Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thanking His Lucky Stars: Roger Wins Five

I can't remember the last match Raja came out hitting the ball so hard. Even his serve is booming. Perhaps the first set of the Dubai final against Rafa in 2006? Funny, even as I type this I feel as though I typed the same thing somewhere more recently than that. Perhaps it was last year's Wimbledon final as well.

Anyway, how did Rafa manage to drop his opening service from 40-0? Nervy start from him, great start from Raja and the first set is likely over.

Wow. This is high-level action.

I remain surprised by how many players don't recognize Raja's tendency to serve flat out wide in the ad court on big points.

Tiebreaks are crapshoots. All about mental pressure. Nadal made too many mental errors in that breaker and still almost won it.

He'll need a superhuman effort to pull out this victory now.

The second set proceeds comfortably on serve until the the 8th game when Rafa earned two break points at 15-40. Raja served three flat aces, all to Rafa's forehand side (there goes two more flat aces out wide on big points).

But serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Raja cracks and Rafa makaes him pay.

Superhuman effort? Rafa strikes a backhand passing shot winner sitting down in a game that ends with the critical break that steals the second set.

Just beneath the surface, Raja is reeling. The third set becomes a necessity for Raja to take. His five-set record isn't great and with Rafa all up in his kitchen, it would take a superhuman mental effort for him to win the decider. With Rafa serving first in the third, Raja is reeling just beneath the surface.

For now, Rafa is better off the ground (literally) and Raja's big serve, which he only wields when necessary (it's necessary) is about the only shot keeping him in the set. He might do well to play in the forecourt more, as I suggested in my preview, but Rafa's passing shots are so hard and accurate, Raja, more often than not, looks a bit frightened up there.

Panic is a bitch. Makes your feet heavy. All of a sudden (or maybe not) Rafa is scurrying about the court better than Raja.

In the seventh game, Raja steps it up and begins bashing the ball as he did to open the match. But Rafa is in his rhythm now, absorbing the pace and creating quite a bit of his own, even from way outside the doubles alley.

Serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Raja races out to a 40-0 lead, but a fight back from Rafa levels the game at deuce. Raja knifes a high backhand volley off a Rafa lob on the adcourt sideline, turns his back and barks. A must-win set for Raja. Two eye-popping stretch volleys later (even one of Rafa's uncles, the Beast of Mallorca they call him, stood and applauded, even as he gestured disappointment that Rafa didn't choose crosscourt on his forehand pass) the set was dead even.

At 5-6 on Raja's serve, Rafa stepped it up with brilliant slices and passing shots, but also netted a crucial forehand at 15-30. Two-set-point opportunity gone a-begging. Raja blasts two more big serves and the second tiebreak ensues.

Raja takes a 3-0 lead with a forehand winner that smokes the titanium on the outside of the line and an approach shot that Rafa can't handle. Rafa earns back the minibreak with a crosscourt forehand return winner of a second serve, but hands it right back with a forehand just beyond the baseline. 3-2, Federer. There goes that flat ace out wide in the ad court again. Players change ends at 4-2, Federer. Another huge flat serve outside in the deuce court puts Raja two points from a two set to one lead. 5-2, Federer. Raja's mishit forehand that loops short, short, short in the deuce court draws Rafa in and he overcooks a backhand down the line. 6-2, Federer. Rafa's saves one set point when Raja's backhand finds the net. 6-3, Federer. Raja changes it up this time, but misses up the middle in the adcourt. No matter. Rafa's flying forehand gives Raja the third set and he pumps his fist like he's choking a small rodent, a la Tim Henman.

What did I say about a superhuman effort earlier? Apparently, Rafa can't take this to five sets if he doesn't win the fourth set by at least one break of serve. His play in both tiebreaks was mentally shaky. Here, I'll return to what he's had to endure this week so far. It can take more of a mental toll than a physical one and that revealed itself in both of the crapshoots in this match. I guess you could say Raja is more mentally tough so far in this match. You'll get no argument from me. But he's also the mentally fresher of the two and that's a huge advantage on this day with so much on the line for both players.

