Since the scheduling at the US Open is rather strange and there won’t be a day off between the semi-finals and finals, and a Fedal final seems quite likely now, I thought I’d do a hypothetical preview now on a day where there isn’t any tennis that I’m interested in. Yesterday Youzhny beat Wawrinka in five sets to make his second semi-final at the US Open, while Rafa beat Verdasco in straight sets. I must admit I was pretty disgusted by Verdasco’s performance. He started off well by going up a break in the first set and looked very comfortable out there. Then for no reason he dropped serve and then dropped serve again to gift the first set to Rafa. After that it was all over. I just don’t understand why these Spaniards time and time again roll over for Rafa. Verdasco is now 0-11 against Rafa, and with his abundant talent you would have expected that he would have won at least one match.
Nadal has now had one of the easiest draws in grand slam history. At least he won’t face another Spaniard in the next round. Youzhny is actually a very talented player, all be it slightly mentally unstable. Depending on what kind of mood he is in, he could potentially be a threat to Rafa. Remember Rafa has never been past the semi-final stage here, but neither has Youzhny. I don’t know if Youzhny can win by I certainly think he will actually try to win unlike Lopez and Verdasco. The schedule is out and Roger will play the second semi-final not before 14h45. The final will be the next day at 16h00, so that gives Rafa a slight advantage. But given how little time Roger has spent on court so far and given how fit he is, that is really an insignificant advantage. Maybe if Roger and Djokovic goes to a fifth set tie break then it could have some bearing, but I don’t think that is happening anyway.
I think it will probably be similar to previous years where Roger won pretty comfortably. I just like how Roger is playing at the moment. His serve is difficult to break and everything else is looking pretty good as well. Now lets suppose both Roger and Rafa wins. This isn’t a foregone conclusion, but I think it is the most likely scenario. This is the only reason I am making this post. A Fedal final here at the US Open would have huge significance. There is just no getting around it. It could well be the most important match they have ever played and there will be more on the line than ever before. This rivalry is maybe the biggest rivalry ever in tennis. Just as you think it is over, you find the climax may yet be ahead. The rivalry has escalated over the years to a point where it has become somewhat controversial.
The Federer detractors always bring up the head-to-head situation in the GOAT debate, while the Federer fans maintain that the head-to-head is skewed for many reasons, including the fact that 12 of their 21 meetings have been on clay. They argue that Rafa never was good enough on the faster surfaces to meet Roger on a regular basis, which would have made the head-to-head much more equal. Another reasons they offer is the match up issue, because Rafa is left-handed and his spinning forehand cross court goes above shoulder height to Roger’s one-handed backhand. And finally they also say that the rivalry was very even when Roger was still in his prime. In fact Roger was leading the head-to-head on both hard court and grass in his prime. These are all very good reason and I agree with them all.
Therefor it would only be fair of me to give a lot of significance to a US Open final that would involve Roger and Rafa. Admittedly Roger is not in his prime anymore while Rafa is, but judging by how Roger have performed in the last month I would have to say he is pretty close to his best. He showed at the Australian Open this year that he can still play very close to his prime level if not at it, and I believe he is doing the same again here. He had the best results of all players at Toronto and Cincy, and so far in the Open he has looked untouchable. He even beat Soderling in straight sets who he lost to at the French Open. Then of course this is the US Open which is probably Roger’s best surface as far as slams are concerned. He has been untouchable on these courts for the last seven years, bar last year’s slip up in the final where a lapse in concentration in the second set cost him the title.
This is well and truly Roger’s turf. Rafa on the other hand has never been past the semi-final stages here. It is definitely his worst surface as far as grand slams are concerned. The biggest obstacle for Rafa at the US Open is not necessarily the surface speed, but the type of ball they use and the height of the bounce. Unlike all the other grand slam surfaces, the ball comes through much lower at the US Open. Finally, this also makes up for the match up issue. This is the one surface where Rafa’s spinning forehands can’t prove to be such a problem for Roger, because it won’t come above shoulder height on his backhand. It will come through at a comfortable height and thus cause him to be less on the defense and make less unforced errors. These days even Wimbledon has a high bouncing surface, which is why the match up issue is also a problem for Roger there.
So now we have eliminated all the reasons why Roger should have problems beating Rafa. But there is one I have left out, and that is the mental issue. The old demons from the past is never easy to shake. All the close losses Roger has had to Rafa and all the reasons Rafa has an advantage over him has left a mental scar. This is the only possible reason Federer fans could be fearful of a Fedal final, because I have eliminated the other issues already. So far Rafa has beaten Roger in every slam final, starting with the French Open, then Wimbledon, and finally the Australian Open. He has kept improving his game like a man on a mission and he has even added a bigger serve to his arsenal to improve his chances in New York. So if history is anything to go by, then Rafa will once again break Roger’s heart and take down the only refuge he still has in terms of grand slams.
Make no mistake about it, if this match is to happen it will be huge. If Rafa should beat Roger then all the excuses Federer fans have used over the years for the negative head-to-head will basically come apart. Rafa’s domination of Roger will then be basically undeniable, and it won’t help his GOAT status one bit. It will be hard to deny the detractors should this happen. However, should Roger win, he will shut the detractors up once and for all. He will have struck a decisive blow to the critics who always bring up the head-to-head issue. Clearly, a Fedal final would be a huge opportunity for Roger. So huge that it has me all excited, even though such a final is not a done deal yet. We Fedfanatics all know how annoying it is that the critics keep bringing up this head-to-head with Nadal issue, and we would like it to end once and for all.
If Roger beats Rafa in the final, all the counter arguments we’ve brought up over the years would turn out to be true, and no one could ever deny it again. It would prove that the head-to-head has been skewed due to the fact that Rafa didn’t make the US Open final more often, and it would once again put Roger ahead in head-to-head meetings both on grass and hard court. The critics have no argument in this case because no one can expect Roger to be the GOAT on all surfaces. Also, Roger would have 17 slams in the bag, while Rafa would still b on 8. It would make it practically impossible for Rafa to ever threaten Roger as a GOAT contender, whereas if he wins he will be within 7 slams of Roger and he will have the head-to-head argument in his favor as well. Rafa would then have a realistic chance of becoming the GOAT.
I don’t know if this rivalry will ever end as long as these two guys play, but this could well be the pivotal moment if it is to happen. Roger has a chance to exorcise all the demons from the past right here, in conditions which couldn’t favor him any better, and thereby strike a decisive blow which would once and for all make him the GOAT. I hope he makes use of it.
Or… Roger and/or Rafa will lose before the final and I would have wasted 2 hours of my life