Federer and Lopez Claim Titles in Halle and Queens

Last week two 35-year olds won the ATP 500 titles in Halle and Queens and showed once again that the age for men to play their best tennis is getting older and older. Federer easily disposed of A. Zverev 6-3, 6-1 to win his 9th Halle title while Lopez defeated Cilic 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(8) to win his 6th career title.

Lopez also made the final of Stuttgart the previous week so he is on a strong run and has one of the best grass court games around. With his big serve and very solid volleys, he will be someone to watch out for at Wimbledon. Federer lost his first match in Stuttgart and then same as he did after losing to Donskoy in Dubai he won the next tournament he played.

This was Federer’s 92nd overall title and 4th title of the year. The way he disposed of Zverev in the final was particularly impressive. I think he wanted to send a little message after losing to Zverev in the Halle semis last year. Zverev had no chance at all and Federer was superb.

After watching Nadal dominate clay with his endless baseline grinding it was refreshing to see Federer play a masterclass of offensive tennis. Federer is the overwhelming favorite to win Wimbledon. Even if he lost to Zverev he would have been the favorite but now he looks especially lethal.

Peak Djokovic is the only player who can stop this Federer from winning an 8th Wimbledon title and Djokovic is pretty far from that right now. Speaking of Djokovic, he is playing in Eastbourne this week to get some matches and Agassi will also be with him at Wimbledon for as long as Djokovic needs him.

You can never write any of the big three off. Like we saw with Federer and Nadal this year they can come back to their best when you least expect it. That said, I don’t have any expectations for Djokovic. It’s now a similar situation as with Nadal at the French Open. The only guy with a legitimate shot at beating Federer would be peak Djokovic but it is a far safer bet to go with the guy who has been winning the most this year.

Federer almost won Wimbledon last year when he was struggling badly. This year he is in far better shape so he must be the overwhelming favorite. Federer has always owned Murray in big matches and Federer has turned his head-to-head around with Nadal. Nadal has also not been past the fourth round at Wimbledon since 2011.

Tomorrow Djokovic plays his first match in Eastbourne against Pospisil. His draw in Eastbourne looks pretty decent but he will already be tested in his first match. There is no telling what will happen in his current form. But he is still in the top 5 and in the run to pass Federer for consecutive weeks in the top 5 so it would help if he can win some matches.

It doesn’t look like Djokovic is currently in any danger of leaving the top 5 but a deep run at Wimbledon will help him and for that, a decent week in Eastbourne will help too. Federer was in the top 5 for 548 weeks before he fell out and Djokovic is currently in 3rd place at 525 weeks.

  • Highlights

How Does Nadal’s 10th French Open Title Affect the GOAT Debate?

Now that a big three member won a grand slam title again we can once again look at how it affected the GOAT debate. Just to be clear, I don’t believe a GOAT can be determined. There are too many variables and intricacies. But just because it can’t be determined it doesn’t mean there isn’t one, so it is worth discussing. And besides, it’s interesting and fun.

First of all, a 10th French Open title is an unbelievable achievement and will be the most difficult record to beat of all the records. That said, 10 is not very different from 9, and it didn’t tell us much about Nadal that we didn’t already know.

In fact, it made Nadal’s already unbalanced resume even more skewed toward clay. Nadal is not merely a clay court specialist. He is actually the only player in history that has won more than one slam on each surface, a fact that only very recently occurred to me.

But as far as a 10th French open title goes it only raises the ratio of clay court slams to other slams and clay court titles to other titles. With a 10th French Open title, Nadal has now won exactly two-thirds of his slams on clay(10/15). That is 67%.

Some other stats:

1- More than 72% of career titles won on clay.
2- More than 73% of Masters 1000 titles won on clay
3- Failure at retaining any title outside of clay

4- Unimpressive head-to-head records outside of clay :

– Djokovic: 9-19
– Davydenko: 1-6
– Federer: 10-12
– Hewitt: 2-4
– Brown: 0-2
– Coric: 1-2
– Ferrer: 5-5
– Ljubicic: 2-2
– Gonzalez: 3-3
– Monaco: 1-1
– Del Potro: 6-5
– Blake: 4-3
– Soderling: 2-1

Other than that Nadal spent 141 weeks at #1(7th all-time) and won 0 World Tour Finals titles because he invests so much energy into the clay court season that he is always a spent force post-US Open. He is also a lousy indoor player compared to other all-time greats with only one indoor title.

The reason he spent so many fewer weeks at number one than Federer(302) and Djokovic(223) is that he is only an all-time great on clay and therefore can’t dominate outside of clay which is needed to hold the number one position for extended periods of time.

Nadal is clearly one of the all-time greats but as I always insist, balance is of supreme importance when it comes to the resume of a GOAT candidate. Surely, a GOAT candidate must be able to master all conditions and surfaces. That is clearly not the case with Nadal.

Big three surface rankings

Surface/Conditions Federer Djokovic Nadal
Hardcourt(Australian Open + US Open) 10Β (1st) 8Β (2nd) 3Β (3rd)
Grass(Wimbledon) 7Β (1st) 3Β (2nd) 2Β (3rd)
Clay(French Open) 1Β (2nd) 1Β (2nd) 10Β (1st)
Indoor(World Tour Finals) 6Β (1st) 5Β (2nd) 0Β (3rd)
Overall Β (1st) Β (2nd) Β (3rd)

You wouldn’t say he mastered indoor tennis or even grass or hard courts. Indoor tennis is not an actual surface but it doesn’t make it any less significant and it as historically been a very important part of tennis. There used to be a much longer indoor season.