Raja starts the fourth set on serve and leads 30-0 before Rafa wins five points in a row (two shanked shots from Raja certainly helped) to break serve throwing Raja's serve-first advantage right out the stadium. How often does it happen that a player, even at this level, wins an intense tiebreak and drops serve immediately in the next set? I wish I had the stats. Rafa consolidates easily.

"Can we switch it off," Raja pleads as a Hawk-Eye overrule gives Rafa another break point. The chair ump politely declines. For a man who doesn't like Hawk-Eye, he certainly uses it when needed. But when it goes against him in perhaps the biggest match of his life, he has the audacity (read: desperation) to ask that it be turned off? Interesting.

Rafa gets the insurance break to take a 3-0 lead. Now, Raja is fuming. And he can't hide it. He has another conversation with Carlos Ramos on the changeover. "I can't believe that ball was in," he mutters. Hawk-Eye says it was. Raja saunters back onto the court, head spinning like a dryer on high heat.

Meanwhile, Rafa holds and 15 and leads 4-0.

I guess Andy Roddick is in the final, because Raja continues a dialogue with no one in particular, asking after a Rafa shot misses just over the baseline, "How was that one? Was that in?"

An unraveling that has silenced the entire stadium. The fans can barely applaud any of the points won or lost. Raja fights off a deuce after a double fault, and yet another flat serve ace out wide gets him on the scoreboard in the fourth set. Fans, still stunned, applaud tepidly.

On the changeover, Rafa has his right knee attended by the ATP trainer. Perhaps the physical toll of all those back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back days of play have finally caught up to him. An official injury timeout is taken. Momentum shattered. Worry creeps across the faces of mother and father like the late-afternoon shadows on the court. Heavy tape is applied to Rafa's knee. A flare up of the tendonitis from late 2005-early 2006?

Hey, quantum, who's lucky now?

Raja, who has used the timeout to calm himself down, tests Rafa's mobility with a dropshot. Rafa passes that test, but he's visibly limping when walking, glancing up at his family. He can't push off that knee on serve. His first offering is slow. His intensity gone. He continues to limp. His father motions with his right hand across the underneath of his chin. Is he suggesting Rafa throw in the towel? Can't be. These warriors from Mallorca don't quit. Rafa will have to pull a Serena now and play first strike, high-risk tennis just to get into a fifth set. From there, it's anybody's ballgame.

Oh, the drama.

Raja smells blood. Rafa is moving gingerly, despite John McEnroes assertions to the contrary. Whatever you might have seen, Rafa serves out the set anyway.

For the first time in all of Raja's Wimbledon title runs, he'll have to win a fifth set. History.

Luckily (there's a version of that word again) for him, he opens the deciding set on serve. In all the great matches of this event that I've had the pleasure of watching, no player who served second in the deciding set was able to win the match. And in all those matches, the losing player dropped serve to end the match. Advantage, Federer.

Patellar tendonitis it is. All those consecutive days of play, in and out of the cold, damp weather, all that stopping and starting, sometiems at 15-20 minute intervals, all that overuse (and if you challenge me for making excuses, that's your prerogative; I'm just stating facts here) have caused an old injury to flare up. If you can't properly rest your body, no matter how fit you are, toxins build up. Advantage, Federer.

Super-duper-human effort now required for Mallorca.

Rafa earns two break points in the third game. He misses a backhand return on the first. On the second, he cracks an inside out forehand with a groan that Raja races to send back right to where Rafa is standing, and Rafa yanks a forehand down the line just wide. Why didn't he go inside out again as Raja raced back to the open court? The exact same point (to the T) that Rafa missed when up in the second set tiebreak in last year's final. He lost that set and eventually the match. Raja holds for a 2-1 lead. Will history repeat itself?

Raja seems dialed in again, hitting the ball crisply, chasing down everything and making Rafa hit another shot. But he can't get a whiff on Rafa's serve, who hasn't been broken since the opening game of the match (years ago it seems), hasn't even faced a break point.

