Is Federer Still Scared of Nadal?

Since the Madrid final and the revival of the Fedal rivalry after a full year, I think it is worth while to take a look at the rivalry once more, to see what has changed if anything. Above you will find a blog post by Robbie Koenig, one of the tennis commentators and my fellow countryman. I’m not a Koenig fan, but I do happen to think the above blog post is pretty accurate. He is making the point that Federer does not take advantage of his break point opportunities when playing against Nadal, which is a very valid point. The Federer we saw in the first set against Nadal in Madrid is the one that used to be scared of Nadal. The Federer that did not put away Nadal when he had the chances to do so. When a player continually wastes break points, it only points to one thing – fear. If you followed my blog you would know I made the point before that Federer is a more mature player since his slump in 2008.

It taught Federer humility and to be more fearless. I can’t agree with Koenig that Nadal was exhausted when Roger beat him on clay. By that logic Nadal must have been exhausted at the Australian Open in 2009 when he had that marathon five setter against Verdasco as well. Yet he still came back to beat Roger in another five set marathon. Sure Nadal had a tough three set match against Djokovic the day before in Madrid, but the Australian Open is best of five sets and two weeks long. My opinion is that Federer simply hasn’t reached peaked form yet, and that only really clicked with me after a comment by one of my readers. I mean he came from a confidence crushing loss to Albert Montanes the week before, whereas the year before he came off a semi-final at a Masters Series event in Rome.


Quite a big difference I’d say. In 2009 he lost only one set in Madrid, whereas last year he lost four. And the way he came out against Nadal in the final last year was very different from this year. He came out in the final on Sunday looking very unsure of himself. Only in the second set did he start playing the game that saw him beat Nadal last year, and by then it was too late. It wasn’t gonna be his day. So for Koenig to say that Federer only beat Nadal on clay because Nadal was tired is not completely accurate I think. We saw how close the match stats was in Sunday’s final, and I’m sure if Roger had been fully confident he would have won again. But he wasn’t. Unlike last year, Madrid was still a tournament where Roger was playing himself into form. Losing sets to guys like Gulbis and Ferrer was testament to that.

But none of this matters. Last year Federer needed to win Madrid desperately before the French Open because he was in such a deep slump. This year it is not that crucial. He won the Australian Open and knows the game is there. It’s just a question of finding it again, which is what he did in Madrid. So getting back to the title of my post: Is Federer still scared of Nadal? We all know that he has been in the past. To deny that fact is to be in denial. But like I said I had a feeling that fear left him last year when he came out of the slump of 2008-2009. The emphatic way in which he beat Nadal in Madrid last year showed me that he had lost his fear of Nadal. I think it would be wrong to say that he is now fearing Nadal again just because he lost to him in an event where he was still playing himself into form. The real test will come if and when they meet in the French Open final again this year.

Roger has played himself very nicely into form heading into Paris now, and there will be no excuses if and when he faces Nadal in the final again. I’m speaking hypothetically now, but as a fan I would be deeply disappointed if Roger goes ahead and doesn’t do something drastically different from what he did before when facing Nadal at the French Open. After all, he has won the title now and have nothing to lose really. If the Fedal final is to happen again, which you would think is a very good possibility, I want to see Roger coming out really taking it to Nadal from the start. He can’t allow Nadal to exploit his backhand the way he allowed it in the first set on Sunday, that is for sure. He either needs to step into the backhand and rip it, or he must be at the net. He needs to take risks, which is the only prayer he has against Nadal in Paris.

That doesn’t guarantee him victory of course, but at least gives him a chance. Robbie Koenig says this too. Roger must pull the trigger when he faces Nadal. When there is a break point he must take a chance. There is simply no other option if a favorable outcome is to be achieved. What Roger did in the first set when he had all those break points is the peRFect example of what he should not do. Putting the ball back in play and hoping for Nadal to make the error is suicide. I think you get the idea. Having said all of this, I feel positive for Roger’s chances in Paris. I think he has timed his preparation for Roland Garros peRFectly once more. I expect him to play his best tennis in the French capitol. And if there was ever a chance for him to beat Nadal in Paris, this must surely be it. He knows what to do against Nadal on clay now. It’s now just a question of going out there and doing it.

