Friday, January 24, 2014

Roger Rafa No.33: Battle for the Greatest of All Time?

It's the magical Maestro vs the brutal Bull, the scintillating shot-maker vs the relentless retriever, the beautiful one handed backhand vs the effective two handed backhand, the most graceful glider vs the alpha athlete; it's the suave Roger Federer vs the rugged Rafael Nadal once again...!

Federer and Nadal 

As a teenager from Swiss mountains, Roger Federer was touted as the next big thing. In 2001 when he ousted the then Grand Slam leader Pete Sampras at his dominant Wimbledon grass, tennis pundits all around were speaking how good he is and how better he can be. Yet Federer made these people doubt themselves and took another two years to get his act together. Though once he arrived, he arrived like no other. He dominated the sport like no other. His style and elegance of movement was like no other. On grass and hard he was unbeatable, but on clay too he was no rookie like his famous predecessors. He was second best only to a bullish left hander from Spain. Federer is an artist at work and this artwork has taken him to a mightily dominant GS streak of 23 consecutive semi-finals and 36 consecutive quarter finals. At over 32 now, he is the Grand Slam leader with 17 titles, a 6 time year end championship winner and is widely considered the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) by many fans, pundits and players alike. Moreover, he isn't done.

While Federer was ascending, a child prodigy from the beaches of Majorca, Spain was also making waves. Rafael Nadal, coached by his uncle, a right hander playing with left, with an unorthodox whiplash of a forehand exposing bulging biceps and consequently raising eyebrows, was running around like a battery powered bunny beating players much more experienced than him. At 17, he beat Federer in their first meeting. At 19 Rafa was the French Open champion, in his first attempt and the first player ever to do so. In his heydays Rafa was considered by many as a clay court specialist and wasn't given much contention on hard courts and grass. Yet Nadal defies odds like no other. After years of being second best to Federer, he dethroned Federer from his beloved Wimbledon crown and the World No. 1 ranking. He went on to win all the Grand Slams initially thought to be beyond him. Still his brutal style of defensive retrieval is quite extreme and as a consequence his career has been marred with injuries. Yet at 27 yrs, he is a 13 time GS champion, almost God-like on Clay with 8 French Open Crowns (another first), already in the GOAT debate and has many years to add to it. 

The Rivalry

Roger and Rafa are five years apart in age. Technically in Tennis terms, that should not even be considered a rivalry. That's almost a next generation with a little bit of overlap between the two. Yet, Roger's late bloom and Rafa's early arrival has brought them together and gripped the tennis fans worldwide. Though there are other great match-ups in Djokovic-Nadal, Federer-Djokovic, Djokovic-Murray, Murray-Federer and Murray-Rafa but none like Roger and Rafa. Their contrasting demeanor's on court, contrasting styles of play and epic battles have captured imaginations beyond the usual. Statistically, it's lopsided. In past 32 meetings, Rafael Nadal came on top in 22. Nadal fans would say, "Rafa practically owns Federer." Federer hasn't defeated Nadal in Grand Slams since 2007 Wimbledon.

The Match-Up

This is a clear tactical advantage that Nadal holds. Match-ups have nothing to do with the debate of Who is a better player. Some match-ups suit one player more, some are headaches for several reasons. Nadal's play of bludgeoning heavy forehands to Federer's one handed backhand is one ploy that almost never fails to work on surface that have high bounce. It works on most of the courts around these days except for indoors and a handful of fast hard courts. To Roger's Superman, Rafa Nadal is a Kryptonite. Federer may fight no matter how strongly, he hasn't been able to solve this puzzle. Nadal is relentless in his ploy of forehand to backhand, Federer is a craftier who gets bored out of lack of options. Mentally, Nadal has a slight edge over Roger for the simple reason of H2H advantage build early on. If you win against someone touted as GOAT, and you beat him two times out of three, well confidence is a natural then. Yet head to head only gives the result of when two players played against each other (not how many times the one fails to meet the other), not the surfaces, conditions of play, levels of fitness/form of players, age of players, style and is therefore not the most objective indicator.

What's the hype all about when Nadal wins mostly?