At 2-2, Raja faces another two consecutive breakpoints at 15-40. Again, Rafa misses a backhand return on the first. This time, Raja wisely hits a 127 mph service winner up the T instead of outwide. Rafa's backhand lets him down in a rally once more as he misses just long to give Raja a game point. He escapes once more. 3-2, Federer.

Rafa faces triple breakpoint. (I bet he's thinking about those missed returns right about now.) A service winner saves the first. After a rally where both strike line after line, Roger's vicious angled backhand slice sets up an easy forehand and his short forehand winner puts him two games away.

A renewed Raja serves three more aces, bringing his total to 24, and close out the game at love. 5-2, Federer. A game away.

How quickly things change.

Rafa fights off a match point after holding at least one game point (my attention lapsed), but faces another when a sluggish forehand finds the tape.

It's all over. Raja does a Borg (again) dropping to his knees. His tears flow. He has made history yet again. He changes his costume in preparation of the trophy ceremony.

On his chair, Rafa hangs his head in bitter defeat, his stringy hair obscuring the pain on his face.

This final featured a stellar display of tennis by both players, to be sure. The best Wimbledon final since 2004. But even better in all around quality than the last five-setter in 2001 when Goran Ivanesivic achieved his lifelong dream with a dramatic win over Patrick Rafter, who was denied his own.

But if Andy Roddick was "gifted" the 2003 US Open because of suspect scheduling, as so many people have argued, then Raja was handed this piece of history on a gold platter. You just can't have it both ways.

He better thank his lucky stars. And to his credit, that's exactly what he does. "I'm very lucky," says Raja, echoing his acceptance speech from three years ago.

Rafa wasn't supposed to make this final. But he defied all the odds and made a fool out of the prognosticators. And despite all the obstacles erected in his path, look what he was able to do when he got here. Superman, indeed.

Though both players showed heart and fight to go along with their incredible shotmaking, this match says more about Rafa than Raja. I'm sure many of you will take issue with me. Let her rip.

But that's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Ashley said...

This time next year Roger will have surpass Sampras record of 14 GS. roger will tie Petes record by winning his 1st french Open next year. You read it hear first. :)


Savannah said...

Very nice recap Craig.
One man had five days off. The other played five days back to back. No wonder the old injury flared up and Rafa, who wonderfully pushed this to five sets had nothing more to give.
Interesting that the wins Raja has had over Rafa have come when Rafa has been physically and/or mentally exhausted. Fedtards will say he won and that the fifth set is a Phyrric victory for Rafa but they know that this win was gift wrapped for Raja on the proverbial silver platter. Rafa refused to go along with the script and almost did it. I hope he gets the rest he needs now and that we see him again sometime next month.

Craig Hickman said...

Rafa actually played SEVEN days in a row. His match against Soderlinlg went on from Monday - Thursday. Someone the Wimbledon order of play doesn't list on the matches played on Tuesday.

edma1022 said...

Very nice recap, Craig. (what Savannah said).

Although I take issue with a lot of those spoken/written here, I will keep my trap shut and NOT let er rip. This is your story after all, and I'm just a poor reader.

I do concede Fed wasn't hitting as good as Rafa in that match. I saw myself with renewed respect for Nadal. I say that with conviction and belief. I said long ago (after RG) that Rafa's gonna take one of the two remaining slams this year, and I was close to this one. Very close.


Albert said...

Rafa was better than I thought he could possibly be. I thought las year was fluke, but apparently not... He might as well win one after all.

Let's give a proper credit to Roger, though. He really did have his warior moment today. As for luck - sure he had plenty of it, but in the end there was plenty for Rafa as well. Youzhny's back injury flared up once he was 2 sets up and Novak was too exhausted after playing two consecutive 5-setters to offer any serious resistance (and he still won a first set!!!)

Roddick was lucky in 2003, but in hindsight he deserved that tile more than JCF or Nalbandian. This time both deserved it.

