Sunday, May 31, 2009

Federer's Big Chance

Its finally happened, Rafael Nadal has lost a match at the French Open. Nadal never really got going and his forehand was all over the place. Robin Soderling made the most of Nadal's poor form by bringing out his A-game; he maintained a high tempo throughout the match and played some big shots, and never Nadal any breathing room.

This means that a certain Mr. Roger has been presented with a golden opportunity to complete a career grand slam. I'm sure he would prefer beating Nadal in the final, but I don't think he'll be complaining too much.

If he does win the French Open, should Federer then be regarded as the 'best ever'? Or does Nadal's absence as his opponent prevent that from happening?


Ahsan said...

Federer would not have and could not have beaten Rafa in the final. In the book I referenced in the links post, the author talked about a psychologist analyzing Federer's facial features when playing Nadal vs. playing everyone else, and it turns out Federer automatically gets in a worse mood and less confident before he's even stepped on the court. They analyzed his eyes and lips and stuff like that...crazy stuff.

Anyway, on the GOAT question -- fuck yes. One thing that has gone unnoticed in the last five years is that Federer is FAR AND AWAY the second best player on clay courts in the world. Sampras could never have said that. So if Federer wins the French (still not certain by the way, since now there'll be a different type of pressure on him) then I say yes, he has to be considered the best because he would have done it on every surface for a period of about 7 yrs, 5 of which were spent at world number 1.

By the way, this was Rafa's first loss at the French, EVER. That's just a crazy statistic.

bubs said...

With Nadal and Djokovic losing in successive days, Federer just has to win.

The best ever debate will never be settled, but I don't think it should hinge on Federer's record against Nadal. John Mcenroe psychologically shattered Bjorn Bjork to such an extent that he forced him to retire at a very young age. But Mcenroe was an underachiever that there is no doubt who the greater player is.

But if Federer does win the French Open (to do this he will most likely have to beat Roddick, Del Potro and then either Murray or Davedenko in the final, so there's no excuse for him not to), then he might get such a confidence boost that he wins a ton of other slams. And that truly would end the best ever debate.

bubs said...

PS: When I said the best ever debate will never be settled, I meant to say it will not be settled by this French Open.

sidrah said...

wow. i'm still in shock. rafa was definitely not rafa on court today, and it kudos to soderling for taking full advantage. even early on in the match he was pumped on and playing to win. i hear he's a twat in the locker room though, not mr popularity.

roger must take this chance and run with it. the field is pretty much clear from here.

theres been a new twist to the GOAT debate (which has been going on for years, and is always a delight to follow in werthiem's bi-weekly columns) ever since rafa won the australian open early this year. people were questioning whether HE'D complete a career slam before federer, and hence be the GOAT. and why not, with him winning slams, masters series, the olmypics, reaching number one.

i personally think federe will be able to bag the GOAT title atthe end of his career, and winning this french (inshAllah) will only solidify that fact for the naysayers who've always played the roland garros card against him.

roger federer and rod laver. the best tennis can ever offer.

bubs said...

Sidrah: I think the reason Rafa hasn't been factoring in the GOAT debate till recently is that people assumed he would have a very short career, given the amount of physical energy he expends in each game. It would be unfair on do that on the basis of just one match, but I think a lot of people are going to question if Rafa can stay fit enough to play at the highest level for more than a couple more years.

sidrah said...

bubs: his shelf life has always been a bone of contention. but in recent years hes done wonders to lesson the physicality of his game: he's improved the accuracy of his serve, is hitting aces, worked on his drop shot, comes closer to the net instead of permanently affixing himself 5 meters behind the baseline etc.

i personally think he needs to take it easy in the clay court season. playing 5 out of the 7 weeks catches up to you eventually. last year he skipped a few weeks because of tendonitis during clay season, and this year he underperfomed in both the madrid final and today. he needs to work out his clay schedule - i don't believe todays loss is anything but a culmination of physical and mental fatigue that a few extra days in mallorca can't cure.

gosh, so weird to have RG without him..

lala pathan said...

I think he shud be :)

Ahsan said...

Quick question for tennis historians: is this the first time Nadal has failed to win a clay court tournament twice in a row?

bubs said...

Ahsan: In 2004, Rafa missed a lot of the clay court season because of injury. So you have to go back to 2003. He didn't win a single tournament that year and I know he played at least one if the clay events. If you include challenger tournaments then he definitely has lost two in a row. If not, he probably has but I'm not sure. Either way, the guy's record is unbelievable.

And since it makes me sick to praise Rafa without giving equal praise to Fed, Roger has some pretty amazing streaks too: 56 and 36 on hard court and 65 on grass.

But now with Murray and Djokovic also really improving their games, I don't think we'll be seeing the likes of those streaks in the next couple of years.

sidrah said...

heres a random fact. esther vergeer has had a 357 match winning streak in wheelchair tennis. she has, in essence, never lost a wheelchair tennis match since january 2003.

bubs said...

Speaking of disabilities, which player has retired from the most matches? Hint: its not Djokovic.

yaseen ch said...

i think federer will make it 16 this year by winning french,Wimbledon and u.s open in a row.

sidrah said...

please enlighten us, bubs. sharapova for the womens side?

bubs said...

Tommy Haas, the guy who is currently kicking Federer's ass. One more retirement, please?

AKS said...

Bubs, who the hell is it?

Murray? Surely that can't be, but he always does seem to be on the verge of retiring, or dying.

Maybe a heavy hitter like

Or the cheat (allegedly) Davydenko?

AKS said...

Bubs, how the hell did you know that?

I just googled Tommy Haas and the first image that popped up has him lying on the beach with a hot swimsuit model on top.

His fiance not that bad looking either, AND he met her through his 'friend' Kate Hudson.

What a bastard!

bubs said...

