Is Federer Really Better Now Than He Was In His Peak Years?

This is a topic which has come up quite a lot of late and in this post I will attempt to settle it once and for all. We will probably never reach a point where everyone agrees because opinions differ and it’s not that easy to answer, but I think there is data available and it is worth an attempt. I believe Federer is currently playing some of the best tennis of his career and if not better than in his peak years then at least as well.

  • Federer is Better Now by His Own Admission

“I think I’m a better player now than when I was at 24 because I’ve practised for another 10 years and I’ve got 10 years more experience,” Federer said. “Maybe I don’t have the confidence level that I had at 24 when I was winning 40 matches in a row, but I feel like I hit a bigger serve, my backhand is better, my forehand is still as good as it’s ever been, I volley better than I have in the past. I think I’ve had to adapt to a new generation of players again.”

Source

I think Federer’s own opinion is a good starting point. Who would know better than the man himself, right? Yes, Federer likes to sound positive and confident and he’s not going to say he is playing worse now. That doesn’t make his statement automatically false, however. He may truly believe that he is now a better player. This statement was made right before Cincinnati this year by the way.

afp-no-end-in-sight-for-federer-after-us-open-romp (1)

And I think anyone who watched him destroy Murray in the Wimbledon semis would agree that it was as good as Federer has ever played. Just a complete masterclass which gave Murray no chance whatsoever. It’s not that Murray played poorly. He just got destroyed by the far superior grass courter. The same can be said for the final where Federer was routined in the third and fourth sets by the superior grass courter Djokovic.

The opinion was that Federer had peaked early and that he didn’t play as well in the final, but at the US Open the same thing happened against Djokovic in the final and I don’t think there should be much doubt left that Djokovic is just a better player. The fact is Federer played incredibly well from the Wimbledon semi-final onward all the way through to the conclusion of the US Open. He didn’t lose a single set throughout Cincinnati or in the run-up to the US Open final.

He also lost his serve only twice during that entire period.

  • Federer US Open 2015 vs Federer US Open 2007

Now let’s compare that with how Federer fared over the same stretch in 2007. He was 26 back then not 24 but still in what was considered to be his peak years from 2004-07. In Cincinnati in 2007 he dropped sets against Almagro and Hewitt before defeating Blake in the final. At the US Open in 2007 he dropped sets against Lopez and Isner before defeating Djokovic 7-6(4), 7-6(2), 6-4 in the final.

And although I don’t have the stats for how many times his serve got broken it is at least twice but probably many times more. You can also see he played Isner and Djokovic the same as this year which provides us with a good comparison. Against Isner, he dropped the first set in a tie-break whereas this year he straight-setted him. Against Djokovic, on the other hand, he won in straight sets.

But there is a whole host of things that need to be taken into account about this result. First, it was Djokovic’s first slam final at age 20. Second, he was serving for the first set at 6-5 and 40-0 and had four set points. He was also up 4-1 in the second set and had another two set points at 6-5 and 40-15 on Federer’s serve this time. Federer served an ace on the first set point and on the second Djokovic missed a nervous forehand long.

It is no wonder then that he defeated Federer in the final this year after 8 more years of experience and 17 more slam finals under his belt. He had also defeated Federer in the Canada Masters final that year so we can hardly conclude that Federer is not as good as he used to be because he lost to Djokovic in the US Open final. It would be more accurate to conclude that Djokovic is a much better player now which is why he won.

  • My Conclusion

I think in the stretch from the Wimbledon semi-finals to the US Open final this year Federer played as well as ever. I don’t mean to propose that he is playing as consistently well as he did in 2006 which was arguably his peak year. In 2007, he was already on the downslope of his peak but he still won the World Tour Finals that year where he destroyed his nemesis Nadal 6-4, 6-1. He was still playing very close to his peak level.

Many people made the argument that Federer’s forehand is not what it used to be and that he lost a step and, therefore, is playing well below his peak, failing to mention that he changed racquets and coaches to improve other areas of his game. His forehand may have lost some pop(although he is still spanking it hard of late if you ask me) but his backhand and serve improved in the process. And so has his net game.

As far as the movement or stamina is concerned he is still moving awfully well for his age and I don’t see how stamina is going to play a role when you win everything in straight sets. You don’t decline that much physically in your thirties. I think people are making a much bigger deal of physical decline than it is and that most of it are flat out excuses. Last year Federer got tired because he didn’t schedule properly.

