Australian Open 2011: Early Discussions

It has been a while since my last post. Sometimes I don’t know how anxious you guys are to read posts in the off season. But after a few of my readers asked for a post I felt like I couldn’t let you down. Still enjoying Roger’s Masters Cup performance? I am! It really was amazing how he swept aside the numbers 7, 5, 4, 3, and 1 in the world, and dropping only one set in the process. It doesn’t come much more dominant than that. This was the Roger of old. We saw this Roger earlier in the year at the Australian Open as well. Other than that we saw only glimpses of him during the year. This was of course due to the fact that he got lung infection after a trip to Ethiopia for his foundation. Since then it was all an uphill struggle to get back to the Australian Open form. At times we fans wondered if Roger would ever regain that form again.

It was tough times for Fedfanatics. It reminded me of the beginning of the 2009 season. That was some depressing times as a Fedfanatic, and after the Australian Open this year it was a similar situation. Seeing Roger lose to all kinds of players who he hardly ever loses to, and seeing his grand slam semi-final streak broken, were some pretty big lows. But thankfully when Roger hit the hard courts of North America, things started turning around. Roger has always been very much at home on hard courts. He has already won 9 slams on it after all. And this year he won his 5th Masters Cup on it as well. It was quite an epic hard court stint since Toronto. Lets face it. Even though he lost before the final of the US Open for the first time in 6 years, he still compiled an impressive 35-4 win/loss record, won 4 titles, and completely dominated proceedings at the MC.

It was epic to watch how he overcame his confidence crises. He got a new coach on board and with every event he played he gained a little confidence. I kept building it up in my blog that the MC was going to be the climax where Roger will have a chance to turn his season around. Yet when Paris came around and he lost to Monfils, squandering 5 match points in the process, I didn’t hold out much hope that it was going to happen. But like a perfectly timed plot, Roger murdered the opposition at the MC to end yet another terrific year in style. By winning the MC he ensured that 2010 topped the 2008 season. In 2008 Roger did better in the slams, winning one, making two finals, and one semi-final. But he only won 4 titles, including the US Open(2000), Basel(500), Halle(250), and Estoril(250).

This year he won the Australian Open(2000), Masters Cup(1500), Toronto(1000), Basel(500), and Stockholm(250). Surely 2010 was a better year, even though Roger fared worse in the slams, winning one, making a semi-final, and two quarter finals. Sure the slams carry a lot of weight, but in 2008 Roger didn’t even pass the group stage of the MC. Take your pick, but I’m gonna go for 2010 as the better season. Now, to come back to the actual topic of this post, the Australian Open of 2011. I can’t help but feel like this event will carry significant importance. Tennis is all about Federer and Nadal, and this will be the case in Oz again next year. Nadal has won the last 3 slams, a significant feat. At age 24 he is beginning to enter the GOAT discussion already. Anyone who says he is already the GOAT is of course mentally impaired, but there is now a chance that he could become it.

If he wins in Australia he will have done something Roger have never done, which is to win four slams in a row. The Rafa slam if you will. That could be a significant turning point in the GOAT debate, because even though Nadal would still be at least 6 slams short of Roger’s mark, he will probably go on to win 5 slams in a row since the French Open is basically a lock for him. And again at Wimbledon he will have a great chance to make it 6 in a row. The most slams that Roger has won in a row is 3, which means Nadal could double that mark then. And of course if he goes that far, he will have a chance to win the calender slam. I know this is looking far forward, but it is not out of the question and therefor worth looking at. It will of course be extremely hard for Nadal to win the calender slam.

It will be hard enough for him to win the Australian Open. Having said that, he is the favorite according to the bookies at this point. He will be hard to stop. The only guys who I feel has got a chance to stop him is Roger and possibly Murray. Murray has beaten Nadal twice at hard court slams before, but he is so inconsistent at slams that it is a pretty small possibility. He has to end up in Nadal’s half of the draw as well. If Djokovic ends in Nadal’s half of the draw I don’t give him much of a chance, first of all because he never seems to beat Nadal at slams, and second because of the heat Down Under. Unless Nadal gets upset or an injury, it will probably come down to Roger to stop him again. It may well be another Fedal final, and this time Roger will have a chance to avenge that 2009 loss. The other thing that may come into play is the fact that Nadal is now the favorite.

SEXY COUPLE: RAFA AND ROGER Pictures, Images and Photos

He doesn’t usually like being the favorite. He likes to be the underdog and come from under the radar to win the thing, accept at Roland Garros of course. You’d have to say he handled the pressure at the US Open pretty well this year though. He may be getting used to being the favorite. The thing with Nadal is that he can adapt to pretty much anything. He is always evolving, so to put any kind if limit on him is unwise. I have learned that the best way to deal with him is to assume that he can do just about anything. That way you’ll be less disappointed when he wins. Also, Nadal probably likes to prove people wrong, so if you say he cannot do something you just make him more determined. So yes, I think he can win D0wn Under next year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t win it either.

It has been a very long time since someone has won 4 slams in a row. It is not easy to achieve these kind of things. There is a reason they have been achieved on so few occasions. Call it a mental barrier. Roger had two chances to win 6 slams in a row at a specific slam(US Open and Wimbledon), but on both occasions came up just short. I don’t know if it has ever been done, but certainly not in the open era. The same thing happened with Nadal at the French Open. Bjorn Borg also won 4 titles in a row there, and when Nadal attempted to better that with a 5th consecutive title in 2009, he faltered. Incidentally it was also Borg who set the record of 5consecutive slams by winning Wimbledon 5 times in a row, and Roger faltered to improve on this when he lost in the 2008 final to Nadal in a very close match.

These records are there for a reason. They are very tough to improve upon. The only man who won 4 slams in a row in the open era as far as I know was Rod Laver, when he won the calender slam. But he did it in the second year(1969) of the open era, which means the competition wasn’t nearly as stiff as today, and three of the slams was played on grass still. Winning 4 slams in a row is just a different animal today. If Nadal does it it would be an amazing achievement to be sure. But he would have to go where no man in a recent era has gone before. This, coupled with the fact that he doesn’t necessarily like being the favorite, may work against him. He certainly isn’t a lock for the the title by any means. He could possibly be upset in an earlier round, or Murray could take him out again.

And then there is of course the Federer factor. If Roger didn’t put in the performance he did at the MC, I wouldn’t have had much hope for him. But that performance surely had to give him a huge amount of confidence. The fact that he can dispose of the top 5 players in the world in that fashion must make him at least joint favorite to defend his title in Oz next year. What the bookies say isn’t all important. Didn’t the bookies make Murray the favorite two years ago when he lost to Verdasco? Also it is good if Nadal is the favorite because he doesn’t feel comfortable with that title. If it is another Fedal final then you can be sure Nadal will be the favorite of just about everyone again, given that he apparently ‘owns’ Roger after the Wimbledon 2008 and Oz 2009 finals. But Roger showed in the MC finals that Nadal doesn’t own him at all.

That is just media trash talk. OK so it was indoors and it wasn’t a slam, but it was the ideal way to send Nadal a message going into Oz next year. Roger have after all won that event 4 times and is the defending champ. The 2009 final was a big disappointment, but we know that Roger’s back was not 100% back then, which may have been the reason why he served such a low first serve percentage. That basically cost him the match. People who says there can be only one outcome in a Fedal final are doing so at their own peril. Believe me, Roger will want to set the record straight after what happened in 2009. He will be very determined to get a much needed slam win over Nadal as well. As long as Nadal does not win in Australia I will be pretty happy. That way his chances to win 4 consecutive slams and the calender slam will be spoiled.

But the chances are pretty good that Roger will have to stop him from doing so anyway, in which case he will have his 17th slam in the bag. That would go a long way towards settling the GOAT discussion as well. Nadal would still be 8 slams short of Roger and the h2h between them would now be positive in Roger’s favor both in slams and outside of it(off of clay). OK I think I have said enough for now. Let me know what you think. The floor is yours.

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125 Comments

  1. I tot Borg won Wimbledon 5 in a row and Roger match it? I am feeling positive about Roger’s chance at Oz 2011. Afteral he is sort of 5 titles specialist, no? Off-season is really longggggg. Can’ wait for Oz to start.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thats right. It was obviously a mistake. Gonna fix it now.

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  2. Ruan, I have to agree with you that Roger’s week at the WTF was going to be a crucial indicator; particularly his convincing win over Nadal. A fall at that hurdle and I would have said that Roger’s best was clearly behind him. But now there is every reason to believe more greatness is to come. After the triumph of the WTF wins, a successful defence of his AO title would set a critical benchmark, that would likely deny Nadal the right to contention for the title of GOAT. Also, despite Nadal’s wins at Wimbledon, I still think an in-form and confident Federer is better than Nadal on that surface – 6 titles to 2, and 2 H2H wins out of 3. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, it is apparent that Nadal is able to become ridiculously pumped for the slams, as against for the ‘in-between’ titles. Can anyone beat him in that form? (as he showed at 3 slam finals this year, especially the USO). On his record and manner of victory, I have to doubt it. I predict there will be no trace of the slight loss of power that was perceptible at the WTF when he turns up for Melbourne in January. He will run harder and hit bigger than ever; as you say, what he chooses he is miraculously able to do – as many Spanish sportsmen and women are currently demonstrating.

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    steve Reply:

    I agree that Nadal is magically a different player in the majors–but I think the Nadal of the semis and final in the WTF was essentially in peak form.

    He certainly did not treat the WTF as an “in-between title”: he stated beforehand that he had specifically set his sights on winning it this year, and he clearly skipped Paris in order to make the “special preparations” he needs to achieve his highest level of performance.

    As is customary in tournaments he wants to win, he didn’t start out at his best but somehow gained in power and speed until he became a beast in the semis and final. I think this early deficit in power was more noticeable at WTF than at USO because he was playing top-10 players such as Roddick in the early rounds, instead of lower-ranked journeymen such as Gabashvili and Istomin.

    That he could turn a best-of-three-sets indoor hardcourt match against Murray into a three-hour clay-court style war of attrition indicates that he was playing at his best. He served so well that he was able to neutralize Murray’s great advantage, the return. His forehand was powerful and his defense unbreachable.

    Only Federer’s genius could find a way past the brick wall. Federer played so fast and aggressively that Nadal had no choice but to try to match his pace, and his game imploded in the third set as a result.

    We will just have to see how it works out in the best-of-five-sets matches.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Haha your and Neil are too funny. Great comment btw.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    LOL Neil. Couldnt help laughing at your last comment. I like your comments because they are realistic. Personally i will be surprised if Nadals serve becomes more powerful just for the AO again. That must surely raise suspicion. True he will be very tough to beat. So you dont think the 4 slams in a row will intimidate him? He couldnt win 5 FO titles in a row for example.

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    mel Reply:

    Niel, was that thinly disguised barb at Nadal’s prowess necessary? If you dont have concrete proof of underhanded activities (like doping) that relate specifically to Nadal, it is asinine to implicate his name with other delinquents in Spain.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Hmmm point to be noted Mel. Its dangerous to make accusations because he may after all be completely clean. Its hard to believe, but its possible.

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  3. I hope you have had a nice rest from posting, Ru-an. I know it is very tiring work :-)

    I’m honestly not worried. If Federer wins it he wins it. If Nadal wins it he wins it. So be it, either way.

    Even at FO Nadal likes being the underdog; this year he said something like “I was the favorite last year and look what happened.” This is ridiculous; if he wants to not be the favorite at FO anymore, the answer is very easy: stop winning so much.

    I don’t think Murray will go very far at AO. Since making it to the final of USO in ’08 he has always lost early in New York. When he was favored at AO in 2009 he lost to Verdasco. He doesn’t do well with pressure either.

    I know I keep plugging Cilic, but I do think he is overdue for a breakthrough in the majors and he is a dark horse for AO. The slow hard court seems to give him time to set up for his forehand and his freakish endurance gives him an advantage in the heat and humidity.

    As for Federer, if he’s ready he’ll be in the final. If not, then not. I continue to believe he can reach an even higher level of tennis and no one can fix a deadline by which he will get there. The WTF was a big step forward but it may take some time for him to become comfortable with maintaining a consistently attacking game plan in best-of-five sets. But when he gets there the results will be truly spectacular.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Well I dont think Roger can just dominate indefinitely, therefor i think this will be a crucial tournament. I like your optimism, but Nadal is just 24 and he has time to cqatch up with Roger lets face it. If Nadal wins the AO it will be a big deal, and then he can go on to make it at least 5 slams in a row at the FO.

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  4. Yes if “he” wins AO. he will have done something Roger
    have never done but there are many records of Roger that “he” will never come close to.As Steve have said I don´t care, if he´s ready he´ll win if not the same.
    Thanks Ru-an for posting life it´s so boring in the off season.Love Rog in the pic, he´s soooo nice, pity he isn´t alone.”I want to be the mother of his twins”, may
    be a clon???

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  5. Ruan,

    Great article as usual. My take is Rafa clearly was the GOTY (Greatest of the Year) this year.

    Its almost impossible to settle the GOAT debate as nobody knows how the future will pan out and the changes in racquet technology, string technology, fitness equipment, nutritional and diet informational changes have only complicated it. Clearly, Roger is the best player of the last few decades.

    Roger has to continue to use the aggressive return of serve against Nadal apart from serving very well to beat him. Nadal, is like a mosquito who will sit on you until you chase him away aggressively. I am so looking forward to see Roger win again. Like you said every time he wins its a new record these days :-) !