Anonymous said...

One could say rain has given Federer two titles here, but that would be a disservice to his immeasurable talent.

That said. Rain has given Federer two titles here. Agree with Albert. Nadal fans can't complain two loudly. I do think he would have turned around the quarter final match anyway. But, Djokovic gave him a pass. The issue is the 7 days in a row and the obsessive need to 'finish on Sunday.' And not to play on Sunday. I hate the US Open's policy of playing on Saturday and Sunday. A Primetime Monday night Final would be gold. With the fall season not yet starting and MNF a week still away...they would have an audience on Monday Night.

I've finally stopped throwing up in my mouth after the result, so I'm too calm now to point out that Federer should be blasted from all corners for changing into his costume for the ceremony. Not sure why that bothers me but it does. Also, this endless need to say Roger isn't playing well when he's challenged is annoying. He had 20 aces, or close to it by the end of the 3rd set he's not exactly spraying errors all over the court (watching the match now.) Why do we have to undercut a great Final between two men who were born to play each other by saying, "Federer isn't playing well." Some of the volleys he came up with at net were astounding. Just say both men played great and rain blessed one more than the other.

Fed now well on his way to breaking Pete's record. Eventually he has to slow down. With Murray, Gasquet, Djokovic, etc...on the way you have to think he'll start losing a little more. He's a great champion, you have to give him that.

But enough about Roger. The story was about the man who's saving tennis right now by challenging Federer. He needed to win the first. His serve from my untrained eye looked like it was slowed down in the 5th. But, maybe more than anything it was the pain of losing 4 break points. On a couple of those the match was on his racket.

The key has improved drastically. He can hit his ground strokes with more pace, he has a nice backhand slice, he volleys well. I think for the first time Federer (as evident by his post match comments) realizes Nadal is a threat on all surfaces. And he is.

We forget sometimes Nadal is just 21. He has 3 major titles. When did Fed win his first? Agassi? When did Pete win his second? I was dumbfounded watching Luke Jenson report on ESPN last night. He got the match right, Fed in 5, but then went as far as to say Nadal as peaked. Essentially that he's a one month a year player. To say that Rafa, at 21, with 3 major titles, and two finals here, has reached his peak is a joke.

Nobody can expect Nadal to beat the rest of the ATP tour the why Fed has, but if he can stay healthy, he'll have a lot more chances. Felt bad for him after he lost.

Obviously, the difference in the match was the serve. It's the one area of Nadal's game that has to improve. Though he wasn't broken for three straight sets, he's going to have to get more cheap points. But, I remember when Fed became Fed, Agassi mentioned it was the serve that really jumped a level from the last time they played.

People have wanted to put Nadal is a box by saying he can't improve. That he's just a clay courter. This kid is a real talent. Who may hot have the 'flash' in his game that Fed does, but is just as talented.

I hope he can make a run at the US Open.

Craig Hickman said...

Ed, you can let it fly. We can all take it.

Like you, I was close with what I told Savannah before Paris. And though we can never know, I'll continue to believe that Rafa wins this year without 7 consecutive days of match play.

As for Rafa's luck. Novak Djokovic was also a victim of poor scheduling. Rafa isn't lucky that his body broke down first, especially since I believe Rafa wins that match no matter what. Youzhny's back gave out after the third set, not before it. And even still, it isn't has though Rafa can't 1) defeat a healthy opponent from 2 sets down and 2) a healthy Youzhny has never lost a match from two sets up. But fine. If that means Nadal was lucky against Youzhny, so beat it. It just doesn't compare to the level of luck Raja received in this event.

Besides Haas' walkover, which no one is to blame for, how is it possible that the Raja/Gasquet semifinal had to be scheduled first up on Center Court? It didn't. Roger got a virtual retirement from Gasquet. As it was, both men played the better part of three sets. Match play is match play. And I'll beat this dead horse till I'm tired of hearing myself: 7 consecutive days of any match play is Just. Too. Much.

