Sunday, June 08, 2008

6-1, 6-3, 6-0: The scoreline heard 'round the world

I think I can speak for all tennis fans when I say, "What the heck was that?" And I think by now, we all know what "that" is. "That" would be the very public flogging Roger Federer took from one Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. I don't think a world number one and multiple major champion has ever taken a whipping like that in a Grand Slam final. Even for those who noticed Nadal's bare-knuckled efficiency over the last two weeks, his dismissal of Fed was pretty shocking. It's hard to tell whether it was Nadal's level or Federer's level, if you want to call it that. Watching him today was like watching Superman's alter-ego, Bizarro, with a tennis racket. Again, Fed completely abandoned everything that could have worked for him, had he given it time (the serve and volley, the aggressive forehands) and settled for hitting awkward shots from the baseline. Federer's loss is perplexing, but I have a thought. Now, I normally don't go into mind-reading, but here's what I see when Federer shows up to Roland Garros. Here's a guy whose legacy depends on winning the one major that's eluded him. He comes to Paris very business-like, and with a lot of self-imposed pressure. I think he considers the French Open a chore. The other majors -- he knows those, he's won those. Not that he's bad on clay. He's not natural, and he is not confident there. Why is it that on any other surface, Federer knows how to attack the weaknesses of his opponent, but at the French Open, he doesn't seem to be able to pinpoint Nadal's trouble spots? Maybe if he'd start viewing the French like the other majors, not like an impossible dream, he could perform better.
Oh-ho-kay! That's the end of my Dr. Freud imitation. Now on to Nadal. Well, when I made my French Open picks two weeks ago, I thought Nadal would win, but with a caveat -- that it would be the last time. I was thinking of the improvement of Federer and Novak Djokovic on clay. I was also thinking that Nadal never losing at Roland Garros can't last forever and the pressure has to begin to weigh on him. I'm going to go ahead and take that back now. Clearly he's at home on clay, and at his dominant best. This tournament is his for as long as he wants it. He is oblivious to any pressure at the French. Think about this: Nadal has never, in four years, lost a match at Roland Garros. Ever, people. That's 28 matches, and has to be a record. (Anyone who knows of an equal feat, I'd love to hear it.)
This, for me, begs the question: Could Federer dominate Nadal on grass the way Nadal did him today? I think the answer is no, which will make for an interesting Wimbledon tournament. Win or lose, Nadal plays every match -- on every surface -- with intensity and a desire to win. I think he believes in his chances at Wimbledon more than Fed at the French. And if Federer draws Djokovic in the semis at Wimby, Nadal could be in a good position to win Wimbledon. As I said, the U.S. Open is a different story completely. As slow as Nadal started the year, he has shown he's back in gear, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him in a championship match at the All-England Club. He's got a better chance than Federer right now.
So, help me out, people. What is Federer's problem? Yeah, yeah, the mono. You know, I'm not sure I believe Fed ever had mono. This is very "conspiracy theory," but it's just strange that after he starts the year in a funk, there's a disease as a handy excuse. Plus, isn't mono the "kissing disease"? Has he been kissing someone beside Mirka? I guess that's beside the point. He says he's fully recovered from it, but is he? What do you think?


Mashimaro said...

Hi Naf, Thanks for the welcome from the other post. I visit your blog as often as I can.

Today is very sad day for Fed fans and most are trying to figure what happened. But who really knows.

Naf, I believe Mono is real. Someone with Roger's stature and pride wouldn't make up story like that. He did look ill at AO. In the beginning of this year, he mentioned in an interview that he wasn't training. That was way before he announced that he had mono.

Toni Nadal said Roger could be having mental block. It certainly made sense; it goes perfectly along with your comment here.

"""Fed completely abandoned everything that could have worked for him, had he given it time (the serve and volley, the aggressive forehands) and settled for hitting awkward shots from the baseline."""

I really think Fed's usually high confidence has been shaken tremendously. May be from 4 years of constant pressure; he wants to get career slam and break Pete’s record so eagerly; it stems from his sickness; or more players are challenging him now. I say it is combination of all these things and some other reasons I don’t know.

Had he found his confidence back, I believe he could win some more GSs. He is not playing that poorly. It is his mind making tricks on him. Hope Roger rediscovers his mojo back. Whoever took it, please return it back to the owner.

Naf said...

I don't know, Mashimaro. I've gotten a little more feedback on my Fed theory. Most of it's similar to yours, and I guess I find it hard to believe Fed would make that up, but I thought the timing of the mono announcement was weird. His French performance confused me, too, as do all his clay performances against Nadal, because he seems to think he can slug with Nadal from the baseline. Why choose to hit awkward backhands when you can take your chances at net? You'll miss some, but see if Nadal likes that pressure. If you volley well, your opponent can't do much from the baseline.
As far as the pressure factor, I agree there, too. The timing of this apparent brain freeze is interesting -- on the edge of making history with one more Slam. I still think he's got a strong shot at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, if he can keep his head. I still shake my head over him losing to Mardy Fish. I hope he rebounds and at least makes it more interesting at the top.
Thanks again for shooting the breeze with me!

Ignacio said...

Finals at Chenai, semifinals at the Australian Open, semifinals at Indian Wells, finals at Miami? Is that a slow start for Nadal??? I don't think so.

Naf said...

Don't forget the fourth round in Rotterdam, quarters in Dubai and no titles before April (none on hard courts). For number 2 in the world, that's a slow start.
Not to say he hasn't more than rebounded since. Thanks for stopping in, Ignacio!