Masters Cup Final Preview – For the Record

Yesterday I made a post right after I watched the two semi-finals and previewed the Fedal final of today. But almost right after I made it my post started bothering me. I guess I got swept away again by my own emotions because I virtually gave Nadal no chance to win. So I just want to set the record straight here. I still think Roger can win this in straight sets, but I don’t want to make it seem like it’s a foregone conclusion. We know the problems that Nadal have given Roger in the past. It is not an easy match up for him and Nadal has had the best year of his life in 2010. Personally I just feel like in the context of the Fedal rivalry this is now Roger’s time. Many things points to it. Roger have beaten Nadal seven times, so it’s far from a far gone conclusion that Nadal wins whenever they step on the court.

Roger has had some big wins of his own over Nadal, including two wins at the Masters Cup in 2006 and 2007. On both those occasions Roger was pretty much in the zone, beating Nadal in straight sets on both occasions. But a couple of things is different on this occasion. Nadal is a better hard court player than he was back then, and the courts are also slower then they were in Shanghai. Also, Roger is not in his prime anymore. Having said that, Roger is playing very close to that level right now. He also has Annacone in his camp now and may have a better idea of what tactics to use this time around. Nadal has now already won three slams this year. If he wins the Masters Cup it would just underscore his dominance. I’m not sure Roger is ready to allow it. I think he desperately wants this title to show that Nadal can’t just dominate at will.

Nadal has won this year fair and square and deserves to be number one. But I think it is very important that Roger wins this title to make Nadal’s dominance less complete. A slam and a Masters Cup, as well as other titles, would still make this a very good year for Roger. It would remind Nadal that he can’t dominate when Roger is on form. I mean lets face it, Roger was not at his normal level during the clay and grass court seasons. He only started gaining form again after Wimbledon. Even at the US Open he was still some way off his best level. This means Nadal has won all these slams while Roger was in a slump, just as Roger won he French and Wimbledon when Nadal was in a slump last year. Roger has a chance to prove today that Nadal would have found it much harder to win the last three slams had he been himself.

It will also be a huge mental boost going into next year, and it may just trigger another slump from Nadal. Roger and Nadal’s dominance goes in cycles. Nadal has now had his most impressive phase of dominance yet. There is talk that he can win the Australian Open and win four slams in a row, something Roger could never do. There is even talk that he can win the calender slam next year. It my opinion the latter is just a bit silly. You think Roger is just gonna stand by and watch Nadal smash his records? Think again. I find it hard to believe Nadal’s dominance will continue for much longer. I think he is getting near the end of his cycle now. If Roger wins today it may well be the start of s new period of dominance for him and a downswing for Nadal. I think today is crucial for Roger especially with the eye on Australia next year.

Roger must make it clear that he is not going to allow Nadal to achieve something he could not by winning four slams in a row. Roger’s form on the other hand is verging on his very best. If he wins today it will confirm that he is back to his very best, and he will be the overwhelming favorite to win in Australia again next year. But let me come back to the reason I made this post. In the past I have often been very positive about Roger’s chances. In fact a bit too positive. I became fanatic. I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s never good to be that attached to the outcome of anything, because if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to you set yourself up for disappointment. I have learned my lesson. No result in tennis is ever sure. To believe otherwise is madness. So I just want to make it clear that I am not certain of the outcome by any means.

Nadal has an incredible defense and Roger must find as way to pierce it. But as good as Nadal’s defense is, so good is Roger’s offense. And I still believe the best offense is better than the best defense any day. I also respect offense more because the offensive player takes initiative, while the defensive player just waits and hope the offensive player falters. In the Madrid final of 2009 Roger showed why offense is better than defense. On clay and in Nadal’s backyard he literally hit Nadal off the court with a master class of attacking tennis. He was absolutely brutal on anything short and never let Nadal settle into a rhythm. This is what he needs to do again today and he is well capable of doing so. He is well capable of blitzing Nadal in straight sets. I have no doubt about it. Here is what he needs to do:

  1. Take care of his own service games by serving a high first serve percentage and be brutal on any short returns from Nadal.
  2. Make a lot of returns and be as offensive as possible, putting Nadal under pressure immediately. Taking care of his own serve well will already put Nadal pressure on his won serve.
  3. Take the ball on the rise and not allow Nadal to hit his moonballs to his backhand and thereby exposing that wing. Also run around the backhand side to protect his backhand and crush the forehand to keep Nadal under pressure.
  4. Use the slice selectively to keep Nadal from settling into a rhythm.
  5. Approach the net to keep Nadal of balance as well. Basically keep Nadal guessing all the time.

