Simply a masterful display from Roger today. I just read something in a forum which I have to share with you.
People have to understand this – questioning genius is like knowing what a woman is thinking – it cannot be done. Do not question genius, just watch mastery at it’s finest.
Not only did I find this quote quite amusing I thought it summed up Roger perfectly. And it is ironic that it was a female reader of mine who kept believing in Roger when I had lost all faith in him. You know who your are! That is my challenge with this blog, I can make as much analysis and predictions as I want but in the end you can never really grasp a genius. I would have been the first one to admit that Roger had virtually no chance to win this match, in fact I did just that in reply to a comment on my previous post. I was hoping for Roger to win a set, let alone the match. Yet he goes ahead and win the match. But not only that, he doesn’t drop a set! It is something he has never done before, the only time he beat Rafa on clay was in the final of Hamburg 2007. The score on that day was 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.
This is truly a monumental win and there is so much to say I once again find it hard to know where I should start. Let me just start with an analysis of the match and later I will get to it’s significance. Roger came out today exactly the way I have said he should on countless occasions on my blog. From the very first game he showed intent to take Rafa out of his comfort zone. And it showed, Rafa never looked comfortable out there, missing shots that would make you believe he was having an off day. But you would be wrong to believe that. You only play as well as your opponent allows you to play. Today Roger was masterful at making Rafa play the match on his terms, never allowing him to settle in on his comfort zone from the back of the court.
From the first game he was serving excellently and he ended with a first serve percentage of 63, which was key. Rafa kept missing returns because of this and the points were kept short. And if the ball came back from the first serve you often saw Roger step in and hit the winner. He was not going to give Rafa any second bites of the cherry today. He even served-and-volleyed on a few second serves, which must have really messed with Rafa’s mind. On the return it was clear that Roger was looking to attack the Rafa second serve. Rafa made it difficult however, serving at 80% first serves. Yet in the end the intent to attack and get forward was what planted the seed of doubt in Rafa’s mind. It made all the difference. Rafa seemed out of sorts, uncharacteristically missing shots he never misses usually.
To the untrained eye it would seem that Rafa just had a bad day, when in fact he was being made to play bad. Did Roger read my blog? Just kidding, but it is clear he changed something drastic today. Was it because of the conditions? It would have helped but I think it is more then that. I think it has finally gotten through to Roger what he has to do beat Rafa and I am delighted to see it. On an emotional level this is massive for Roger. Even after winning the first set and getting the break at 2-2 in the second set the match was far from over. It was still crucial that Roger held serve to consolidate that break, which of course he did. Then when serving for the match at 5-4 he went down 15-40 on his serve, and it looked like all those past demons would come back to haunt him.
With the crowd really into the match at this point, shouting ‘RAFA, RAFA!’ Roger was under immense pressure. It was hard to watch at this point for me, knowing that if Rafa took advantage of either those break points the crowd would go nuts and Rafa would have serious momentum behind him to hand Roger yet another demoralizing victory. Considering all this I thought Roger did incredibly well to hold serve and win the match. At 15-40 there was a long rally and both players hit ground strokes that clipped the net, heart stopping stuff! Yet Roger held his nerve and on 40-40 he served an ace of a second serve! Just incredible clutch play from Roger. Any critic who said Roger chokes under pressure had their mouths shut for a long time to come, if not forever.
The amount of criticism Roger had to endure of late has been immense, and as a fan I also criticized Roger on many occasions. To be honest with you I was never sure if Roger would ever overcome this ‘Rafa complex’ and I was worried things would only continue to get worse for him. Therefor you can understand how pleasantly surprised I am today. I thought Roger might eventually change things against Rafa with the help of a coach perhaps, but now you have to wonder if a coach is even necessary. Didn’t he just unlock the Rafa puzzle on his own? Granted, the conditions made it easier for him to employ the right game plan, but today I saw a certain intent from Roger to take Rafa out of his comfort zone that I haven’t seen from him before.
Why didn’t he play like this at the Australian Open or Wimbledon? I suppose those tough losses is what it took for him to wake up. Surely this will give Roger a big boost of confidence going into the French Open to maybe win his first title in Paris. The stakes couldn’t be higher, should he win at Roland Garros he will have completed the career grand slam and he would without a doubt be considered better then Pete Sampras and the greatest player of the modern era. This could be Roger’s best chance to do just that. Rafa is still the favorite to win in Paris and Djokovic has become a very good clay court player. Therefor I can’t help but feel that the draw will be crucial. Once again Roger will need some luck.
If Djokovic is in Rafa’s half of the draw he could soften up Rafa in the semi-finals and Roger could have an easier match which would make him fresher for the final. The conditions in Paris won’t be like Madrid and Roger will need any little luck he can get. But whatever the case may be I am really happy for Roger. It hasn’t been an easy last year and a half for him. He did win the US Open during that time but he didn’t play Rafa. Obviously the US Open title is bigger then Madrid, but the fact that he beat Rafa in his own back yard, on his favorite surface, in the convincing manner that he did, after all the devastating losses he had suffered at his hands of late, must make this one of his most significant wins of the last year and a half at least.
I have been feeling of late that it would take a small miracle for Roger to get his confidence back, and it seems that he has now provided that miracle. Looking ahead I have new hope for him. He must now have a great chance to reclaim his Wimbledon crown from Rafa, which before this match I seriously doubted he could do. The Federer/Nadal rivalry got a much needed injection which is great for tennis as a whole. Nadal still leads the rivalry 13-7, but as we know most of those meetings was on clay. So really you would have to say it’s quite close again. Of course I would like to see him close the gap more, but after today I have every confidence that he can. After Roger won match point he lifted his finger and looked into the crowd as if to say: “You should never have doubted me, BIG mistake!”.
We will never doubt you again Roger…