Well, logically not much sense. Yet, Tennis matches are not won or lost on logic. Otherwise, Novak Djokovic would have been waiting in Finals and not a eighth seed Stanislas Wawrinka. 

Even when Rafael Nadal is as solid as possible since his return from injury last year, has won 2 slams out of 3 since his return last year, has never lost to Federer at the Australian Open; when Roger is now old in tennis terms, only World No. 6, has had a dismal 2013, has lost last 5 meetings to Nadal; still all hope of a great match is not lost. Federer but looks rejuvenated. He is serving well and moving well. He has traversed a tough draw. Yet, he has done so before and fallen to Nadal in Grand Slams.

Speculations can go either ways but it is the heart with which Champions fight is to be wished for and watched. Even after Nadal threatening to take Federer's place in the history, Federer has not left the game after losing close matches (a la Bjorn Borg). He knows he is way past his prime but loves playing and wants to fight. He comes back again and again to reach the stages where the two can contest. It might hurt Federer a lot to lose against Nadal but he keeps on doing what best he can do, bounce back and fight again. Taking out clay from equation, even the H2H does not look lopsided. It's almost even. Even footing against a five years younger opponent who is a bad match-up and who himself is one of the Greatest Ever, is to take a lot of heart from. And some inspiration can be drawn from the history this match is going to make for future records.

Today, one of them will stop the other from more glory but not without some serious resistance. This is legends fighting once again, this one is for ages and this one is not to to be missed!


  1. How can you write this garbage?...honestly, you should follow an sport you understand...

    1. @Anonymous
      Well thanks! Whoever you are, you can enlighten if you know better rather than trying to berate.

    2. yes, your assessment of their games seems to be centered on grandslams.. ignoring the fact that federer has losing h2h against more than one player.. Rafa has a losing record only against a couple of players, only bcz he has played 2 or 3 matches with them.. Federer was among the most selfish players of his generation, always skipping the davis cup and never tried to win for his country..

      You could also view Federer's continuing interest in the game inspite of realisation that he is ageing as.. his greed for records.. his futile hope that he can prevent rafa from overwhelming his record.. its clear in the way, he expressed his desire to win olympic gold, to catch rafa.. only bcz rafa has won it.. i agree it could be his patriotism.. bla bla.. when was the last time (if ever?) federer expressed his desire to win davis cup for switzerland? too selfish, isnt Federer?

      As for your claim of Nadal gaining confidence, how so when he started defeating Federer right from match 1 in their H2H? Now about favorite surfaces, if clay favours Nadal, so does indoors favor Federer, who is 4-1 ahead in indoors.. take that out of the equation and how does the h2h look.. ridiculously favoring Rafa still?

      Moreover, Rafa and Fed had the same toughness in their draws when it was announced.. perhaps rafa had it much tougher than roger, bcz he had delporto, monfils, nishkori and raonic who are dark horses.. you may call murray a greater threat seedwise for federer.. but murray's performances prior to the open gave a good indication where murray stood.. it was hard to imagine murray winning this year..

      Then you were talking about age comparisons in determining GOAT.. Federer wins his first slam at 22? when rafa won his first, he was just 19.. at 22, he had won 4-5 titles.. inspite of being committed to play davis cup and helping his country win, rafa stayed ahead of roger in every year when you compare what happend at what age in their careers..

      About getting chances to meet more often, you could easily see how nadal made the final stages and federer was rarely there in the past 3-4 years.. And all these achievements of nadal came with difficult to handle knees.. while labelling nadal as clay court specialist, federer fans ignore the fact that nadal completed career slam 2-3 years younger than federer achieving it..

      Next is Rafa's comparison with other GOAT guys.. Those days, Clay courts were predominant in tennis..except for wimbeldon, other slams were tried in clay courts often and Rafa being the greatest ever without doubt on clay court could easily have gained 2-3 more slams and federer would have done worse..

      So whatever you have written is pretty much garbage.. except yes, your use of metaphors is commendably good..

    3. I understand you are a die hard Nadal fan, and all your arguments are of the typical Rafa fans all around the world. No harm in that. I will reply to just give another perspective and post this, then may be we'll leave it to our choices.