Both men's semifinals could've occurred after the women's final on separate courts (just as they were anyway) and whatever rest each player received before coming back to play the final today (which was really only necessary because of NBC coverage) would've been virtually equal.

The AELTC got the result it (and Borg, another great club member) wanted.

When players like Nadal and the Williams Sisters threaten to crash the the lily white party, well then....

But that's another entry for another time.

MadProfessah said...

Raja is the Top seed (and had the top of the draw) and thus was always scheduled first, that's why his semi was before the women's final and Rafa's after.

I think there's way too much discussion of "luck" as if it always breaks one players way and not the other.

What about the match itself? Roger clearly played better on the big point (saving 4 break points in the 5th set!) than Nadal. The kid is only 21 and has 3 majors, Federer has 9 straight major finals, winning 7 of them.

I do agree that Nadal is improving, and let' see how it goes on hardcourts this summer.

I'm staying with my prediction that Federer breaks Sampras recod at the 2009 wimbledon.

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks, peytonallen. I'm sure that was you in there.

I was one of those people that said Nadal's serve wouldn't improve much because he's a natural righty and the serve is basically a throwing motion. Nadal throws with his right hand.

He proved me wrong. But not by much. He's improved the placement on his serve and flattened it out a bit, but his delivery is still rather predictable. And yes the pace dipped by the 5th set as he couldn't push off his right knee to help generate power, but even in its predictability, Rafa's serve is not easy to return. Unless your name is James Blake.

But in the tiebreaks and the fifth set, Nadal suffered from not having a serve as a weapon. It's one thing to fight off break points with your ground game, but in a tiebreak that's too much added pressure in the pressure cooker of a tiebreak. It's no surprise he lost them both as his backhand swing succumbed to the added pressure.

Against a lesser player, his serve wouldn't be a liability. But not against Federer on grass and at the end of the day, their serves decided the outcome of the match.

Rafa can do well in New York, but he's got to get over his distaste of the environement first. Borg couldn't get over it. Because the men's game needs Nadal to win at least one Slam outside Paris, I sure hope he can.

Craig Hickman said...

Well, when it does seem to always break one players way, it deserves discussion.

Roger is a great tennis player. A great champion. Only a fool would suggest otherwise. You can like him or not, nothing changes that fact.

But it is my opinion that he's the luckiest great champion I've witnessed in a long time. It isn't his fault that he's so lucky. But he's certainly the beneficiary of it. It's because of his luck that he doesn't need the kind of help he received from the schedule to win this title.

Or maybe he did.

helen w said...

Craig, I too am incensed by the actions of the AELTC re their handling of the scheduling, and I too believe that there is nasty pettiness (or worse) underlying some of their actions. Why else was Rafa playing on Court #2 against Youzhny while Hewitt/Djokovic wese playing on Court #1?

That the AELTC would schedule matches in a manner that put the players' health at risk through overuse injuries is simply unconsionable.

I believe, with you, that they simply did not relish having their doors darkened (ahem) by the entry of this non-northern European, ebullient, emotional kid from southern Europe. His upper lip simply isn't stiff enough :)

Karen said...