    I would love to see a Fedal final with Roger winning so that his GS finals record against Nadal is only in deficit due to the French Open!
    Go Roger!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Suneer :-)

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  6. Ru-an
    You mentioned Roger winning three majors in a row but he this three times. 2004, 2006, 2007-Wimbledon, USO, AO. Also I think that Roger has a few more majors in him. The way he finished 2010 does give him confidence. He may have let the match slide with Monfils but otherwise he slammed the door on the other wins. I think that 2010 was definitely better than 2008. 2008 had one major but 3-250’s. 2010, he hit for the cycle, a 2000, 1500, 1000, 500 and 250. I think that Rafa does like being the hunter rather than the hunted but maybe he is getting used to the latter. ’09 AO-Roger had it in hand, but that was the year he started out kind of letting things go in the last set. So if he is confidence and closes out his games and sets, I think he will win the AO. I am not too worried if he wins in DOHA or Aubu Dabi. He will need some matches to get going in the year. If del Potro gets matches in and plays well AND gets in Rafa’s half of the draw then he could cause some trouble. Rafa may not know what to look for since del Potro is just coming back. I also think it would be better to have Novak in Roger’s half. But I don’t know if Novak will even make it to the semis. I don’t care if it is a Fed-Nadal final. I hope it is Fed and someone else. People place to much emphasis on this. When Roger was beating Nadal at Wimby Nadal was young and Roger in his prime and Nadal never made it to the finals of the USO and AO. BUt now Roger is still 5 years older than Rafa. People don’t seem to realize that. I am not saying that Fed can’t do some damage but it is not a rivalry when it is 5 years apart.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Agree Sunny accept about Delpo. He wont be a factor so early. If he wins a match it will an achievement for him, never mind threatening Nadal.

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  7. Nadal has all the chances to win AO2011 – he is in top form, he is very confident and everybody is afraid of him. He is the clear favorite.
    As for Federer, looking back to 2010, there are two issues that come up. The 1st one is the hunger. After the AO2010 he seemed to have lost it. His body language during the spring showed lack of interest. He dealt with it, got the wake up call in Wimbledon and hired a new coach. It looks good.
    The other issue is his game which is clearly still there (Cincinnati, Shanghai, USO…) but the consistency is gone. He could play amazing in the first set only to lose the next, or he could go through easily to the semis and disappear for whole games or sets in the last match. You knew that he’s going to be broken at least once a match. I think his main goal for the coming season is getting back that consistency. Win those match-points. The WTF was a step in the right direction. The next step should be at the AO2011.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Ah the consistency issue. Well one thing you can say for sure is that Roger has consistently improved since Toronto. I mean he has been playing pretty well from then onwards. A 35-4 record is pretty consistent if you ask me. And at the MC he peaked. It was crucial that he peaked as well, to show everyone that he was still capable of being Jesusfed. Does this mean he will now go downhill from here again? I dont think so. Like you said i think he wants to work at his consistency again. I think he will probably come out hot in 2011 as well. He is riding a wave of confidence now and he has got to ride it as long as he can. He doesnt need to do well in Abu Dhabi and Doha like you said, but i think he probably will. That way he will have max confidence going into the AO as well. I bet you he thinks like me too. He will have really enjoyed the MC win, but he will already have thought about the AO. He desperately wants to win it, and in the process deny Nadal something he could never achieve. If he does that then i dont even care that much about the rest of the year. Nadal can have the FO and Wimby then for all i care. If he wins the USO and they split majors this year that would be just fine with me. But of course Roger will have a great chance at Wimby as well if he keeps his consistency. He has been a bit unlucky with the illnesses in 2008 and 2010. They both broke his momentum and it took time to get it back. I hope now he can remain healthy. That will be key. If he does that then there is no reason to believe that 2011 cant be another 2 slam year.

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    Jiten Reply:

    Ru-an, how do you see the results of the two forthcoming exhibition matches affect the Fedal rivalry leading up to the AO2011?

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  8. mel, in response to your earlier comment, my observations about Nadal and Spanish sport were not ‘thinly disguised barbs’ – I trust Nadal and Spanish sport as much as I trust the East German successes of the 70’s and 80’s, the feats of Flojo and many American sprinters in the 80’s and 90’s, as well as the out-of-the-blue (and never to be repeated) records set by Chinese runners and swimmers in the 90’s (oh, and Lance Armstrong as well, now under federal investigation) – their ‘seasonal’ brilliance is all a little too good to be true. No, I don’t have ‘concrete proof’, as you put it – if I did then the issue would be beyond debate – but having followed (and participated in)sports like tennis, track and boxing for 4 decades I think I have a pretty good nose for what top athletes should be capable of – physically, that is – and what is probably b/s, possible only with drugs. To me (and quite a few others now, I might add) Nadal’s achievements fall quite easily into the latter category: for too many reasons to go on about here I don’t trust the guy, as I no longer trust many professional sports figures these days (including the Spanish and their new ‘golden age’ of sport). You can differ if you like, but if you wait for concrete proof you may not see anything (as well as completely suspend your own critical faculty.) Flojo never failed a drugs test. Clean? yeah, right.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I have to agree with Neil here. If the testing methods were proper then we would have no right to speculate. But because the testing methods are so questionable it gives us a license to speculate. All the blame should go to the authorities who makes it possible for athletes to dope. Also, for their cover ups. They are doing both the players and the fans a disservice. It is simply unacceptable. I myself competed at a pretty high level of tennis and what guys like Nadal are physically capable of is very questionable indeed. It just seems to good to be true, which raise suspicion. It is also very hard to believe that players will not take advantage of the questionable testing methods. Such is the nature of the greed to win and achieve. There are many players who will take any measures available because of their greed and lust for fame and money.

    I must also add that the reason i dont suspect Roger is because he has always played for the love of the game. He is not motivated by such things ad money and fame. He is simply not the greedy/lusty type, which is why i think it is highly unlikely that he dopes.

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    mel Reply:

    The whole point of my post was that you are taking a subjective analysis of players and applying it when there has to be objective proof of such serious matters. Both Neil and you say that you have played tennis and within your experiences, Nadal’s success seems suspicious, but the top echelons of the sport are far different in terms of physical ability and talent than whatever circles you have played in. The way you subjectively think of players’ abilities has no bearing and should not have a bearing on their objective results. It is necessary that concrete proof be produced before you start insinuations that taint the achievements of any player. It seems utterly juvenile to me to implicate Nadal of doping just because some other Spanish athletes were accused of doing so. In their case, actual proof was found, but in Nadal’s case, there is none, so is pernicious to keep bandying his name with it. And similarly, it is senseless to state based on a purely subjective assessment of Federer that he doesn’t dope because “he is not motivated by money, fame etc.” This assessment is based on the poster’s subjective analysis of Fed, which may vary from fan to fan. No one other than top athletes themselves can know the true motivations that drive them. Fans can come up with their own statements, but in the end it is not based on concrete fact, but on inner likes and dislikes. For example, Agassi- when he played, he was the beloved poster boy of American tennis and no one would have suspected that he hated the game as it later came out in his autobiography. The PR spin (which influences all athletes alike) preserved the image of him as an American tennis icon in love with the sport until the very end of his career. I am sure his fans were defending him saying that no player who could hate the sport would play into his mid thirties as Agassi did. This kind of assessment is all relative and so influenced by one’s own personal biases.
    And it is not a matter of “suspending one’s critical faculties” if one chooses to wait for evidence, rather than airing out petty speculations and insinuations that anyone can indulge in. Anyways, I do agree with Ruan that the testing methods do need to be more transparent so the fans are aware of the process. The whole Agassi confession did damage the reputation of the ITF and the ATP in that they were willing to covertly hide Agassi’s guilt so his image would not be tarnished. But for Nadal, his achievements should be lauded (irrespective of personal bias because what he achieved was extraordinary) until such proof comes along that proves them to be otherwise.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Good post Mel, but i still differ from you on various points. The bottom line is that we as fans are not treated fairly and that the governing bodies are corrupt. This is where the whole problem originates. In fact we as fans should not be arguing amongst each other, because we are the victims, irrespective of which player we follow. The governing bodies likes it when we argue because it takes the focus off of them. Them and only them are to blame. It rots down from the top. Now you have players who are doping and fans who argue. I mean it is just a FACT that the top is corrupt. There is more than ample evidence, from the testing methods to them sending threatening letters to players who dare to speak out on the matter. The only reason i speculate is because of the pathetic testing methods, and that makes you join the argument because you dont like that i speculate about your favorite player. But can you blame me? It is very unlikely that someone like Nadal wont take advantage of the pathetic testing methods. Also, i have always said that it is speculation and that there is no concrete proof. I am entitled to speculate because of the testing methods nothing that you say will change that. If you have a problem with it you should argue with the ITF and ATP, not with me. You see i dont even blame the players. I mean its like the governing bodies tells them its ok to dope. So who wouldnt take advantage? Only the ones with real integrity who plays for the love of the game and nothing else. Now when i say Roger is that kind of person i dont expect you to agree with me. And again i cant be 100% sure. But i have followed Roger for a considerable time and i do happen to think i have a pretty good idea of what kind of a person he is. He is a solid guy, that much is sure. He could have any woman he wants but he married someone not because she is the hottest woman in the world but because he loved her. He has very decent and down to earth parents(role models). Hes main motivation to play tennis has always been for the love of the game. It comes through in his interviews all the time and is just a fact. These types of things make me believe he wouldnt do something to bring his much beloved sport into disrepute. Make of it what you want. As for Nadal, pretty much the opposite is true. There are a million reasons that lead me to believe he plays for money and status. I wont even go into it here. Then of course you have the different physical builds of Roger and Nadal. A guy who is into doping doesnt have a gut like Federer, and neither do they have such a small upper body. I just think anyone with a rational mind would rather suspect Nadal of doping than Federer. Its obvious.

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    mel Reply:

    Again, I totally agree with you that the governing bodies need to be taken to task on how they deal with such sensitive issues about the sport. But it seems to me that you unnecessarily use them as a facade to accuse other players of doping. Just because their methods are not transparent does not automatically render any player a doper. If that were the case, then all the players should be suspected: Federer and Nadal and all the others- not just the ones who have had success like Nadal and irrespective of if they play for the “love of the game.” I am not a fan of either Nadal or Federer, but I think it unnecessarily denigrates what is truly Nadal’s spectacular achievements this year by speculations about him cheating. As I stated before, subjective analysis of players and their statements during their career are not reliable. All players have an agenda and in the case of top athletes, major public relations firms behind them. In Federer’s case, you state that he is a solid guy- he sure seems like it- but I dont see how Federer’s image should reflect negatively on Nadal. By all accounts, Nadal comes off as a humble guy (sometimes too humble to impartial observers) who stays tied to his roots. At the end of the day, no one can know of a player’s true thoughts or actions and even if one does purport to do so, it is based on personal bias.You as a Fed fan see him as a paragon, while a Nadal fan may see Nadal as the greatest thing since sliced bread. What appears on the outside is not necessarily fact (ex. the recent Tiger Woods saga) and so this should not be used to measure a player’s character or his achievements. I can objectively state that both Fed and Nadal are two of the greatest players (based purely on their on court results) but by no means can I definitively say that they are the most upright beings in history- because morality is not quantitative and cannot really be assessed unless you know the person intimately- (which even we rabid tennis fans cannot).
    And finally, Nadal’s physicality does not automatically leave him a suspect for doping. There are a million ways in which substances alter the body- increased muscle mass is not the only sure way of detecting doping. Petr Korda, AO champ who was busted for some sort of anabolic steroid, was one of the slightest guys on tour. Anyways I think this whole discussion is unwarranted- players should not be implicated unnecessarily without evidence. And as an impartial observer, being neither a fan of Nadal or Federer, it seems a little bit like sour grapes from Fed fans to sully Nadal’s achievements with unwarranted speculations based on his success this year. These speculations are the too easy road to take- I should think and hope that tennis fans can respect the integrity and innocence of each and every player until they are proven guilty. To conjecture without knowing the complete facts is just as harmful as wrongly accusing someone- speculations does not excuse one from any responsibility as you seem to imply.

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    steve Reply:

    Sure, you can take at face value that a man can have his chronic degenerative knee tendinitis completely cured by a few injections of blood plasma, and that a player can make a “grip change” and start serving much bigger within a week or so. But if that doesn’t raise at least a few suspicions, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

    Because I believe in the presumption of innocence, I continue to officially state that he’s innocent until proven guilty. But I have to say, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

    They never had any conclusive proof that Lance Armstrong was doping, either.

    Like Nadal, he was a physical beast, and like Nadal he was publicly and vocally opposed to stronger anti-doping measures, and like Nadal the rumors of juicing always followed him no matter how often he was vindicated by the tests. Now we know that he was almost certainly using PEDs.

    Given Nadal’s tendency towards gamesmanship, i.e. the time-wasting, controversial MTOs, the on-court coaching, and his recent antics in the WTF, where he stopped the point, then protested when the point was awarded to Berdych when Berdych’s ball was called good (as is supposed to happen when the other player stops the point), it is completely understandable that someone who so often bends the rules, and asks for them to be stretched in his favor, would engage in doping.

    With Nadal we are required to just swallow more and more outrageous stories the more he wins: that his knee injuries were career-threatening (although he’s never been off the tour for more than a couple months at a time) but now they’re suddenly gone and he’s physically better than ever; that the power of his serve can magically come for the Grand Slams and go for the smaller tournaments; that he’s not engaging in on-court coaching, but just a victim of an uncle who “talks too much” (his words during Wimbledon).