Basically Madrid ’09 is the perfect example, aside from the drop shots and the fact that it was on clay. Because this is hard court he won’t use that many drop shots, and the hard court will make it easier to play attacking tennis. But he doesn’t need to think too much about tactics. I think if he goes out there and just play his natural game it will be enough to get the job done. If he plays similar to the Djokovic match I think Nadal will have a hard time. I also think it is important that Roger makes sure that this isn’t close. When it gets close it will play into Nadal’s strength, which is mental toughness. As long as it is a relatively straight forward win Nadal’s clutch tennis won’t come into play. But if it goes to tie breaks and third sets it will get harder for Roger. The Madrid ’09 final is again a good example here. He blitzed Nadal, never allowing him to come up with clutch tennis.

In fact he came up with clutch tennis himself when he served a second serve ace on break point down in the second. He may have to do something similar today. It will come down to one or two crucial points probably. The main thing is that I don’t want to get attached to a result here again, because if Roger does end up losing, it will be too disappointing. After all, the fact that we don’t know the outcome is what makes it interesting. I just want to sit back and enjoy what promises to be another spectacular match in this epic rivalry without any attachments and expectations. Good luck to Roger and all Fedfans!

Roger Federer


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30 Comments

  1. Thank you for your wonderful posts! Being a FedFan myself, I cannot help but read your posts after yesterday’s matches and before today’s crucial encounter. Nothing is certain, for sure, but one thing is clear: this is Federer’s chance. Everything is going for him right now. He is in top form. He had a great confidence-boosting run in the last two months. The surface favors him more than Nadal. This is his best chance to prove that their rivalry is still alive. And I hope he will. I really hope so. Because if he will not, under these favorable conditions, it will be devastating. Not just disappointing for me as a Roger fan. But it will turn into another AO final in terms of confidence damage. If can not win under these ideal conditions, will he ever be able to in the future? So let’s hope he’ll use this chance. Its the best one he had in 18 months, and if he does not use it, it will be so much harder for him to set up other such encounters in the future and come through. Go Roger!!!

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  2. I think it says a lot that this year Rafa has won 3 masters series events in a row, 3 grand slams in a row and has become an ‘all court player’ and yet most people consider that Roger is the favourite for tomorrow. Despite also playing his semi final 6 hours after rafa the day before. You know what they say? Form is temporary. Class is permanent. Go get him Roger!! I totally agree with you Ru-an, meeting Rafa at the US open would have probably resulted in disaster as he was still implementing his new strategy devised with Paul. Now he has a chance to take down his greatest rival whilst he’s at his peak.

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    mel Reply:

    I am not exactly sure that most people automatically consider Roger the favorite for tomorrow. In my opinion, it depends on which Roger decides to show up- because as we know he’s had fluctuating ups and downs in his form within the span of a tournament- ex. Shanghai, Paris etc. Besides the actual form of the players, the mental rigidity needed to claw through matches and close them out is far more superior in Rafa than Roger- at least more recently. Besides, I dont really think the fact that rafa played 6 hours earlier gives him some sort of advantage as you seem to suggest- he was tired in the 2nd set versus Murray as he said himself in the interview and though Roger played later, it was by no means a physically exerting performance as Nadal’a was, so technically, he should be the fresher of the two. And Rafa has transformed himself into a genuine all court player, so I really dont see the need for the quotation marks around the phrase. He has come a long way from the monotonous baseline hugging clay player of his teen years.

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    Andrew Reply:

    I disagree that Nadal is an all court player. Sure he can play on all courts now but he still plays the same tennis as usual- just on a different court. I thought he’d made changes to his game and he’d started to flatten out his forehand but in the final against Federer it was more spinny than ever. He did that horrible arm over his head thing on nearly every forehand. If Nadal wants to win an indoor title and avoid 3 hour plus marathons in semi finals then he will actually have to improve and change his game.

    Against Fed in the final I can’t remember one time he approached the net. His only cheap points were his lefty serve slid out to Roger’s one handed backhand- always has been tricky for Roger to deal with that.

