I don’t know about you guys but I felt a kind of post Australian Open boredom/depression yesterday, so I decided to make this post today to help us all transition better into the coming weeks before the next relevant tournament. That is probably only Dubai which is still three weeks away although in between Nadal will play Rio and Buenos Aires, and it will be interesting to follow his progress there to see if he continues to build on his Australian Open form. Jiten asked me today how I thought Roger’s loss in Melbourne would affect the rest of his season so thanks to him for giving me an idea for a topic. I answered his question but will go into more detail here and say some other things. He also said he thought it is a blessing in disguise that Roger lost, but I felt that was just trying to put a positive spin on something that was not positive in my view. There is a place for being positive but there is also a place for facing reality.
Roger has always been known as a confident guy, even to the point of arrogance. And even though we were always making the argument that this arrogance is what allowed him to win 17 slams, the critics had a point. The problem with too much confidence is that it comes back to bite you in the ass if you are not careful. That is what happened with Roger against Nadal. I believe early on in their rivalry he underestimated Nadal and was trying to beat him at his own game on his own turf. Few people have probably followed Roger’s career closer than I did, so I know what I’m talking about. I was there at the beginning when he was a temperamental brat who smashed his racquets if things didn’t go his way on a given day. To his credit he cleaned up his act and became one of the greatest if not the greatest tennis player ever. But there is no doubt Nadal got a piece of him.
And that all began at the beginning of their rivalry due to Roger’s arrogance or over confidence. Call it what you like. He was trying to beat Nadal from the base line on clay which was never going to succeed. And losses on clay translated to other surfaces to the point that Nadal owned Roger in the head-to-head and became his worst nightmare on a tennis court. The first big blow came at Wimbledon in 2008 where Nadal defeated him in the Wimbledon final after failing to do so the previous two years. That had Roger on the back foot, but he was still standing. The knockout blow came at the beginning of 2009 where Nadal defeated Roger in the Australian Open final. That traumatized Roger as he once and for all realized that he is not invincible on a tennis court. Ever since then the beatings at the hands of Nadal got worse in Melbourne every time they met, and the head-to-head continued to get worse for Roger.
Last year was the worst where Nadal won in straight sets. I believe Nadal is deeply embedded in Roger’s sub-conscious to the point that Roger loses early in slams when there is a possibility of facing Nadal. We saw that three times at the US Open already. The first two was where Roger lost after having match points against Djokovic. I mean what are the odds that you lose to the same guy two years in a row after having match points? It is just too weird. Then in 2013 he gets trashed by Robredo in straight sets before he has to face Nadal in the next round. Finally this year he loses to Seppi who he owns 10-0 after a run of great form, including wining the Cincinnati, Shaghai, Basel, Davis Cup, and Brisbane titles. I mean he was set to win #18 in Australia. He didn’t even take a break in the off season. He didn’t want to lose any momentum going to Australia in an attempt to win that illusive #18. He had Edberg there and everything.
A tournament best left forgotten
He had a good start as he defeated Lu in the first round and and on fire Bolelli after losing the first set. He was all set as he was about to face someone he owned 10-0 and who should have been a mere formality. But then the day after Roger defeats Bolelli Nadal comes back from the dead against Smyczek, and the next day Roger puts in a very uncharacteristic performance against Seppi as he goes down in four sets. All of a sudden the clutch play of Federer 4.0 is nowhere to be seen. The mental fortitude that defined Federer 4.0 was gone. Where did it go? It had been there for the last 12 months. He was always a sure thing. You knew when the pressure was on he would come up with the goods. Like clockwork. We can make an exception for the clay court season because that is where Mirka went into labor and Roger was not very focused, and the Raonic match in Paris where Roger was tired after winning Shanghai and Basel.
Otherwise he was just extremely solid in the mental department. I believe that Nadal is by now so deep in Roger’s sub-conscious that when he defeated Smyczek it deeply affected Roger and he lost to someone he owns. And make no mistake about it the signs were there. After Roger lost to Seppi he said in his press conference that something didn’t feel right already before the match, as if something may go wrong. These are clear signs to me that Nadal is deeply embedded in his sub-conscious. Not everyone agrees with me but it doesn’t matter. Far as I’m concerned even the possibility of facing Nadal is now enough to throw Roger off. That is what emotional trauma does. It goes to your sub-conscious where you are not even aware what it does to you. I would know. I’ve been traumatized myself. So that is the problem with arrogance or over confidence. I think Roger is in a kind of denial and the only way he could solve the Nadal issue is if he sees a psychologist.
But I don’t think that is going to happen. I don’t think Roger will ever solve Nadal, and if Nadal continues to rise this year he will slump again. Luckily for him Nadal has not been a factor on grass lately which leaves a window of opportunity open for him at Wimbledon to win #18. A lot will also depend on what happens at the French Open. If Djokovic fails to stop Nadal again and Nadal wins #10 there then he becomes a serious threat at the US Open too. And if he is a threat there then Roger’s chances decreases. Also if Nadal wins the French who knows what he can do at Wimbledon. I think too many people are writing Nadal’s obituary again anyway. I have already said that the number I always had in mind for Nadal as far as slam titles go is 14. Why? Because he is very much like Sampras, although at the opposite side of the spectrum as far as game style goes.
They are just both extremely clutch, but like Sampras I always thought Nadal would burn out at some point. So I would love to be right and for Nadal to remain indefinitely on 14 slams, but if he taught me one thing over the years it is never to underestimate him. That is why I said earlier this year I have him winning two slams in 2015. He may not win any slams this year, but I think given how many times he proved me wrong in the past it justifies me making that prediction. I am just being careful. I don’t want to say he is done and then he goes and does what he did in 2013 and dominates the sport again. It could also happen that we have four different slams winners this year like we had in 2012. I would be just fine with that actually. Nadal can have the French Open this year if Roger gets to win a record eighth Wimbledon. And then Murray can have another US Open. After that Fedal can both be done winning slams for all I care.
Will be difficult to repeat…
Or both can fail to win a slam this year and they just remain on what they have now. I’d be fine with that too. But as long as Nadal gets another French I’d like Roger to get another Wimbledon. It is really hard to call what will happen next with Fedal which makes this an exciting year. I think this is probably their last year to win slams although maybe there is an outside chance in 2016 too. I think this is the time of Djokovic and Murray. They could end up winning all the slams this year. For instance Djokovic could win the French and US Open, and Murray Wimbledon. Or Djokovic the French and Wimbledon again, and Murray the US Open. Or someone like Nishikori can break through at slam level. Certainly a possibility as well. So in conclusion I think Roger’s early loss at Melbourne was a bad thing. I think he should have at least made the final to see if he could beat Djokovic and become the Australian Open king himself.
But he failed and now everything is in doubt again. We could easily have witnessed the end of Roger 4.0 in Melbourne, but hopefully not. He will need to be at 4.0 level if he wants to win Wimbledon. Nothing less will suffice. Maybe he can raise his game to that level one last time during the grass court season if Nadal is not a factor. But for that to happen I think Nadal will probably have to be toppled at the French by Djokovic. Only then can Roger be sure Nadal will not be a threat and Wimbledon and can he totally relax. So yes it is a shame that Nadal is so deep in Roger’s sub-conscious now that he exerts so much influence on Roger’s form, but luckily for Roger that may not matter anymore. If Djokovic finally topples Nadal at the French this year then I think he is done winning slams, in which case it doesn’t matter much to me whether Roger wins more slams or not.
The ball is in your court.