This year there were no such issues. I myself am astounded by how well Federer is still playing. To make two consecutive slam finals at 34 and playing as well as he is is something I did not necessarily expect. He destroyed everyone in the field but Djokovic, and that includes two of the best players right now Murray and Wawrinka. I thought he would win both Wimbledon and the US Open, but Djokovic is a monster.

usa-today-8778514.0

You have Federer and then the rest of the field exactly the way it was in his prime, with him utterly dominating the field. The only difference is that now Djokovic is even above him. That is, of course, difficult for many Fedfans to accept because it was always believed that Federer is the GOAT and that his peak is higher than anyone else’s. The problem with that is that if Federer won Wimbledon and the US Open they would probably have agreed that Federer is playing as well as ever.

If not better. The difference is that the competition has caught up. Djokovic is not the inexperienced 20-year old who is playing his first slam final anymore. He is already a legend of the game who is playing at an unbelievably high level. He’s got all the angles covered. The mental strength, the physical strength, and the technical aspect. He can do it all. A kind of tennis superman. Even the great Federer does not have the answers.

That is just where we are right now in tennis folks. Djokovic came up in the toughest of conditions with the two most dominant tennis players in history and because of it, he evolved into something unheard of. He learned from both, combined their strengths, and evolved into something better than either. Yes, I do believe Federer is right now playing as well as ever. He is simply losing to the upgraded version of tennis greatness.

  • What is Next for Federer?

Federer turns 35 next year so time is not on his side, but his tennis to me looks as good as ever. Therefore, you can’t count him out for another slam title but it is not on his racquet anymore. Djokovic is now better and he’d have to avoid him to win another slam. Nadal will no doubt make a comeback at some point next year as well. Possibly around the clay court season. That is not a great time for Federer.

Clearly the faster slam surfaces favor Federer these days and it’s very unlikely that he will win the Australian Open or French Open. So if Nadal is back for Wimbledon and the US Open that is bad news for him. Even a mediocre version of Nadal can give Federer serious trouble. He is that deep in his head. And Djokovic is not far behind these days. With Nadal’s ranking outside the top four these days, he can also meet Federer at quarterfinal stages of slams.

If there is one thing that makes Nadal confident it is stepping on the court with Federer and a win over the world #2 could go a long way toward restoring some of his confidence. Then you have Stan and Murray who is dangerous for Federer at the slower slams as well. With Nadal almost completely out of the picture I thought Federer should have made one of the slam finals he made count. Especially at the US Open where he had a distinct advantage with the crowd.

Mcc0062239 . Daily Telegraph DT News Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer in the Men's Finals . Wimbledon on Day 13 of England's premier Tennis tournament at Wimbledon . London 11 July 2015

From here on it will only get more difficult. Nadal is so much in Federer’s head that even him making deep runs in big events is enough to unnerve Federer. 2016 should be another very interesting tennis season anyway and probably the last year where Federer still has an outside chance of winning a slam. It will be interesting to see how long he can keep up his current level as well. It will be hard and the clock is ticking all the time.

He needs to have a good indoor season to get some confidence going for 2016. If he keeps losing to Djokovic at the Masters and World Tour Finals that won’t be good news for him. He needs to salvage at least another Masters but preferably the World Tour Finals after the missed opportunities in slams this year. Otherwise, he will lose even more confidence. Can’t wait to find out how it plays out!

Ps. If the Djokovic of today played Federer in that 2007 US Open final I think he would have defeated him probably even easier than he did this year. Think about it. All those wasted chances from Djokovic and he is a much better player now. In fact, he may well have destroyed the 2007 version of Federer.

Thoughts? Opinions? Facts?

The is in your court.

Posted in Uncategorized.

51 Comments

  1. You are effectively saying that Djokovic is a better player than Federer. This is impossible as Federer is GOAT. Nobody can be better than GOAT.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Good satire :))

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    Ugljesa Reply:

    A typical comment from an agitated soul who cannot face reality, but believes that Federer pees gold.
    How can Federer be the greatest of all time when he has been ridiculed by Nadal and has a losing H2H vs both of his biggest rivals?
    How can he be the greatest, when he is not the greatest of his own era?
    How can he be the greatest when he has beaten Nadal only TWICE in Grand Slams, both times in Wimbledon (2006, 2007), while he has not beaten either Nadal, or Nole in any Grand Slam final since 2007?
    No wonder that such kind of Fed fans (not all of course) are called FedTards, as whenever he loses, he is “old” and whenever he wins he is “maestro.” Actually, Federer has been playing some of the best, if not even better, tennis of his life throughout 2015. But as the author said it – let’s face it – there is a better player now. Period.

