The draw has been done and we can ask the question now. Who is the favorite? The two top favorites was always going to be Federer and Nadal, and there is an immense amount at stake for both these men. If Nadal wins he will be the first man in 42 years to win 4 consecutive slams, and if Roger wins it he will be the first man ever to win 5 slam titles of 3 different slams. In terms of the GOAT debate the stakes are huge. Especially if Nadal wins it. He will be on 10 total slams, and would have a chance to win at least 5 slams in a row at the French Open. He would also have a decent chance to make it 6 in a row at Wimbledon. That would give him a total of 12 slams and very much in the GOAT debate. Winning 5 slam titles at 3 different slams is and even bigger achievement however. There certainly isn’t a shortage of incentive for Roger to win a 5th Oz Open.
No one has ever won 5 Oz Open titles and no one has ever won 5 titles at the Oz Open, Wimbledon and US Open. Stopping Nadal should therefor not be Roger’s main aim. That is much too negative. He should be on his own mission trying to achieve what no man has ever done before. Not that he hasn’t done it already with some of his other records, but this will certainly be one of his most impressive records. He has never won the calender slams or 4 slams in a row and this would certainly be on par with such feats. His career is far from done and he certainly doesn’t have to stand aside for someone like Nadal to make his own history. This is here. This is now. There has never been a better time from Roger to win another slam and add to his already impressive resume. Nadal is just another player.
So he has won the last 3 slams and dominated 2010. So what? It’s not the first time it has happened in tennis history and won’t be the last. His 2010 season was still less impressive than Roger’s 3 best seasons, possibly not even making Roger’s best 4 seasons. At the Masters Cup Roger slaughtered the whole field and comprehensively beat Nadal in the final as soon as he got some confidence back. Since the US Open last year Nadal has hardly achieved anything while Roger has hardly lost a match. In Doha Nadal couldn’t even make the final after getting trashed by Davydenko. This doesn’t mean much because we saw Nadal get trashed in Cincinnati last year too only to win the US Open. But the main point is that Roger’s game is at a whole different level now. Going into the US Open last year it was important that he made the final and stop Nadal from winning a career slam, given that Murray and Djokovic simply isn’t good enough.
But his form was poor. His confidence wasn’t where it needed to be to stop Nadal. That’s why I was glad that he lost to Djokovic. Another loss to Nadal in a slam final would have hurt his legacy badly. But it should be obvious that he is now a different player. Nadal can have the career slam. He made tennis and extremely dull sport in achieving it but he probably deserved it. But letting him win the Nadal slams and taking over tennis is too much. Personally I will lose interest in the game if that is to happen. At least until the US Open. Last year was one of the dullest years in tennis history due to Nadal’s dominance and I can’t stand another year of it. This is now up to Roger, and it is looking good for him. He is playing close to prime level and he has already won the title 4 times. This isn’t 2009 where Roger came off a very average year end in 2008.
He is coming into the new season rejuvenated and has already won a title. If ever he was ready to win a slam it is this one. I found a good article which you can read here. Darren Cahill makes some good observations. He says that Roger is more sure of what he needs to do on the court and that his serve has improved. I couldn’t agree more. These are the two main differences Annacone has made to Roger’s game. Roger is looking to be more attacking by taking the ball earlier and spending more time at the net. There is not that indecisiveness of before about attacking. It is all very deliberate and certain now. This is something that I always wanted to see in Roger’s game, especially against the likes of Nadal and Murray, but I guess it took time for him to mature. He has also took some speed off his first serve and just made sure it hits the spots.
This is another crucial improvement if he is to be more successful. Lets look at the 2009 Oz Open final as it provides the perfect example. Nadal got a racquet on a lot of Roger’s serves and it made him go for more and more, to the point where his first serve percentage was pathetic. It may have cost him the match, while he could simply have gone for less on the first serve and made sure he placed the ball well. In the third set when Nadal was struggling hard physically, Roger had chances to put him away by winning the third set, but the attacking instinct wasn’t yet instilled with him. I am positive that if he had these two things figured out back then that he would have won that match. So this time there are really no excuses. Roger knows to beat Nadal on hard court he must serve well and play very aggressive tennis.
Like at the Masters Cup. The surface is different here so it will be harder, but if you look at how much Roger’s backhand has improved of late you can hardly see it being a problem. That has maybe been the most impressive thing about Roger’s game the last few months – his backhand. It is really a sign that he is playing at a very high level. When his backhand is on he is pretty much unbeatable because it is the one side that breaks down when he is not playing well. When he is hitting winners off that side he is unplayable, like at the MC and Doha. So if I have to choose a favorite it would be Roger. And I am not saying this from a fans perspective. I am saying this based on knowledge gathered. Roger is just unbeatable by anyone in the history of the game when he is in a certain mode and I believe he is now right about there.
He has after all won 4 titles in Melbourne while Nadal has won only once. Like I said, I don’t care what Nadal has done in the last 3 slams. What is history is history. Roger was after all dismal by his own high standards in the last 3 slams, giving Nadal the opportunity to dominate lesser opponents and weak draws. Well this is where it ends. I believe the Masters Cup last year was just a taste of things to come. Roger is still working and improving. The job will be done once Roger wins a 5th Oz Open crown, or at least when Nadal is not allowed to win a 4th straight slam. The future of tennis is in the balance here. For me anyway. I simply can’t stand the thought of Nadal winning a fourth straight slam, but like I said I am not too worried about it. There is a lot of pressure on him as well and there is no way he can escape being the favorite this time.
He doesn’t like the favorite label but just about everyone has made him the favorite. I haven’t. I have made Roger the favorite for reasons already stated. I believe the last time Roger lost at the Oz Open was due to mental and tactical mistakes and that is sorted out now. Get it done Roger.