    I agree with you about the fatigue thing. I was clearly wrong as Rafa had no advantage having played 6 hours before

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  3. I think it’s crucial for Federer to take the 1st set and for that to happen his must storm into the match like he’s done many times in the last few months. Winning the 1st set will give him the last bit of confidence to finish the job. If the match is goes to tie-breaks and lots of duece games, Nadal is going to win.
    Don’t forget Nadal is a better player than Madrid 09. His forehand is amazing, his serve is better, and he knows when to shorten the points and approach the net (he learned a lot from Federer). At the same time he still has the best defense out there, and of course the best mental strength.
    I don’t know if Federer will win it but at least he should make it very hard on Nadal so he knows that defending his points next season won’t be that easy and Federer will be there to collect.

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  4. Oh come on Iam it.Nadal barely won his matches.Don´t glorify Nadal.He can never achieve what Fed has done 23 consecutives G.SLAMS semis.That kind a domination is unthinkable, so remember YOU ARE ROGER FEDERER AND GO!!!

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  5. There are two Federers, godly Federer and his evil twin, the king of unforced errors. You can never tell which one will show up in any given day, that’s what makes it fun.

    In this match we had both! Fortunately godly Federer reappeared in the third set after the evil twin took over in the second.

    Awesome that he could finish off the third set in such dominant fashion after Nadal leveled the match. I expected Nadal to stage a comeback but Federer kept attacking and eventually it paid off. Nadal was always forced to play outside his comfort zone and couldn’t sustain it in the third, the unbreakable wall finally crumbled and started making errors. In the end all his hard-court improvements were only enough to win one set off of Federer.

    Great end to the year, another record equaled (5 YEC, tied with Sampras and Lendl), beating the world #5, #3, #1 along the way to the title with the loss of one set. The most important thing is that he showed us some magical tennis and that he still loves the sport.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Cant fully agree with you there Steve. The evil twin was nowhere to be seen this whole event. I think Roger deserves better from us. Nadal just raised his game in the second which was to be expected. He played very well indeed, and Rogers level dropped only slightly. But Nadal was never gonna be able to keep that level in the third while Roger went back to JesusFed mode. Epic stuff.

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    Ilya Reply:

    I party agree with Steve, and partly disagree. The evil twin did show up briefly, in the 4th game of the second set. Its arrival was marked by Fed making only 5 out of 6 first serves in that game. That gave Nadal a chance to break. Fortunately, the evil twin disappeared after that, and it remained Nadal’s only chance of the match.

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    Ilya Reply:

    I meant 1 out of 6 first serves, so 5 had to be second serves.

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  6. True, perhaps I am being a little hard on Federer. You can’t expect him to sustain the level of the first set all through the match.

    But I think Nadal played very well through the whole of the first two sets. Just in the first set, Federer gave him nothing. The rallies were short and Federer attacked everything and kept Nadal off-balance.

    Second set Federer’s first-serve percentage dipped and Nadal smelled his chance and seized it, as he always does. But Federer didn’t give him any chances in the third.

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  7. What I am the most happy about is that Fed seems to have found a strategy to Nadal’s game. He knows Nadal’s serves go to his backhand, and he copes with it successfully now. He stepped into each second serve by Nadal and attacked, even if it cost him a few unforced errors. He knows Nadal prevails in long rallies, and he went agressively for winners right away. In fact, I have not seen any player playing such an offensive game against Nadal, and that was the key to success. Nadal looked sincerely puzzled by Fed controlling pretty much every point. Credit has to be given to him, though, his defence was unbelievable. What a treat of a match!

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    Bragi Reply:

    Early on in set one, Nadal was sure not expecting a backhand winner in response to the shoulder high forehand. That to me was the crux of the match. From that point onward, the percentages upped in federer’s favour and gradually increased as he won the first set.

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    Andrew Reply:

    I totally agree- when Roger starts hitting his backhand like that the opponent knows they’re in for a long night. The short crosscourt backhands he was able to hit though were just incredible. Obviously a tactic he’s worked on and another shot he’s developed (secretly!!) to tackle Nadal.

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    marron Reply:

    Uh oh, it won’t be a secret anymore, LOL.

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  8. Amazing! Roger was amazing. I think he almost hit his backhand better than his forehand! He’d clearly devised a game plan which worked very well. Bring on 2011!!

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    steve Reply:

    Did you get to see it live? That’s awesome! How was it?

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    Andrew Reply:

    Hi Steve

    I agree with your post above. When JesusFed shows up it is a joy to behold but I was scared that the evil twin might take over after that poor service game when he basically gifted Nadal the break by having to play almost entirely behind his second serve.