Okay, I'm turning this into a French Open open thread. After two sets, my reaction was, "Federer, fuck you". After four, it was, "Federer, fuck yeah!" He didn't necessarily play terribly in the first two sets, he just messed up all the big points. It's quite amazing that he didn't lose a single point in his first six service games.

But the way he was able to step up his game at 3-4, 30-40 in the third was a real treat to watch. Up to that point both players played quite horribly in the third set; Federer was so disheartened and Haas so nervous, the quality really went down.

Despite his being two sets down, I'm now more confident that he's going to win the French. Don't ask me why. I've just got the feeling.

sidrah said...

Oh, tommy haas. the more-american-the-german dood, eh? i remember his ATP blog was particularly boring to read. Not that tennis players should develop careers in literature, but he's was particularly painful. anyone a dmitry tursunov fan?

Faheem Mumtaz said...

I persolany think that fedrer have few chances in this tournament.

zeyd said...

God, you just get the feeling he's going to balls it up. And oh dear, if he does lose, I think he may just commit hari-kari on court with his racket.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Federer fan and would love to see him win it, but the tragedy of a lost opportunity-this opportunity-is just too immense to not manifest.

He's going to balls it up.

AKS said...


I feel the same way man.

del Potro for the title?

Ahsan said...

As I type this, Maria Sharapova finally won her first game in this match. She's now down 6-0 5-1. Good times.

And why so little faith in Federer yaar? Since 2005, Federer is 27-0 at the French Open against people not named Nadal.

bubs said...

Just to remind the naysayers how huge a favourite Federer is, now that Murray is out, he has a 38-1 record against the remaining players. Even when he's been at his worst this year, he hasn't dropped a single set against del Potro.

Sennaz said...

I really hope he gets the 14th slam this time...all the federer-losing-in-the-final is bringing out the Skeptic in me...i have almost stopped believing in him.

zeyd said...

Played much better yesterday against Monfils. Generally maintained his intensity levels for the entire match, which is what he has to do for the next two matches.

So who's next? Personally I think Gonzales will be his toughest opponent. The Chilean has had an excellent tourney so far and if he's playing as well as he can, he can certainly beat Fed.

It's Rogers to lose though...

Ahsan said...


I agree that Gonzales would be his toughest opponent BUT he would face Gonzalez in a final, and I simply don't think he would lose a final against such a player. I think his biggest hurdle is the semi -- that del porto dude, if he gets the serves going, could be a handful.

bubs said...

The games of the three guys left suit Federer perfectly. He loves playing against guys who rely solely on power and have no variety. Even Giles Simon would have been a tougher match-up for Fed than Delpo, Soderling and Gonzalez.

Ahsan said...

Really tough match today. Combination of del Potro playing really well and Federer playing quite shit in the first three sets.

I think we have to accept that Federer is a whole tier down from about 2-3 yrs ago. Not only is he not as good, he's not *nearly* as good. I mean come on: he's lost 6 or 7 sets just to get to the final. When has that ever happened?

bubs said...

Ahsan: Were you able to watch the match in the US? A got a lot of frantic text messages from friends saying NBC was showing it.

Federer is now 27 so its only natural that his powers will start to fade (he's not Aggasi). But I think an even more important factor is the quality of the players on the tour. When Federer was at his peak, Nadal and Novak were just starting out. His competition was Roddick, Hewitt, Baghdadis. The only real trouble he had was with Safin. Guys like Murray and Novak are in a different league.

And we could be seeing the beginning of the end for Nadal's career. He's pulled out of Queens with knee trouble and there are reports he might struggle to be fit for Wimbledon. I bet he'd defend his Wimbledon title even if you amputate his legs but the dude has to cut down his schedule and maybe even change his style if he wants to play for more a couple of years.

On an unrelated note, Federer's career has been really strange, From 1999-2003 he was the mega-talented player who would never live up to his potential. His defeat of Sampras at Wimbledon 2001 aside, the guy did nothing in the slams with lots of first round exits (in 2002 Wimbledon and 2002 and 2003 French). Then from Wimbledon 03 onwards he couldn't lose.
People who have only followed Fed once he got to number 1 find it impossible to believe that he might have mental issues. But he used to be known as the guy who couldn't grind out victories when he wasn't at his best. And if he did lose from a winning position, as he did to Henman at Basel in 2001 (I think), he cried and threw tantrums. This French Open has shown us that he can win when he's playing way below his best. And as he gets older, that may just be more important than his natural talent.

Ahsan said...


I definitely agree that getting wins when you're playing at less than your best is truly admirable for all athletes, and doubly so for those in individual sports. And anyone who's even a casual fan (such as myself, because I only really watch the slams) knows Federer's fragile psychological history.

But there's just been something really strange about his form in this tournament. I mean, he's making mistakes that I've never seen him make. I think he could easily lose the final to Soderling on this form. He could of course just as easily win it (based on experience etc).

I also take issue with the whole competition question. I agree that Murray and Djokovic will probably have better careers than Roddick and Hewitt, but those guys weren't chopped liver. Roddick won his first slam at age 21, same as Novak I think, and Murray is older than that and has still yet to win one. Anyway, we're splitting hairs here -- my only point is that from 02-07, it really wouldn't have mattered whether Murray/Novak/Nadal were Federer's primary competition or Hewitt/Roddick/Safin: they would have all been smoked exactly the same way.

bubs said...

I have to disagree about Roddick and Hewitt. They were extremely fortunate to get their wins when men's tennis was at its weakest in 30 years - the short period when Sampras was at the end and before Fed took off.
Roddick does have the raw talent to be, if not great, then at least a multiple grand slam winner. But he may the most brainless player to ever win a slam. Only Goran Ivanisivec could challenge him for stupid decisions made while on court.

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