Hi Craig and everyone else. Craig, you know I have always enjoyed reading your blog and the posts of the other participants here. I note however that we have moved away from objectivity and have gone into the realms of ESPN posters. You know those posters who believe that there is a plot afoot against their favourite players and that race or some other contributing factor is being planned to ensure that their faves do not win a tournament. On to my comments on the match. I believe both men played their hearts out and that in this instance, whether it be luck or talent or just Roger stepping it up at the right time, but he deserved his win. Rafa will win Wimbledon, there is absolutely no doubt about that. Perhaps next year. As to the scheduling, it is quite unfortunate that some players were made to play back to back matches and I am sure that the AELTC will ensure that this does not happen again. When people speak of Federer and say that he is lucky, we seem to forget something. In Roger's first 29 appearances at majors. He lost. He never got to a final, he never even got through to the fourth round. He however did not give up. He tagged his demons, did what he knew he could do and has persevered. Did you know that he was on tour for 3 years before he won a title. He was mentally weak. Talented but mentally weak. Now that he has overcome his demons I am of the firm belief that we should really give him some credit here. Yes Rafa was tired, but believe I dont think his tiredness was only as a result of the scheduling. Have you seen this guy's playing schedule. He plays the whole clay court season. If there is red dirt, he is going to play. After the FO, not only did he not take any time off, but he went to Queens to play the tune up. At some point in time he has to say to himself, I need to save myself for the big moments. I am sure that Rafa does not ever want to be remembered as a one-trick pony. A clay court specialist. He has to manage his schedule better. Lose some of the clay court tournaments. Concentrate on developing his game. He will be No. 1 and he will be winning majors on all surfaces, he just needs to slow down a bit. And thats my take.

Savannah said...

Karen Queens payed him big bucks to appear there so he had no choice but to go. Right after they inked the deal the TD of Queens bitched about having to pay him.

I understand where you're coming from, believe me I do, but you can't ignore something that keeps happening over and over and over.

No 7 days back to back and the Catalunyan is a member of the club. Some of the old dears, male and female, would be overcome by the vapors.

Craig Hickman said...

Karen, those are great points. Rafa did play alot during the claycourt season. And I've given Federer credit here. He played with talent, heart, and fight. He came out on top in the fifth set of his favorite major and delivered the goods when the pressure was on. To say he was lucky doesn't take anything away from him. He said it, too.

But that doesn't take anything away from the AELTC shenanigans. Anything at all. I'm sure my next tirade will be a postcript on this issue and the way that Wimbledon treated its former champions who justh happen to be "other." This was the 50th anniversary of Althea Gibson's historic win and the AELTC did not mention one. single. word about it. Nada. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

If the discussions of xenophobia remind you of the ESPN boards, so be it. But we're not calling names here. Not trashing people for expressing differing opinions. Not trashing players or their fans for being their fans. The AELTC needs to be criticized and will not get a pass from me. I'm a blogger, not a journalist. I'll call it as I see it, whether or not I have the smoking-gun facts to back up my claims. But if I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when the committee made certain decisions this fortnight.

joe said...

I've been reading this blog since the French, so first of all, I want to give props to Craig and the other contributors here. Secondly, Rafa Nadal deserves a ton of credit for his performance at this tournament. He showed a ton of heart, and I certainly hope that he gets his shot at the #1 ranking. That being said, the speculation that the tournament organizers conspired to help Federer and/or to penalize Nadal is pretty absurd. Other than Haas' injury (and I find it pretty tough to believe that the AELTC is somehow responsible for that), how did Roger have it any better than anyone else on the top half of the draw? Similarly, did Nadal have it worse than Djokovic, or anyone else on the bottom half? If he had closed out Soderling in the 3rd set, would this even be a subject of speculation? If the AELTC was trying to rig it so that Roger would win, why did they allow the bottom half of the draw to play the quarters before the top half did? Why did they have both semis start at the same time? It seems like they could've put Rafa at a further disadvantage here, and chose not to. If there was a conscious effort to try to help Roger win, how or when do you think this was decided? It must've been a unanimous decision among the AELTC powers that be, because if anyone objected to this plan, I'd imagine we'd hear from them. The organizers of a major tournament actively conspiring to try to affect the outcome would be a pretty huge deal, right? I'd put that up there with the Black Sox scandal in terms of potential controversy. I view the decision not to play on the middle Sunday the same way I viewed the Amare Stoudemire suspension. A crappy rule, for sure, but not an example of an attempt to "rig a tournament" in favor of one player or team.

Also, Craig, you said that Roger is the "luckiest great champion." Who are the other "great champions"? What makes Roger luckier than them? Other than this tournament and the 2004 Wimbledon Final, what other examples do you have of Roger benefiting from luck? Throughout his Grand Slam career, is there some type of pattern of rain delays disproportionately benefiting Roger? Are there any examples of rain delays occurring when he was leading a match, or had momentum in a match?

