Friday, June 08, 2007

I'll Be Seeing You

AFP/Getty Images

by Craig Hickman

After Nikolay Davydenko defeated Guillermo Canas in straight sets, he all but admitted that he wouldn't be able to defeat Roger Federer in the semifinals.

In a match devoid of energy and reminiscent of their 2006 Melbourne semifinal, Davydenko's words were prescient. Simply put, Davydenko couldn't close out a set. Up a break in the first with umpteen chances to go up two breaks, Davydenko couldn't close out games. He lost that set. Serving for the second set at 5-4, Davydenko missed first serve after first serve and couldn't get the job done. Serving for the third set at 5-3, despite after earning two set points, he couldn't even take that set.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: You can't win a match if you can't win a set. Kolya let a sluggish Raja off the hook. Again. And again. And again.

Some have suggested Kolya is a weakminded fool. You won't hear an argument from me. Other's have suggested Kolya handed Raja this match on a silver platter. I haven't another opinion to offer.

Jimmy Connors has claimed in no uncertain terms that Raja should be very grateful because he's surrounded by players who "let him run away with it." Again, my lips are sealed.

Mary Carillo, one of the three calling the match, said it was painful to watch the Russian's late-set collapses. That Davydenko would walk off the court a straight-set loser when he could've been a straight set winner. It wasn't nerves, she said, it was a lack of self-belief. Nuff said.

Roger accepts his gift willingly and will play Rafael Nadal in a repeat of 2006. I'm just soooooooo excited.

Rafa had his own trouble closing out feisty Novak Djokovic. He served for the first set at 5-2 and 5-4, but didn't shut the door till he prevailed 7-5. In the second set, he served at 5-4, 40-15, only to face a break point after a nervous dropshot landed in the net. But he recovered to take a two set to love lead. After that, Novak capitulated, winning only two more games. The Serb's run in Paris ended at Rafa's hands once more.

Will Raja bring his Wilanders (read: his testicular fortitude, his balls, his guts) to the final this year? Will Raja feel certain he's going to beat Rafa and know exactly how he's going to do it as he claimed after Hamburg? Will Raja make more history? Will Rafa?

I suppose these questions alone should get me up early on Sunday morning to see, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

One thing is certain. Whatever happens, Rafa won't let Raja run away with it. That itself will be worth watching.

AFP/Getty Images


Helen W said...

If both Roger & Rafa play the same way as they played in their respective semifinal matches, then I think Rafa will take it in straights. Apart from the lapse in the end of the 1st set, he played very well.

It was a great game to watch -- good play, good heart, good sportsmanship.

Vamos Rafael!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Craig. PeytonAllen here. How have you been? Well I hope.

Haven't watched the match yet, as I was working, but having just read an AP recap and then your blog post, I can't help but shake my head. This is what's amazing and sad about Federer's run. Nobody but two men have ever believed they can beat him. One was a mid-30's Vegas boy, and the other is Rafael Nadal. He served for TWO sets and lead 2-4, love-40 in the first? Good grief. Wow. Fed/Nadal will be the better final, but come on. When will anyone not named Nadal step up?

I've said in previous posts on the espn message board that over the last three years Fed has shown a Houdini like ability to pull matches he should've taken an "L" in. Set, break, and match points all saved. To be sure, Fed brings his best even on his off days when he most needs it, but his peers are chokers when it's on their rackets.

I chalk Fed's win over Nadal in Hamburg to Nadal running into a wall physically (couldn't believe he played just about ever clay tournament) and the conditions. 6-1, 6-2 says to me Rafa needed a breather.

We'll see. I don't think Fed has really brought his A game since the Aussie Open. He was ripe for the picking in Hamburg too. And here, he all but lost the semifinal.

Be interesting to see how this one plays out mentally. Nadal was visibly nervous to start last year's final, and Fed kind of waited around for the other show to drop. Nadal has said he's playing better this year, and will less pressure.

Nadal will fight. I think he's the better player on Clay. Fed's weakness is his gut. He can get froggy when the pressure mounts. Going for a Federer slam, Career slam, possible GRAND Slam....and against his rival who even he has to admit is the final. Will he relax and just play? After Hamburg Fed said he 'figured out how to play Nadal on clay finally.'

