In tennis nothing is ever certain, just as in life. And today was once again proof of that. Everyone has been talking and hyping up the very probable Fedal final, yet it will not happen. I even wrote a preview for the match yesterday, although I did admit it may never happen. The first semi-final today was between Rafa and Youzhny, which was another no contest. Rafa won 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Rafa has not lost a set so far and he has only been broken twice as far as I know. Youzhny broke back in the third set to level the score at 4-4, but was broken again right afterwards. It was just to save face. Youzhny never believed he could win. So why does players always seem to play their worst against Rafa? The same thing happened in the Wimebldon final where Berdych didn’t show up. And I know for a fact Youzhny is capable of playing much better than he did today.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think Rafa puts the fear into his opponents because he is the most clutch player in history. You may remember two posts ago(I think it was), where I said Rafa has pressure on him because Murray lost early and now he is the favorite, which he doesn’t like to be. That was wrong. Rafa doesn’t feel pressure. He is immune to it. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on his opponents, including Roger. Roger knows all too well about Rafa’s clutch play. He has lost to him in three of the four slam finals, and at least two times in extremely close matches. The beatings he has suffered at the hands of Rafa almost broke him as a tennis player. He was pretty much traumatized in the Australian Open final last year, to the point where he couldn’t hold back his tears. I don’t think he has ever fully recovered from that loss.
Of course you may argue that he won three slams after that. But did he ever have to face Rafa in them? No. In the French Open Rafa lost early and at Wimbledon he didn’t even play. At the US Open last year Rafa and Del Potro played first, so when Roger stepped on court he already knew there was no Rafa waiting for him in the final. If you think you know where I’m going with this then you are probably right. I think Roger lost to Djokovic today not because Djokovic was better, but because Rafa was waiting in the final. And I won’t be convinced otherwise. Throughout todays match Roger never really impressed me. Of course the 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 scoreline would suggest that it was a very close match, which it was. But first of all, does that score strike you as slightly weird? It does me.
First Roger wins the first set. Everything is looking good. At this point I was even asking for a straight set win, because I thought he needed to send Rafa a message before the final. Then out of nowhere he loses the next set 6-1. He basically just checks out. Same thing in the next two sets. He plays well in the third set only to check out once more in the fourth. Now if that doesn’t make you suspect something, then in the fifth set he produces two match points at 5-4 on the Djokovic serve. And he plays two points which didn’t convince at all. He basically just waited for Djokovic to make the error and in the process loses both. He also fails to take advantage of several other opportunities in the fifth set which he would normally take easily. He allows Djokovic to hang around long enough to finally win the match.
Djokovic broke in the next game as expected and in the final game I think Roger has break point opportunities again, or at least he was 30-0 up. I think he was at 30-0 and then he missed a shot which he normally would make 10/10 times. Anyway the point is he had several chances and couldn’t take advantage. This is unlike the Roger we have seen of late. Another way to demonstrate this is the low first serve percentage of 51%. This after he has been serving so well of late. All this point to the fact that he was already thinking of Rafa who was waiting for him in the final. It’s just a huge emotional burden, knowing that the guy who has traumatized you in the past is there waiting in the final to do the same again. I don’t think Roger lost this consciously. It was a sub-conscious thing. Unresolved emotional pain from the past always is.
Seeing how Rafa destroyed yet another opponent earlier in the day just put too much pressure on him going into this match. Otherwise I’m convinced he would have destroyed Djokovic once again. In truth Djokovic is just there to pick up the pieces. He always is. He did the same at the Australian Open when Roger couldn’t perform due to mono. I don’t think he has much of a chance tomorrow. Rafa will complete the career slam. I’m almost certain of that. Roger already did the assist by tiring Djokovic out, and Rafa will finish him off. Rafa is destined to win this event as destined as Roger was to win the French open last year, only with an easier draw and less hiccups. If he doesn’t win it then it will be good for Roger in and indirect way, but even Roger has said he hopes Rafa wins.