      1. I mention Nadal leads Fed 22-10 but a Grand Slam is different. That's why the focus on GS H2H. Even Murray has a winning record against Fed but is down 4-1 to him in GS. So, best of five is a different game.
      2. The argument about GOAT is only as good as the player you like. No matter how good Rafa can be, the ones who like to see Federer playing will do so even after Nadal has 25 GS. Same goes with fans of Borg vs McEnroe OR Connors vs Lendl OR Sampras vs Agassi. Statistics can be used for only argument purposes, without achieving anything.
      3. Regarding Davis Cup, i agree Rafa has won Spain 4 titles. All credit to him, strengthens/wins his argument as Best Player Ever too. Yet, nobody knows Federer and Nadal personally. Declaring somebody selfish basis such premises is shallow in approach. Federer may chose to do whatever he wants with his certain events, leave others, retire, play till 40....these are not to be decided by popular vote. At the end of careers, people will blame the player they don't like for 'n' number of reasons. Fed fans will blame Rafa for, "taking too long between points", "coaching from Toni during matches", "slower courts in his era" on and so forth. All these can be so very subjective.
      4. Olympic Gold: If you have followed the sport long enough OR went about digging a bit, you will find that Roger Federer has always expressed his desire to win the Olympic Gold and that's an open admission. He has been playing there since 2000. In fact, before Federer the Olympic Gold wasn't on the priority lists of many popular players (you can call them all selfish, extending your Davis Cup take)...and it's only in the last 3-4 Olympics has the tennis field been full strength.
      Like Davis Cup, Olympics is also a choice taken now more often than before. Also, Federer has been asked/speculated to leave the game since maybe the 2009 AO loss and he has always said that he wants to continue playing as long as he feels.
      So, i think both Olympic Gold and hanging around have nothing to do with Nadal my friend. Also, at 32 Federer is no 6, which is not bad by any standards. Sampras was seeded 17 in the last USO he won at the age of 31. Nadal at 32 will also be there for everybody to see.
      5. I was only assessing how Federer could make the match competitive which all Tennis fans (not Nadal or Federer fans) were wishing to see, some positives on which Federer can bank. I understand fairly well that in H2H he lacks and is far from solving Nadal's puzzle. Uncle Toni says, "We always have good chance against Roger; no matter how good is he playing; our best shot forehand cross court causes problems to him."
      6. On draw toughness, Tsonga and Murray are definitely tougher than Nishikori and Dimitrov. Who they faced was what i was talking about, not who they COULD have.
      7. I never compared age for GOAT debate, i myself wrote Fed was a late bloomer Nadal a child prodigy. Yet, as of now, they are almost equal in age vs no. of GS comparison...Nadal may take an edge on Sunday. I am never making a case for Fed being GOAT. In my opinion, it's for everyone to decide for themselves who they want to watch. No doubt, both are up there.

    4. 8. At USO, Fed failed to meet Nadal. At Wimbledon, both failed to get through their draws. In 2004-2008 period, it was Nadal missing from USO and AO. Post 2010, Fed is missing...what's so fussy about it. They both intersected their prime maybe only in an year or so around 2007-2008.
      9. And regarding other GOAT players, that's TOTALLY HYPOTHETICAL. Courts in 90's when Sampras was dominant courts were much faster than the last decade. USO, Wimbledon courts were way faster and Nadal's opportunities would not be as wide. These days, almost the same players play the QF's/SF's in all 4 90's these were different. You can forget Sampras at Clay and Kuerten at Wimby.

      This is how i feel, nothing personal onto you. I see both of them as amazing players, Federer a more natural aggressive shotmaker and Nadal a better athlete and tougher fighter.

      And thank you for appreciation on the use of metaphors; and thank you for reading and commenting from how you see it. :)

    5. 1) In Grandslam matches, H2H is more lopsided in favour of Nadal. 6-2. 3 out of 4 in favour of Nadal. That itself should rule Federer out of talks about being GOAT.