The facts that the guy seemingly makes every Grand Slam final, at one point won something like 24 straight finals, and has by far the best (in his prime) winning percentage of any top player of the past few decades makes it seem to me that calling him "lucky" is being just a bit unfair.

helen w said...

Joe, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the AELTC conspired to help Roger win. By rights, he was in the top half of the draw because he was seeded #1, and Rafa was in the bottom half of the draw because he was seeded #2. Because of the way they normally schedule matches (i.e. trying to get the top half matches completed before the bottom half (at each level)), the bottom half of the draw is at a disadvantage if there is much rain.

This year, of course, there was a LOT of rain. The committee had the option of delaying the final to allow players to have the usual number of rest days, or of compressing the schedule so that they could finish on Sunday. They chose the latter option, and to my mind this was particularly hard on the bottom half of the draw, because it was already so backed up. It also hurt the semi-finalists, particularly Richard Gasquet who would normally have had a rest day before having to play Federer. Djokovic also paid a heavy price. I have no doubt that it also affected Rafa, both physically and mentally, even though he is SO fit.

Just because most conspiracy theories are suspect doesn't mean there are no conspiracies :). Case in point -- it was right after Rafa voiced his concerns with the scheduling in his presser after finally winning over Soderling that he found himself on Court #2. Now normally the courts are assigned by seeding, and if they had followed there usual practice, his match would have been on Court #1, and Hewitt/Djokovic on Court #2. Of course there may be another explanation entirely, which the AELTC decided to keep to itself, but many of the players, and others, voiced their suspicions that their decision re the court assignment was not unrelated to Rafa's statements in his presser.

Savannah said...

Joe the criticism had become so loud that the AELTC had no choice but to throw a bone to the bottom half of the men's draw just to shut them up. Federer's comment to the effect that the players in the bottom half of the draw were a bunch of whiners was made in reaction to their complaints.

I for one don't think Rafa was the only victim here. Gasquet and Djokovic were both thrown under a bus to make sure the men's final was played today. I don't think anyone would have complained if the Women's Final, a best of three match, had been scheduled first on Centre Court and letting both mens matches start afterwards on different courts.

LinkMage said...

Nadal deserved to win, it was his best performance on a non-clay court. Fed played too defensively, like he was afraid to hit his shots. Nadal was way more aggressive. It also surprised me that Fed didn't use his backhand slice much, which is a killer shot on this surface. He was hitting the majority of his backhands with top spin. It was awful today, he made so many UE with it. His serve is what won him the match, thanks God he found it because his 1st serve % this year has been atrocious.

I have no doubt that Fed won't ever win Roland Garros if he has to face Nadal. And Nadal will win Wimbledon some day, maybe even next year.

But I still can't get over how slow and bouncy grass courts at Wimbledon have become. I wish they would put the same courts than in the 90's. We already have clay courts to watch this style of tennis, we don't need every surface to play similar.

BTW, I'm not sure if Nadal can get to a final at the US Open. The courts there are much faster than Wimbledon courts and there are many more players that know how to play on hard courts than on grass.

edma1022 said...

All the things leading to this event - the fatigue, the rain, the scheduling, Rafa's knee, Hawk-Eye's failure at key points, what-ifs, and what-nots are ALL a given.

Fed had to dig deep today to win. And this win did not come at a better time and place. The man standing opposite him at the net gave him the golden chance to prove his champion's heart and mettle and "Wilanders" (was the guy watching?). To diminish that win by introducing the proposition of "luck" (although Fed himself admitted it) is not just unfair to the winner, but also to the runner-up himself.

I'm always drawn to this diary (unlike bogle's - now that's like a snowflake walking towards the oven) because I believed you will find the words of sanity often absent in ESPN. What you often term "levelheadedness". The adolescent passions on those sites turn. me. off.

Keep the faith.


Craig Hickman said...