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  2. Are you not afraid that you might lose followers/subscribers by questioning GOAT status of Federer? The dogma is that Federer 2004-2007 is unbeatable.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Fortunately, I’m not hung up on followers/subscribers. If I was I wouldn’t have much substance, would I? I’m not doing this for popularity I’m doing it for honesty.

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    volume0 Reply:

    Hello,
    I liked your comment so much that you have gotten a new subscriber. Honesty and substance for some reason are rare these times. You are a good person I can tell and thanks for fighting for the truth.
    As soon as I read aren’t you afraid you will lose subscribers my stomach turned. At the end it makes sense… that’s why we are djokovic fans.
    I am glad I stumbled on your blog. I might not post much but i will be here for a long time! You can bet on it!
    Cheers!

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Thank you! :-) Welcome to my blog. If you want to get notifications of posts by email you must fill in the form in the right sidebar.

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  3. I personally agree with your assessment and Federer’s self-assessment. I do believe that he has substantially improved in some departments (and overall). I feel that his anticipation is better than ever. It would be interesting seeing him against Nadal some of these days (WTF hopefully). Regarding Djokovic, he has achieved that he doesn’t seem to play that well and yet he is winning. What happens if he starts playing well is a scary thought.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    That’s an interesting thought about the WTF where they must meet if they are in the same group. But given how they keep avoiding each other they will probably be in different groups. If they do play then Federer will surely win.

    As for the Djoker he clearly was not at his best in the USO final due to nerves and the crowd so yeah it would be scary if he is playing well. Looking forward to his favorite hunting ground in Melbourne. He is going to be awfully hard to stop there again.

    But same for Beijing and the rest of the year. I don’t think he will be burned out like 2011. If he wins Beijing, one more Masters, and the WTF he’s gonna chalk up one of the best years in tennis ever if not the best. And I would love to see him and Federer play in the WTF final again.

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  4. Djokovic seems to be in perfect place mentally just now. Becker normally works very well with Serbs (he played doubles with Zivojinovic and some exhibitions in Belgrade in eighties). I am eager to learn how Federer’s backhand holds against Nadal spin these days.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Interesting. Yeah, Becker and Djokovic seems to have great chemistry. When I first heard they would work together I thought it was a great idea because I thought Djokovic was not clinical enough on the offense which eventually cost him big time vs Nadal. And I thought Becker would be a great help in that regard.

    It took a while for them to find their stride, but Becker’s influence on Djo’s game has been extremely clear. He serves better, volleys better, and is generally a better offensive player. The partnership has been huge for Djokovic. It was exactly what he needed at exactly the right time.

    It seems with his improved offense he is now almost invincible. There are no more weaknesses in his game. I also like Becker’s digs at Federer in the media. Tennis needs more of that and of course Federer has been doing that kind of thing himself for ages. So now he has that to deal with on top of Djokovic’s game.

    I also see Becker and Djokovic were at a press conference in Serbia today. Becker said: ‘The idea is to extend the peak as much as possible. I don’t think about the number of Slams Djokovic wins.’

    https://twitter.com/acabgd/status/647374745919430656

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  5. Nice post, Ru-an. I felt it’s as authentic as it can get. One of the all time great posts of yours, if not the GOAT. :-)

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thank you! I’ve been inspired to write of late between the Djokovic phenomenon and the ruined Fedtards. It’s been a highly enjoyable time in tennis since Wimbledon <:-P

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  6. I believe that Federer will improve further and that Nadal will come back in full swing. With Murray and Wawrinka it will be great competition. I don’t know how long Djokovic can hold himself together, but he is clearly motivated to last as long as possible.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I don’t think there is room for Federer to improve any further. And neither for Nadal for that matter. Federer is playing as well as ever and at age 34 it is a tough ask to improve even more. It’s crazy that he is playing as well as he is. The only way he can perhaps improve is by seeing a psychologist.

    I don’t think Nadal can improve either, but I do think he can get close to where he was before. And yes it will be an interesting time with Stan and Murray playing very well too. I think Djokovic can hold himself together for a long time. Tennis longevity has increased lately with players playing their best tennis at older ages.

    Djokovic is such a health nut and user of alternative methods to increase his longevity including loads of stretching that I can see him having great longevity. And then of course his improved offensive game will help with longevity too.