We'll see. Three years running into his ATP dominance, I can't root for a Federer Slam. He needs to be pushed. If he wins here, there's no drama this summer.

Should be a good match.

Anonymous said...

I expect to see Roger holding the French Open Thophy come sunday.


Craig Hickman said...

PeytonAllen, so nice to see you.

Your take is on point.

Sentence by sentence.

Thanks for stopping by.

oddman said...

I guess 'step up' doesn't translate into anything understandable for the majority of players. It was sad watching Kolya snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
OTOH, Vamos, Rafa! What a match - he had young Nole shaking his fluffy head. I gotta give the Serb credit, he did try, and showed some guts.
C'mon, Fed, play another match like your semi and watch what happens. (licks lips)
I can't get over the questions asked of Rafa in his RG postmatch interview - pick, pick, pick. Good answers too, he wouldn't take the bait, even when not understanding completely what they were getting at. I love this kid.

Craig Hickman said...

Oddman, can you elaborate? I probably won't read his interview.

oddman said...

Sure, little bit... 'did you think some of those shots you hit were amazing even for you?' - 'do you plan to change your clothes, pants...?' - 'why so tight shorts?' - 'you don't smile on court, is it because of the pressure?' Answer: You're not there to smile, you're there to be focused and play the best you can. - 'do you have any other shots you've reserved for Federer?'Answer: I'm not saving anything for Federer. And I'll do everything I can to win.
And a lot of questions about why Rafa doesn't consider himself the favorite. Most everybody thinks he is, sure, but if the kid doesn't want to actually say those words, then leave him alone.
He says 'I'm going to fight and struggle like a lion...all finals are different.'

rabbit said...

First off, I agree with you, and this much is evident, that the match between Federer and Davydenko could have been very different if Davy had managed to win a few more points. Partly this was because Federer changed his game during the critical points and partly because Davydenko is not so confident mentally. Also, I agree with you that the heavy favorite on Sunday is Nadal, because there's no reason to suppose otherwise.
This much, as I said, is self-evident.

But I very much disagree with the general sentiment of this post. It seems people actually believe that there is a huge conspiracy among the ATP players to hand Federer the French Open. Can you never credit Federer for his mental strength? I am sure if Serena Williams had pulled off a victory like this from the jaws of defeat, people would be praising her steely will and never-say-die attitude. I am equally certain that if Federer had lost today in 3 tight sets, people would be saying that his main weakness is mental strength. Sure, it's easy to say that Jordan was lucky that all his last-second shots went through and that Malone could never close a series out, or that Einstein was lucky that his version of special relativity turned out to be true while Hendrik Lorenz's didn't. But might it not be true that they had something extra that their opponents did not?

Regarding Connors' or Wilander's comments, I can only say that they reek of jealousy. Is it believable that if Federer is as much of a hack as some make him out to be, he has never (in his present run) encountered a player in the early rounds of the grand slams who has been able to expose the hype? What about that big mouth, Djokovic? I have yet to see him actually trouble Federer.

Craig, this is not meant to criticize you. Although I am a newcomer to your blog, I really like your insightful posts and entertaining views. But I think on this issue, because of your personal dislike for Federer's play or attitude (I am not sure), you seem to ignore the fact that Roger can play...

Karen said...

Oddman, I tend to agree with your posts about the fact that people criticise the era in which Federer is playing. He stepped up when he had to and won the match fair and square. On another not, I realised something that perhaps a lot of people did not know - in Fed's first 16 Grand Slam matches he lost every single one of them. I saw old matches and he used to throw tantrums and all that sort of thing. To me he has improved his game and his temperament on the court and has made himself an ambassador for the sport. I hope he wins on Sunday just to say that yes I can do it and I did it.

Craig Hickman said...

Rabbit, I saw the match. My eyes did not deceive me.

Raja played like crap throughout. Sure he played the big points better than Davy because Davy didn't believe he had any right to play them.

This isn't about a conspiracy theory, it's about players' lack of belief when facing Roger. And I can assure you, had Serena won this match the exact same way, I wouldn't be talking of her mental strength. Her opponents choke so often against her, it's not even funny.

I measure mental strength by a players ability to overcome on court against all odds. Raja hasn't had to show his mental strength, if he has it, because his opponents collapse.

