time to try a new tactic."

Posted by calvin 11/28/2010 at 08:39 PM

I disagree about Nadal winning the year end championship. Not only does Nadal have to contend with Federer but also a likely resurgence of Murray (who in my opinion will reach number one in a year or two) and Djokovic. Murray should have taken the third set as Nadal's backhand didn't look like it had the same sting and depth as earlier in the match. With that said, there are other players more than capable of taking out Nadal (especially if he isn't playing 100 percent) such and Roddick or a Soderling. Del Potro might show up next year even if it takes him half a year to gain any traction. Nadal's physical health is also in question. Nadal seems to still be hitting hard and pushing up with his knees albeit in shorter rallies.

Posted by R. Chávez 11/28/2010 at 08:49 PM

Good match, Rog has proved that he isn't old, he was just out of touch with his great game, now with a coach he has proved along the week that his game is back. All he need to do is keep his mind in a cool condition. Nadal did a good come back in the second set but at the third Rog was a killer, anyway, congratulation to both of them, lets the 11 be a great competition year between them and the 8 other players, so we can have plenty of things to talk about tennis and I hope all of them get better physically, mentally and gamewise.thanks for this year memories.

Posted by Syd 11/28/2010 at 08:50 PM

Nice article Steve; thanks for your analysis.

Federer was pretty much playing brilliantly all week and apart from the obligatory loss of the second set, the only set he dropped in the tournament, today was no different. His aggression on return of serve is beginning to pay dividends—thank you Paul Annacone. Drawing level with Sampras and Lendl with five end- of- year titles is the cream on top.

As for the lack of "epic"— I don't see how 3-setters can ever reach epic levels although Murray/Nadal's match came pretty darn close. But the excitement, the quality of the players, the quantities of crowd, the venue in one of the most beloved cities on earth all managed to contribute to happy and fitting end to the season.

Posted by ammo 11/28/2010 at 08:51 PM

Nadal was too tired to put up a fight.

Posted by Jaz 11/28/2010 at 08:52 PM

Well I´m not agree at all, because I think Nadal is the best player, he plays better than Roger,Roger was the best a few years ago but now he lose with all kind of players not only with Rafa...

Posted by bob 11/28/2010 at 08:58 PM

Calvin excellent points. This was Rafa's chance to win this, really don't see him doing much here in the future. He put his entire heart into this tourney, not sure he'll have that extra motivation next year. Its almost as if this chapter is closed, with Fed beating him here once again. He'll focus on the hard court slams where if he has a favorable draw (as in his last two wins) miracles can happen. With Potro ( the real defending US open Champ) back in the mix, he'll need flat out magic to win one.

Posted by gamegrrle 11/28/2010 at 09:00 PM

@ What Would McEnroe Do

"What has Roger done to combat the high spin to his backhand that he'll see at any other tournament?"

Well, he saw one at this tournament while serving at 15-0 2 All in the first set...
and cracked a short angled CC backhanded winner from a ball that he hit from up at his eyebrows.

Granted, in general the ball does bounce lower on this court than others but even when Nadal was able to get the ball higher, Fed wasn't having any trouble handling it. Nadal served 100% to Fed's backhand and threw in some great 2nd serve body serves that Fed wasn't able to run around and even still his backhand served him well.

Nadal's balls didn't get up high on Fed not solely as a consequence of the court but because Fed shielded that baseline like a mama lion protecting her cubs. He took Nadal's balls early so they didn't have a chance to get too high and away from him and move him out of position. In fact, I was watching the game with some tennis illiterates and we made a little game of it...

As soon as Fed got pushed back off of that baseline, he fell into that same old pattern that he has with Nadal and he started shanking more backhands because he let the ball get up too high. His performance drop in the 2nd set directly correlated to amount of light blue space between him and the tennis least that's what I told my friends! ;-) I told them to watch for the space...the less there was...the more likely that it was that he would win the rally...and that he would win it quickly...

It was worked!! They loved it. My one girlfriend kept screaming ... oh no, oh no there's too much blue...he's going to lose the kept her busy... :-)

No, but seriously I don't know what kind of backhand drills Anacone has got Fed doing but I say it will be the key to Federer's 2011.

He should buy that man a house.

Or a castle.

Or whatever the guy wants.

Posted by Sammy 11/28/2010 at 09:19 PM

Steve, this was brilliant summation of the match and what it means going forward for both Nadal and Federer. I'm a huge Nadal fan and also a big admirer of Federer and I have to say I'm happy today that Nadal performed as well as he did considering the circumstances. If he can stretch a top-form Federer, who basically walked through the rest of his WTF matches, to 3 sets while being fatigued and a step slower himself (whoever doesn't see that is blind) is great news indeed. I honestly expected the match would be a straight set win for Federer. If anything, the match shows that Nadal will be a top contender for the title of any tournament on any surface. His opponents have no way to hide, even on indoor courts, his (previously) poorest surface. He just has that super-human knack and unparalleled discipline/dedication to tweak his admittedly less complete game (compared to Federer) not just to suit, but to excel on any surface. This year, indoor courts are his latest conquest and he almost made it all the way in the most prestigious tournament held on those courts. Hopefully next year in WTF he'll get to the final with the benefit of an extra day rest like Federer did this year. Maybe that's all that he'll need to add this lone missing trophy to his spectacular collection.

Posted by Fix your serve 11/28/2010 at 09:21 PM

Brilliant post.

I was actually quite surprised Nadal won the second set.