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    Charlie Reply:

    Problem is for Novak is when the next generation come along and really step it up against him. Each generation is usually slightly better than the last. Therefore I make a distinction between greater and better. Nadal and Djokovic are quite possibly better players than Federer? But in terms of greatness and records? No way. So yes in comparison to this era Federer’s era was ‘weak’ but usually each era is stronger than the last. So if Novak suddenly finds himself with a 22-23 y.o. player to deal with (say someone like del Potro but more consistent with less injuries) then his chances of a long slam-winning career go down. But certainly in terms of when he actually RETIRES, which is an entirely different concept, he probably can keep going until his mid-thirties without too many injuries like Federer, provided he is willing to accept significantly more losses, and almost certainly no longer being no.1 in 7-8 years time. It’s the same argument with Federer. How long does he want to play knowing he is probably consigned to being second best, and only having a chance of winning a slam if Djokovic has either already lost or if he plays absolutely lights-out tennis (think RG 2011).

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Nadal can’t match Federer in terms of overall greatness because he is too clay dependent and wasn’t nearly dominant enough. Djokovic, on the other hand, is building a very solid case. He only needs to pick up that FO title and stay #1 for a few more years which should be easy with the current field and he would be right up there with Fed. Assuming he wins more slams as well which you’d expect to be the case. And I don’t see why he’d have to accept significantly more losses when he is Federer’s age. Federer already had that 2013 season where he sucked big time. Djokovic doesn’t necessarily have to have a season like that. That was due to injury and Djokovic doesn’t have a history of a chronic injury. I don’t see why he can’t keep dominating for many more years. He has adjusted his game beautifully to be more attacking and he leaves no stone unturned as far as health goes. He is not Nadal who has to run himself into the ground to win points. And there are no weaknesses in his game likes Federer’s mental fortitude or one-handed bh which could be exposed. There will surely eventually come someone who will be the next version of greatness and expose a flaw in Djokovic’s game, but that is still a long way off. Djokovic may only have reached his true peak now. He reached his prime only in 2011 when he was 24. That is a late bloomer. Then he had some setbacks in 2012-2013 which look like it only strengthened his resolve. He may dominate absolutely for the next 2-3 years in which case he’d already have a GOAT claim. We will see, but I think it’s unfair to make statements about things we have no way of knowing.

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    Charlie Reply:

    Just saying that we shouldn’t presume anything. Injuries can strike people down at any time. No one would have bet on a really bad 2013 for Federer after a good 2012. You never know when an injury can strike a player down.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Right, but with Federer it was a chronic thing that he had before. If something happen to Djoker it won’t be a recurring thing so my point is that in that sense he is already healthier than Federer.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    From Twitter:

    ‘W/O&retirements by top-10 players in their last 300 matches
    Novak 0
    Roger 2
    Andy 3
    Stan 5
    Tomas 2
    Kei 9
    Rafa 1
    Ferru 2
    Milos 7
    Gilles 5’

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    Nakul Reply:

    Also from twitter in response to that tweet;

    310 matches ago, ND withdraws from Paris.
    316 ret. in Davis Cup
    323 ret in Cincy

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    Ru-an Reply:

    How is that relevant here? Sorry, but this is not a Djokovic hate blog Nakul. You may want to try PeRFect Tennis Blog for that. If you read the discussion we were talking about Djokovic’s longevity so the stats I posted were in reference to that and the ones you posted have no relevance to that. Djokovic clearly made changes since the beginning of 2011 and since then he’s very rarely retired of given walkovers if ever.

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    Nakul Reply:

    Right I gotta admit that I didn’t read the whole discussion before commenting. My bad. Sorry if it looked like I’m trying to spread hate on Djokovic. Definitely that’s not what I intended to do

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    Ru-an Reply:

    If I may ask what was your intention Nakul?

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    Nakul Reply:

    Of course you may ask. I saw your comment and also saw this on twitter. Just look at the conversation on Twitter which followed the tweet and you’ll get to know. I must also admit that I do many things instinctively without giving much thought into it, so may be this was one of such things. :-( Sorry if it offended you in any way. Feel free to delete that comment. In fact I’d prefer it if you do, since I’m now feeling contrite for it. :-S

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    Ru-an Reply:

    It doesn’t offend me. I’m not a fanatic who feels offended when someone says something negative about their player. But you will be held accountable here for your words.

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    Nakul Reply:

    Right. I realise that now and I’ll be extra careful from next time

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Seems like you either think too much or too little. Just relax ;-)

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    Nakul Reply:

    Lol I’ve heard that from a lot of people, trust me. 8->

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    mat4 Reply:

    Those retirements were in the final of Cincy, against DelPo in the DC, and in Paris, where he came to get a 1,8 million bonus and had to play. I watched all those matches, and Novak certainly wasn’t faking. He had an elbow injury and almost lost the USO final because of that.