As opposed to Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are the better hard court, grass court, and indoor players. Federer is a better grass court player than Djokovic but Djokovic is a better clay court player than Federer. Indoors and on hard courts they are quite even.

It should be obvious that Federer and Djokovic have far more balanced resumes than Nadal and that their games are also far more complete.

  • Nadal’s Personality

In many ways, Nadal has benefited from modern tennis. The homogenization of surfaces, racquet and string technology, and the lack of indoor events have all tremendously benefited Nadal.

And yet, he complains far more than Federer or Djokovic. If it’s not the fact that there are not enough clay court tournaments(even though there are far more clay court events than grass court events) then it’s the fact that the World Tour Finals are not played on clay(thereby confirming how dependent he is on clay) or the fact that umpires are too tough on him for taking endless times between point, or the fact that the tennis calendar is too crowded, or the fact that he has to play with different balls, or the scheduling.

The list is endless to the point that articles such asΒ Is Rafael Nadal in Danger of Being Labeled a Whiner? has been written. At the French Open this year he threatened umpire Ramos and told him he won’t chair his matches again. He also demanded a ban on umpire Bernardes after getting into a dispute with him.

Nadal portrays a humble persona but his actions often reveal someone who is self-centered and selfish. Federer and Djokovic seem far more altruistic. This is another reason Nadal is not in my top tier of GOAT candidates. You would think he would be grateful for all the changes to tennis that has benefited him but instead, he selfishly whines about conditions.

This is not the characteristic of a GOAT candidate in my view. And neither is his one-dimensional playing style. It amazes me how Nadal can still win a slam at age 31 given that the basis of his game is endless defense and grinding. But I suppose all the time he has taken off due to injury hasn’t hurt.

If Nadal becomes the first player in the open era to win the double career slam I will be forced to reconsider him for my top tier of GOAT candidates but for now, I simply can’t have him in my top tier due to shortcomings in his resume, playing style, and personality as outlined in this post.

What do you think?

Should Nadal be in the top tier of GOAT candidates?

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Nadal Wins Incredible 10th French Open Title

Congrats to Nadal for coming back from a deep slump and a three-year slam drought to defeat Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 today. This has to go down as one of the greatest achievements ever in our sport. Or at the very least the single greatest achievement on clay.

I personally think that the French Open is the most difficult slam to win due to it’s sheer physical and mental demands. Over the years I have seen all-time greats like Agassi, Federer, and Djokovic struggle immensely to finally win their one and only French Open title and when they finally won it it was very emotional and a huge relief.

Other greats like Sampras, Edberg, and Becker could never win the title. It takes enormous mental and physical reserves to win this slam and Nadal has now done it 10 times. And this time he made it look easier than ever except for 2008.

The 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 scoreline today was almost as humiliatingΒ as in 2008 when Nadal destroyed Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the final. 2008 was Nadal’s most dominant run at the French Open but it is pretty crazy that this year was his second most dominant run in Paris.

But that’s what can happen when a player comes back from a long and deep slump. The deeper the valley the higher the peak. It’s a kind of law of nature. Just like Djokovic is currently in a deep valley after the peak of the personal slam. But either way, it was another very impressive clay court season from Nadal and he has finally surpassed Sampras in slam titles.

Nadal doesn’t nearly have the number of weeks at number one as Sampras or the number of World Tour Finals titles but you probably have to put him ahead of Sampras in the GOAT debate now. Nadal also has the career slam which Sampras doesn’t have.

As for the match today, it was all a little too boring and predictable. I said in my last post that Wawrinka had a 1% chance of winning and the scoreline reflected that prediction.

That brings me to another point. Nadal specializes in clay court tennis. He is so good and dominant on the surface that it makes things too predictable. That’s not a criticism of Nadal as a clay courter. He is a phenomenal clay courter but it does raise questions for me about his overall resume and his place in the GOAT debate.

Let’s be honest, we didn’t learn much today that we didn’t already know. Sure, winning 10 titles at a given slam is a milestone and a remarkable achievement but we already knew that Nadal was the clay GOAT. If Nadal had won the Australian Open earlier this year where he was a break up in the fifth set against a player he owned that would have told us something we didn’t already know because it would have given him the double career slam.

But I don’t want to go on about this point too much. Winning a 10th French Open is a remarkable achievement by itself and should be given the credit it deserves. We should also be careful not to fall for hype like Nadal is now the favorite for Wimbledon, the US Open, and to end the year as number one.

This may be Nadal’s final grand slam title. It is already unbelievable that he came back from as deep a slump as he was in to win another grand slam title. Tennis fans are often greedy and don’t appreciate what just happened.

It is quite astonishing what happened so far in tennis this year. Federer winning the Australian Open made little sense and now Nadal won the French Open after coming back from the dead. If anything this is a very hopeful sign for Djokovic who is now in his first serious slump but who is still #4 in the world and who has gone without a slam title for only a year.

Compared to Federer’s and Nadal’s slumps, that is still nothing.