Here's a scenario that I'd like to see: Nadal takes a two set to love lead on Raja and positions himself in the third set to win. Maybe he's even up a break of serve. And Raja refuses to lose, roars back and wins the match in 5 sets.

People assume that because I don't like Raja, I can't see his matches with any objectivity. That's just wrong.

Davydenko said before he went on the court that he couldn't beat Raja. Guess what? He didn't. Despite serving for two sets and being up a break with umpteen break chances to go up a double break in the first set. Mary Carillo likes Raja, and she even said it was painful to watch Kolya self-destruct so utterly in that semfinal.

Here's my conjecture, though we'll never know: If Canas is the opponent in that semifinal, he wins the match. Why? Because he knows he can. It's really that simple for me, rabbit.

Craig Hickman said...

Oh, and rabbit, thanks for stopping by.

Raja can play, I've said so often. Even on this blog. But I still think that his opponents make him look better than he really is. And that hasn't a thing to do with how I feel about his personality.

Disagreements are good for discussion. So feel free to challenge me anytiime ;)

Anonymous said...

"One thing is certain. Whatever happens, Rafa won't let Raja run away with it. That itself will be worth watching."

Agreed! I like Rafa vs Roger, but it's because I like the competition I've seen in their meetings. I missed their last final, but the others I've seen have been pretty exciting. (Bearing in mind that I'm relatively new following the ATP tour.)

I also don't mind Roger winning when it's because he's toughed it out or just played a superior level of tennis. Only gets annoying when it's because the other player thinks he can't win...then again, not his fault most of the rest of the guys act more like they want to kiss him than kill him (in a match), heh.


Craig Hickman said...

Oddman, it seems Rafa canceled his pre-final media session.

Following what you reported here, it's no wonder why.

oddman said...

Smart kid. May I repeat once again, I love this kid?

Helen W said...

Re the discussion between rabbit and craig:

I checked the stats of Roger's match against Kolya, and he had 48 unforced errors against 19 winners in that 3-set match. By contrast, in his 4-set match with Robredo he had 31 unforced errors against 33 winners. I agree that he is a great player, but he did not play particularly well in his match against Davydenko, as these stats illustrate.

Karen said...

So from what I am gathering from everyone Roger is to be blamed because the other players, aside from Rafa have no Wilanders. Come on people. The difference between a good player and a great player is one that is able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I watched the match between Davy and Roger and while I love Roger I have to say that I was actually rooting for Davy to win, for the simple reason that this guy has a work ethic that I really love. He turns up for his matches, he represents his sport very well - no tantrums or anything and he speaks his mind. Plus sometimes when a player has been out there toiling for so long for so many years they need to see the fruits of their labour, i.e. a Grand Slam win. Roger has 10, Nadal has 2, come on Davy deserves one as does Canas - Novak can wait, he is young, but it just so disheartening to see players trying their best and losing. I guess we could say the same about Serena and her opponents, it is bad enough you think you can beat her and you think she is an also ran, it is quite another thing, when you are across the net from her and she is staring you down and sending back your returns as if they are nothing. Then again, I guess the other players on the ATP send a ball to Roger, think it is a winner and it comes back with so much on it that you are like what do I need to do. I saw Rafa's match with Novak and balls that were winners against Igor were run down and sent back with so much pace it made your head spin. There is just something about those at the top of their game and others who are just steady.

Craig Hickman said...

Raja isn't to be blamed. His "competition" is. And I think I've made it pretty clear in this entry and in my responses that my dissatisfaction lies with Raja's opponents, not the man himself.

I repeat: Kolya made it clear before the match that he was going to lose. He all but said it. That's a weakminded fool talking. I don't respect that one bit.

Roger is beatable. Rafa and Willy, as well as Pippo, have made that very clear.

But Rafa is the only Top 10-er who has stood up to Raja, and that's pathetic.

Karen said...