He still looked quite flat throughout the match but congrats to Roger for playing solidly throughout.

Some people were getting carried away re Fe'd "answer" to Rafa's forehand into his backhand. I wouldn't be too hasty, this was played indoors on a court with an extremely low bounce, no wind or sun or other elements to add even more kick on Rafa's vicious spin.

I get the feeling this was Federer's last hurrah and his best days are behind him though. Nice way to make a final statement.

Posted by mela 11/28/2010 at 09:24 PM

*LOOOOOVE* this article Steve.

i should have ignored everything this day and just waited for your post.

You are class, and the players you describe are as well.

I wish I hadn't read any of your post's comments, so I'll re-read your post and call it a night.

Posted by bob 11/28/2010 at 09:27 PM

The following says all that's needed about Fed.

Rafa himself said this today " Roger is probably the more complete player of the world" ... This is after winning 3 slams on 3 surfaces:)

Posted by babolatclijstersfan 11/28/2010 at 09:28 PM

Even though their match today did not approach the classic levels of some of their previous meetings, especially in that 3rd set, where Federer was on cruise control, I still feel like they enter 2011 as closely on the same top-of-the-game level as they have in years. Even with Nadal's Grand Slam sweep from May onwards and his clay court domination, I still feel like we're finishing the year with Federer and Nadal neck and neck. Maybe it's partly due to Federer's resurgence in form after the U. S. Open but I feel like, finally, they're at a point where they're both at the top of their game: no real sign of Nadal's knee issues creeping in or Federer's mid-2010 sloppiness/vulnerability. If they can both keep it up, we can hopefully expect several more 2011 finals between them (and assuredly more exciting than their first of this year, Nadal's straight-set Madrid victory.) But, more importantly for the great tennis debate, if Federer can keep up this form, he's sure to hold off any serious claims of Nadal's GOATness for a few more years.

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

andrea... I would have to look it up for exact number but that FO final I think Fed was 1 for 17 (horrendous)on break points.

3 for 3 is nice to see.. I love rafa but love roger more and was excited to see him get the mental monkey off his back by winning here against rafa. anxious moments early third set but he controlled his own destiny by returning to aggressive tactics and 2011 is going to be fun... I see (hope) fed make a push for number one at US open. fed put up a stellar fall and rafa has a ton of points to defend between start of clay season to us open final. If fed can defend AO and win either wimby or US open (and hopefully have a better 2011 clay season as 2010 clay season was terrible) he will get number one back for sure in my opinion.. I love this sport!!! congrats to rafa on a tremndous 2010 as well

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


Extra day rest? Did I miss something?

Posted by pogiako 11/28/2010 at 09:35 PM

Please don't forget that Severin Luthi is also helping Roger as Paul is not available all the time. Cheers!!

Posted by Sammy 11/28/2010 at 09:36 PM

@Vishal, yes you did. Federer had an extra day between the 3rd rr match and the semis, while Nadal played 3 days in a row from 3rd rr match through to the final.

Posted by Marcus 11/28/2010 at 09:39 PM

Fix Your Serve, I do not think this is Federers last hurrah. I really think that he probably retire after the Olympics. I am sure he has a goal of beating Nadal at the French Open. Now, that would be a tall task..LOL

Posted by Vishal 11/28/2010 at 09:42 PM


Er..Nadal had the day off before that. And Federer played the second semifinal yesterday. The day before does not count as an "extra day rest". Both players had the same number of off days.

Posted by RJ 11/28/2010 at 09:47 PM

Fed played brilliant. He was crushing cross court backhands. Long live the king!!!

Posted by Sammy 11/28/2010 at 09:52 PM

Vishal, you're missing the point. The number of days off each took throughout the tournament is irrelevant; what I'm saying is that in the 2 days prior to the final, Nadal played 5+ hours of tennis on back to back days while Federer had a day off and a 1+ hour match during the same period.

Posted by Brandon 11/28/2010 at 10:06 PM

Great analysis.

I think the difference in Roger's play since the US Open has been his new coach. It's fortunate that his ego allowed him to let someone else direct his style of play--and that he could take the advice.

It appears that he may not be done winning majors.

Posted by FoT 11/28/2010 at 10:07 PM

Well this Federer fan is SOOOOOOOOOOO happy! What a great way to end the tennis season for me. I’m proud of how Roger ended the year.

Congrats to Nadal and his fans because he had a fantastic year as well.

On the ‘tired’ issue. One thing that is maybe overlooked. When I listen to the tennis commentators, when Nadal is in a long match many of them say something like “Nadal grinds down and wears down the other players in a long match”. Uhm…with his style, do you think he grinds and wears himself down too? Just a thought.

And to finish that… How can you be the ‘fittest player on tour’, yet you’re always tired?

In any case…I am not letting anything spoil my fun with this match. I just wish Nadal and Roger could play MORE matches on indoor carpet as Roger leads this H2H 3-0! Just a thought.

Posted by Vishal 11/28/2010 at 10:07 PM

@Sammy. To me, it sounds suspiciously like an excuse. Perhaps you forget that Federer is 29 years old, and played the later semi? As for Nadal taking 5 hours to beat his opponents, well tough luck. He should be beating them easier if he wants to remain fresh for the final.

Sorry if this wasn't your intention, but I see this Nadal loses because he was tired excuse a LOT. And it is annoying. Federer is 5 years older. If anything, he is the one who should be tired. He played Nalbandian for nearly 3 hours at Rome 2006, Almagro for nearly 3 hours the day before, and was fit enough to play a 5 hour classic against Nadal in the final. I did not see even ONE Federer could have been fatigued possibility being bandied about after that match.