    Anyway, now that we know that he had real health issues for years (it’s not like Rafa who doesn’t know which thigh hurts — at the AO 2011), it’s perhaps time to stop this story.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Right, Mat. That was towards the end of an absolutely brutal season where he was burned out. And since then he has adjusted his game to be less physical as well and, as a result, he hasn’t withdrawn again in 300 matches.

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    George Reply:

    This makes interesting reading. To me it seems that these days nobody goes after Nishikori (just used here as an example) for his retirements while back in the day Novak’s retirements were the main talking point. Why is that? Why Novak got more stick about this kind of thing than anybody else? I personally wouldn’t criticise those who retire as I believe that this is the last thing that a player would like to do.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Good point George. It’s probably because Djokovic showed so much promise early compared to Nishikori for instance. People like to criticize the best. Djokovic had already won a slam at the 2008 AO before he started to get this kind of criticism.

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    mat4 Reply:

    @Charlie

    “Each generation is usually slightly better than the last.”

    It’s nonsense. There were many technological shifts in the last 30 years: one in the middle of the eighties, another one at the beginning of the nineties, another one around 2000, and that accelerated the changes of generations. It’s all well known. Ignorance is not a point of view! This has been explained in details probably even on this blog.

    “Federer’s era was ‘weak’”

    ELO rating calculated by Carl Bialik or Jeff Sackmann clearly show that the Sampras era was weak, not the Federer era. Easy to find on the net, with the methodology, the bases used, an explanation of the limitations of ELO, etc.

    Finally, slams are not everything… Players play for living too, and a lot of them because they love tennis. That’s why Fed still plays, and I guess that Novak will continue his career for the same reasons, especially when the public embrace him, something that will happen certainly when Fed retires in western countries, while he is already hugely popular in Asia, Italy, etc.

    As a Novak fan, I was very happy when he was at 7 slams won. Now he has 10, and I am fine with this. If he wins more, OK with me. But whatever happens, I will be happy just to watch him for years to come, just like I would like Federer to continue playing just to enjoy his game a bit more.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Hey Mat, can you explain why Sampras’ era was weak? I would have thought with multiple slam champions like Edberg, Becker, Agassi, Courier, Rafter, etc around it wasn’t that weak. Edberg and Becker were winding down and Agassi was up and down, but I wouldn’t have thought that it was a weak era.

    Federer’s era between 2004-07 seems weaker with Safin, Hewitt, Roddick, old Agassi, Nalbandian, Haas, etc. Soon as Nadal came he started beating Federer. Or maybe you meant Federer’s era as a whole when Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray all peaked let’s say from 2008 onward?

    Very much agree with your point about slams not being everything. It is the most important criteria for determining greatness but not nearly the only and I think people are way too obsessed with it. There are many other things like h2h’s, weeks at #1, WTF titles, MS titles, career slam, etc.

    To determine greatness you need to take all of these into account so slams end up being only a fraction. I should probably make a post sometime to debunk this misconception a bit.

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    Charlie Reply:

    Sorry Ru-an but I have to attack the H2H logic here again. See, the H2H argument makes no sense. Say Federer was as bad as Sampras on clay, let’s say with the exception of RG 2009, so he still has his career slam. Instead of meeting Nadal in all those finals, he plays him say 4 times on clay, with a 4-0 to Nadal record on clay. Suddenly the H2H goes from 23-10 to 14-8. Let’s say he also avoids him on slower hard-court surfaces, so the three AO meetings are gone for 11-8. This is effectively what Nadal has done in his entire career. If Federer had done this would you say he is a better player? As that is effectively what H2H logic would appear to suggest. And also, why is having a bad H2H against main rivals worse than having a negative H2H against a bunch of nobodies in grand slams (like Nadal at Wimbledon the last four years)? I don’t understand this one. Given your reputation as a great tennis writer, and I respect your writing a lot, I am sure you have a compelling reason for believing in the importance of H2H, and I would be very interested to hear what you have to say on this topic.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Well, that is why Nadal can’t be the GOAT. But neither can Federer. He still lost to Nadal. We can forgive him the clay losses even though I always thought he was arrogant and stubborn the way he tried to defeat Nadal on clay from the baseline. He did not evolve. That was his fatal flaw.

    But let’s get back to ignoring the clay finals he lost. Then he still lost the Wimby final, the AO final, and the following AO meetings where each loss was worse. There is no way around the numbers. You either accept it or you don’t. But it does not change the numbers.

