Roger got his first win of the season yesterday when he beat David Ferrer 6-1, 7-5 in a playoff for third place at the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament. Again that doesn’t tell us much, except for the fact that Roger got some more match practice and he is playing positive attacking tennis which is great. The fact that Rafa beat Soderling 7-6, 7-5 in the final does tell us something though, all be it just an exhibition tournament. Rafa needs confidence badly and this will help him. I watched some of that match and Rafa was playing well for a change, starting to look more like the player he was before his slump. This is good for Rafa before the Australian Open. He desperately needs some big wins before the Australian Open to go into the first slam of the decade with some confidence.
The win over Soderling was pretty good, but we’ll see what happens this week at Doha. Above you will find the draw. Roger has got Karlovic and Davydenko on his side of the draw, while Rafa has the easier draw with Troicki and Youzhny. I think Roger should get at least to the semi’s here, and I don’t think it would be a great idea to lose to Davydenko again if he happens to make the semi-finals as well. Rafa has lost to Youzhny 6-1, 6-0 before, so I suppose his place in the final isn’t guaranteed either. After Abu Dhabi didn’t work out, a Roger/Rafa final will be nice. It would be an interesting match indeed. Rafa seems to be finding some sort of form finally, and with a win over Roger in the final of Doha he could really get some confidence.
If Roger beats Rafa however, which he should, then that will be good for his confidence going into the Australian Open. I don’t think there is any reason for Roger to lose to Rafa anymore. In Madrid he beat him on a slow surface under trying conditions and all he has to do is to keep up that game plan. I’ve said this recently as well. If Roger’s mindset is right he should not lose to Rafa outside of clay. The thing about that match in Madrid was that it was more than just one win, I think it was a psychological breakthrough for Roger in the Federer/Nadal rivalry. He had a very different attitude going into that match than in their previous matches. He made Rafa wait for him at the net and played psychological games. I went over this when I analyzed their match in Madrid.
There simply wasn’t that fear that you could sense he always had for Rafa. And if he overcame that fear that he had for Rafa, then he really shouldn’t be losing to him anymore. Roger is the better player, he is just much more talented than Rafa and is much more complete. Therefor he has a bad head-to-head record against Rafa not only because 11 of their meetings were on clay, but also because of a mental complex. This is why I say Roger should not be losing to Rafa from now on outside of clay. Rafa has no answer to Roger when he plays attacking tennis and is not scared. It was just this stupid mental complex Roger always had over Rafa, and I believe Roger is over that now. I called the match in Madrid ‘The Rebirth’, and that was not for no reason.
I think when Roger won that match he exorcised many demons from the past. Not only did he emerge from a slump, but he exorcised the demon that got him in that slump in the first place – Rafa. If you are a regular follower of my blog you would have a better idea of what I’m talking about now, but it should make sense anyway. I think Roger is a different player mentally then he was in his prime years. That is what time and coming through adversity does for you anyway. It makes you stronger and more mature. This is also the kind of maturity that would stand him in good stead if he is going to win the calender slam. I think coming through that slump he was in successfully, can give him the mental edge he needs to beat Rafa from now on when it matters.
If you think about it, that whole Rafa complex was quite a childish thing. Why fear someone so much who has 10 times less talent than you? You impose yourself on that player and let them know who is the boss, just like Roger did in Madrid. OK I think you get the picture. Therefor I would like to see Roger against Rafa in the final of Doha. Roger’s old mindset might have said ‘I shouldn’t give Rafa the chance to beat me before the Australian Open, so it’s OK to lose in the semi’s’. And if that was the case, then it should now say ‘I would like to beat Rafa before the Australian Open and quash any hopes he has of getting his confidence back’. So in that sense Doha is a pretty important tournament, both for Roger and Rafa. Losing to Rafa in the final is not an option, but we are not there yet so I won’t speculate anymore.
In other news Roger was finally named athlete of the decade by an American magazine, Sports Illustrated. So Kudos to an American magazine for finally getting it right. It’s nice to see Roger up there ahead of names like Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps, isn’t it? And deservedly so. He is also the only non-American on the list. I think I like SI!
Then on a lighter note, Roger has been playing tennis with Rafa on a magic carpet that was flying through the air. OK not quite flying through the air, but it was airborne You can see it at the above link. It looks quite scary, but in one of the pictures Roger is smiling broadly, so it looks like he was having fun regardless.