Posted by LAP 11/28/2010 at 10:20 PM

Carrie, Nam1: I am not in agreement with MP comment, but you actually did a very faulty service to logic with your argument, and in reality give weight to MP argument. MP is saying that Soderling is always placed away from Rafa; consequently, and by logic, he can only face Rafa at the final of a tournament if MP is right (provided that both reach that point) which is exactly what happened at the French... please do not give ammunitions to an extremist. I would love a serius statistical analysis on Rafa's luck, however, because it seems to me that all planets aligned perfectly for him to win the US Open. Djoko beating Federer, Federer mental game a little lost (and he has found it in the last moths), Murray getting beaten early, the bracket opening nicely for Rafa. But I must say he took his change and overcome the pressure to win the US. Regarding this tournament, I as surprised of Rafa winning a set against Federer, and winning against Murray (when in my opinion Murray was the better player in that game and actually won more points than Rafa). Rafa has a mental strength that allows him to win many matches in which he actually loses in terms of points (it has happened to him against Federer twice at least, against Djoko and against Murray but no one has beaten Nadal AND at the same time has manage to win less points in a game than him)...

Posted by Queeny 11/28/2010 at 10:23 PM

Good win for Fed and look out for 2011. He is fit and now confident that he can beat the pack. Loads of fun to look forward to.

Posted by mike 11/28/2010 at 10:25 PM

I agree with Vishal,
If you have a longer semi, tough luck. Plus Nadal is so fit that when this is lined up to a grand slam, Nadal is not possibly fatigued. Relative to his overall fitness, he shouldn't (and almost certainly isn't that tired). The reason that Nadal looked slower than usual today was that Federer was taking away his time. Take a look at any Federer v. Murray beatdown in the last few years. They all share the fact that Federer stepped into the ball, took control, and through the lack of time afforded Murray due to Fed's agressiveness, Murray, one of the tour's most mobile men, looked like a stick in the mud. He held the ball on his forehand exceptionally well and wrong-footed Nadal countless times. Sorry, but Nadal wasn't tired, there just wasn't enough time for him to get to the ball, and when he did, he simply made too many errors.

Posted by awwo 11/28/2010 at 10:25 PM

Steve, nadal-murray the best of the year? really? Over Djoker/Fed USO semi? Really? or are you referring to 3 sets only?

Posted by Christopher 11/28/2010 at 10:40 PM

Nice piece, Steve. I knew I was reading some good tennis writing when I realized during the first paragraph that I was actually getting nervous (as a Fed fan, of course) in spite have having watched the match hours ago!

I'm frankly glad that you ended by focusing on Nadal. Much as I loved watching my fav win this (and I loved it a lot), it's good to be reminded that Nadal had a great year and seems like a genuinely good guy. I love Federer's goofiness but I also respect Nadal's earnestness.

Posted by Sammy 11/28/2010 at 10:53 PM

Vishal, Mike,

You can argue the point till the cows come home, but I'm sorry I won't believe your fan-boyish "analysis" of the situation over what I saw with my own eyes. Besides, it's pretty laughable that you think you can sit on your butts and decide whether a player is/should be tired or not! True, Nadal is a physical specimen, but he's still flesh and blood and, if he takes an extended time off because of his shoulder injury (which he did before WTF) then, yes, his fitness will be impacted and playing the 5+ hours of tennis on the 2 days before the final would take their toll on his energy whether you like to believe it or not. If it makes you feel better to think that Nadal was 100% during this match, then go right ahead, knock yourselves out. You'd be deluding yourselves though.

Posted by Vishal 11/28/2010 at 11:16 PM


If you play, you are fit. Being a great player also involves being match fit. Bringing it up as an excuse every time your hero loses is cheapening the other player's win. Especially considering the other player is 29 years old, and at the twilight of his career, and you are 24 years old, and in peak form and condition.

Pretty clear who the fanboy is here.

Posted by Bob 11/28/2010 at 11:20 PM

Sammy your one funny cookie. Go cry to mommy, stop laying the excuses here please.

Posted by shameer 11/28/2010 at 11:37 PM

Yes Federer won but the year belongs to Nadal.If Federer lost it will be cry baby one more time.Lucky he won but Nadal is the best pkayer and he knows when to win it.nadal always true gentleman whether he lose or win unlike Federer.

Posted by sremmal16 11/28/2010 at 11:38 PM

Fed finished Murray off in 1 hour and 16 minutes, Nadal needed almost two hours more. Whose fault is that? Moreover, he played the early semi. Moreover, this is only a best of three-set event. Moreover, Nadal is hailed as the greatest athlete on tour. Moreover, Nadal won Aus Open after a five hour match. Is a three hour match really that hard? Moreover, most of the points were very short, so both players had to do less running (and the match itself only lasted 1 hour 37 minutes). Moreover, Nadal actually did win the majority of the running duels. Moreover, moreover, moreover. But great indoor tournament for Nadal - and Fed of course.

Posted by tennis RIP 11/28/2010 at 11:54 PM


"Nadal always true gentleman" who cheats on virtually every point by breaking the time rule, receives coaching from the stands against the rules and threatens the chair umpire when he is warned for it, quits when he is behind or not in top form, takes bogus injury timeouts before opponents' service games to break their rhythm, etc. etc......