    I don’t even know why you are bringing up Nadal’s h2h’s. I never considered him to be the GOAT. I think you are being biased, but you don’t want to admit it. And as long as you are biased you will ignore the facts no matter how many times I tell it to you.

    You can develop all kinds of clever theories why the h2h is not important the way I used to when I was biased, but they do nothing whatsoever to change the facts. Nadal was Federer’s main rival and he owns Federer. Facts are facts.

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    Charlie Reply:

    Perhaps I didn’t make it clear. I am not saying that the clay losses should be disregarded. I am saying that the H2H logic makes no sense. If Federer had lost in the semis of all those clay finals he made when Nadal was waiting in the final, the H2H would be even. He would still have 17 slams and a much less embarassing H2H vs Rafa along with a career slam. By H2H logic he would be a better player. But clearly you can’t be a better player by losing. And how is Nadal Federer’s main rival? He is five years younger. Federer’s main rivals were Hewitt, Safin etc and he was able to completely dominate them to the point that he is now being judged against Nadal and Djokovic because he did not have any rivals among his own generation. Go back and watch prime Hewitt and Safin. They were certainly better than Murray. In this era there are 2 players better than Murray. Back then, although there were no players on a par with Novak and Rafa, there were more players who could cause trouble. In the current era a top player only faces a tough match from the semis onwards usually. Back then, Federer had to be on his guard from the 4th round or so. And yes, I admit to being slightly biased. But who isn’t? You are slightly biased towards Djokovic as his fan. Even if you are a moderate fan of a player there is naturally a certain element of bias. The only way to be 100% unbiased would be to not be a fan of anyone and just watch tennis completely uninterested in who wins. To me, that sounds like a really boring way to watch.

    PS. The notification thing isn’t working again, I have the notification box unticked and it is still sending out notifications. Sorry if someone else has already said this.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Right, Charlie, I have admitted many times to being biased myself. So let’s just leave this argument here because I don’t think we are going to agree. I don’t for a second think Hewitt and Safin is better than Murray for instance. And I think it would be a very fair assessment to say that Nadal was Federer’s main rival over the course of his career. Federer is currently outlasting Nadal. How can you say Nadal came after Federer?

    As for the h2h I know exactly what you meant. The point is that by making it deep in events Federer also managed to win all those tournaments that he did. So if you are saying his h2h could have been better with Nadal then you have to accept that he would have won fewer tournaments too. You can’t have it both ways.

    But yeah let’s move on. I once and for all deactivated the comment plugin because I noticed the same problem as you. Thanks for that and I assume you’d prefer looking for comments yourself rather than not being able to unsubscribe from comments.

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  7. However, Nadal is the only thing that is non-negotiable in tennis. He is the best clay courter ever and I see it as the only thing in tennis that can’t be argued. Everything else has pros and cons, but this is impossible to dispute. Regarding GOAT discussion, if everything stops just now, none of 3 players would be undisputable GOAT: 1) Federer has a problem of being owned by Nadal. Its not about negative H2H, it is about ownage and what happens when these 2 players face each other. GOAT can’t be owned by anybody, 2) For me, 14GS of Nadal is not his biggest problem in the GOAT discussion. The biggest problem are loses against players that shouldn’t be able to beat GOAT. As an example, Darcis has no weapons to hurt Nadal and yet he beat him, 3) Djokovic has no enough majors at the moment (if Djokovic would have 4-5 majors more including FO, I would consider him GOAT pending that Federer and Nadal don’t substantially improve their tally). This is considering their tennis alone. If I would consider their life circumstances and obstacles they needed to overcome to be what they are, Djokovic would be GOAT hands down.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Good post, George. Nadal’s clay GOATness is a certainty but as far as overall GOAT goes there is no chance whatsoever. Not enough weeks at #1, no WTF title, never defended a title off of clay, loses to Rosol, Darcis, Kyrgios at Wimby, etc. Just way too many holes in his resume.

    And you’ve already said why Federer can’t be GOAT. Unless Nadal is a doper which I personally believe he is then you can make a case for Federer but he is now starting to get owned by Djokovic too.

    Djokovic for me has the potential to surpass Fedal and become the GOAT. If he wins the FO, spend several more weeks at #1, and win 5+ more slams he’d be the GOAT. No flaws in his game whether it be mental, physical, or skill.

