I’m sorry I haven’t made a post in a while, but it seems I have finally sorted out my online connection problems, and trust me you don’t want to hear about it. Rafa continues to struggle for form as he lost to Davydenko in the final of the Shanghai Masters. I guess it’s hard to say someone is struggling when they lose in the final of a Masters Series event, but he just hasn’t impressed me since that loss to Roger in Madrid. That was for me the turning point for both Rafa and Roger. Since then Roger has gone from strength to strength, while Rafa just keeps struggling to get back to his best. It’s doubtful whether he will ever get back to his best, although it’s always hard to count him out. He is now in a slump and I do expect him to get out of it at some point, but it won’t be as spectacular as Roger’s return to form.
There is no more spectacular way to come out of a slump than to complete the career grand slam, win the most majors and history and returning to number one in the rankings. As I have said before I think Rafa can still win some French Open titles. But as far as other slams go, I think he may struggle from now on. I’ve been watching tennis since Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title, and I have seen many a work horse fade away at an early age. Examples are Courier, Chang, Hewitt and even Becker. These guys all peaked at a very early age. Courier was the oldest of the mentioned when he won his first slam at the at age 21, and he won his last slam less than two years later. Chang became the youngest ever major winner when he won the French Open at age 17, his only major.
Hewitt won his first major at age 20 and his second and last one the next year. Becker was also 17 years old when he won his first major and at the time it was the youngest player to ever win a major. He added four more majors over the next four years, but after that he could only manage to win one m0re major five years later. Becker was slightly different than the rest because he was not a counter puncher. I just think he wasn’t really ready to cope with all the pressure of being a superstar at such a young age and it ended up costing him. This just shows if you peak early you decline early. When it comes to Courier and Chang, they just hit a wall at some stage in their careers. Hewitt had injury problems which comes with his counter punching game style, so you can say he hit a wall as well.
There isn’t a huge difference between Rafa and Courier, Chang and Hewitt. Rafa is the evolved version of counter punchers if you will. But essentially he is the same as the other guys. He is clearly more successful than the others, but that doesn’t make him all that different from the rest. The trademarks of a counter puncher is physical fitness and mental toughness. Those are their two main strengths. They are not exceptionally talented but they have the ability to make the most of the talent they were blessed with and more. These are their strengths, but their strengths are also their downfalls. The way they play makes tennis extremely taxing on the body as well as the mind. Typically they play from far behind the base line and simply gives you nothing.
They make no mistakes and they make you win the point. You have to earn your victories. The problem with this game style is that if it doesn’t work, the player hasn’t got much else to show their opponent. I think every generation brings a new evolved counter puncher. But no matter how good this counter puncher is, their opponents will eventually figure them out. It’s inevitable. This is because they only have one thing to show their opponents, and once that doesn’t work anymore, they have nothing to fall back on. This is what I believe is happening with Rafa now. I think he is coming very close to hitting that wall now, because players all over the place is starting to figure him out. Whether it is because of injury is really inconsequential, because as we saw with Hewitt, he once became sick and had to spend some time away from the game, after which he was never quite the same player again.
He just lost his edge, and even though he had some decent results after that, he could never really relive former glory. Guys like Chang and Courier seemed to hit a mental wall. As far as I know they didn’t have any serious injuries, but there just came a point where they weren’t the same anymore. The mental grind finally took it’s toll. Now I know Rafa is better than any of these players and he is for me the best counter puncher in history. You can make a case for Bjorn Borg, but I’m not sure Borg was just a counter puncher. I mean how did he win all those Wimbledon titles? Come to think of it Borg is another player who seemed to hit a wall when he quit tennis at age 26. Anyway I was going to say that Rafa is a notch above the others(not Borg), and I think there is still some grand slams titles left in him.
I think people who think that Rafa is just going through a hard time and he is going to win as many slams as Roger are in deep denial. I think he would be lucky to win half as many. As far as I’m concerned Rafa is now over his best. His peak was in 2008, and from here on he is starting to wind down. Losing to Davydenko in Shanghai is further proof of that. I mean losing to big power players like Soderling, Delp0 and Cilic is one thing, but Davydenko isn’t even in that mold. He is physically smaller than Rafa, yet he still managed to hit him off the court. This in now Rafa’s latest fall from grace, and it looks like it’s only getting worse. If you look at his draw it wasn’t exactly the hardest draw ever:
- Round 1: Bye
- Round 2: Blake(24)
- Round 3: Robredo(16)
- Quarter Final: Ljubicic(withdraws after second set)(28)
- Semi Final: Lopez(withdraws after first set)(34)
- Final: Davydenko(6)
For me Rafa’s best match was against Blake. I thought Blake played really well and Rafa did well to prevail 6-4 in the third set there. Then Robredo really has nothing to hurt anybody and is a very comfortable third round opponent. I thought Ljubicic played the best match I saw him play this whole year, but after being up a set and three break points on Rafa’s serve in the second set, he really should have put Rafa away. He missed one forehand by a small margin which he really should have made and in the next game he predictably got broken. That was a big momentum swing and even if Ljubicic had not gotten injured he may have lost anyway. I didn’t see any of the Lopez match, but from the scoreline it looked like he got schooled badly and then withdrew.
Then in the final he plays against someone who he has a 4-2 head-to-head record against, and gets bossed around the court in straight sets. Davydenko played a great tournament and it’s great to see him come back successfully from injury. I didn’t see the first set of this match, but it looked like Davydenko was using short angles and down-the-line drives to keep Rafa on the defensive. From what I saw Rafa was hitting too short again and with too much spin. He really didn’t play well from what I saw. And the problem was that he couldn’t change things when he was losing, because hs only knows how to play one way. Elsewhere in the tournament I was disappointed to see Delpo withdraw again due to injury.
Tsonga was disappointing in his convincing loss against Soderling, and showed once again how inconsistent he is. Soderling on the other hand was too one dimensional in his straight set loss against Lopez. Cilic lost early on to Berdych which was more proof that he has some way to go, while Verdasco chickened out as usual against Ljubicic in the second round. Not to mention Roddick’s injury. I thought we would get at least a Rafa/Djoker final, but not even that happened. Overall this was a very disappointing Masters Series event, with something like nine injury withdrawals. It clearly shows that players are not scheduling well and that the ATP is not scheduling very well either. Something needs to be done.
It’s still two more weeks before Roger is back in action and in between there will be some 250 level events. I don’t know about you, but I’m really starting to miss Roger now. The tour just seems so boring without him, especially with Shanghai being such a let down. Lets hope when he comes back he does so in style. But at this point I would be happy just to see him back, win or lose it wouldn’t even matter.