Posted by Ivo 11/28/2010 at 11:55 PM

This is what I posted before the final in Bodo's preview of the final:
My sense is that Federer fears two things: and these are much simpler than what we usually like to emphasize: i.e. the big and intangible qualities of tenacity, mental stamina of Nadal, or the more tangible attributes such as Nadal's super-conditioning etc. I think that Federer fears that his serve will not give him enough free points; i.e. that he won't have the best serving day. In many of their matches, he didn't serve well; he didn't serve badly either but against Rafa you need to get some free points off the serve, for there are no other free points. I don't know if anyone remembers this, but one of the things that really let Federer down in the AO final was his serve - on that day he just did not do with it what he can on a better day. People don't mention his struggle with serve often because his second delivery is very effective. But anytime I see Federer lose, it's always on a day when his first-serve percentages are low (the US open semi being another example, by the way).

Second worry for Fed, and a clear strategy for Rafael, as it has always been, is this high-bouncing ball to Fed's backhand side. I know this is nothing new...we've debated it hundred times here already. But watching yesterday's match with Murray, it just once again became so clear to me why Murray can be trouble for Rafael Nadal. He just can unload on that wing, he keeps his options against Rafa on both wings open...very very important given the fact that Rafa is just too quick to be beaten from one corner only. And all the matches that Federer won against Rafa, I have a memory of his backhand working well. So the second worry for Federer is his backhand, will he be able to push with it as well, and to get some direct points of it when Rafa doesn't allow him to hit his forehand?

Thinking about their match-up, I still don't know who will win, though think that Rafa is the favorite. Fed win will only if he serves well and if his backhand is reasonably solid (of course I assume here his forehand will be as laser-sharp as it's been this week). If not, Rafa is through in 3 sets.


The problem I see with what i said before is my prediction. But I don't think it was so bad after all: all the people who say that Rafa was flat in the final, are a bit correct, but forget that until 1:1 in the third set, it looked that the momentum was firmly with Rafa - for me he could have easily won the 3rd set. Federer, looked rattled, he looked like the guy who once again didn't know what to do on the court. There were 2 monumental shifts of momentum in this match - the first in the beginning of the 2nd set and the second in the beginning of the 3rd (first was Rafa's and the second in Fed's favor). BUT RAFA COULD HAVE WON THE MATCH - just look at the history of what bookmakers were saying after the end of 2nd set.
I also don't buy this "tired argument". Fed played in the evening, if he had not dismantled Djokovic in the manner he did, Fed would have been tired...blah, blah, blah. Winning a tournament is a function of you playing well in the final as well as in the rounds before. Rafa made it difficult for himself with Murray, Federer made it easy for himself with Murray and Djokovic..actually with everybody but Rafa. That's part of the story. For the same reason: we don't say that Djokovic had it difficult and was tired in the USO Final, we don't deflate Rafa's victory there...Djokovic was tired, but he was tired because he couldn't defeat his opponent quicker the day before(unlike Rafa). The end of story.

Will Rafa come back and win WTF? I think so, if history is any clue, Rafa will get his first WTF in the next year or two.

I am not sure that this victory will change the dynamics between Rafa and Fed match-ups at all. Just one tournament, one week of play. To random to draw conclusions from it.
But what is really important is that Fed, with this victory, has a serious shot at regaining no. 1 ranking and thus conquering one of the last records in terms of weeks as no. 1. I.e. regaining no. 1 is impossible until the summer of 2011, but this victory here means a 1000points difference and after the AO Federer can only gain points, Rafa, on the other hand will have a hell of defending to do!!! Not until the summer of 2011, will the top ranking change much...but in the summer with the two grand slams,we might see a lot of change - i.e. some players with incredible point cushions until then (such as Berdych or Rafa) will have to do so much work to stay where they are, others (Murray, Djok. and Federer) will have chances to gain a lot. This is a long-term shot, I know. But This 1500 bonus for Federer might prove the tipping point in the summer.

Posted by skip1515 11/29/2010 at 12:04 AM

Syd wrote:

"I don't see how 3-setters can ever reach epic levels"

Yup. I gotta agree with that one. A great novella ain't a titanic novel, no matter how you cut it.

The Masters series may be better without 5 set matches for television and attracting sponsorship, but they devalued the product as a sporting competition.

Posted by Khailuan 11/29/2010 at 12:08 AM

I agree with Vishal, Mike and Rob. This 'tired' excuse is extremely lame. Look who's the laughable one sitting on his butt pretending to be Rafa's fitness trainer and futilely convincing others that his RAFA wasn't fit to play this final. Listen, Roger outplayed Rafa on a fast court. Simple as that. Just drop it and go on with your life.

Posted by Kevin 11/29/2010 at 12:58 AM

i hate all these low life losers who think just because fed won thay are like ohh see he is better than rafa and all this bs. Im fans of both but a bigger nadal fan and all i gotta say is ppl on here are just trolls(not all of them) also i hate it when ppl say o if you remove nadal record on clay against fed then fed would be ahead. yea ok hb i say remove feds record against nadal on hardcourt hmmm yea its just stupid to even say ignorant comments like that. Y cant u ppl just play nice and keep the insults and stupid comments to ur self and continue on your pathetic little life

Posted by Kevin 11/29/2010 at 12:58 AM

i hate all these low life losers who think just because fed won thay are like ohh see he is better than rafa and all this bs. Im fans of both but a bigger nadal fan and all i gotta say is ppl on here are just trolls(not all of them) also i hate it when ppl say o if you remove nadal record on clay against fed then fed would be ahead. yea ok hb i say remove feds record against nadal on hardcourt hmmm yea its just stupid to even say ignorant comments like that. Y cant u ppl just play nice and keep the insults and stupid comments to ur self and continue on your pathetic little life

Posted by Oy vey 11/29/2010 at 01:04 AM

Let's face it Djoker had his heart and head in Belgrade for DC. One eyed Novak played Nadal pretty well until contact fiasco. He didn't want to lose points or #3 ranking and that's all he cared about. I don't think he wanted to kill himself playing Nadal five days before DC again.