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    mat4 Reply:

    @George:

    Why don’t you read the part devoted to Rafa in this AMA:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/tennis/comments/2jw3qe/c_roelant_ama_60_itf_atp_player

    I can assure you that at least one TOP player thinks the same (Ru-an, I can reveal my sources per mail, if you want, but I am certain of what I assert here). And, doesn’t it occur to you that Rafa’s decline started with the inception of the blood passport?

    So, perhaps the Rafa we watched this year and last year on clay is the real one. A three times winner, at most. Just think a bit about what Marion Bartoli declared earlier this year. Then, did anybody noticed that the bulkier Rafa gets (again), the more he speaks about a new found confidence? Until he plays against Fabio, of course.

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    George Reply:

    Thank you Mat. I read it and it is very interesting reading. I view doping probably little bit different than other people as it is close to my field of expertise. I see it as being an arbitrary thing since what is legal is a matter of agreement. A very good scientist/MD can devise a currently perfectly legal PED strategy (they could be legal as they were not yet declared to be illegal being very new) that could be more successful than illegal ones. I suppose that all top players look for legal ways to achieve their goals. It would be stupid to go after illegal strategies as legal ones are usually better as they are newly developed. I have currently developed a strategy to substantially increase physical endurance in mice that is not yet tested on people (I know that it would work). Such thing would be perfectly legal and yet it fits purpose better than anything else I know.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Interesting comment, George. I think this is exactly what is going on with the best players in tennis because they have the money to explore these options. We already know that Nadal has used blood spinning and hormone injections which can give an unfair advantage and is not illegal.

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    Joe Reply:

    Mat4, I see you are not only highly intelligent but also have an excellent sense of humor. And of course there is a lot of truth in humor, and your post is no exception! ;-)

    I just want to note how one never sees an athlete in any professional sport who is at once the strongest, fastest, and has the most endurance. It’s just not possible at the top of today’s world, and when we see it I think we have to wonder about it. And yes, I’ve ‘noticed’ a certain correlation between the introduction of the blood passport and Nadal’s success rate.

    Along with many, I’ve long suspected Nadal of cheating. I even began to suspect Djokovic after AO ’12, but that is just an aside.

    What was unbelievable to me was Nadal’s US Open win in 2013, after a(nother) long absence from the game. He won the final against Djokovic with sheer power, and I thought Nadal looked angry for almost the entire match. Were the spectators witnessing incidents of Hemorrhoid Rage? Well, it seemed that way to me …

    And the press reaction, universally hailing his great victory on television, was repugnant to me. I didn’t hear anyone pointing out how unlikely or nearly impossible such a performance was. Oh well; I am starting to think he may yet get his due.

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  8. Hi Ruan,

    I reckon Federer play remarkable since the start of the grass season this year but less so in the first half of the year. In 2007 he was consistent throughout the year winning all the slams except FO where he reached the final beaten by none other than His namesis Nadal.

    Back in 2006-2007 Federer had not surpassed the Sampras 14 GS record hence he was hungrier and he was basically unbeatable other than Nadal on clay. He was still chasing for first his FO title.

    Since winning the FO in 2009 Federer had slowed down significantly winning only the Wimbledon 09 and AO in 2010. He couldn’t win another slam till 2012 at Wimbledon, a gap of 2.5 years in between his last slam title. I think once he achieved the career slam and his 17 GS he had nothing more to prove as he has achieved the pinnacle that no one has done. Even Sampras could not win the Career slam at his peak hence just show how phenomenal Federer is.

    Fast forward 2015, Fed is still stuck with 17GS having been to 3 GS finals since all losing to Djoker. Nadal has declined and it has benefited Federer one way or another to secure his 2nd ranking. Had Nadal still playing as well as in 2010 or 2013, Federer would have no chance and after multiple defeats in the hands of Nadal + Djoker I think he would would have retired by now. Djoker , too has benefited with the lack of Nadal at superb form, as they are both mental monsters it would be difficult for Djoker to win 3 out of 4 slams this year as well.

    Hence, my conclusion is NO. Fed is not better, or worse than he was in 2006-2007. However, he was quicker and more consistent in those peak years. In both the GS finals he played against Djoker his year, it was apparent he was struggled with some of the long and heavy ground stokes coming to him , he seems to lose half a step in retrieving those difficult, corner shots. It almost feel like Fed would not able to last more than 4 sets with Djoker once the play starts. The reality is you can’t fight age when u play against someone fitter and better than you in a best of 5 sets competition.