    You just have to swallow tons of stuff that doesn’t accord with the sense of reality.

    It seems that no one is free to draw any conclusions about Nadal without the Nadal camp/fans putting their spin on it–that he’s being mistranslated, misquoted, etc. If they are to be believed, Nadal is the most misunderstood person in the world. That everyone constantly misinterprets what he’s doing for some reason and he’s a victim of the whole world.

    Or you can invoke Occam’s razor and draw the obvious conclusion–that his behavior appears sketchy and illicit because he is, in fact, doing sketchy and illicit things.

    As Ru-an said Nadal is not the root cause of the corruption; he is just taking advantage of a corrupt system. You speak of producing “concrete evidence,” but that’s a ridiculous and empty standard to demand, because no fan is in any position to do a real investigation into doping. Of course, the ATP has no interest in enforcing its anti-doping rules. There is a great financial incentive to cover it up.

    The fans have to take some responsibility for this too. All they want to see is spectacle–people doing ridiculous physical feats, like some kind of circus freakshow. A lot of them just want to see more brute force: athletes hitting harder, running faster, etc. and no questions asked. Like a big-budget action movie: huge explosions, dazzling special effects, etc.

    And if that’s all the fans want, then sports will be riddled with doping, because only through PEDs are such feats possible, and the sports corporations will be more than happy to give the people what they demand. Then sports will become more and more like pro wrestling: mechanized, scripted spectacle, totally meaningless and staged only for the distraction of the masses.

    It seems like you’re interested in defending one particular player and once that is accomplished you are satisfied. But the problem is so much bigger and more systematic than that.

    [Reply]

    mel Reply:

    Steve, it seems to me that you have gotten unnecessarily worked up. As I stated in my previous post, I am neither a Federer or Nadal fan- I am not defending Nadal but rather the idea that if there is no conclusive proof of doping and that if the ATP and ITF are not transparent, then all players must be suspect- not just the successful ones like Nadal. Carping on about Nadal’s annoying habits on court do not necessarily predicate that he is cheating- and when I asked for concrete evidence I did not mean for the ordinary fan to assume the guise of a Hercule Poirot- but instead for reputed journalists or even the players themselves to shed some light on the issue. From your rabid response regarding Nadal’s “physical feats,” it’s become more apparent that you are a sour fan. I understand if Nadal’s style of physically conditioned play does not appeal to you as much as Fed’s balletic style, but that again does not necessarily implicate him in doping. Preferences are highly subjective- you are entitled to your likes, but you have no right to denigrate the fans of Nadal’s style of play and accuse them of being party to systematic doping in tennis. That just smacks of delusional fandom. And if the problem is so systematic as you stated, why do you narrow your focus on Nadal only- because he was the most successful this year and seriously dented Federer’s gap of slam titles? If its systematic, all players are suspect- regardless of balletic styles of play and “love for the game.”I believe that the problem is endemic (as Oliver Rochus stated when he retired this year), but I do not cherry pick which players to suspect based on their playing styles or my personal preferences. To me, all of them are innocent until proven otherwise.
    Outer appearances are not conclusive and trying to link Nadal’s antics on court with a serious issue like doping betrays an inability to be impartial and critically analyze pertinent issues without rose tinted glasses. If indeed Nadal is taking advantage of a corrupt system, then it is to be wondered that no one else on the tour can catch up to him. If the governing bodies are so lax as to allow corruption, then why do not other players bend the rules to succeed? Is Nadal the only one to be seduced by the unparalleled success that this route could entail? The fact that all of the ATP tour could not stop Nadal’s success this year (though they could have through cheating) probably implies that Nadal is a physical paragon. It is only he that can play his brand of tennis- the others cannot replicate that because his talents are most likely genetic rather than substance engendered. If you are going to cry foul over the ATP, then cry foul over all the players not just the one that happened to be the most successful…

    [Reply]

    steve Reply:

    mel: Obviously the most prominent names will be the ones most scrutinized. Since Nadal is world #1 and has won all four majors, it is natural that he garners particular attention.

    No one cares much if say, to pick a name purely at random, Thiemo de Bakker is doping.

    There are plenty of other famous names who might be doping–Murray, for example. Canas was involved in a doping scandal. Samantha Stosur is another possibility.

    Even sources sympathetic to Nadal reveal serious confusion as to the nature of his knee injuries. Either his doctors must be totally incompetent (quite a stretch) or something is not right. And I would like to be allowed to use my brain to draw independent conclusions without being accused of being a “sour fan.”

    If its systematic, all players are suspect

    It’s highly unlikely that they’re all doping. Therefore there must be some who dope, and others who don’t. Hence saying that they are all under suspicion is saying nothing meaningful at all.

    There are certainly players who are more likely than others to be doping: those who have abrupt changes in performance level (consistent with cycling on and off PEDs); those with a history of suspicious injuries; those whose games rely heavily on physical attributes such as power, stamina, or speed; those who have sudden midcareer improvements due to increases in those attributes (a la Barry Bonds). No surprise–Nadal fits into all four of those categories.

    If the governing bodies are so lax as to allow corruption, then why do not other players bend the rules to succeed?

    Is Nadal the only one to be seduced by the unparalleled success that this route could entail?

    Simple–maybe his dope is better than the others’.

    Doping requires professional assistance to prepare the regimen, monitor its effects on the athlete, and hide it from the testers. All this takes money and expertise, things which not every tennis player has access to. Wayne Odesnik is an example of a player who clearly doesn’t know how to dope. But just because he doesn’t, doesn’t mean that no one else does.

    This is why Neil’s comments become pertinent: it is clear that the Spanish athletics has very advanced and systematic doping programs.

    As I said one of Nadal’s uncles is a famous Spanish footballer, and Spanish football has been implicated in past doping scandals (Operacion Puerto). So Nadal certainly has the contacts to have access to the program. Is he in the program? That we don’t know.

    You also claim that his performance can be completely explained by genetics rather than drugs, as if it had to be either one or the other.

    Those two factors are not mutually exclusive: it’s possible that he has certain natural attributes which make him especially suited to enhancement via drugs.

    One theory goes like this: PEDs turned a very good clay-courter into an unstoppable winning machine who could succeed even on hard courts.

    Certainly his mental tenacity is crucial to his game. Mentally, he is a machine; he doesn’t get bored or lose concentration even after hours of doing the same thing.

    What drugs would do for someone like that is make it physically possible for his body to carry out what his mind is already suited to do–be a machine that can mechanically repeat certain actions over and over, without breaking down physically.

    Murray may be an example of an imperfect robot; he makes mistakes. Stosur too (even after defeating Henin and Serena Williams in the French Open, an unbelievable feat, she faltered in the final). But Nadal may be that one-in-a-billion who has that necessary combination of mental attributes to be a fully successful machine, once his body is provided with the right “support.”

    And once it’s shown that a doper can rise to the very top of the sport, what message is sent to the young players? What kind of sport is that, where the determining factor in success is how good your drugs are? Sports where success is all about deceiving the authorities, and then putting on a virtuous face for the audience.

    A decade or so of that kind of mentality among the players, and tennis will be in a sorry state, a joke, like cycling is now.

    Maybe I’m reading you wrong, but I’m getting a sense from all your comments that you simply don’t want to hear anything about it.

    You’re not going to get anywhere waiting for tennis officials or players to say anything. They’re only going to give you the party line. There’s a lot of money riding on their staying silent.

    You might have to risk forming your own opinions. You might have to risk being wrong, or thought of as a “sour fan.” It’s not easy relying on your own judgment.

    I have taken a risk: because of my holding these opinions, I may be doomed to being forever thought as a paranoid, bitter fan. But I’m willing to take that risk, because I enjoy the sport and I see it taking a turn that’s not good for it.

    [Reply]

    mel Reply:

    What made you single out the players you named in your post as suspects for doping? Murray, Stosur? What are the pre- existing conditions that render them suspicious? And when I said that all players are suspect, I did not mean that they were all doping, but that they have had the opportunities to do so or sought out those opportunities. The accused ones would be the ones who took advantage of those opportunities. Your entire premise is based on wild conjecture- you and neil both use Nadal’s coincidental birth in Spain (a country with a well documented history of doping scandals) as some sort of definitive proof that Nadal must be implicated. If doping is endemic and indeed the top players are to be suspected, then Federer’s name should not be ominously exempted from the list.
    And I am pretty sure that your random tirade at Nadal’s style of play and that admiration of such a style fuels doping is that of a sour Fed fan. You may not enjoy his style, but there is no way that you can accuse his fans of purportedly allowing cheating in the sport. It has nothing to do with speculation that Nadal may be cheating but everything with your personal dislike of his style.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Steve, what do you think about Connors? How did he manage to stay so long at the top with his grinding game style? Other like Courier, Chang, Hewitt, etc have burned out, but he was the exception. The game wasnt as competitive back then of course and didnt have the same depth as today. Also, players are much more athletic these days. But still its quite a feat that he played into his late 30’s. Do you think he was possibly also doping? I know from what i read that the guy was a complete asshole, so he had the personality for it. But i also think players suffer from mental burnout, not just physical. I dont think doping helps for mental burnout as much as physical burnout.

    [Reply]

    steve Reply:

    I don’t know about Connors, but from what I have heard it seems like he was a player who hit the ball flat and early, not someone who relies heavily on defense, like Hewitt or Chang.

    It’s possible he was doping, but I guess don’t have that much reason to be suspicious of him. It’s not like he was blowing everyone away when he was in his thirties.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Exactly Steve thats what ive been trying to say all along. Its not about Federer or Nadal. That is besides the point. And the faster people realize that the better.

    [Reply]

  9. Hi Ru-an

    I was one of the people who couldn’t stand the silence any longer so thanks for blogging again!
    I agree with you that when you look at players that can beat Nadal at the moment it’s hard to see any apart from maybe Murray if he grows a pair and Roger of course. Maybe a red hot Berdych? Or DJ if his davis cup triumph has pushed him on to greater heights?
    Another person posted with a message and a question about the upcoming XO’s and whether they were likely to make a difference at the AO 2010. I read one article suggesting that Rafa does better against Roger when they play on a regular basis but Roger wins when they have a break before meeting again. So this writer thought that Roger had made a mistake by agreeing to play Rafa so close to AO 2011.
    What do you think? Also- do you think Roger will win at home and Rafa in spain? Will it be a fixed outcome?

    [Reply]

  10. mel, with respect you kind of miss the point. I don’t think Nadal is quite possibly a doper because of the way that I have played the game myself. That would be a pretty limited and foolish comparison. I base my conclusions – or suspicions, if you prefer – on everything that I know about the sport. I have seen enough drug-boosted performances in professional sport over the last 30-40 years to question the validity of quite a few athlete’s performances. I have bothered to inform myself about the drugs they would use, and how they could get away with it. Testing gives me very little confidence and I have none in the willingness of sporting bodies, whose job it is to enforce it, to catch and expose the cheaters. There is every incentive for players to use the stuff – and we know for a fact that some are, although at this stage we may not know who they are. Some, for a whole variety of reasons, look a helluva more likely than others. You think that is ‘subjective’? I would say it is about forming conclusions based on evidence. You may even have to think for yourself rather than rely on others to give you the answers. It may not be the definitive ‘proof’ you require but you seem to be trusting the wrong people, the powers-that-be in tennis, to provide it. They are not going to bust open the sport that feeds them. In the meantime, I watch pro sports like tennis with a growing sense of scepticism and dismay. If Nadal is for real then I don’t know what kind of game Laver, Connors, Borg, Wilander, Lendl, Becker and Sampras were playing.

    [Reply]

    mel Reply:

    What is the evidence you have to prove that certain players are doping? And who knows “for a fact that some are?” Name me some players based on actual factual evidence and not on your knowledge of doping. I am not inclined to take the words of an anonymous poster over a professional doping test. Your supposed knowledge of the intricacies of doping does not override the cold, hard and indisputable fact of a failed drug test. Unless that test surfaces in relation to a certain player, your cynicism regarding the sport is bound to be just that which decreases your enjoyment of the beautiful game even further.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    No Mel, you are missing the point completely. There is NO such thing as a beautiful game. Do you understand that? NONE. Once you understood that we can talk again. Capish?

    [Reply]

    mel Reply:

    Umm… I dont think I am missing the point- tennis is a beautiful game and if your cynicism has blinded you to it, then that’s your problem and frankly your loss. Doping, for sure may be a problem in tennis, but there is no evidence of the fact that it has become so tainted that the game itself is practically a farce. And if it is not a beautiful game, why tune into it and dedicate a blog to one of the most aesthetically pleasing players on the tour? We all might as well brand all the players as cheaters and call it a day. Some of the poster on here need a bit of perspective.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    The answer is very simple. I dont believe the most beautiful player of all time is doping. And if he is, God help us all..

    [Reply]

    mel Reply:

    Yeah..the man is the most beautiful player because he plays beautiful tennis- thus making the game itself beautiful. So why refute that the game itself is not beautiful?

