You were probably waiting for a while for my post, but I needed some time to process this loss. I wasn’t crushed after this loss or anything, but you do feel disappointed and you don’t feel like writing about it immediately. I won’t go into too much detail about the match itself, because we have seen it all before. You all know how positive I was before the match. I tried my best to believe that this time Roger could overcome his nemesis, but it wasn’t to be. I really did have a good feeling about the match, but I have realized once and for all that Nadal is just Roger’s nemesis. After the Masters Cup I said he was not Roger’s nemesis. Yes, I am changing my mind. Nemesis is a strong word though. Lets just call it bad match up, because that is exactly what it is. It is a bad match up for Roger for two reasons.
The first is the fact that Nadal can expose his less than perfect backhand and the second is that Nadal can expose his less than perfect mental fortitude. What I just said is very important. It holds the whole key to the Fedal rivalry. Roger is as perfect a tennis player as there ever was. He doesn’t have weaknesses. Rather, he has less than perfect qualities, and he has only two of them. As I said, those are his one-handed backhand and his mental fortitude. These are not by any means weaknesses. It is still one of the best one-handed backhands ever and one of the best mental fortitude’s ever. It is just that Nadal can expose their less than perfectness. Because Nadal is left-handed, hits with massive spin on his forehand side, and because he is mentally extremely tough, he can make those less than perfect qualities appear like weaknesses.
It is pretty much that simple. That is why I say it is all about match up. It is as if Nadal was born to be a thorn in Roger’s side. There simply cannot be a more awkward opponent for Roger to play. Nadal is truly the anti-Federer. I have realized that once and for all and it will never change. As far as I’m concerned this was Roger’s last chance to show that Nadal does not own him, but he failed convincingly. Even though it was a match of high quality and intensity, Roger had that familiar forlorn look about him for most of the match. It actually started after the first set. It is that look of almost complete resignation. It is as if he already lost and it is just a question of time before it is all over. There was really nothing new here, but for the sake of completeness I will go through the match with you.
As is the case with most Fedal slam matches, Roger started out on fire. He quickly jumped to a 3-0 lead. In the beginning stages it looked like he had Nadal on a string. He was looking quite relaxed running Nadal from side to side on the base line. It was almost a type of arrogance. This is exactly the kind of attitude Roger must have against Nadal, so I became excited. To beat Nadal Roger must not go for the winner too quickly. He must get a certain satisfaction of having Nadal on a string behind the base line. Ending the point with a winner must almost be like a bonus. The thing is you know Nadal is gonna get back a million balls, but that must not intimidate you. But it does intimidate Roger. He starts to panic and then he goes for too much and he misses. Roger is just too nice a guy. It is as if he starts feeling sorry for Nadal.
Instead he must keep Nadal running until he runs himself into the ground. He must get a sadistic satisfaction from seeing Nadal running around like a headless chicken behind the baseline. But that is just not Roger Federer. He is too good a guy, and that is part of why we love him. We can’t have it both ways. Roger is an artist, not a killer. If he was a cold killer like Nadal he would not be Roger Federer. I think it was at 4-2 where Roger then played a strange game with three unforced errors and a bad volley to get broken. The first set then went into a tie break. It was obvious to me that Roger had to win it to have a chance, so it was nervy stuff. Luckily Roger got the break early on and somehow managed to hold on to win the first set. Roger then even broke in the first game of the second set. It was a a crucial time to break that could have really had Nadal in trouble.
But a break is not a break until consolidated. Almost like clockwork he dropped serve in the next game. Going a set and a break up against Nadal in a slam was just too good to be true. I think it was at this point where I started noticing that resigned look from Roger. Nadal could obviously sense that Roger couldn’t put him away, and he capitalized by breaking in the sixth game. He made two unreal passing shots to do so. He then held serve for 5-2. At this point the fireworks show for Australia Day started and there was a break in play. I thought this was a good time for Roger to regroup, but to the contrary he surrendered serve tamely when play resumed to lose the second set. Certainly not encouraging, but at least it was now on even terms. If Roger could win the third set he would still have a very good chance to win the match.