    To be fair to Federer, in his early era , master series were played in a best of 5 sets format in a final. I think since 2007 or 2008, it was changed to a best of 3 sets format. Djoker hence benefited by the change hence he has such a remarkable year this year wining multiple master series. It doesn’t mean he can’t win them all, but it certainly add on to the fatigue of the body and mind. Hence, the comparison of Djoker’s dominance versus Fed dominance in 2006/07 is not like for like. fed had to then compete the rise of the clay monster Nadal, and the up and coming Djoker and Murray, plus his rivals in his era Hewitt, Safin, roddick. Djoker’s closet competiton this year, is the ‘older version of peak Federer’, a subpar Nadal who he never had to play regularly (cos he was beaten early by other players)., and his other closet rivals are Wawrinka(brilliant but inconsistent), Murray(whom he always own), and no obvious rising stars to compete….u can say this is the weakest year in the last decade…hence the media hasn’t really warm up to Djoker either. The general feeling is, yes he is very dominant but he has beaten an ageing ( or ageless depend how u see it) legend which is expected of him anyway. Those who think Federer still has the wheels to compete with the current no.1 player is just fooling themselves. 5-6 years from now, if Djoker is still playing, it would become his turn to get dominated by the next top player…this is just the way the sports evolve..as good as Djoker, I do not think he is better, or worse than Fed in his dominant years.

    The way I see it next year, he would still be dominating because 1) Federer still has the mental block and c’mon, he is turning 35, what else can we expect from him?2) Nadal might make a come back but he won’t be as dominant as before with ongoing injuries and low confidence 3) Wawrinka, still dangerous in AO & FO but consistency remains a question 4) Murray, always the bridesmaid, expecting his first child soon,is his mind still on tennis? 5) everyone else who can only smell his feet

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    George Reply:

    @IWC2015: You are confusing level of performance with the outcome of performance. Titles can’t be used to assess level of performance if field is different. Federer had better results 10 years ago, but now he plays better (according to him and some experts). The reason is that the field is different now and he is less successful as he is forced to play against better players.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Exactly George. The competition is just stronger now.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks for the response IWC. I think Djokovic came up in the toughest era so if things are a bit easier now that’s just good karma the way I see it. You still have Federer who like I argued is still playing at his highest level even maybe not consistently so. He’s still been very consistent though bar the AO loss.

    Then you have Murray who has been even more consistent this year and who is a great player in his own right. And of course, Stan who on a good day can defeat anyone of any era. I think every era poses its own challenges like you said even Federer had his rivals early on in Safin, Hewitt, Roddick, etc. They are not GOATs but they could all play a bit.

    So I don’t think the current era is any weaker than during Federer’s prime. It’s probably stronger with the likes of Federer, Murray, and Wawrinka. I mean there is a difference of 16 slam titles after all. And then Nadal is still around and cost Djokovic several slams in 2012-2014.

    I don’t think Djokovic benefited that much from BO3 in Masters finals. I think BO5 finals would have favored him in fact. And although Federer doesn’t move like he used to his serve and attacking game improved which compensates for it. Also, if you win everything is straight sets you have no excuse in the final.

    Especially if you have a bp conversion rate of 4/23. Had he wasted less time and energy to win the 2nd set he could have done better in the rest of the match. It comes back to a lack of killer instinct and choking. You can’t expect to win wasting that many chances.

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  9. A very thoughtful and knowledgeable post Ru-an. Personally, I’m sitting on the fence between improvement and decline. His forehand is definitely not the force it used to be in his prime years, not quite as explosive or consistent. It was the ultimate weapon, he had an all round game but his forehand was the dictator of winning points. Most people would agree on his forehand decline, but on his backhand improvement as you have suggested I’m not sure. Watching videos from matches in his prime, his backhand (whether it be flicks, down the line winners etc) was just as spectacular as it is today. I think the greatness of his forehand overshadowed the quality of his backhand in his dominating years, now as the forehand is no longer as striking as it was, his backhand skills are more pronounced. I do agree on the serving and the volleying improvements, Edberg has been a very good contributor.

    Physically he is still amazing, definitely a step or two slower than in his prime but he is arguably faster than the majority of the top 100. Stamina wise he of course has less tank capacity than his prime but his renewed attacking game is designed to reduce energy consumption.

    What I do find very intriguing is that he’s actually handled Andy Murray in the past few years much better than in his prime/post prime period (’08-’11 lets say ). This is a good argument that he has been playing better however, then you can argue that his H2Hs against Djokovic and Nadal have worsened.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thank you, Conal. And good post. You are right the bh may not have improved. It’s difficult to judge. But a lot of people think it did improve. His fh was definitely better in his prime. His serve and net game are much better now however. The Murray domination of late is interesting.

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