    [Reply]

  11. mel, you certainly shouldn’t take the word of ‘anonymous poster’ – although I have given my name. My whole point is that you should think for yourself, and maybe do a little research. The ‘indisputable fact of a failed drug test’? Marion Jones and Barry Bonds took hundreds of drug tests. Never failed one. They got caught because their names turned up in a supplier’s records. We know for a fact that some players are doping because some of them are being caught (Odesnik) – although none of them so far is a marquee name. (Agassi however revealed in his autobiography that a failed drug test posed no problems for him.) We also have the observations of quite a few tennis professionals (Christoph Rochus, most recently) that they know doping exists in the game. For obvious reasons they don’t name names. However, you ask for evidence about certain players – you mean Nadal. I could go on at considerable length and itemise all the reasons I doubt him, but I don’t think there is space on a blog such as this (which is, after all, mainly about Roger Federer), and I doubt whether anyone here would want to read it. I think that includes you, too, because if you had entertained any doubts about Nadal you would have found plenty out there to fuel them.

    [Reply]

    mel Reply:

    I did not ask you to give me specifics on Nadal’s performances that may prove that he is doping. I want you to give me evidence of other players in tennis who can be accused of doping. The whole premise of my argument is your unfair nitpicking of Nadal, simply because he is from a country with proven doping delinquents. If doping is endemic, then surely other players have been affected by it- not just Nadal who coincidentally happened to be the most successful player on tour and poses a serious threat to Federer’s legacy of most grand slam titles.

    [Reply]

  12. mel, you aren’t reading what I am saying. I am not picking on Nadal ‘simply because he is a from a country with proven doping delinquents’. That is a complete misrepresentation of my comments. I suggest you read a previous topic from Ruan about the subject of doping in tennis and Nadal. There is more than enough in that to give you pause for thought. I am not trying to convince you that Nadal dopes – I am simply telling you that I think he does, and I don’t come to that view idly or casually. You can believe what you want – as it is clear that you do.

    [Reply]

    mel Reply:

    Well, then I don’t see it as an endemic problem if Nadal is the only player that you choose to implicate. Anyways- Touché- we are all entitled to our own opinions…

    [Reply]

  13. Great comment Steve I absolutely agree with all you have said, really I can´t do it because my English is so poor…but in my opinion if this is a Federer blog
    why we are losing so many time speaking about Nadull???
    is not new what ´s happening in Spain, in Ru-an´s previous post I have already said that spanish sportmans aren´t of another planet,and I have just read that World cup´s winners are being investigated,the same with Contador,very sad news of a corrupt world.
    Maybe we can enjoy some beautiful moments of Roger´s career in this off season…if not we are lost in the telling…we all know the world has lost all sense of decency, I saw it as a “losing game” in which defeat seems certain.

    [Reply]

    lyre Reply:

    Hello…We can talk about Nadal because this is a blog which warrants discussion. Just because it is about Federer does not mean that all anyone does on here is rhapsodize about his great achievements. Pertinent issues that relate to Federer’ s legacy like Nadal are obviously important. And labeling him “Nadull” does not really do anything for your post- liking a player also means being open to criticism about him and not being dimensionally blinded by fandom.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Its true Ines, you cant have everything your way. The question is rather, how can we not talk about Nadal in my blog? He is Rogers main rival and tennis is essentially about them. And although i think its possible that Nadal is doping, i cant be sure, and therefor i have no real reason to hate him. I am not his fan, but if he is not doping then you must respect what he does. Sometimes i think you do go a bit far with your hate of him. Is it cos he is Spanish also?

    [Reply]

    ines Reply:

    I´ve never said I hate Nadal,I never said nothing against Nadal,I´m not his fan that´s all, you Ru-an always saying I hate him,I´ve only said we can enjoy
    Roger´s career instead of this neverending discussion about doping …
    I´m hurt, you have tell me “I go a bit far with my hate” and I don´t say a word
    against Nadal.What about others comments,really feeling angry,feeling the censure, please judge by reading my words.

    [Reply]

  14. Good comments from Steve. You bravely took us where some of us were loath to go. But I have to agree, it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to what stares us in the face. By contrast, I watch Federer because he plays some of the most incredible – and, yes, beautiful – tennis I have ever seen, and that’s in forty years of following the game. He also periodically gives me a heart attack – because he’s not perfect. I hope he’s clean but I wouldn’t know for sure. If he wasn’t, I guess that would be about it for me and pro tennis. So far I don’t have adequate reason to think he isn’t. Certain others players – well, that’s quite a different story. Abigail Lorge, one of the editors at Tennis.Com recently wrote an interesting piece called, ‘Tennis in the Doping Age’, in which she suggested the problem is much more widespread than anyone is officially prepared to admit. I have to agree with her. Tennis may still be a ‘beautiful game’ but – if you will pardon the expression – when it comes to doping it’s a long time since ‘she’ was a virgin.

    [Reply]

  15. My idea about all this talk of Nadal doping? Why does this Fedfan site bring up this issue with such repetitive regularity now? Well, for a long time, ‘some’ Fedfans have been up on their chairs, crowing to the world about how Nadal would never do this and never do that. (notice I said ‘some’ of them – not lumping all in a basket here) –

    – he can only play on clay
    – his game is one-dimensional
    – he’ll never win on grass (oops, he did)
    – that was a fluke, he’ll never win Wimby again (oops)
    – he may have won on grass, but he’ll never win a hardcourt slam, especially vs Fed (oops, did that too)
    – he may have won a hardcourt slam on a slo-o-o-o-o-ow surface, but he’ll never win the USO (oops, did that too)
    – he’ll never regain the number one ranking, getting that ranking was just a fluke (hmmmm… who’s numero uno, again?)

    Rafa’s accomplishments are like kicking the legs out from under the chairs these posters are standing on – there’s not much left for these bitter fans to bleat about – oh, I guess ‘he hasn’t won any WTF title and probably never will’ works for now. Whatever. So, imho, these unhappy people turn to the next excuse they can find – how he’s got to be doping then. It helps to explain away any of the fantastic things Rafa has done with his career.
    This is a Federer fan site, to be sure. The man has accomplished great things, truly amazing records. I think it just ‘is killing’ some of his fans here that there’s this other guy who does pretty good too, and gets some of the attention of the media, and grabs a few big wins, some of them at Fed’s expense. Again, whatever.
    The subject of this article was AO: Early Discussions. How did it gravitate towards doping and Nadal, again? Getting that Career Slam so soon after Federer achieved it must have irritated some of the more fanatical, no?

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I think Nadal is good for the game and Roger. It makes it interesting that there is someone who actually has a chance to chase down Roger’s slam titles. And it will make the game interesting for some time to come. What happens after they are both gone? We may have to wait a long time for tennis to be this interesting again. Nadal can also bring out a few more slams in Roger and possibly extend his career, although i think Roger always wanted to play for a long time simply cos he loves the game so much. And as i said in this post, you cant put anything beyond Nadal. What more do you want from a Fedfan site? You want me to start praising him? I wont, because im not his fan and there is a possibility that he could be doping. And in my opinion Roger is less likely do dope. You dont have to agree with that, but i will never change my opinion in that regard. I know it must be hard for Nadal fans when Nadal doesnt get enough credit, but there can be no doubt whatsoever that he is more likely to dope than Roger. If you say otherwise you dont know tennis and neither do you know Fedal. Nadal wants to win at all costs. It is just his personality, so he would be likely to take advantage of the poor testing. His physical build also looks much more like someone who dopes than Roger(see Rogers gut). Finally, his game style is that much harder on the body. It is just incredible that he isnt burning out. So many grinders like him the past burned out. All of them in fact. Courier, Chang, Hewitt, etc. And again, its mostly not his fault. It rots down from the top, and the top should be blamed. My whole point is that we should NOT argue between ourselves about this issue because it takes the attention away from the people who are really responsible. I cant help it when people come on my site and argue about this stuff. I can only tell them why i think its pointless and the rest is up to them.

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    What more do I want from a Fedfan site, ruan? Nothing… I was simply posting my own opinions and answering someone upthread (I think Ines?) about why we’re talking about Nadal instead of Federer. That’s all.

    This site is interesting – lots to absorb. Lots to chuckle about too. By no means am I arguing with you or anyone as to why you have these opinions of yours. I have my own too – entirely opposing beliefs, to be sure, but I respect your right to have your own opinions, ill-founded as they may seem to me.

    I take some umbrage with your comment:
    ‘If you say otherwise you dont know tennis and neither do you know Fedal.’

    You have no idea what I know or don’t know, and this kind of a statement is a bit rude, imho. But whatever, if it gets readers posting and ‘fur’ flying, so be it.

    Cheers!

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    OK let me just explain why i made the comment. To me its just common knowledge that Nadal is more likely to dope than Federer, and most people seem to agree. The only ones who dont agree are the Nadal fans, for obvious reasons. And in case you dont know why Nadal is more likely to dope, let me explain. Actually i already did in my last comment come to think of it. Let me just summarize again:

    1) Their motivation to play tennis is entirely different. Federer plays for the love of the game while NAdal plays for money, titles, fame, etc. This is evident in how Nadal stacked his schedule in the past to go after the huge incentives the events pay them to show up, even at the cost of continually getting injured. Federer never gave in to greed. It was always firstly about scheduling smartly for maximum health so he can play his beloved sport as often as long as possible. The fact that Nadal gives into his greed makes it infinitely more likely that he will be doping.
    2) Nadal plays an extremely physically demanding game while Federer plays with grace and ease.
    3) Federer is a very fair player, while Nadal have been caught cheating.
    4) Nadals physical build resembles someone who could be doping, while this is not the case with Federer.

    These are just a few reasons why Nadal is more likely to dope. I didnt even get into things like the fact that Nadal comes from a country that has been involved in doping scandals, or that Nadal seems to perform in cycles. Its not rocket science, which is why i said you dont know much about tennis or Fedal if you dont see it. Fedal have always been opposites in just about every single aspect of a tennis player and a human being. Therefor you can almost rest assured that they will have opposites stances when it comes to doping.

    Personally i dont even think a Nadal fan is qualified to speak about doping, cos of their heavy bias. Personally i am not biased. It may appear that way to you, but if you pay close attention i only work with facts. The only thing i have EVER said is that Nadal is more likely to dope than Federer, and that is just a fact.

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    Oh, Ruan. You’re funny! You ‘only work with facts’.
    Point 1 – motivation – it’s a ‘fact’ that Nadal gives in to his greed? Sorry that you cannot see this is an opinion. Not a fact. There IS a difference.

    Point 2 – Fed plays with grace and ease. Sure he does. But do you not think he has to work hard too? What does this ‘playing an extremely physically demanding game’ have to do with doping? If anything, it may argue the case that because Federer plays it so easily, he is doping – how come he’s the only one who looks so effortless and easy and flowing out there? Why doesn’t he get tired? PED’s? Now, doesn’t that sound silly all around?

    Point 3 – Can’t argue with you there, although this ‘caught cheating’ doesn’t seem like a huge evil deal to me. A couple of times he’s been warned for coaching, and got fined what, once? I guess, because Rafa’s a bigger name than most, there’s more notice taken, but (to borrow your quote) ‘if you know anything about tennis’, you know many many players and coaches are signalling constantly. Even a dummy like me, who don’t know much about tennis, (LOL) can see the interactions going on with so many pro players and their bench. Which doesn’t make it right, but you get that stuff going on for years with no punishment, human nature dictates that most will do it.

    Point 4 – Someone upthread pointed out that physical build doesn’t always have much to do with suspected doping. That’s another fact. I could remind you to go and take a look at the whole Nadal family, uncles, father, etc, and especially Rafa at age 13, 14, 15, 16, and see what kind of a physical specimen he was then, too. But why bother? Doesn’t matter if most objective onlookers see this 13yr old kid with lots of muscle, speed, and agility, with a body more built for football or rugby than tennis – you have your opinions. Not facts, my dear Ruan. That’s OK though – yes, you are biased, but then, most of us who are fans tend to be biased in favor of our ‘guys’. It’s all good.

    I suggest you look up ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’ in the dictionary and clarify what each term means. You shouldn’t use them interchangeably. It is great reading, though. Thanks for the chuckles!

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    BTW, I do not mean to imply that Federer is doping in my post above. I was just using this ‘effortless, never gets tired’ stuff as an example.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well i dont feel like arguing on my own blog. Thats what the forums are for. If you still dont get that Nadal is more likely to dope then Roger then you are either immensely biased or plain stupid. In my opinion :-)

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    And I respect your opinion. No, I’m not immensely biased. Nor am I plain stupid. But of course you can think what you like. It IS your blog, after all. Cheers!

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Fair enough, i respect your opinion too, but dont agree with it in any way.

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    That’s just fine with me, Ru-an. We can agree to disagree. I just want to keep my comments reasonable here.
    Cheers!

    [Reply]

  16. I wrote a very short comment about Ines saying she´s a very sensitive girl but she should know that´s life.
    It was deleted I don´t know why so i´m going to unsubscribed to your blog.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    But you and Ines have the same IP address. Surely you dont use the same computer, which means you are the same person?

    [Reply]

    ines Reply:

    How can you say that Ruan,I´m not a dishonest girl, may be we can use the same wifi in the tennis club, the only way.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well i dont think using the same wifi makes any difference to your IP address. Im not saying you are a liar, but why would you have the same IP address?

    [Reply]

    ines Reply:

    The only thing I know is that at work al the computers have the same IP because all have the same conection,and the same at the club.If you tell me I write with another name so I´m absolutely mad…and with different sex too? I love Roger but Caroline W. is pretty and hot…who knows? You Ru-an (still my favorite writer) have a high degree of imagination, “cannot imagine why”???

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well im sorry then, but i never saw two people use the same IP address on my blog. That is all. And btw your friend used a different email address that time i didnt confirm her comment. You guys gotta try and use the same email addresses please. Tell your friend there is nothing to be upset about and that she is welcome to come back to my blog.