As the third set wore on it started to remind me of the 2009 final. This was Roger’s big chance to exorcise that demon. He proceeded to get the crucial break in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead. But again like clockwork he dropped serve in the very next game. A break is not a break until you consolidate. Roger was once again doing the exact same thing he did in the 2009 final. He was letting Nadal off the hook. But at least he held on until the tie break. In the tie break Nadal quickly jumped to a 6-1 lead. Roger then saved four set points to make it 6-5. It was just to tease us though, because the next point which was the one that really mattered, he lost. Right then I knew it was all over. There was no need to watch any further. Deep down I knew it was over after the second set, having seen that resigned look from Roger.
But yet I stood by Roger throughout that third set. I wanted to believe that this time things could be different, but I was deluding myself. When he lost the third set I knew for a fact there was no way back for Roger. To Roger’s credit he still fought in the fourth set but it was all in vain. Nadal was going to serve for the match at 5-4. Roger was still fighting and he produced a break back point. Then came the most ridiculous point of the match where a ball from Nadal tipped the net. Roger had a comfortable forehand which he hit down the line. Against most players it would have been a winner, but Nadal got to it and hit a lob that landed squarely on the baseline. Absolutely unreal. Roger was so shocked by it that he steered the smash from the baseline wide. He was clearly psyched out that Nadal could make a shot like that.
There was a look of disbelief on his face. The point summed up the match. Nadal’s superhuman defense had triumphed over Roger’s offense, as it has done on countless other occasions. Nadal is just physically and mentally too strong for Roger. He breaks Roger down physically and mentally until there is nothing left of him. I mean Nadal is like a piece of iron. It is just unreal to watch how he reaches absolutely everything and never tires. It leaves you lost for words. But you just have to accept it. Of course the first thing that comes to mind is the doping issue, but to me that has become a weak reaction. Since there is no proof that Nadal is doping it makes one look like a sore loser by bringing that up every time he beats Roger. It makes it look like Roger is too good to ever lose. But hard as it is to believe, Roger can lose too.
Rather than using the excuse of doping, I want to look if there is anything that Roger could have done differently. The pivotal games in the match was the second game of the second set and the eighth game of the third set. These were the games where Roger should have consolidated and stamped his authority on the match. So in a sense he is to blame. But looked at from a different angle Roger is who he is. He will never become a killer like Nadal. I have come to accept this now. Therefor this match was not very hard for me to get over. I have once and for all accepted that Nadal is just too tough a match up for Roger and I am at peace with that. Other than the fact that this is just reality, there are two things that helps me accept this fact. One is that Djokovic now owns Nadal for the same reason that Nadal owns Roger, which is match up.
Djokovic is just a very tough match up for Nadal as well and he has been owned thoroughly now. The fact that Djokovic beat Murray today means that he will face Nadal in the final and have the opportunity to own him even worse than Nadal owns Roger. If Djokovic beats Nadal he would have beaten him in three straight slams finals, something Nadal never did to Roger, not to mention the other four consecutive finals in which Djokovic beat Nadal. The other reason that helps me be at peace is the fact that Roger is still the GOAT. The Australian Open website made a poll where people could vote for the GOAT, and Roger won it by a landslide. When I voted Roger had over 70% of the votes, while Nadal was a distant second with something like 12% of the votes. The voting is closed now but you can view the article here.
Roger is still by far the GOAT in most people’s eyes, which is nice to see. It is not impossible that Nadal may catch him in major titles. There is just no way I would count Nadal out from achieving anything, but the Djokovic factor is there. You also can’t put it beyond Nadal to turn the ownership of Djokovic over him around, but if Djokovic defeats Nadal on Sunday it will once again be a big blow to Nadal. It is important for Roger that Djokovic wins, because if Nadal wins he will add another hard court slam to his clay heavy slam resume, he would be on 11 slams, and he would have gone a long way towards getting the Djokovic monkey off his back. The Australian Open surface probably suits Djokovic’s game better than any other slam, so he has to make this count. Djokovic had a marathon five set match against Murray in the semis, but I do believe he will beat Nadal again come Sunday.
I hope you can all be at peace with this loss from Roger as I am and I hope this post helped you. I will be back tomorrow with a look at the Djokoray semi as well as a preview of the final.