Posted by Sarah 11/29/2010 at 01:07 AM

Excellent, excellent article! The last paragraph was particularly beautiful- Thank you.
I too am sorry I read the post comments, where so many are only interested in undermining and denigrating one or both of these players. I wish these people would move on to extreme fighting or wwe entertainment and let people sincerely admire the spectacular talent and achievements of both of these fine athletes.
Will also read your article again and call it a night.

Posted by d'alba 11/29/2010 at 01:15 AM

fully agree with the following comment:
"...It's sickening how every match that Nadal grinds out whilst emotionally and physically wearing himself out is considered the greatest match of the year when Federer would've crushed the same opponent. Federer mauled Murray just prior to Nadal barely eking out his win ... Federer need not outrun, outmuscle, outgun, or outlast his opponent, he's simply betterer".

Maybe Roger should start to pinch his anus every now and then like Rafa, and then wip his nose and hair, before touching again the ball in his pocket to get the same level of admiration from the specialists?
Don't get me wrong, Nadal is a formidable winning machine, and a humble and pleasant chap outside the courts, but his OCD behaviors on court makes him unbearable to watch... Amazing that no one dare to mention it

(OCD :Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety, or by a combination of such thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions). Symptoms may include repetitive handwashing; extensive hoarding; preoccupation with sexual or aggressive impulses, or with particular religious beliefs; aversion to odd numbers; and nervous habits, such as opening a door and closing it a certain number of times before one enters or leaves a room. These symptoms can be alienating and time-consuming, and often cause severe emotional and financial distress. The acts of those who have OCD may appear paranoid and come across to others as psychotic. However, OCD sufferers generally recognize their thoughts and subsequent actions as irrational, and they may become further distressed by this realization.

interestingly enough, Nadal stopped his anus pinching at the French Open 2009, with the result we all know... again, no one out there to mention it.

Posted by Ivo 11/29/2010 at 01:17 AM

@Oy vey:

Let's face it Djoker had his heart and head in Belgrade for DC. One eyed Novak played Nadal pretty well until contact fiasco. He didn't want to lose points or #3 ranking and that's all he cared about. I don't think he wanted to kill himself playing Nadal five days before DC again.

Sorry but I have never bought an argument of this sort. I seems to me that that's what the journalists like to say (they need to say something), and even what tennis players like to say to make a possible excuse later, and what fans love to say: but people with so much competitiveness as all the top athletes really are don't do what you're suggesting. Moreover winning WTF is 1500 in points, 1,6 million in prize money(Djokovic made 3,7mil. for the whole year, trust me 1,6million for one tournament is not small even for a guy like that), and the prestige of beating the top dogs. If you had asked Djokovic before this tournament whether he'd give his best if he had a chance to win it, I am sure he'd go for it 100% - with the hope that he'll be able to repeat that against a lesser competition in the DC final (something he did against the Czechs after USO final..and man that was way more packed timewise for him that this schedule).
But there's no doubt in my mind if you had asked Djokovic what he would choose (privately, without the attention of the nation), whether wining WTF or DC, what he'd pick. order for you to make your case, you need to be more specific...these one-liners just can't cut it.

Posted by Khailuan 11/29/2010 at 01:22 AM

Note to Carrie and Nam1

It's important to read the entire post of whom you're going to argue with. In MP's post, Soderling is almost always in Federer's draw and not in Nadal's.

I seriously wonder what would happen if Nadal were to meet Del Potro again where Rafa had no answer to him in their last 3 H2H. I guess the ATP will ensure that he won't be in the same half of the draw as Nadal's just like Soderling. Just as for no particular reason that the ATP have decided to slow down all the courts and be extremely lenient to on-court coachings, absurdly long service games, strategic medical time outs or wrist band changes. Isn't it quite obvious that head of the organization wants Nadal to be the next Federer or tennis GOAT?

One note: During the WTF final, a nadal fan yelled: '' GO RAFA ! ''
during Federe's serving motion just right before the point of contact. That is just repulsive. What was he trying to do? Help Nadal win? How repulsive. On the contrary, you would never hear that from Roger Fans.
And 1 more tihng for you nadal fans, just admit that Nadal's copying Federer's style. First the shorts, then the higher socks, after that, the polos with sleeves, the shorter hair and finally the warm-up jacket. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Just like Nadal and some of his fans. Class and elegance, you either got it or you don't.

Posted by: Khailuan

Posted by zola 11/29/2010 at 01:47 AM


Just Thanks for being a tennis writer. It is always great to read your articles.

Posted by jodiecate 11/29/2010 at 02:11 AM

What does Rafa say when anyone throws the GOAT mantel in his direction?
"Only a person who knows nothing about tennis would suggest such a thing" and "Roger plays so fluidly, wins so easily, while i have to battle for every win! It is obvious who is the better player". Rafa knows the "cost of playing the style that he plays! I think he's made big improvements this year in trying to win by spending less energy - but he obviously still has a lot of ground to cover!!

