Wow. That was some match and I’m sure I won’t be able to cover all of it here. First of all let me say this was a very good performance from Roger and I am proud to be his fan today. In my last post I said I just want him to make the score respectable but he did more than that. He came very close to winning this. He looked in control for the first set and a half. He was playing pretty much the perfect match on one of the few court surfaces that still favors him against Nadal. This is what makes this such a freakish performance from Nadal. I mean the guy seems utterly unbeatable. At age 27 after years of grinding it out on tour he is still beating the best on hard court of the current and past era and fast hard court is his worst surface! I don’t know what to say. He just seems to be getting better with age, despite chronic injuries and spending a lot of time on the sidelines.
So credit to him I guess for finding his way back after Roger was up a break and looked to be in control of the match. From the start I noticed that Roger was being more positive on the return. He was going over his backhand more often, although he did have a break point early on and then chipped the return, resulting in him losing the point. I wasn’t sure he had quite taken my advice to heart yet. He continued to go over backhand returns though and it paid dividends when he broke Nadal to win the first set. It was match on. Almost every time Roger went over a backhand return he won the point. I mean it’s a no-brainer, and it was nice to see Roger finally catching on. Being more positive on the return made all the difference. All of a sudden he was in a winning position in a match where no one gave him a chance.
He was still slicing some returns, but he was becoming more and more positive with his returning. He clearly realized it was the only way he stood a chance against Nadal, and now he was even in the driver seat. Unfortunately there are no highlights which makes it very hard for me because I can’t remember every point, but Roger had some chances in the 2nd set. I think at 4-4 he had Nadal 0-30 on his serve and chipped a Nadal second serve back. Or it may have been earlier in the set. The point is in a match like this the margin between winning and losing is extremely small. The difference between winning can easily be the difference between going over a backhand return or defensively chipping it in a crucial moment. And this is precisely why Nadal owns Roger. Not because of bad match up, not because of doping, not because of anything else than mental fortitude.
Nadal instinctively knows when a crucial moment in the match arrives and he plays extremely aggressive and makes unbelievable shots. Roger senses the same moment and doubts himself. It has happened at Wimbledon, it has happened at the Australian Open, it has happened in almost all their big matches. Nadal is mentally stronger than Roger. It is that simple. I was told from the start as a tennis player that mental fortitude contributes to about 80% or more to you tennis success, while talent and fitness makes up the other 20%. It’s probably not that much, but mental fortitude is the single most important aspect in tennis. You can be immensely talented and the fittest guy in history, but if you don’t believe in yourself it’s all worthless. Now we know Roger believes in himself, or else he wouldn’t have won 17 slams?
It’s just that Nadal has that little extra bit of belief in himself. He responds very differently to pressure than Roger. Roger gets tight and fearful, while Nadal relishes the moment and becomes a better player. Roger was blessed with more talent than Nadal, but Nadal was blessed with better mental fortitude. He is just unbelievably clutch. He is a mental monster. After Nadal won the second set I saw that resigned look on Roger’s face again. To his credit he fought very hard until the end. He saved several match points in the last game, coming back from 0-40 down on Nadal’s serve. It was amazing. But kind of fitting to Roger’s mentality he failed to challenge Nadal’s final forehand, which happened to be out. Who knows what difference it could have made? That kind of summed up the difference in the two players nicely.
Roger went through all that trouble to try and stay in the match and then he doesn’t challenge the final shot. The difference is that once he has the momentum against Nadal and loses it he can’t get it back again, whereas Nadal finds a way to turn the momentum around and hold on to it. Roger just can’t find another level. He gets that resigned look on his face, and even though he is still fighting the belief isn’t really there. Or else he would have challenged that final call. Nadal can just dig deeper than Roger. He finds something extra where Roger gives up. That is in the end the biggest difference. Sure the match up is a factor but it is not the decider. What happened in that crucial 2009 Australian Open final? Roger had his chances to put Nadal away in the 3rd set. He didn’t fail to put Nadal away because of a bad match up.
He failed to put Nadal because he hesitated, and Nadal made him pay dearly. There are countless more examples of this in their head-to-head. Roger should have won today too, but he allowed Nadal back in the match. I am not condemning Roger like the fake fans though. This is just who Roger is and I have always known it. How much can you criticize a guy who is still mentally pretty damn good and have won 17 slams anyway? No player in history is flawless, and you take the bad with the abundance of good. In the end Roger played really well and it is a shame that he had to lose one of the best matches he played this year. It will hurt but as always Roger will take it as a positive and move forward in that fashion. Overall Cincinnati has been a positive event for him after the disappointments of his last three tournaments.
At the very least he has proven that switching back to the old racquet was the right thing for the moment and that he can go over his backhand return and that it works. So hopefully he will use it more often now. Confidence is also a factor here and he was actually very confident today. He played just about as well as he could, which is a very encouraging thing. It is just that Nadal was better. Nadal is currently on another unbelievable run and I won’t be surprised if he sweeps Montreal, Cincinnati, and the US Open, especially since Djokovic and Murray both lost today. I mean the guy is unplayable. Even on his least favorite surface. The chances also looks good that he could end the year ranked #1, because he has no points to defend while Djokovic has several. As for Roger I have new hope and making quarters or better at the US Open is now actually a very real possibility.
I feel much better about Roger, even though he lost today. Nadal is now on a hot run but as I’ve said before the tide will turn again, at which point Roger will go on a hot run and Nadal will be down again. This may just be the point where things start turning around for Roger. It has been a tough old season but his results towards the end of the year may just get better and better, and then he could peak in 2014 again, while Nadal could slump. There is new hope.
Full match: I found the below videos and couldn’t find where Roger chipped back in the 2nd set when he had an opportunity, but even if he didn’t it seems Nadal is able to find that something extra while Roger can’t. And that is an ongoing theme in their matches. Also Roger could not find a way to turn it around again in the 3rd and shouldn’t have dropped serve in the first place.