    I didn’t see the final live but I was very lucky to see the semi final. It was unbelieveable to see RF at work close up! I was 20 rows back from the front behind the umpire’s chair so it was an amazing view. When watching him on TV you don’t realise how fast he moves and how hard he’s hitting the ball.

    A couple of other things really summed up the night. Before the players came out they showed a video clip of how they got to the WTFs. DJ’s clip was shown first… they say things like “Hi I’m Novak and my favourite shot is my forehand.” DJ’s was played through. Then Roger appeared on the big screen TV’s and the crowd erupted!!! The cheering was so loud that I couldn’t even hear what he said! It was quite amazing because it was only his TV image! When he stepped on court the place also went nuts.

    The other amazing moment was when Roger was in JesusFed mode at the start of the match. He played an amzing drop shot to win a point, I think at 15-0 up on DJ’s serve and the guy sitting next to me (a complete stranger) just said “unbelievable” and it was amazing because at that exact moment I said the same thing! There was just no other word to describe what he was doing on the court that night. I ended up chatting to the guy throughout the match.

    Anyways- I dunno if that’s interesting or not but I wanted to share it with fellow Fed fans! At the end of the match I also went down the front and was about 7 feet away from the GOAT whilst he was doing his on court interviews. That was pretty cool!!

    Andrew

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Awesome Andrew it sounds like you really got an up close view of the GOAT. Im sure its something youll always remember. Thanks for the briefing.

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  9. “In the past I have often been very positive about Roger’s chances. In fact a bit too positive. I became fanatic.”

    Hi Ru-an, we all are FEDERATIC. I am proud to be one of them. I know, you must be the happiest person in the world right now. Hey, we are not far behind. May be, even a bit happier than you. Oh Ru-an, you were so angry with Fed sometimes and even became very negative about him time to time. As I commented earlier in your blog, just keep faith on Roger. So happy that he didn’t betray you and the fans all over the world.
    In my opinion, in the final, Roger converted his greatest weakness against Nadal into his strongest weapon. Did you notice, how lethal those backhands were? Nadal was just stunned. I guess, those backhands off the wide-serves into the so called zone of discomfort of Fed (against Nadal) completely crashed him down. We also must congratulate Annacone for the resurgence of Fed in the later half of the year and for the self-belief that he re-infused into Federer’s game.
    I am really looking forward to Ru-an’s next article which I guess will elaborate on the significance of this win be for Fed as he marches into 2011.
    I AM A STRONG BELIEVER THAT FED WILL WIN NO LESS THAN 4 GS IN THE NEAR FUTURE.

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  10. I like this post of Ruan. As I suggested earlier superlatives put too much pressure on Federer. I do, however, agree that encouragement is a positive thing. Federer had so much at stake in this match, the experts will,hopefully, elucidate in future blogs.For now, he has tied the record of winning WTF five times with Lendl and Sampras,narrowed the gap of head to head with Nadal and being given renewed confidence of beating his nemesis in Nadal and they are some of the most significent achievements of this magnificent win.Not less significant is also the fact that he has been able to deny Nadal three times till now the coveted title of the champion of top eight tennis players. Nadal has denied Federer two calender slams and what not and so I think that Federer has yet to repay a few more to Nadal in kind. Let the Providence give him all the might!

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  11. First I got to admit an amazing match my Federer. Second when Ruan said that Federer is on a rise Nadal is on a decline. I believe that is wrong and both of them will be on their peak at 2011 and it will be amazing stuff but I think Nadal may go down in the later stages because of his physical game.

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  12. I really enjoyed the first set and thought that it was going to be a 2-set match. But in the second set Nadal showed his talent and ambition while Federer loosen his lovely performance he performed in the former set. For a second I felt that Nadal would win dramatically and I would become upset at the end. But again in the last set Federer was the Federer I have seen in his first Wimbledon victory of his career and become his fan. He was shining brilliantly again. His performance means to me show is going on. And for him I have best wishes in approaching new year. I expect him to win AO, USO and Wimbledon and to be in the final of FO in 2011. And it is obvious that whether numbers proves its opposite Nadal is one who should play tennis very strictly tactical and he should take measures to win Federer while Federer just neeeds to be on his own freestyle. Also I like to mention that Gael Monfils is my second best for the game. And lastly, Marsel Ilhan is first man in top 100 from my country whom I wish best achievements to come true.

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