I think Rafa was saying he was tired, sure, but that's not why he lost, he lost because Roger was playing Very Good Tennis. And that's the truth.
Thanks Steve, for explaining what things had changed, what was different - i wouldn't have picked that up on my own, but it does fascinate me.

I'm so glad Roger won this championship - i hope it'll put an end to the "he's over the hill" remarks. Rafa has never counted Roger out!
Congrats Roger on the win!! Congrats Rafa on the Year!!Keep up the brilliant tennis boys!!

Posted by t.ks 11/29/2010 at 02:14 AM

I don't know why every time Fed defeated Nadal, everyone including you always said 'Nadal is TIRED' so he's out of gas. I remember when Fed played from 2004 until now, every time he was defeated, noone said he's tired. Usually everyone wrote him off and blamed him. Now in London, compare Nadal - Murray match with Fed - Murray match, you can see Fed used only one hour and less than a half to win Murray but Nadal used more than 3 hours to win. From this stat, who's the best. Be good to Fed, please.

Posted by hibcbcbc 11/29/2010 at 02:49 AM

Rafa has the head to head edge on Federer on Clay.

On every other surface, Federer has the advantage.

Federer has won 16 majors, Rafa 9.

Federer is the GOAT, and Rafa is not

These are the facts folks, and they are undisputed.

Posted by zoilena 11/29/2010 at 03:24 AM

Steve brilliant commentary as allways. Yes I was surprised too with Roger mentinoning thanks to the ballkids. Maybe the pizzas in Bazel meant a lot to him and rewarmed his feelings towards the silent swift little heroes of the tournament tale.
Thank you so much for putting down in words things that for many of us get unnoticed: in the hugging scene with Murray, I was focussing more on Murray and did not see Nadal. I was surprised with how warmly Andy hugged Rafa at the end. I did not expect this reaction from a character as inward as Murray especially in view of what this loss cost him. Inwardness is frequently translated as selfishness. However Andy's standards of honor much be much higher than his selfishness.And now you gave me the aspect of the other side of the story, Nadal's reaction equally moving. How can anyone not love and not get inspired by these boys!

Posted by andy 11/29/2010 at 04:01 AM

somebody above wrote that nole was too distracted by DC or something to that effect. i guess nole was too distracted in his three CONSECUTIVE post-us-open-2010 loses to fed as well?

oh, and fed outplayed rafa. period.

btw, when rafa reaches at least 60 atp titles and at least 14 slams then he may be up for consideration as ONE of the GOAT.

Posted by R. Chávez 11/29/2010 at 04:01 AM

If we are going to use the number of hours as an excuse, them we should ask to the tennis authorities, that the #1 player should play only 2hours everymatch, otherwise #2 will have advantace over #1. It's a lame excuse, its not Roger foul that he can beat his oponents in less than 2 hours. Besides, Nadal had the easy draw (see the poll), so it is his foul if he cannot beat his oponents in less time of work as Roger did. Lets talk about tennis and drop the excuses.

Posted by phil 11/29/2010 at 04:02 AM

i love on the home page, there is a pic with rafa eyeing the glamorous trophy in the swiss maestro's hands. LOL.

Posted by Back to Reality 11/29/2010 at 04:14 AM

For those inclined to see all roses from here for Federer, need you all be reminded that this is the same Federer who just lost, in the past three weeks to both Murray and Monfils in Paris and Shanghai? The Fed played an inspired tournament. No doubt. But what we know well is that he is less and less able to give these performances week in week out. Moreover, there's no way the Fed wlll hit his BH as well in the elements as he did today. There's nothing, NOTHING, we've seen in his career that suggests otherwise. So, just like Murray. Until I see a pattern of Federer being able to hit that BH with authority as he did against Nadal today, I say, this was a great tournament for him, but no more. And certainly not transformative.

Posted by beng 11/29/2010 at 04:16 AM


Posted by David 11/29/2010 at 04:18 AM

The biggest problem here in this final is that
Tennis fans dont see the best of Rafa due to
poor scheduling of always playing at night.
Then the first match up when the top and bottom
draw finally comes together.

When it comes to Rafa indoors and on a fast surface
you dont expect him to win in straight sets with his
topspin mostly defensive game.

Roger has been lucky in many years of having more than
a days rest in most cases especially in one case when playing an old
Andre Agassi that just finished a 5 setter early in the wee hours and
then having to play a fresh Federer and going down in 4 tight sets.

Organisers should make sure both players are rested well before they go
out to make sure we fans get to see the best tennis possible.

Last time Nadal won a 3 hour encounter in the semifinals
against Moya, Mikael Yousny destroyed Nadal the next day.

Federer played well but Nadal in the second set used up
all his second wind.

Still congrats to Federer for trying to make the best of
his silky smooth ability by using a new coach and making sure Milka
is at home with the kids more often so he can get a good night sleep
and we viewers get some rest from her nervous and depressed camera takes.

Congrats Roger and Nadal you are like Sampras and Agassi all over again.

Posted by Julian 11/29/2010 at 04:57 AM

I agree with the assertion that this match doesn't drastically alter the dynamic of their match up. Sure Federer hit his backhand phenomenally well but ironically when they play on a faster surface Nadal's topspin won't be negated by a low bounce or lack the kick it gets on other surfaces. I think what needs to be remembered is that Federer had time to take the backhand and loop his own topspin with it - the time he wouldn't get on grass or a fast hardcourt, where he would be forced to slice it back. Furthermore as Ivo said, Nadal did have a golden chance to possibly win the match when he had 0-15 on Federer's serve early in the 3rd and missed a makeable backhand - had he won that point he might well have discovered enough energy to close it out before Federer upped his level.

