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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