      2) Unlike any other player in Tennis history, Nadal's standout quality makes him the true GOAT which is his adaptability. The way he found solutions. The way he adapted to all surfaces. The way he bounced back from every fall or short comings. Which other player in history has such a resume of bouncing back like he did? None of those above mentioned names.

      3) Personally Nadal is much more humble than Federer. You gotta watch him practice once. He does all the simple things himself if possible. Not relying on support staff like Federer the celebrity does. Federer complains much more than Nadal does. Federer has the history of breaking racquets, emotional outbursts like crying on losing, playing poorly when he is frustrated... yet he appears Gentle by appearance, so everyone favours him. Unlike Nadal, who is a suspect of OCD which explains all his customary habits people make fun of calling it to be his idea of delaying and turning attention. He is just a perfectionist who loves details. But he improved on that aspect too over the years, as best as he could. Toni coaches Nadal, but Nadal doesnt ask for it personally. Nadal has won even in absence of Toni. its Toni's problem. and no other coaches do it, because they aint family. same closeness is absent.

      4)What makes Federer selfish is not his inability to win the Davis cup.. Go check the davis cup over the years, Unlike any GOAT candidates, Federer is the ONLY one who avoided playing in Davis cup for the longest periods. He is selfish not bcz he dint win. He is selfish because he dint bother to play most of the times. Times when he played, he wanted match practice or when he could have been barred by ATP for not playing davis cup in another couple of years. (yes this is true, which very few people actually noticed)

      5) If Nadal and Tony thinks they always have a chance against Federer, its shame on federer. Because whether it was beginning of his golden era, or in the midst of prime prowess, Federer had no answer to the same ploy Nadal used against him. He couldnt even find a way out for once. Same happend with Nadal and Djoker, but Nadal reversed the trend or caught up with Djoker later and got on even terms Underling Nadal's greatness.

    6. 6)Nadal was playing with such a blister on his hand, which would have made most players finding it hard to simply hold the racquet, forget serving. On top of that, he had players who were doing just to their potential with current form unlike Murray and Tsonga, not that Tsonga or Murray lagged behind them. Even after coming through such state, Nadal almost demolished Federer if it were not for Federer saving break points in first set where Federer never got a single break point to defend himself for.

      7) Age is among one of the prime criteria in comparison of GOAT, something which cannot be ignored. And of course, Age is the one criteria relying upon which Federer's greatness isnt in garbage can yet, inspite of such poor show for anybody to be considered ever among great players especially when Federer still claims to be in his prime with the same energy as ever, until a brief period where back problems hurt him, which i truly suspect because he never withdrew from any match over it. Considering the poor game he was having, its not like him withdrawing would have made people regret those days for coming to watch.

      As for the edge, Federer never had any over Nadal to be lost in Aus semis. He was always ahead of Federer from match 1 between them in Grandslams, though they were in clay first 3 times before the rivalry in grandslams spread to other surfaces. Federer simply was a step behind Nadal but he claimed the so called greatness in an era of decline in tennis, much like an emperor of a declining dynasty can claim himself to be a part of the great dynasty when it was a humiliating era for the country he governed. lol. I am asserting hence that while Nadal is up there, Federer is not deserving enough to stand there with him.

    7. If the analysis is like that Fed lost a majority of matches vs Nadal what would you say that a player such as Nadal is, lost 7 matches in a row and THREE GRAND SLAM FINALS in a row by the same player,then with such a black hole in his resume he could not be called a GOAT !

    8. That is the best part about Nadal actually, he faced the tough situation boldly and found the solution to bounce back. He accepted the loses gracefully and went to training hard and adjusted his game accordingly.. Winning the next 7 matches 6-1 against the same opponent.. Federer could never bounce back against Nadal the same way.. That underlines why Nadal should be the GOAT.