    [Reply]

  17. Hey guys! Chill out! This is a great blog – Faults and all. Like a great tennis player, Ru-an has given us his best and sometimes his best may not appeal to each and everyone of us. Hey! all of us have our own sensitivites, our own biases, our own opinions. So, you are all right, Ines. I love your sensitivity. You are different from most commentators of this blog but without you, this blog would not be the same. No matter what comments you make, sometimes silly, sometimes making a lot of sense, they always bring a smile to my face coz the way you write is unique. So please stay in this blog ok? Steve, you’re a great writer and so is Mel. Let’s take on the spirit of Christmas, everybody, “peace on earth, goodwill to men”!!!! LOL! You guys, stay cool and stay just the way you are. You all are what MAKES and BREAKS this blog. Joyful Christmas everyone and especially to Ru-an. Great year on the blog, Ru-an!

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Veronica, what would i do without you on this blog? ;-)

    [Reply]

    ines Reply:

    Thanks Veronica you are too nice!!!

    [Reply]

  18. Wow, lots of drama on here today. Thanks for a great write-up as usual, Ru-an. I’m optimistic for 2011 as well but a little concerned that Fed isn’t getting proper rest this off-season after playing so much at the end of the year. Hope he can stay fit thru’ AO, physically as well as mentally.

    A small quibble: you’ve written many times implying the Fed picked up the lung problem in Ethiopia, but my understanding is that he caught it from Mirka as she was sick with the same thing a few weeks earlier. I feel a bit bad for the country of Ethiopia that seems to keep being blamed for the illness.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    OK if that is true then i apologize to Ethiopia. But nonetheless the trip could have played a part. Federer also travelled to the East in 2007 for the Sampras exhos and afterwards got mono.

    [Reply]

  19. Ruan, I have a suggestion. We often look forward to Roger’s achievements but don’t perhaps spend as much time recalling what he has already given us as followers of the game. It would be interesting to hear from you what it is that makes Roger so special to watch, those “Roger” moments that occur in many of his matches, and maybe some comparisons with other great players. I am sure many other contributors would have thoughts on the topic, too.

    [Reply]

    veronica Reply:

    Great idea Neil! What is on every tennis fan’s mind right now is the AO; hence Ru-an appropriately chose to write on this topic. And what passionate responses we have seen so far on this blog! Maybe we should leave the main course (AO) for a while and go on to dessert. And what better and more delicious dessert than “eating up” Rog’s moments. Common, Ru-an, start serving the dessert!

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I am busy with a post at present. I think i have done what you talk about quite a lot already.

    [Reply]

    ines Reply:

    Loving Neil and Veronica suggestion…

    [Reply]

  20. Marron, I will take issue with one particular observation you make above about Nadal, and that is the oft-heard argument that Nadal has been an extraordinary physical specimen from the earliest, hence his astonishing muscularity must be ‘genetic’. Well, I went back to the youtube material people refer to of Nadal in his adolescence, and what did I see? An unremarkable kid with a slow loopy forehand. No pronounced musculature – even for his age. Until about the age of 16 he certainly did not even appear to stand out as an athlete. I have seen local kids with as much muscle at the same age – heck, even I had more as a teenager! But at age 17, in 2004 – his second year on the tour – he metamorphosises into ‘Rafa’, with guns that Schwarzenegger would have been proud of – and this is in a period of about 8 months. Interesting. Nothing I saw supported the mythology that has developed that Nadal was physically some sort of wonderkid. (Sure he was already a pretty good player.) People I know who saw him play when he first arrived on the tour say the same. But he did get awful big awful fast. You can infer what you like from that.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Neil, do you think the possibility that Nadal is doping is better than with Fed?

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    Yes, I can infer what I like. Thank you.

    [Reply]

  21. Ruan, you ask me if I think it more possible that Nadal is a doper than Federer. I have interested myself in the subject of drugs in sports for the last couple of years, and researched as much as I can on the topic. I must add that I was aware of the issue from the time as a youngster when I saw athletes (chiefly cyclists and weightlifters) busted in Olympic competition in the 1960’s. In fact, I remember an English runner who after coming second to the great Kip Keino in the mile at the 1966 Kingston Commonwealth Games (I was a track nut) came forward and volunteered(!) that he had been on drugs! So you see, I also have a pretty long memory! I remember all the speculation about the East European athletes in the 1970’s (since proven to be true), the allegations of blood-doping by the Finns, and then the incredible performances by certain American sprinters in the 1980’s. When Chinese female athletes suddenly materialised as the best distance runners and swimmers in the world in the 1990’s (due to their coach’s ‘special caterpillar juice’!) the trend was becoming conspicuous. Since then we have of course seen countless cyclists busted, as well as record-breakers in other sports like baseball exposed. There had been a few tennis players caught (Peter Korda) and rumours about a few others but I hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of widespread doping in tennis until this decade. The ‘red-alert’ for me came with Nadal in 2008 – I was late in becoming suspicious of him, even though former players like Guy Forget were codedly saying back in 2005 that ‘tennis doesn’t need players with construction-worker arms’. Until mid-2008 I had thought Nadal was a terrific retriever/counter-puncher doomed to remain a great No.2 in the world – behind a technically superior and more versatile player in someone like Federer. I had seen in Nadal’s hard-court losses that year, to Tsonga at the AO as well as to players like Youzhny and Davydenko, that his game could be exploited by more aggressive stroke-makers. But then I observed him move into another gear at the onset of the clay-court season that year – he got faster and stronger with every tournament. He was physically a 50% better player inside 3 months. Incredible. By the time he reached the FO he was in his own personal athletic stratosphere. No one could get a ball by the guy. He destroyed Federer in the final that year – despite being beatable in previous years at the French. Well, that was clay and sort of to be expected. But what got me was what he then achieved on grass. On the fast courts at Queens I watched him annihilate players like Djokovic with his court-speed and power. The biggest change I observed in his game was his ability to hit a full-blooded topspin drive off ‘winners’ struck wide to his forehand; previously that shot had been a retrieving ‘squash-shot’ at best. At that point I had one of those ‘moments’: I thought two things – he will definitely win Wimbledon, as he had now turned a grass-court into a virtual clay-court with his increased speed and power – and he is the next ‘Ben Johnson’ of tennis. Too much change too fast, and too good to be true. I just couldn’t believe his increased athleticism was real. Well, after he duly won Wimbledon in ’08 I read a leader article in the LA Times that raised the subject of doping and Nadal. I set out to find out more. Everything I have come across reinforces 3 things to me: drugs are a helluva lot more widespread (in all pro sports and not just tennis) than I had realised and the testers are way behind the dopers; that my intuitions about Nadal were probably right even though he hadn’t failed a test (that we were aware of – I have since heard otherwise), but then many cheats (like Marion Jones and Barry Bonds) never failed tests; and that according to any profile that suggested a sportsman or woman was a doper Federer fell way behind just about anyone else – except maybe an overweight, athritic senior tennis player. (I know a few of those!) I have followed the careers of the two pre-eminent tennis players of this generation in considerable detail (and seen the champions who came before them): one gives me the greatest unease (as it does now to many informed followers of the sport, including coaches) while the other looks like one of the few remaining beacons of hope that the sport could be salvaged from the cheats. In all of this, I could be proven wrong. Ruan, my response was a little lengthy but I hope it answers your question.
    P.S. The best detailed posts I have read here about doping and Nadal are from Steve. Well-informed and astute.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes thanks for the answer. I think Federer is one of the beacons of hope like you said. I have to say i never suspected Nadal before this year, but then again i didnt become interested in the whole doping issue as early as you. Those forehands that you talk about i think he could hit before 2008 Wimbledon. Where i started suspected something is where he could come back after being pretty much down and out for a year and then come back to win 3 straight slams this year. Note that his first hard court title in a year came at a major and gave him the career slam. Its just astonishing what he has been able to achieve. Now maybe he is really that good, but the suspicion is there. On the plus side for him is that he has been able to schedule a lot better. This gave him a better chance to peak at majors. The fact that he smashed Roger at the FO in 08 doesnt raise suspicion for me cos Roger had mono that year and simply wasnt up for the task. Then at Wimby he still wasnt 100%, and of course Nadal had been improving on the surface every year. It was bound to happen after the beat down at the FO. The thing that raises the most suspicion for me is the total transformation in 2010. To come from being down and out and win 3 straight slams and complete the career slams is pretty much unheard of. After 2009 i thought he would win maybe a couple more FO titles and struggle to even be the clay GOAT. All of a sudden he now has a chance to become the overall GOAT. Its just incredible the transformation. And of course its not the first transformation and probably not the last. No one thought he could win Wimby yet he did it. No one thought he could win a HC slams yet he did that too in an incredible physical display in Oz. He just keeps defying the odds and keeps transforming as a tennis player. It is certainly unheard of and in a time where the testing methods are questionable it almost leaves is no choice but to suspect him. We hardly have a choice.

    [Reply]

    steve Reply:

    Thank you, Neil. I haven’t the extensive knowledge and experience as a follower of various sports that you display, and I find your posts enlightening.

    To me Federer stands as a symbol of the fundamental preeminence of the human spirit and creativity.

    When they invent the drug that allows a person to play like Federer, that will be a truly dark day, because soon after that will follow the drug that lets you paint like Michaelangelo or write like Shakespeare, and human creativity will have been reduced to a static formula that can be mechanically reproduced, and thus lose everything that makes it precious.

    We live in an age where the authentic has become rarer and rarer, and instead of meaningful events we are given artificial spectacles from which all true spontaneity has been removed, where the outcome has been predetermined. Federer offers us a glimpse of the authentic.

    Nadal is the Terminator. When we watch a Nadal match, we are really watching a robot pulverize physically inferior humans, but such a one-sided non-contest doesn’t accord with the pretense of honorable competition in sport. Hence a cognitive dissonance arises, which must be explained away. I believe that this is the essential source of the controversy that always seems to swirl around Nadal.

    But unlike the fictional Terminator, his mind is human, and it seems to be a mind filled with much confusion. I think he does have a genuine regard and reverence for Federer, but he has an equally strong desire to outshine him, which he goes to great lengths to deny. He may have been conditioned by his team to believe he he has to win for Spain, for the family honor, etc., and other extraneous motives.

    I don’t think he really knows why he plays tennis. All he knows for sure is that he absolutely must get out there and win, win, win.

    If he is being artificially enhanced, he may not be aware of it. His team (his uncle especially) may well keep him in the dark. He may really believe that hard work is responsible for his amazing improvements, just as his team tells him.

    In an interview, Toni Nadal explains that he convinced a young Nadal that he, Toni, had magical powers. Perhaps something similar goes on even now. Maybe the adult Nadal retains much of the child’s credulity, and that’s how Uncle Toni explains away Nadal’s amazing increases in performance to his nephew–it’s “magic.”

    This raises the disturbing possibility that they are giving him increasingly stronger stuff to boost his performance even further–experimental stuff that has unknown, and ever more adverse mental and physical effects. Perhaps his recent on-court outbursts are a symptom of this. I don’t know. I just don’t believe that his team has much regard for his long-term health.

    If the Nadal story is the story I suspect it may be, it will not have a happy ending. For he’s not going to quit until he surpasses Federer’s tally of majors, and as he loses speed and power due to age, they’ll need ever more potent enhancements to maintain his level of performance. That will have severe consequences, physically and mentally. The long-term effects of PEDs can be terrible, it’s not something to trifle with.

    He may be in some ways a victim, though not in the way his fans think, and if that is the case, I pity him for being exploited by those whom he loves and trusts most, and who have been given responsibility for his welfare.

    Federer is in many ways anachronism, because he conducts himself according to those old-school tenets of honorable competition. He has an old-fashioned distrust of technological innovations (Hawkeye) and is slow to embrace change (his long-time disdain for the drop shot), though willing to change when necessary. He understands that in the end, on the court, what he does must come from himself, his talent, his training, his will, his spirit.

    He creates a collaborative atmosphere in tennis–which is incredible in a zero-sum game where one man’s win means another’s loss. He’s such a student of the game’s history, and shows so much gratitude for the past greats like Laver, Borg, Sampras, Edberg, Becker, and takes such an interest in players at all levels of the game (privately meeting with Isner to discuss mono, being the only tennis player to give James Blake a get-well card when Blake was in the hospital). All of this helps other players to feel part of a community, part of a great enterprise that is bigger than any one of them.

    As long as he and those rare few like him play, tennis can remain, at least partly, an honorable enterprise conducted in an amiable collegial spirit, as opposed to the cutthroat, profit-oriented corporate machine, ruthlessly exploiting players and then spitting them out when they’re no longer useful to the bottom line, which it increasingly appears to be. Of course, to echo Neil, I could be completely wrong about everything I have said.