Posted by Mike Romeling 11/29/2010 at 05:38 AM

Good article----oddly there has actually been some seemingly legitimate research showing an edge to athletes or teams that wear red. At the same time, as a club hacker myself, I must admit the ploy has shown a notable lack of assistance to me :>)

Posted by Joe 11/29/2010 at 05:41 AM

Classy article, Steve. On Thanksgiving weekend, time for the tennis world to give thanks for the wonderful gift that Roger and Rafa have given to us.

Posted by ramadan hosny 11/29/2010 at 06:18 AM

i like you federer
goahead and you have time to do it

through the last 3 months you play the best tennis atall

thank you

ramadan hosny

Posted by Ernesr V. Adams Jr. 11/29/2010 at 07:03 AM

So Nadal lost because he's so much more superior...? rhetorical

Posted by GM 11/29/2010 at 07:09 AM

I am truly fed up of people that make such accusations as 'manipulating draws'.

Every time there is a post about both Nadal and Federer, somebody starts the fan war, and then the thread often goes downhill from there. This was a nice, balanced article about both players. Some people are Nadal fans, some are Federer fans, and that is just how it is. Why can't we all just accept that fact and respect each other the way Nadal and Federer do?

Posted by denise 11/29/2010 at 07:13 AM

boojay - THANK YOU!!!!!!!

finally, someone gets it! of course he would have straight setted Verdasco in AO 09. Like all the guys who beat Nadal in AO prior to that - Marcos, Gonzo etc.

Posted by Ernesr V. Adams Jr. 11/29/2010 at 07:18 AM

And David what is this craziness about Nadal not having enough rest... let's be real here if anyone did not get enough rest it should have been Federer due to the fact that he played the later semi-final match... so Nadal got close to 5 hours more rest... after playing first followed by doubles (who cares) and then Roger's match...

Posted by mellow yellow 11/29/2010 at 07:28 AM

another write up with the Nadal was physically and/or emotionally tired crap. Nadal had 5 weeks off prior to WTF. Whereas Fed played and won Stockholm, Basel and had match points in the SF in Paris. Yet Nadal is the one flat at WTF? WTF indeed. If Fed could take out Murray in straights (and Murray won their prior two encounters) how come it took Nadal 3 sets and 3 hours to take him out in the SF?

Posted by Brian 11/29/2010 at 08:08 AM

You can make up what ever excuse you want for Nadal, but the bottom line is this match gives Federer a lot of confidence going into next year. The beat down of both Murray, Djoker and Nadal in this tournament will give Federer the mental edge he needs going into next year. Federer did a lot things right in this match: 3 for 3 on break points, great first serve percentage, and won alomost all the points on his first serve.

Federer wanted this match more and needed it more. The work he has been doing with Annacone has paid off with a 22-2 record since the US Open. If Federers back stays healthy, watch out in the Aussie open.

Posted by KMC 11/29/2010 at 08:19 AM

I am the world's biggest Nadal fan (though I'm sure I have plenty of competition), but have nothing but respect for Federer's brilliant talent and his place in tennis history. Federer outplayed Nadal yesterday, pure and simple. While things didn't turn out the way I would have preferred, congratulations to Roger. What I do not understand, no matter whose camp you're in, is why we have to tear the other player down. We have been witnessing one of the greatest eras in tennis and both Federer and Nadal have made it so. May they both continue to play and dominate for years to come!

Posted by jerkstore 11/29/2010 at 08:25 AM

Maybe Nadal shouldn't expend so much energy sprinting back to the baseline for after the coin toss - almost as tired a ritual as the Bryan bros chest bump.

Posted by Ivo 11/29/2010 at 08:41 AM

@mellow yellow
another write up with the Nadal was physically and/or emotionally tired crap. Nadal had 5 weeks off prior to WTF. Whereas Fed played and won Stockholm, Basel and had match points in the SF in Paris. Yet Nadal is the one flat at WTF? WTF indeed. If Fed could take out Murray in straights (and Murray won their prior two encounters) how come it took Nadal 3 sets and 3 hours to take him out in the SF?

I would probably not put it in such a language, but the logic of your statement holds. It is always a poor excuse, on the side of the fans, more than the players (Rafa did not hint to anything that many people are hinting to) that fatigue was a major issue.
I've said that before and need to say it again: winning a tournament is a question of aggregation, accumulation. You don't win a tournament in one day, you can only loose it in one day. What happens 5 days before does have an effect on what happens 5 days later - i.e. how fresh you are is a question of who you played before (and whom, of course). Now that both Nadal and Murray pretty much played the same people it only comes down to how rather than whom.
Still, should Federer be in the same position, as I thought he would in this year's USO final when he held matchpoints against Novak, there would be no excuse making for his now only hypthetical loss to Rafael in that final. I mean, as a fan, I felt a bit sorry for Djokovic for his mind wanted but body couldn't play...but it took nothing away for me from Rafa's triumph.
And this can be extrapolated further:
it's no secret now that the long-term success of a tennis player hinges on a few important factors,one of them a very smart scheduling and generally taking good care of your body. Rafa and Fed are in this for the long run, these guys are defining a whole era....and this is a mindset both have. Federer adopted this mindset long time ago...and needs to get credit for that. He didn't try to play any tournament he could have won in his heydays...even during his peak, he took some good time off from tennis. And Rafa, in this year's scheduling has done the same. Dropped Barcelona, dropped Paris. Probably the fact that he didn't overplay on clay allowed him to do what he was able to already 2 years ago - to go all the way at the French, Wimbldon and the U.S.
Here comes the kudos for Rafa's wise decision-making (or is it his uncle?). Likewise, Rafa has changed his style of game..plays much more agressive than he used to...and he said that even himself: he wants to protect his body from long matches.
In sum, you cannot hold one player responsible for having beaten his opponents in an efficient manner and thus is capable of playing with full strength. You have to praise that.
But of course as a tennis fan, and I am one, I wish Rafa would have had more energy for the 3rd set could have been a total classic..the way the guys were hitting the ball at the beginning, that's why I woke up at 3am and watched it until 5am.