    9. As for your points 8 and 9.. You are contradicting yourself there.. yet I will substantiate my views on the same..

      8) Federer started winning his grandslams at the age of 21-22. Nadal was at the same age, when in 2007-2008. Yet you say Federer and Nadal should be compared at prime during the same period. How's that even fair? and you are being impartial in your assessment, you claim. How intriguing!!
      Nadal won his first slam at the age of 19, irrespective of whether its his favorite surface or not, Federer couldnt do it on any surface till 21-22 years. Nadal has beaten Federer on all surfaces whether he favors a surface or not. Federer might lose against a limping Nadal at French, but Federer beating Nadal at a Clay slam has never looked a possibility, forget being reality. It doesnt matter if Federer fails to meet Nadal to prove Nadal's superiority.. their lopesided grandslam records show how far behind Federer is, when it comes to facing Nadal at grandslam is. 6-2 in favour of Nadal, worse than outside slams. Nadal achieved such feats even after all the time lost with dodgy knees, no celebrity coaches to back him like Paul annacone who eventually gave up on Federer. Federer in fact, is even behind Sampras, because even Paul couldn't rescue him or help him beat solve Nadal Puzzle. But then, Federer cannot improve beyond a point. He has reached his limit, beyond which he cannot bend his game, because Nadal is simply beyond his ability to beat, unless Nadal has a terrible day or is injured.

      9) I read this point a lot among the tennis circles too often. But this doesn't prevent determing a player to be GOAT or not. Lets look at Sampras era, players weren't consistent enough to sustain the run to semis or finals always in grandslams. Sampras stood tall among them, because his level was a notch higher at least at Wimbeldon like Nadal at Roland garros. But the frequency and number of Nadal's victories there takes him a notch higher than Sampras.

      Sampras himself has commented after yesterdays match on how he could play better and faster if he were to have Racquet like Nadal's. Courts becoming slow was essentially compensated by the modified racquets which generated greater speed. Also Nadal was essentially a clay court specialist when he began but he gradually gained footage on other surfaces and ascended the throne of GOAT by conquering them. If courts were twice faster, Nadal might observe the same and express his wish to have them slower, but that wont deter him from training hard and becoming a better player to win on faster surfaces as time goes on. For a player like Federer, it would have backfired if he had faster surfaces to handle, because he finds it hard to make adjustments, Nadal is a living example of how and why Federer fails to adjust. Federer may not even have beaten Sampras if the surfaces were faster to play with. Nadal has no surface, he needs to ignore his results at like Sampras or Kuerten either. He has conquered it all and done so consistently at Masters or grandslams better than Federer did.

    10. Masters 1000 maybe a less significant tournament compared to grandslams. But, Nadal owns the record for most number of Masters 1000 even if its a shorter version and according to the experts review, Nadal wins relying on his stamina to last longer. if that were to be so, why couldn't Federer using his grace conquer more Masters 1000 than Nadal. Nadal is 5 years younger than Federer and he owns a 5 title victories in masters 1000 more than Federer already.

      Finally, Yes I am Die Hard Nadal fan. And I hate the injustice served to Nadal in allowing Federer to be put ahead of Nadal when he doesn't deserve to stand at the same footage as Nadal even, Thanks to the illusion Federer brings in fooling tennis experts around him, because Nadal earned each of his trophy unlike Federer who reached there because competition during the decline of tennis was just not enough. When serious challenge did arise, you see Federer beginning to falter and his expectations have already stooped to where he plays just to feel good reaching quarters and now to just enjoying competing matches. Yet Federer lacks the courage and grace to admit that Nadal is by far a better player than him. Its not surprising if all of Rafa fans felt the same or better aggression that i show in substantiating his claim to be at a level Federer can keep dreaming on reaching. With due respect to Federer and all his fans, this is the harsh reality which he must accept sooner or later

  2. "Today, one of them will stop the other from more glory but not without some serious resistance". Really? Federer was totally owned at the point the match became pathethic. No resistance from the fading Fed in front of Rafa anymore... And Rafa is on his way to set a new GS mark.

    1. This is what you could pick to criticize? Of course, you seem a Rafa fan. Fed showed really no resistance and Rafa played good enough to keep him subdued as usual. Yet Federer was expected to do well basis his current form and play. This was written before the match. Even Pete Sampras thought it would be an interesting match. Since it was not, maybe he should also follow some other sport.
      And i agree with you, Nadal is going to get his 14th on Sunday.