    Ru-an, I apologize if I have stirred the pot too much. Discussion has become heated over the matters which I brought up and I have made so many lengthy posts, I feel I must beg your indulgence. Thanks again for providing us this blog.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Steve, sometimes i think you should be writing the blog and not me :-) But let me just make something clear to my readers. I dont dislike Nadal on a personal level. First of all i dont know him well enough and second from what i have seen he looks like a nice kid to me. The reason i am not his fan is because i am first of all a Fedfan and i dont necessarily like the way Nadal competes. I like talent more than i like a grinder. That is just me. I see Nadal as two separate people. The tennis player and the human being. The one i dont like and the one i do. Im not one of those people who hate everything about Nadal. The people who are like that seem like haters to me. If Nadal is indeed doping it still doesnt mean i will write him off as a human being. In fact i would feel sorry for him if he is indeed doping and it becomes public. If he is doping, it is part of his tennis personality. In a way it is not his fault that he plays tennis in an age where doping is possible. I have always said that the blame should go mainly to the authorities for making it possible for player to dope, because in a way they are telling players it is ok to dope. Someone like Nadal wont like the fact that his opponents can gain an advantage over him by doping, so thats why i think it is possible that he would dope. The same goes for many other players. Federer is one of the few players who i dont see it bothering him that much if his opponents dope. Not to the point that he would dope himself anyway. He is just that good that he can get along without it, and it is just not in his nature to exploit the system.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Btw Steve i doubt Nadal is taking anything without his own knowledge. Uncle Toni would have to be seriously evil to do that to him lol.

    [Reply]

    lyre Reply:

    steve- what exactly does the “pretense of honorable competition in sport” mean? You seem to make no distinction between the types of one sided battles that both Fed and Nadal have been a part of. Nadal has had his share of crushing victories, but so has federer- in both cases the outcome was pretty obvious with the only exception being in their style of play. Why are Fed’s lopsided victories seen as the epitome of spontaneity while Nadal’s are simply predetermined and mechanical? Why is Nadal’s game seen as mechanical just because it is physical? And similarly why is Fed’s creative just because it is not as physical as Nadal’s?
    I think that you have taken the sensory perceptions of their styles and constrained them into subjective categories that don’t do full justice to either. If Fed’s game is classicism embodied like a Michaelangelo or a Shakespeare, then I can easily posit that Nadal’s is a visceral modernity in the style of a Picasso or a Junot Diaz. It is so easy to contrast the two in the oft tried cliches of classicism versus modernity or elegance versus power, but I think that something inherent gets lost in that. After all, one can see the rippling muscles of the human body on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, but one can also witness the frailty and horror of civil war in Picasso’s Guernica. One style does not completely have to be restrictive of the other- it is the interplay of both that lends itself to genius. Spontaneity need not be exclusive only to Fed’s graceful play- it can be a self regenerative process that develops over time into a game.
    I am also not quite sure what you are referring to in terms of the cognitive dissonance that accompanies Nadal’s victories…the game is a physical one and both Fed and Nadal are engaged in it. The mere fact that Nadal’s is more physically attritional does not necessarily mean that he is betraying the true character of sports. Sports itself is based on physical capabilities- that Fed can minimize its outward aspect with his style does not make it any more worthy of being considered “true sports.” Of course from an aesthetic point of view, Fed’s style is subjectively much more pleasant. But this is a topic that I feel should be considered completely separate from the objective results of players.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Good comment Lyre, id like to hear Steve’s reply on this. I agree that Nadal isnt purely physical and that Federer isnt purely about creation. For instance Roger puts in a lot of physical off court work which he knows he needs. It is purely mechanical. There is nothing too creative about it. Similarly Nadal is not all about being a machine. He prepares like one but even he has to be creative in matches and improvise. He does after all have a certain amount of talent. Lets face it.

    [Reply]

    steve Reply:

    It is true that I have exaggerated somewhat to make my point, but I think it is essentially true.

    The salient features of Nadal’s game are power, power, power and speed, speed, speed. Without that he’s got nothing: slice, volleys, whatever highly touted improvements to his game, don’t help him. He moonballs, and a talented journeyman like Melzer can simply hit through him.

    If you have enough power and speed, you don’t need footwork, you don’t need preparation, you don’t need to think very much. You can just run down every ball and nail it for a winner even if you’re pushed into a very defensive position and have no time to figure out what to do.

    And because Nadal generates so much topspin, his shots are very safe–they clear the net by a wide margin, but dip down at the last minute, landing in the court. Nonetheless his shots are so powerful that it’s hard for others to retrieve them.

    That’s why he’s so difficult to beat; to get the ball past him, the opponents have to hit very aggressive shots, and they just can’t do this consistently enough without making errors. Nadal doesn’t have that problem: he can hit winners essentially without risking anything.

    It’s as if a robot were programmed to play tennis, able to precisely get the ball back into play without ever overhitting, and because it would never tire or make mistakes, it would outlast any human opponent. There would be nothing suspenseful about it, just a matter of mechanical repetition. That is Nadal.

    Federer plays a very high-risk game. He doesn’t have as much margin on his shots and he takes the ball very early, which sometimes leads to errors. Sometimes it comes off, but other times it doesn’t. It’s like a symphony, many different musicians have to be working in perfect harmony, otherwise it just doesn’t work. Everything has to go right.

    Even when he is totally demolishing his opponent, there is always something fragile about his game, like it could all fall apart. Sometimes it does.

    For myself, I wouldn’t compare Nadal to Picasso. I always say his tennis is more like a big-budget action movie, with big, expensive CGI special effects, action scenes, explosions, etc.

    It’s impressive and dazzling, but totally mechanical, not artistic. With enough money, you can simply buy the technology and technical expertise needed to make a movie exactly like that.

    But you will never be able to buy what was needed to make Pulp Fiction; that was a unique creative act. Making it did require technical skill, but mere technical skill wasn’t enough.

    I don’t think you will hear many people arguing that the artistic merits of Transformers are underrated, or that Michael Bay is a Picasso and that people are not properly appreciating his movies. For me that sums up Nadal: he is the Michael Bay of tennis.

    Certainly there is some degree of reproducibility to Federer’s game; he would never have won so much without being able to maintain some basic level of consistency. But I think always there has been that X-factor in his game, that element of improvisation and creativity in addition to technical skill, and now that the pressure to break the records is off, he can afford to experiment and innovate even more.

    Of course so much of this is subjective. But this is how I see it.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well Nadal is an artist too, even if its just a clay court artist. That is where his game really fits the bill perfectly. Outside of that i dont see much artist in him. Its pretty much just applying a death grip on his opponent until they inevitably suffocate. He just plays the percentages and never chokes. That is it. For me that is boring as hell, but to each their own.

    [Reply]

  22. Ruan, I hear what you are saying about Nadal’s ‘comeback’ this year. I do however think he went to another level in mid ’08 compared to his previous years – but then we have the anomaly of the second half of ’09, when he himself says he was physically healthy, but was disappearing off the radar from the top level of the game – while getting physically smaller. No tournament wins in 11 months, and for a period was unable to take a set off another top-ten player. What was that about? But from the beginning of 2010, when he was already hitting measurably bigger compared to the end of ’09, I believed the Nadal of old would return this year. And return he did with a vengeance. And it was all mostly achieved by regaining power – which for him stems from a dramatic increase in physical performance. That is unheard of in a top athlete in their prime who is ‘clean’, athough it is definitely becoming more frequent these days, across all sports. I fear we are entering the era of the chemical circus.

    Roger, on the other hand, is a poor candidate for a doper, for a variety of reasons. Yes, he is very fast, but he has always been so since he came on the tour, but he is still losing an edge of speed with age, as you might expect. His stamina is good but not exceptional – he will tire in longer or back-to-back matches. His muscle development – or lack of it! – is almost an embarrassment: his arms are puny, he is not ‘cut’, he has a bit of a tummy – his legs though are well muscled (he’s gotta have some reason for getting about the court!) but not remarkable, and he often appears physically frail compared to many of his opponents these days. He lasts well in matches because he hits with very little physical effort – his power is all timing – and he hits from mostly inside the court and generally keeps points short. He doesn’t incur seriously debilitating injuries that he plays through and recovers from time and time again almost miraculously; when he is injured or falls ill his form clearly suffers. Hence, he does not demonstrate dramatic fluctuations in either physical appearance or capacity; he is a player who appears to be adjusting his game to partly cope with the loss of physical edge that comes with age. That is all quite natural. The physical evidence for HGH, IGF-1, and EPO’s is spare, to say the least.

    I know you place some store in temperament as an indicator of doping. That is a little more speculative and perhaps subjective but I will say this: for Roger to dope would be dramatically at odds with his apparent playing of the game in the Laver tradition and consciously so, with all that that means in terms of sportsmanship, fair play, respect for the history of the sport, and finally the sheer enjoyment of the game itself. He clearly sees himself as an ambassador for tennis. No, he is not a ‘win-at-all-costs’ kind of guy – or there would have been a quite a few matches he would never have lost! Further, have any of his opponents complained of his sportsmanship, or has he often received conduct or coaching violations? Is the locker-room gossip on him that he cheats or shows disrespect to other players? I don’t think so. We can’t however say that about Nadal.

    [Reply]

  23. Ruan, by the way, how could a player in the prime – even ‘middle years’ – of his career, who has been on the tour for 7 years now, become the ‘most improved player in the game’ this year -(that from Mary Carillo at the USO) particularly after his ‘annus horribilis’ last year? That is the current World No.1. Incredible. To stretch a point, it reminds me of a ’90’s sci-fi movie called ‘Cocoon’, where a bunch of senior citizens regain the vigour of youth – including break-dancing! – with a little extra-terrestrial help. Check it out.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Yeah but we just dont know. It seems unlikely that he has achieved all of this by natural means. But for now we have to presume innocence. We have to be like Roger, who respects Nadal. It is the gentlemanly thing to do i guess.

    [Reply]

  24. Holy Cow theres too much to read. Are these exhibition matches predetermined who will win. If Fed wins his and Nadals wins in Spain, I’ll be a little suspect. It should never be mentioned either their head to head, and then throw in these exib. matches. Would you agree Ruan? Love the blog, and I’m only adding to the reading. Have a Merry Christmas, and happy to be on this blog. Take care, Gary

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Cheers Gary, nice of you to drop by. I wont be able to see the exhos probably. I think the expected thing is that both win in their own countries. If that doesnt happen then we have something to talk about. Otherwise its just another exho.

    [Reply]

  25. the arguments made against nadal are false and quite frankly laughable.

    If nadal lacked “power” vs mezler, how exactly was he serving at 120 miles per hour and nearly 70% of first serves in? His serving speed vs mezler was the same as it was at the us open except his first serve percentage was actually higher. Yet people here are claming that he lost to mezler because of “lack of power”? Hatred can lead people to believing things that simply arent true.

    We’ve heard alot of arguments about nadal from his haters over the years. First he wouldnt win anything outside clay. Then he only won wimbledon because the grass was slow, and he only won the asutralian open because the ao was slow, that he would never win the US open. After he won it, now the doping thing starts again. I mean really, its time to accept that he is the best player in the world.

    Calling nadal a “terminator” and saying that he has access to the kind of doping that no other players have access to is abdurd and shows the kind of hatred that people have against nadal.

    [Reply]

  26. lyre, you make some very interesting observations in response to Steve when you compare the physical with the aesthetic in tennis, observing that they each contribute to the necessary variety in the game; that neither should be regarded as inherently inferior or superior to the other. Federer’s game may delight with its grace and artistry, but the grit,determination and sheer muscular effort in Nadal’s game can evoke admiration that may be no less, even though it is admiration of another kind. Sports like tennis are a fascinating amalgam of physical prowess, technical mastery, mental acuity and, ultimately, character or ‘guts’. Great players will have all of these qualities but in proportions that differ from their rivals. Federer is an extraordinary athlete and tennis player in that he makes a physically and technically demanding game appear ridiculously easy. It is not. In the words of Milan Kundera, his is almost ‘the unbearable lightness of being’. Some people may find Federer’s almost other-worldly talent hard to relate to, it is so remote from their own experience – of anything. Nadal, on the other hand, may appeal to those to whom the will to overcome and the sheer effort in achieving it is all too familiar – he is their ‘warrior’ champion; what care they about the niceties of style or grace in execution – if they want that they would watch ice-skating or maybe go to an art gallery or a concert. Tennis is combat – even if it is of a particularly civilised variety. Again, it is part of Federer’s gift that in watching him we may come to care less for the ultimate outcome than the moments of genius along the way; or we see that the ultimate ‘execution’ of his opponent is the opponent’s due reward for contributing to such a lumenescent display of brilliance. But with Nadal, the outcome is all – from the first point to the last he does nothing but remind us that winning is everything and losing is intolerable; every dash corner to corner on the court, lunging backhand pass, yanked topspun forehand is in service to his battle cry that he ‘shall not lose!’- the only variety is in the doubt, when it occurs, as to whether he will achieve his simple goal. Depending on your preferences, you can take your pick.

    But ‘robotic’? That’s an interesting comment from Steve. Most tennis players are very physical – just think of Djokovic, Roddick or Davydenko, for example; their effort is undeniable. Federer is utterly the exception – in most sports. But I can see something of what Steve is also saying: Nadal’s striatedly muscular game – more physical than any before him – seems to go beyond sheer striving to a strange zone of unvarying and almost mechanical purpose; it can be unnerving – as it is for his opponents, as it sometimes appears they are up more against a machine than a man. Simply from that perspective alone it can make you wonder if what you are watching is real.