A win over Nadal in Paris would be the ultimate achievement for Roger almost, and would silence a whole host of critics once more. It would also mean that Roger has a chance of completing the calender slam. I had a bit of a bleak outlook after Sunday, but I am looking forward to the French Open once more..

May the Fedforce be with you.

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  1. Great post, Ru-an, as always. I feel the same as you: I just don’t see Roger being “afraid” of Nadal, at least in the sense of how he used to be afraid of him. If he is afraid of Nadal now, it’s got to be more due to the fact that he knows how resilient and powerful of a player Nadal is and less about the “Nadal complex” he had. I bet he probably gets frustrated because Nadal can hit back many of his amazing shots that most players can’t get to. So all that together should give Roger a keen appreciation of what Nadal can do. So yes, I think Roger is afraid of Nadal, but only because he has seen how well Nadal plays.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Johnny. Nadal does have a very challenging game style for Roger, there is no doubt about that. But he must find a way to overcome that. He cant let Nadal hit heavy topspin forehands to his backhand all day, that much is sure.


  2. As they so often do, the thoughts you share on your blog site concur with my own. I think people who don’t watch Federer work up toward his favored best-of-5 set matches don’t understand the factors affecting how his fitness, play, and confidence in is his play, which work together to create his game, build during the run-ups to the slams.


  3. I believe someone said that Fed is not the Fed of 2005-6
    then again I don´t think Rafa is the Rafa of 2007-8.
    That´s why I believe Roger can beat him if he´s not afraid of him.With the improvements he made he has all sorts of momentum.I think Roger can take a lot of positivies from his performance in Madrid.Nadal will likely win the French but is by no means a certainty.
    Hope that luck day (Roger beating Nadal on the final)
    comes as a dream in 3 weeks.


  4. It´s obvious Fed has more variety of shots that anyone in the game.The problem is in his head, and R.N. is in it.(the worst is that Rafa knows this).
    Until he does not fear his mind can not open up and get to the business with his game to beat Nadal.So if he´s not disturbed he´s going to beat Nadal on clay.
    That´s why he respects so much Rafa because he can´t handle the situation.(and he knows it)


  5. Looking back at last Sunday’s final, I tot Roger was able to handle his BH well. The huge difference was the missing dropshots during the 1st set. He did change tactic during the 2nd set and almost spot only but just a little too late. He was also aggressive with service returns as well. Contradicting to what I have posted earlier, I don’t think Roger has Nadal complex anymore. He is just coming from spring time mini slump and trying out a lot of things. RG draw will set pace and tone how next 2 weeks is going to be. As FedFan, I am rooting for him to retain his title regardless if Nadal is there to meet him come Sunday.


  6. If they both make it to the French Open final, everybody will expect Nadal to win because of the memories from the past. But Federer will win because of the prospect of the future. Because Federer has nothing to lose, Rafa everything. If Federer loses, it is what everybody already expected him to do, and the critics / Rafa fanatics will repeat themselves in their boring analisis. But how would they comment a Rafa loss against Federer in Paris’ final? A scary thougt for Rafa. Nadal will be scared of history, Federer will enjoy to be there, execute his attacking game plan at full risk (nothing to lose anymore, he won it before), and ultimately win. And having won a RG final against the clay GOAT, any remaining fears will vanish.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Wow, thats like poetry to my ears man. Lets hope it happens! :D


    Jiten C Kalita Reply:

    I am sure Ru-an, the words that sounds poetry to your ears will be a reality on June the 6th 2010.

    Who knows, the Madrid final may have been a tactical ploy on Federer’ part; he obviously did not want to launch his new weapon(s) in Madrid so that Rafa could have answers to them at the French open. It is time Roger forces Rafa to try something other than that not so great serve to his backhand that still has been doing the damage. What about a double-handed backhand return for a change?


  7. Fed’s not scared of Nadal,cos he’s got used to Rafa kicking his ass so much….Check out the Head 2 Heads by surface to!!!

    Silly title champ…


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