Posted by Ivo 11/29/2010 at 08:42 AM

sorry for the mistakes in previous post: I mean how and whom...and to say now that Nadal and Federer (not Nadal and Murray) played almost the same people...etc.

Posted by jb (chocolate FTW!!!) 11/29/2010 at 09:08 AM

David, if you're going to site specific cases to backup your sweeping statements, at least make sure the case backs up your premise.

"especially in one case when playing an old
Andre Agassi that just finished a 5 setter early in the wee hours and
then having to play a fresh Federer and going down in 4 tight sets."

If you're referring to the US open where Agassi and Fed met in the final, Andre and James played their quarter into the evening. After a day of rest (or 2, I forget if they played Wed or Thur) Andre played the first semi on Saturday. (He had requested and gotten it.) He won, and played Fed in the final, after Fed had once again played the second semi.

Rafa played the first semi at the US open this year. He played the first semi her in London.

In Toronto, he played the afternoon quarter, then the afternoon semi against Murray, and lost.

I'm thinking nite matches aren't always his problem.

Posted by Rafael 11/29/2010 at 09:55 AM

I am a huge Federer Fan, and might sound biased by what I will say next. I watched the entire match live, and soon recognized a heavy purpose on Federer for trying (and performing) something aggressively different this time around. When that string of blistering, crosscourt backhands, struck high over his right shoulder some of them, started to hit the lines in impossible angles and force even for the speedy beast Nadal is, We all started to witness and believe that, should Federer keep the recipe going, he was going to be unstoppable that afternoon. He didn't let his fans down.

To me, the second set went Nadal's only because Federer's serve went shaky, allowing Nadal to attack it more. The key to this match was definetely his ultra aggressive play, starting with his serve and the best backhands we have seen him hit in a very, very long time (actually, I can't recall those shots in such a steady pattern before).

Ironically, the match ended with Federer hitting a forehand "a la Nadal", that is, to the deepest possible limit and, big topspin forehand and almost long, only to fall at the last second and touch the line for a winner. Right there resides the perfect picture of that match. Nadal played someone that gave him all he usually feeds to others. He was just unable to handle all the pressure. Maybe Murray can learn a lesson in here. He lost the semis only because he was not brave enough, not aggessive enough in key points, and Nadal made him pay the prize. I suspect Federer saw that match, and made his conclusions.

So, 2010 finishes with Federer winning the big prize, showing newfound armory and leaving all us expecting for the AUSOpen to start. And for Nadal, yes, we was the number one and holder of all those prizes, but I have a feeling that next year things might be very interesting.

Posted by Mary 11/29/2010 at 10:24 AM

Hey , Rafa and Roger are the best as of today. Others will follow. These two show the Tennis World (GRACE, Passion, Sportsmanship) The fans need to be more true to the sport than to any ones post remarks.I wish all the players great wins and great health. Yes Roger is up and running and that will make Rafa happy as they are really FRIENDS .
No bad blogs just good ones .Take care until next match.

Posted by Sher 11/29/2010 at 10:24 AM

Awesome match that as a fan of both players I enjoyed. Thanks for the article, Steve.

Posted by Game Lover 11/29/2010 at 10:29 AM

Well, like everybody pointed out I loved the old man's Federer BH and form!

And no matter what some people say, Rafa looked spent. He historically is by this time of the year and even the commentators were afraid that he's not injured etc. When was the last time you don't see him chasing each ball? (A drop shot comes to mind).

Besides serve will always be a handicap with him being born right handed and playing with his left; it's so easy to tell that the motion is not fluid enough, lacks extension etc His serve is more at a club's level then top pros...

Anyhow congrats to both of them and to Murray for great final two matches of the year!

Posted by Eugene 11/29/2010 at 10:42 AM

Two thoughts about yesteday.

1. Mirka looked stunning yesterday. Was it coincidence ?
2. Nadal served unusually fast yesterday. Usually when I watching Nadal (especially with Joko), I manage to string 2 racquets per match (these two average 15 bounces in average) . Yesterday, I could not finish a single one.
Was it a coincidence ?

Posted by Ivo 11/29/2010 at 10:46 AM

Eugene: agreed, Mirka did look good last night. But so did Rafa's girlfriend:).
I didn't realize the pace of serving but you might be right that the speed was faster than usual - they managed to finish the match within 1.40 minutes or so. As for the speed of serving, I don't know how the players deal with this but i get sooo annoyed as someone who watches this on TV. This is particularly true about Novak - who's game I otherwise enjoy.

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