    [Reply]

    lyre Reply:

    You make a great distinction between the inherent stylistic differences between Fed and Nadal. For sure many viewers of the game can be left feeling utterly impotent after seeing Fed executing one of his classic demolitions. But in my opinion, one of the many reasons why a lot of people (including Fed fans) see Nadal’s game as one dimensional or mechanical is because of the way he executes mentally during matches. Nadal’s mental strength is unparalleled by any on tour and the inevitability of his mental focus and tenacity seem to render many of his beatdowns too predictable or almost soulless. It is a diametric shift- Fed’s game (his physical one) renders opponents helpless while Nadal’s mental dominance leaves opponents (even those who have a chance of beating him) doubting themselves in the big moments. Tennis is first and foremost a physical sport, but viewers also like to see the struggle between the mental domains of players. A player’s game can fluctuate during the course of but mental rigidity- like the kind Nadal has perfected- is much harder to breakdown, often leading to a non contest between Nadal and his opponent because Nadal’s is so inherently superior. And in Nadal’s case, he maintains his mental intensity throughout the match- leading to many of the physically demanding and often excruciating shots that he pulls off during the whole course of a match. Any player can pull off the odd impossible gets that Nadal does, but it takes a player of iron willed stubbornness to maintain that mindset throughout the course of a five set match. It’s not only Nadal’s game that an opponent is up against but the mentality that Nadal will not give up on any point no matter the scoreline. Fed’s game can render an opponent hapless, but Nadal’s mentality matched with his game is a doubly potent force and the grit and ability needed to surpass him ca be hard to find- leaving both viewers and players themselves viewing many of his matches as predetermined outcomes. While Fed’s game can be aspirational, I think that Nadal’s mentality is also so- as physical as his game is, the maintenance of that physicality is predicated on the maintenance of a iron will to do so.

    [Reply]

  27. Well, Mike, it appears you Nadal fans just can’t leave the Federer sites alone. You guys are really worried about your boy, aren’t you? (By the way, “Mezler”? You mean Melzer, I think.)

    [Reply]

  28. you can continue to cry, make nonsense up, doesnt bother me because i (and most people) know its nonsense

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Do you have proof that its nonsense? You dont have to agree, but since this is a Federer site i suggest you show a bit more courtesy to the posters.

    [Reply]

  29. lyre, you are right to emphasise the mental qualities of tennis, and certainly so with Nadal’s game. But how do you address the point made by Steve earlier, that the mental side of Nadal’s game is clearly assisted by by the fact that he plays high percentage low-risk tennis (his predominantly looping groundstrokes), with little tactical variety? Sure, he is determined, but does it take a lot of mental strength to run down every ball time and time again, which is the cornerstone of his game?

    [Reply]

    lyre Reply:

    Neil- I do believe that a great deal of mental strength is needed to execute what Nadal does on the court. Again as I said before, viewers like to sense some sort of empathy with the players they watch. As Steve said earlier, there is a certain element of fragility to Federer’s game even when he is routinely downing an opponent- it renders him fallible and the dips in his form and mentality renders him an empathetic figure to viewers. But in Nadal’s case, it is so hard to gauge the depth of his mental vulnerability- the facade that he puts up when on court is impenetrable. I do not believe that Nadal’s game is built exclusively on routine physical shots as Steve does. I think that all too often viewers of the game tend to bracket their styles of play into categories that supposedly reveal something about their mental status. For example, in Fed’s case his fluid style of play which is outwardly not physically demanding is seen as sure proof that he is extremely creative. The superfluousness of physicality in his game is made up by the mental creativity he has. It’s almost as if that because Federer does not rely on extreme physical feats to win, then he must be compensating for that by mental prowess as exhibited by his creativity, genius etc. While in Rafa’s case, it is customary to suggest that because his game is so externally physical, the mental aspect of creativity and spontaneity is effectively stifled or nonexistent. That is why I questioned Steve’s premise of distinguishing their styles of play. I do not believe that their styles of play betray anything about their propensity for creativity or spontaneity. Nadal’s low risk, high percentage tennis does require extreme mental stamina to execute- consistency is often an overlooked attribute. Analogy wise- is is like destruction through a bolt of lightning- quick, reactionary and definitely memorable- Fed’s style. Whereas the slow drip of water eroding a stone is more Nadal’s style. I think that maintaining intensity and singular focus through a prolonged period of time is the greatest exhibition of mental strength. No one could match Nadal for much of this year on three different surfaces- if his game was so mechanical and routine (implying it can be replicated), then why couldn’t the hundreds of ATP professionals emulate his style and beat Nadal using his own techniques? Physical conditioning can only account for so much- there is an instinctual quality in Nadal’s game. He prolongs a point on and on until one specific moment, he hammers a forehand home to end it. The opponent more often than not does not even run for the ball, or the run is inevitably futile and they give up. This is just one point- imagine this process played out for hundreds of games. Why does the opponent not continue to run for the ball- they may not be physically conditioned enough but more often than not they cannot stand up to Nadal’s challenge of vying for every point. The slow drip of Nadal’s mental strength wears them down- physically and emotionally.
    Necessity is the mother of invention- a long point needs to be ended and only Nadal can end it with one of his impossible shots. And in the end, it is Nadal’s damnably consistent defense as well as the cruel and powerful ending shot that serves as the double edged sword to his opponents. It’s not so much as something expressly thought out before hand, but an instinctual feel for the game and his own position within a match that initiates this process. And to maintain that process all through a match is definitely something exclusive to Nadal- almost catatonic it its perseverance. And the exclusivity and the effort needed to cultivate and maintain such mental srength is proven in its ominous absence from the rest of the ATP tour.

    [Reply]

  30. Actually, it’s the other way around: Federer’s game is automatic, instinctive (he himself said many times he likes to play without thinking and that’s why he loves fast courts, short points and playing against predictable flat hitters), while Nadal is a thinker on and off court.

    On court, he constructs points until there’s a clear winner in sight, the opposite of high-risk mindless ballbashing. He invents tactics to overcome initial supremacy of his opponents within a match. Off court, he modifies elements of his game to overcome opponents who used to give him beatdowns or to conquer new surfaces.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I tend to agree with eric here. I have followed Rogers game for a long time now, and i have to tell you that he doesnt think much out there. He is either on his game and blast his opponents off the court, or he can look pretty ugly out there. Luckily he is so good that a pretty average performance can still get the job done. But we have seen how he can fall apart against a top player. This is because he plays an extremely high risk game. If his timing is just slightly off, he is in deep trouble. He basically knows if he is on no one can beat him, so he never needed to think much. When he starts losing he finds it very hard to adjust. He cant win ugly in other words. This is something that has frustrated me a lot. Only now that he has brought Annacone on board do you see him changing a few things. But again it doesnt mean he thinks a lot out out there. It just means he is attacking more and goes to the net more often. I think Nadal is much better in this sense. He plays the percentages very well, and he is mentally the strongest in history probably. He knows exactly when a big point arrives and plays with a lot of aggression. To me he is much more of a thinking player. Just look at how his game has evolved over the years. He makes small adjustments and constantly improves. To me its not good tennis to watch, but it is extremely effective.

    [Reply]

  31. Eric, I don’t think we have been watching the same players. Yes, Federer is instinctual – with his stroke making – but his game is immensely tactical; his variety is extraordinary. His style can certainly be high-risk but I would never characterise it as ‘ball-bashing’. Given the options he has in his game you might say that every shot he makes involves a crisis of choice; hence we see what happens when he makes the wrong choice. That is the down-side of being the most complete player who has probably ever played the game.

    Nadal ‘The Thinking Man’s Player’ I have a little more difficulty swallowing. His tactics are simple: to return every ball, outlast his opponent and wear him down with his physical power; his means of execution is remarkably unvaried – regardless of his opponent – which is high-over-the-net topspin groundstrokes (except when he slices to stay in the point)hit mostly to his opponent’s backhand, unless he has him so far out of court he can hit the winner to the forehand. His most spectacular shots are passing shots hit from impossible positions – testimony more to his phenomenal court coverage than his variety of shot-making. This formula has varied little over the years – against any of his opponents. When it doesn’t work – as happens from time to time – such as to Federer at the last WTF – he has few options. Indeed, in a such a situation he can appear mentally fragile. Recall his semi-final against Murray at the AO at the beginning of the year: he threw everything he could at Murray, particularly in the 2nd set, but he was unable to physically overpower Murray. He appeared confused, at a loss and demoralised, frequently looking up to his camp as though asking, ‘what can I do?’ Somehow, it wasn’t surprising that he sprang another of his knee injuries, to bail him out of his impending humiliation. By contrast, I can never recall Federer losing and ending a match with a well-timed injury like that.

    [Reply]

  32. Ruan, I am astonished you don’t think Roger’s game is a thinking game. Let’s begin with his serve: his choice of spin and placement either ends the point or sets it up for a punishing groundstroke – without it being the most powerful serve on the tour it is, at its best, clearly the most effective in terms of accuracy and percentage holds (such as his winning 92% Ist serves against Nadal in the WTF final). That involves thinking of his best options as he even begins the point. His forehand is one of the most powerful in tennis today but he hits a great variety of spins off it, from heavily spun angle shots to near flat winners, and with a tremendous variety of pace. He may also suddenly slide in a very effective drop-shot off that side. Again, what he chooses to hit will depend on him reading his opponent – thinking on the run. On the backhand he has the best slice in the business today, which finds probing angles in the courts – particularly when it is short and wide – but also keeps him in the point against big servers, and yet, as he also showed at the WTF, he can rip punishing angled and down the line topspin winners off that side. Again, his choice of shot is utterly tactical; a moment of spit-second decision making. His net skills have no equivalent in the modern game; most players today look cumbersome in that department. Yet as reflexively as he hits his volleys you can also see that he chooses where and how he hits them. With such an array of shot-making possibilities, as he has, there comes an ability to choose the right shot at the right time, that involves instantaneous decisions with the ability to think almost instinctually. In that respect he is like a highly skilled boxer – a Sugar Ray Leonard maybe or even a Muhammad Ali – but nothing like a heavy-hitting Tyson or Foreman, who are all about pulverising power without craft. If Roger’s timing is off or he makes a wrong choice he often pays. He has certainly not been the most successful player of all time because he plays a stark power-game on automatic pilot. His game is in fact very sophisticated. At his best, he is like a chess grandmaster sweeping his opponent’s pieces off the board. Yes, you are right to say that he often lacks the ability to grind, but that is a feature of his temperament; grinding is, as the word suggests, all about relentless effort not creativity – and that is not Roger.
    The tinkering you refer to with Nadal’s game I think is largely illusory: it wasn’t a ‘grip change’ that produced a near-Sampras serve out of nowhere this year. Overwhelming strength is his formula and when he lacks it, as he showed for the second half on ’09 and in last year’s tour finals especially, he has no answer to the other top players. Even Roger has referred to Nadal’s game as ‘one-dimensional’. That is why it is boring. In the 1980’s Mats Wilander was a player of fantastic consistency; his opponents said of him that his ‘brain was the biggest weapon in men’s tennis’ (at the time.) You could HEAR Mats thinking on the court. And, no, that wasn’t boring.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well like you said yourself, it comes down to instinct. The point is he doesnt work with a plan A or a plan B, and neither does he need to much. Unless he is off one day and a top player takes advantage. Then he doesnt have a plan to fall back on. He is very stubborn. Even if he is losing he will keep doing the same thing. That is not at all the definition of smart tennis. Ever since he first faced Nadal at RG he has stubbornly been trying to slug it out from the base line with him. And that has translated to Wimbledon and the AO as well. He is actually a very unintelligent tennis player in a way. Just because you know by instinct which shot to play, doesnt necessarily make you a smart tactician. A smart tactician is someone who realizes ‘ok, this is not working. my opponent will beat me if i keep playing like this. let me change something’, and then wins. Roger does not think like this. He is just too stubborn. It took a series of very tough losses before he finally recognized that he needed to change something, after which he hired Annacone. Nadal on the other doesnt have the luxury of immense talent, so he is constantly thinking and evolving. A thinking tennis player is also one who plays the percentages well, which Nadal does probably better than anyone. There is a large margin for error in his strokes. He hits it with so much spin and height over the net that its very hard to make an unforced error. He basically suffocates his opponents by giving them very little and making them play the extra ball. Once again, it may not be good to watch, but it is extremely effective. This is smart tennis.

    [Reply]

  33. Ruan, you are really hard on Roger! An unintelligent player! Yes, he can be stubborn but I think his problem is that he can be impatient and over-play at times, and at other times he simply loses consistency, feel and confidence. I am not sure that Annacone is changing that much about Roger’s game; he has always been aggressive, but perhaps he has helped him to regain consistency and confidence – those were two striking features in his sucessess at the WTF in London. Again, I don’t see how you can say the more defensive player (which is a Nadal or a Hewitt, say) is necessarily a more thinking player; to me it’s more an issue of temperament – they hate to make errors more than they desire (or are able) to hit winners. McEnroe, Sampras and of course Roger are all attacking players; I don’t think that makes them less smart on court than the counterpunchers. I know plenty of moonballers at my local club; I can assure you the only thing they are thinking about is not missing! Perhaps the only ‘smart’ thing they are doing is playing within their limitations.

    [Reply]

  34. MERRY CHRISTMAS FOR ALL OF YOU GUYS AND FOR YOU RU-AN:
    “BE HAPPY”(and don´t be hard on me).
    “SPREAD LOVE EVERYWHERE YOU GO.LET NO ONE EVER COME TO YOU WITHOUT LEAVING HAPPIER AND YOU WILL NEVER BE ALONE”.

    [Reply]

  35. I haven’t much to add to Neil’s excellent description of Federer’s game, but I will say this:

    Most tennis players have maybe one or two options on every shot. On every shot Federer has about five or seven options, and he has to decide which one to use on the spot, every time. Not only can he produce many different slices, paces, spins, he can also place the ball almost anywhere on the court, from any position on the court.