Like I said, I don’t think Roger ever really got over the losses he suffered at the hands of Rafa, especially last years Australian Open final. He always said Rafa was just too good that day, but to me that is denial. He had obvious chances to put Rafa away in the third set and it came back to haunt him big time. But this is not as simple as one match. This rivalry is a very complicated thing with many dimensions. The mental hold that Rafa has on Roger increased over the years probably beginning with that five set loss in Rome where Roger had a match point. If he had won that match things could have been very different. Also the loss at Wimbledon in ’08 left a scar. And finally last year Down Under was the final nail in the coffin. I really think this is the reason Roger lost today. I never wanted to admit that Rafa ‘owns’ Roger, but I accept that now.
Roger has not been the same in the mental department for some time now. He is still OK as long as Rafa is not around, but he wants to avoid Rafa now when it matters. Rafa on the other hand is a mental giant. Pressure only makes him play better. This doesn’t have to take anything away from Roger though. As far as raw talent goes Roger will always be in another league than Rafa, just as Rafa will always be in another league than Roger mentally. There is room for both. I always had this idea that Roger was somehow better than Rafa, and that is also one of the reason I supported him. But I don’t know about that anymore. I think Rafa will complete the career slam tomorrow and he could catch up with Roger in slam titles. I think at the end of the day they may end up very close in terms of their legacies and place in the history of the game.
Job well done champ (Source)
But either way I’m happy with today’s result, strange as that may sound. Roger was not ready for a final with Rafa and in my opinion he would have suffered another heart breaking loss which would have damaged his legacy a huge amount. By losing here he doesn’t give people like Brad Gilbert the satisfaction of losing to Rafa in the finals. You would have never heard the end of it from these people if Roger did the career slam loss to Rafa in finals. They would have said that the owning in the head-to-head is now complete and therefore Roger could never be called the one and only GOAT. And I would have had to agree with them. Seriously. If a single guy can own you so badly that he beat you in all the slam finals, how can you be the GOAT? Unfortunately these guys do have a point. If nothing else it would leave a blemish on his legacy.
So crazy as this may sound to you, I’m happy with this result. It would have been too much if Rafa completed two career slams tomorrow. The career slam in slams and the career slam in beating Roger in slam finals. There was just too much at stake given the history of this rivalry. Now people can go put an asterisk next to Roger French Open win last year all they want, because the same thing is happening here. Rafa doesn’t get to face the one guy that has proved pretty much unbeatable at the US Open, just as Roger didn’t face the guy who ruled the French. It all works out OK in the end. If Rafa wins tomorrow, he still has 7 slams to win to catch up with Roger. And even though this is another disappointing loss for Roger in a slam, he can still win more slams in the future. If he had lost to Rafa in the final I’m not so sure that would have been the case.
Now there is at least two slams where Roger still have the upper hand over Rafa, Wimbledon and the US Open. Both in head-to-head and in terms of results. At the Australian Open he is behind in the head-to-head, but he is still far ahead in the results. Take away the French Open, and Roger is still far ahead of Rafa in terms of results in all the slams. I think if we look at the GOAT debate the first consideration are always the slams. So only if Rafa equal Roger in that department will their head-to-head come into play, given that Rafa completes the career slam tomorrow as well. And I don’t think Roger is quite done winning slams either. So in the end I’m pretty happy with how everything turned out, regardless of what happens tomorrow. I know this is another tough loss for Fedfanatics to accept, but believe me things could have turned out a lot worse.
Take note: Finally let me just say one more time that if anyone disagrees with me, then feel free to do so. For many people it will he hard to believe that someone like Roger Federer will be scared of Rafa. But let me make one thing clear again: I never said that Roger lost on purpose, and I don’t believe he ever has or ever will. I made it clear that this is a sub-conscious thing. With this blog I have never forced anyone to agree with me. Also I have never been afraid to say it how I see it and I try to be objective an honest. But no matter what you say, people will find fault with it. If I say this had nothing to do with Rafa, the haters would call me a Fedtard(someone who is completely biased in their like of a player), just as some Fedfanatics will now say I have no respect for Roger. That is why I don’t care what people think.
I just say it how I see it based on my experience(which is a lot), and don’t bother to listen to negative criticism. That doesn’t mean we can’t have discussions and I can’t change my opinion. But I think you get the gist of what I’m saying.