Craig I recall watching a match recently think it was IW between Tommy Haas and Andy Murray - there were I think 10 breaks in 1 game - a bit like that 30 point game that Rafa and Kolya played and I turned off the tv because I said to myself these must be the 2 worst players on the ATP tour, neither one could win that particular game - Murray went on to win the match and promptly lost to Novak in straight sets - I agree with you there is something particulary wrong with the level of competition on both tours. That being said ... one of the reasons why people harp on the fact that you perhaps dont like Roger or think that his game is not all that is because a lot of players are not stepping up and as a result of that you are upset at all the hype that is being created around him. Believe me I have seen on other message boards the grief that Sampras, Connors, Roddick and many others, including Rafa have taken from so called "armchair tennis players". These are the same guys and gals who have never lifted a racquet in their lives. I recall recently watching an interview with McEnroe (John) and he made the point that we really need to give these players some amount of credit as it is not easy to do what they do. We should all lift our hats to them, because believe me on their worst day none of us could beat them.

Anonymous said...

Karen, I agree with you in that the players are to be respected for simply doing their best on the ATP tour, because it's a physically and mentally demanding job with a lot of room for failure. I commend them for trying to live their dream anyway.

I disagree, however, that a person has to be good at something to be a critic of it. Just because I'm not a published author doesn't mean I can't tell good literature when I see it; just because I'm not a pro tennis player doesn't mean I can't have an informed opinion.

Just my two cents. Also, throwing in another tangent, I'm a fan of basically any tennis player I get a chance to get some background informatin on or see show some great heart or finesse on the court. Criticizing them in one aspect (perhaps, for example, in how they bow to Raja) doesn't mean I don't like them in others.


Craig Hickman said...

What Nonny said.

Karen said...

Nonny and Craig I hear what you are both saying, but the point I am trying to get across is this - we don't know how hard they are trying. It could be that what Davy put out there was the best he had. Or it could be that Raja raised the level of his game at key moments. The point I am trying to get across is this we need to give the player's credit. Some of them are really just cr*p and you really wonder how they got where they were in the first place. I admit it is a bit much to hear professionals extolling their virtues of their opponents - a la Blake, but I guess to him h is just being honest, regardless. Even Andre Agassi had to admit that Roger is the best that he has seen in a long time. Give both Roger and all the other players their due, they are perhaps playing to their potential. It could be that they just don't have that je ne said quoi (sp?) that Roger and Rafa and Justine have. Perhaps they are late bloomers, but we have to give them some amount of credit, thats all I am saying.

Anonymous said...

"Give both Roger and all the other players their due, they are perhaps playing to their potential."

Of course, but possibly you and I have different ideas of what "giving credit where credit is due", however. I'm fully aware that it's impossible to tell without a doubt who's trying their best and who's not. I don't know them and never will. But for the same reason, I don't feel any compunction analyzing on-court appearance or interviews. My analysis doesn't affect them, and I end up being a fan of them anyway. Blake's a prime example: I love the person, or at least the person he presents himself to be, in spite of him also seeming to be the president of the ATP Federer Fan Club (not to mention being best described as wonky when it comes to consistency.)

Anyway, because I don't know them, while I may have favorites, I'm not going to dislike -any- player who doesn't give me really good reason. To me, that's giving credit where credit is due. The analyzation is just fun fan theory. And relating to that, just this past couple of days I saw several people say Djokovic played pretty well for most of the semifinal; Nadal was just better. There's plenty of analysis and commentary to the positive, and when it comes to the negative, I give a person a margin of error. Personally I think it's easy to see when a person has his favorites but is still trying to be objective, as opposed to an anti-fan who thinks theirs is the sole voice of reason that people just aren't listening to.

Anyway, to sum up, there are fan -attitudes- that bug me (see the one in the latter half of the last sentence). But the act of critique itself doesn't. I feel the fact that I don't know everying is a disclaimer that's so obvious it doesn't always have to be said. Besides, I'm fully willing to revise a previous opinion in light of new information. (For example, if Blake ever won against Federer, obviously I'd have to discuss him a bit differently. XD)

Anyway, I don't want to take this any more off-topic than I already have, and feel like I've accidentally written an essay, so I'm off to lurk some more. Though I'll say that I think that everyone here is great about appreciating a good discussion while at the same time respecting the other side and opinions. It's one reason I like reading the comments here, so thanks for that. :)


rabbit said...

Yeah, great comments here. Craig, I appreciate your viewpoint now. Here's hoping for a fun match tomorrow!

Craig Hickman said...

Nonny, thanks for the essay.

rabbit, ashley, helen w, karen, peytonallen, et al, thanks for the great discussions!

Enjoy the final.