    Almost anyone else with that level of talent would end up like Gasquet or Gulbis, a player capable of flashes of brilliance, but lacking the mental consistency to win big titles or matches. Confronted with such an overwhelming variety of choices, they pick the wrong shots and self-destruct on court.

    That Federer can make such complex decisions and execute in real time, and do so successfully and consistently enough to dominate tennis for so long, and at such a high level, is really the most amazing thing about his game.

    Federer’s record of 23 consecutive major semifinals may be the ultimate testament to Federer’s ability to adjust to meet the challenges of a wide variety of opponents–big servers, power baseliners, serve-and-volleyers, defensive counterpunchers, etc.–on every surface. If that doesn’t prove his adaptability, what could?

    On the other hand, the secret to Nadal’s game is power. What he has done is very simple: he has amped up a clay-court game until it is so powerful that it works on hard courts. If he loses a little power and speed, he is late getting to balls and he cannot counterpunch his opponents’ shots for clean winners.

    All the slices, volleys, etc. in the world are no help to him then. He can only wait for his opponent to make a mistake.

    His match against Murray in the WTF was probably the best hard-court match he played this year. By what “strategy” was that victory achieved? By serving so powerfully that Murray’s advantage in returning was neutralized. Once it became a close match, then Nadal’s clutch mentality was able to pull him through.

    Nadal didn’t exploit Murray’s weaknesses or display any new tactics. He simply overwhelmed Murray’s strength with brute power, power he didn’t have a year ago. Nonetheless it took him three sets, three hours, and two tiebreaks to do it–on a fast indoor hard court!

    As for Federer, I believe he can achieve a level where he plays with complete freedom, with no fixed patterns, but using the full array of his shots. Like water, as Bruce Lee said: unpredictable, formless, shapeless, flowing freely one moment, then crashing down with tremendous force the next. When he plays like that it will be truly amazing to see, and no one will be able to keep up with him.

    I don’t claim he will be able to do this every time, but he’ll be able to do it often enough, and often enough in big matches, that it’ll be a great treat to watch.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Point taken Steve, but you gotta see my point as well. Nadal has an ability to evolve and adjust. How else do you think he has gone so far with 10x less talents than Roger. There is something more than just dumb power about him. To say otherwise would be quite frankly hypocritical.

    [Reply]

    steve Reply:

    I agree with you, there’s no question Nadal has adjusted his game, but I just don’t buy that that’s the fundamental key to his success.

    The secret is power and speed. He didn’t win this year because he had a better slice or whatever, that’s a red herring. He won because he was hitting harder and serving bigger than ever.

    Check out this video clip of Nadal vs. Murray at AO 2007. He is coming forward, using the slice, running around his backhand to hit inside-out forehands–all those things he supposedly couldn’t do until 2008-09. How is it that he could do this against Murray? Because Murray played slowly, and didn’t hit very hard. He gave Nadal plenty of time to be more aggressive.

    Back then Nadal couldn’t do that against the big hitters, because he would be hit off the court. Now he can, and the reason he can is because he is stronger and faster. That’s all there is to it.

    With Federer you can take away just a little power and speed, and he can still develop a winning game plan.

    With Nadal, take away a little power and speed and you have a completely different player, the Nadal of last year’s fall hard-court season: someone who was routinely outhit by top players.

    How else do you think he has gone so far with 10x less talents than Roger.

    I’ve been pretty open about my suspicions on how he’s gotten where he is. It’s not merely “hard work.” There are people who work their fingers to the bone and never get anywhere near even one Grand Slam. There is “something more”, all right: the combination of power and spin that makes him so formidable.

    Power players like Berdych and Soderling hit flatter, high-risk shots. When they go for a winner, they may make errors. And they need time to set up for their big shots.

    Nadal not only has immense power, but unlike everyone else he generates so much topspin that his shots easily clear the net, yet dip down and land in court at the last minute.

    Not only that but his strength allows him to counterpunch with abnormal power. When his opponents attempt to hit winners, they have to commit to the shot, and so leave themselves open for a counterattack.

    Most counterpunchers can only respond by putting the ball back in play, but Nadal is so strong that he can nail a clean winner instead of just putting the ball back into play. This means that he doesn’t need time to set up for his powerful shots, unlike more conventional big hitters. He can just wait for his opponent to try for an aggressive shot, and then blast it back for a guaranteed winner.

    If you want to beat Nadal from the baseline, you have to always hit your shots with absolutely perfect placement and timing. Otherwise Nadal will drill them right back, just like a brick wall.

    All Nadal’s “improvements,” playing closer to the baseline, and being able to come forward, rely on power and speed. If he couldn’t match their power he would just be pushed further and further back by the big hitters.

    Most players (Federer included) have to choose between hitting a safe shot, which won’t be a winner, or a more powerful shot, which will be harder for the opponent to retrieve but which has a bigger chance of going out. To me this is what makes tennis interesting: you have to know when to go with the percentage play and when to take chances, and you have to figure out how to save your resources for when they’re most needed, because your strength and stamina are limited.

    Nadal doesn’t have to make that tradeoff. He can have both power and safety at once: hit a very powerful shot, yet be sure that it will go in. He almost never has to take chances, knowing he can hit through the court without risking an error. Moreover, he usually doesn’t need to construct points against his opponents: he can just absorb their attempted winners and blast the ball back. He doesn’t need to manage his resources either, because his strength and stamina are essentially unlimited.

    His game is risk-free, and therefore boring. Sure, it’s unique, and considerable credit must go to him for mastering it, but it’s still boring. The mental attributes most needed for his style aren’t creativity or imagination, but a certain kind of mechanical repetitiveness and very narrow focus.

    Take this funny commercial of Roddick vs. Pong. Nadal is a human version of the Pong paddle: gets everything back with metronomic precision. That’s what we’re watching in Nadal.

    The only interest I have in a Nadal match is in whether the opponent can figure out a strategy to disrupt Nadal’s game (just as Roddick eventually does in the commercial).

    For that reason I am grateful to him, because he’s forced Federer to really plumb the depths of his talent and evolve as a player. He is the whetstone on which Federer had to be sharpened in order to achieve true greatness.

    This has been a rather long ramble, but I hope it helps explain my thoughts.

    [Reply]

  36. Earlier, I suggested that it might be nice if Ruan and readers of the blog could contribute what it is that inspires them about Federer’s game: a few seemed to agree although Ruan says he has probably said enough about that already and is working on another post.

    I must say that I wasn’t a Federer convert at the beginning; Pistol Pete was still my favorite. I even thought that the 19-year old Federer who beat Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 was a bit of a ‘flukey’ upstart, who showed it by losing in the next round (to Henman, I think), and then accomplishing nothing much over the next couple of years to justify the talk about his talent.

    Well before then I had had other favorites: I was too young to appreciate Gonzalez (Pancho, that is!) except that my first racquet was his model and I was told that he had the biggest serve of his era, although I did become a convert to the grass-court Aussies – Laver, Rosewall and Newcombe. However, the game didn’t seize my imagination until I saw Borg and especially Borg against McEnroe in their classic 1980 Wimbledon final. The ‘Eighties’ gave me Lendl, Becker, Wilander and Edberg; the ‘Nineties’ Courier, Agassi, the marvellous Kuerten and Sampras. After Sampras there was a time when style and dash seem to leave the game; for a while that was Hewitt’s heyday – the archtypal grinder and a difficult player to like, and I was not convinced that the temperamental and erratic Safin, Nalbandian or any of Hewitt’s other rivals would be capable of becoming the next King and lifting the game to equal or even greater heights than Pete had shown in his incredible 14 slam victories.

    The moment of ‘understanding’ about Roger – and it was literally a moment – arrived for me in the 2004 Wimbledon semi-final: Federer against Hewitt. Late in the second set, Hewitt was serving to hold and he and Roger were engaged in a lengthy groundstroke rally, using every part of the court, with Hewitt at one point employing his superb two-handed backhand to keep Roger in his own backhand corner and away from unleashing his devastating forehand. But Roger’s backhand was more than equal to the task and at one stage he struck a shot of such penetrating depth that Hewitt’s reply dropped a fraction shorter than previously – a metre or so inside the court. The expected next shot from Roger was again cross-court – Hewitt was waiting for it and so were many watching, like myself. But then Roger did what only he can do, as we have seen now in some many matches: with just a fraction more time on his racquet than previously in the rally he whipped a down-the-line backhand clean winner – so immaculately conceived and executed that it looked as though he had been setting up a 30-odd shot rally for precisely this moment. It was the signature detail – the flourish, perhaps – that the artist uses to seal his masterpiece – and at the same time was like a rapier through Hewitt’s considerable heart. Roger got the break and went on to win the match. I knew that in all my years of following the game I had just witnessed something I had never seen before; a talent of such virtuosity that it seemed Federer – and only Federer – could play the game as though he was composing poetry; and poetry with finesse, grace and power. In the years since, how many times have we seen just that?

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Great comment Neil. Im not ready to get back to tennis yet. Still enjoying my time away. And these exhos doesnt exactly do it for me. It will be interesting to see what happens if we see a Fedal final in Abu Dhabi though. I dont think they can afford to give each other edges so close to the AO.

    [Reply]

    Jiten Reply:

    The Fedal final is on in Abu Dhabi today. Ru-an, do you think they will go all out or just play like those exhibition matches in Zurich and Madrid?

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    I catched some of it on live stream Jiten. I dont think it meant much, even though i was pretty disappointed with Rogers performance. Ill see, maybe ill do a post about it.

    [Reply]

  37. Steve, you are pretty much spot on with your analysis of the Nadal game. The points you make certainly raise questions, in my mind at least, about how he is able to do it.

    Another thing that I find particularly dubious about Nadal is how he is so often supposed to be seriously injured yet either plays through these injuries unimpeded, collecting grandslam titles along the way, or takes a ridiculously short break, an ‘injection’ or two, and then is back better than ever. It is quite unbelievable.

    Injuries are the bane of a sportsman’s existence – at whatever level you play. Apart from the constant pain that often results, they inevitably reduce performance – otherwise they are not injuries, and for pro’s they usually end careers. Having personally suffered from knee tendonitis and seen also how so many professional tennis players players (Simon, Blake, Davydenko, and Del Potro recently, among others) fall off the game after injury it galls me to read the nonsense spouted about Nadal’s interminable maladies. Surely, he would have the good grace to at least limp occasionally!

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Ok but doping aside, which btw we are not sure of. Nadal has managed to surprise me too often. He keeps evolving and improving. I dont know if doping can make you a better net player, a better grass court player, give you a better serve, or a better USO player. He also has a relentless will and is mentally extremely clutch. Again, i doubt doping has anything to do with those things.

    [Reply]

  38. Ruan, I didn’t see the Fedal final but I find it a bit dismaying that Federer lost both tie-breaks on his own errors and by quite a margin. Even though it was an exhibition match I doubt whether that was to plan.

    On your observations about Nadal generally I am puzzled that you see a lot of specific technical improvements in his game. I tend to agree with Steve that Nadal’s game is largely monochromatic, and always has been, but sometimes it has more power than at other times. I think that’s the main difference between this year and the second half of last year.

    Also, it’s true that we don’t ‘know’ for sure if Nadal is a doper, because there’s no failed drug test (that we know of), but if he isn’t he seems to be successfully rewriting quite a few laws of nature on his own account.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well thats the problem. Sometimes you have freaks of nature like Tiger Woods or Jonah Lomu who does that. You just cant say for sure its doping. The governing bodies is basically killing us fans.

    As for the match, i was disappointed like you were. Roger didnt look confident to say the least. He was up 3-0 in the opening TB with 2 serves to come and lost them both. He also kept missing regulation shots at important times. On the flip side he won the one that counted. This is just an exho and i doubt he really gave a damn. There was quite a lot of experimentation and flashy shots. Its really hard to know what to make of it. Thats why i hate exhos.

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    marron Reply:

    I don’t think you should make anything of it, Ru-an. Let’s just see what happens when they have to play for a true win.
    Incidentally, what did you think of Federer’s remarks after the match, about the ‘fabulous shotmaker, as am I’ comment? I found that a bit hard to swallow. Sigh.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Tennis players are arrogant. Get over it.

    [Reply]

    marron Reply:

    No.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Ok, but why bother following tennis then if it bothers you that much?

    [Reply]

    steve Reply:

    I came to Federer fandom relatively late. In 2007 I watched a Swiss player dressed in black come up against Andy Roddick at the US Open. They played an hour and a half of insane tennis. Federer seemed to have the answer to everything Roddick threw at him; I was hypnotized by the ease with which he found impossible angles with both forehand and backhand, striking winners into the open court. That was the first Federer match I recall seeing in its entirety.

    I think it was the US Open of 2008 that I realized just how special Federer was. His back-to-back matches against Djokovic and Murray were a contrast in styles. The first was an intense baseline duel, one where Federer’s backhand played a crucial part. After his loss to Djokovic at AO, I was expecting that Djokovic would outhit him, but Federer more than held his own from the baseline, and after making an amazing lob off of a Djokovic smash, he took the third set and finished it off in the fourth.

    In the second, Federer came to net a lot more, and he didn’t use his backhand very much at all, at least not from the baseline.

    At one point he was getting burned by Murray’s favorite forehand, the crosscourt pass. To counter this, he attacked Murray’s backhand to draw a short ball, then rushed forward and struck a very acutely-angled, aggressive forehand volley to Murray’s forehand. Murray had no time to attempt a pass. That was when I realized two things: a) this man can do everything and anything on a tennis court and b) I had to watch him do it. And I’m still watching.

    [Reply]

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