Not sure what to say anymore. Nadal beat Isner 7-6(8), 7-6(3) in the Cincy final today and has now utterly dominated hard courts since his 8 month break from the sport, a surface that historically was probably his worst. He has won every hard court event he played this year, and each of them was a Masters Series. It almost defies logic. He has also dominated clay the way he usually does, with only that loss against Zeballos in his first tournament back and the loss against Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final. The only flaw is his first round loss to Darcis at Wimbledon, and you have to wonder now how that even happened. So I’d like to congratulate Nadal. Like Roger he sure has the ability to bounce back from disappointments and he is the ultimate problem solver. He is also mentally the toughest player in the history of our sport.
The truth is he just doesn’t have many weaknesses in his game. Sure he is not as talented a shot maker as Roger, but he is not far behind either and he makes up for it in sheer will power and love of competition. No one can keep up with him in the mental department, not even Djokovic. Of course he is on a high right now and when he slumps again we will talk about his limitations, but his mental strength is undeniable. After being a set down against a rampant Roger he just hung in there, and took his chance when Roger could not capitalize on a game point at 4-5 and 40-30 in the 2nd set. Roger missed a regulation forehand and Nadal sensed his chance. Dropping the 2nd set was not that bad, but at the start of the 3rd set I saw that resigned look on Roger face and he then went ahead and dropped serve. He was regretting what happened and it cost him.
After that he tried fighting back but the damage was done. So that was really the key which I didn’t get to in my last post. Nadal never regrets. He stays absolutely in the moment and plays every point in isolation. No matter what we may have against Nadal, that is something to admire. Very few players are that focused and intense. I think it is wrong to always want to degrade the player you don’t like and act as if the player you like can’t do anything wrong. People should know by now my blog is not for those kind of people. Even the person you hate the most in the world have strengths, while the one you admire the most has weaknesses. Nothing is absolute in the universe. Personally I can both criticize by favorite and praise my enemy. This is after all what makes the Fedal rivalry and era so interesting.
You have two players who are vastly different and who has strengths in different areas. Both can learn from each other, but probably Roger can learn more. You have one player who plays aesthetically pleasing tennis and one who wins ugly. The one seems to have all the qualities of a GOAT, including achievements. Yet the other is a better competitor and refuses to listen to the critics. He doesn’t know when he is beaten and he doesn’t care for the opinions of others. In a sense I have great respect for this attitude of Nadal, because everyone else who was in his shoes would have given in and believed that he is just not talented enough to be the GOAT, or that he has some other limitation. Since we don’t know with 100% certainty that he is doping we may as well look for the good in Nadal. I have already said that there is a time to keep quiet and a time to speak out, and in this case I am keeping quiet.
I am not doing this to please those who say I always accuse Nadal of doping when he wins. I don’t care about those people. I am saying this because I want to, and because I believe there are positive things about Nadal. Like I said he is a better competitor than Roger. He doesn’t back off when things get tight. He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t regret. These are things that Roger does and where he can learn something from Nadal. Instead of getting the resigned look on his face at the start of the 3rd set against Nadal, he should already have refocused and forgotten about the 2nd set. It was over and there was nothing he could do about it. If he refocused quickly and didn’t drop his serve at the start of the 3rd set I’m sure he would still have won the match. But that is in the past too, and next time Roger can’t waste time on regret.
Can Roger wind back the clock a few years in New York?
The world waits for no one. Things move fast and if you don’t adapt fast you are left behind. Roger needs to refocus once again and make the best of the US Open. I think he can take an awful lot of positives out of Cincy. I think he actually played a brilliant match against Nadal, aside from the dip in concentration at the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd. You see it’s OK to lose concentration once. It happens to everyone. But then you gotta refocus and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Roger had to refocus straight away at the beginning of the 3rd, but he dwelled on the past and that was the end of him. As far as his game itself goes it confirmed what I have always said: the game is still there. There was nothing wrong with his shots. It was all mental. So this match should clearly prove to people that Roger still has the game to beat anyone on a given day.
But he needs to stay focused and not let things that is in the past bother him. He needs to take a page out of Nadal’s book here. If he does that I think he can actually do very well at the US Open. After Gstaad I was just hoping Roger would win his first round at the US Open. In fact I wasn’t even sure if he should play. It shows you how fast things change in tennis. Roger pleasantly surprised me with his performance in Cincy. He gave Nadal his toughest match of the tournament, while Djokovic and Murray both lost to lesser opponents. Roger may have slipped back to #7 in the rankings in Cincy, but he made a big statement too. He is pretty much as big a favorite as anyone to win the US Open. OK maybe Nadal is a slightly bigger favorite, but after that it’s almost anyone’s tournament. Murray and Djokovic both look out of form, which puts Roger, Delpo, and Berdych pretty much alongside them as favorites.
Ferrer I won’t even mention and hopefully he will be outside the top 6 soon where he belongs. So in the end things have worked out a lot better than I thought it would and I am now actually excited about the US Open. The goal for Roger is to reach the quarter finals again after losing 2nd round at Wimbledon, but obviously you like to see him go further. Semis would already be a great result. You never know. Judging by his form in Cincy he could go on a hot run and make it all the way to the final. The draw will be important of course and what Nadal does. I’m afraid Nadal remains a very tough nut to crack for Roger. Nadal goes to #2 in the rankings after winning Cincy. This means for one thing he will not be in Djokovic’s half, who probably still has the best chance to beat Nadal. Murray won’t be afraid of Nadal anymore after having won 2 slams either.
Hopefully Murray will at least be in Nadal’s half, and Roger in Djokovic’s half. It’s not getting any easier at the top but if the draw works out who knows. I’d say Roger can make at least quarters and winning the title is not out of the question. Roger showed in Cincy that writing him off is a big mistake. I’d like to think that even if he plays Nadal he has a chance, if he does what I say and not live in the past. As long as he stays in the moment and plays every point on its merit he will have a good chance. Berdych and Del Potro has passed Roger in the rankings but Del Potro has quarters to defend at the US Open and Berdych semis. So if Roger puts in a solid performance he could be back in the top 5 after the US Open. As for Nadal I think he is the current favorite to win the US Open. He also has no points to defend until after the Australian Open so he can easily be #1 again soon.
This will concern Fedfans but for me it’s all pretty interesting and I am not looking far ahead anyway.