"It was such a close match," Federer said. "I told Rafa at the net he deserved it as well. I'm the lucky one today."

I'm not saying anything about Federer's luck that he isn't saying about himself.

And luck doesn't only come via rain.

That's all I'll say about that. I'm not trying to convince anyone of my point of view.

This is a great discussion, everyone.

Carry on. I have to run to Homo Depot. Back later.

LinkMage said...

Oh, and another thing. I still can't believe how Fed can't do anything with Nadal's serve when he can defuse the biggest serves from the big servers like nothing.

joe said...

helen w:
I wasn't familiar with the Court 1/ Court 2 issue regarding Rafa. It sounds like that was pretty bush-league on the part of the AELTC.

I completely agree with you that the Women's Final should have been played first on Saturday. I was pretty pissed that they put the Men's Semis first. I really cannot think of any good rationalizations for why they scheduled it that way. They could have scheduled one of the Semis for Center Court, and if by some chance the Venus-Bartoli match went 3+ hours, moved it to Court 2 to prevent darkness from being a potential issue.

Basically, I agree that there were some serious problems with scheduling at this tournament, but I don't think that cheapens Roger's title. That being said, part of me will be rooting for Rafa to win the US Open, since his gutsy performance today made me a borderline "Rafatard," which I never thought would happen.

MadProfessah said...

Well, linkmage Roger did manage to do something with Rafa's serve (or Rafa didn't serve up to his usual standard) because 1 ace, 2 double faults over 5 sets is pretty damned poor for someone who intends to win Wimbledon. Is that "luck" too?

Please. Now you're gonna start saying that "G-d" wanted Roger to win (don't even mention that Wimbledon church's billboard "God made Roger Federer" to me!) His mom and dad made Roger Federer, not some mystical, invisible, unseeeing entity!

Come on, now!

Who wins the US Open Series?

sher said...

Just as you say, Craig, at the net Roger was as always gracious!

And now nobody can say he doesn't win five setters, not to mention against fantastic opponents. This win has done so many things for him! I can just see people who dislike him trying to spin this this way that way...haha, but anyway you look at it, he won Wimbledon against Rafael Nadal in five sets for his FIFTH wimbledon and ELEVENTH grandslam. Fanatastic victory for the champion!

I really hope Rafa wins Wimbledon one day before his career is over. I think had he faced anyone but Roger Federer across the net the title would have been his. Next time he'll have the confidence to take better care of his match points against guys like Soderling so he can concentrate on the real thing.

Wasn't that an amazing match? My heart was beating faster than those serves out there. I've never seen Roger serve so well.

Anonymous said...

Yes Craig, it was Peyton. Or me. heh. Why no more discussion on Federer changing, mid-tears, to dress for his success. I can let it slip that he does it coming on to the court, but right after you just played a classic match. Does this dip into disrespect to your opponent that you're changing into a costume? I didn't like it.

Interesting the two espn point of views. Jenson tonight, correctly pointed out the difference to be the serve and again said he was waiting for Rafa to prove he can stay healthy and compete year around. P Mac and Enberg all but compared this final to the first Borg/Mac where Mac left the court a loser but the whole world (including Borg) knew he'd be back and a winner.

I think it's good Rafa didn't win. Or that he hasnt' won on any other surface yet in a major. He can't have too much too soon. He speaks about what he has to know to improve. "The serve is important always, but moreso here, no?" He's working to get better. Credit to Fed for having class in his postmatch interview and admitting he's winning them now before Rafa wins them always.

Nadal needs to take 3 weeks off. Not hit for 2 of those. Hopefully he plays a decent amount in the Series. I thought last year he was mentally tired moreso than physically after this final. He never quite found his emotional range, his fire again until Miami. If Nadal decides he wants the Open as much as he does Wimbledon he'll win it.

Seeding will see that he doesn't get Roddick or Djovoic before the semis. Doubt anyone else will out and out beat him. Except Blake. But with the year James is having he's not a lock to win the first round.

Rafa is a year older. I think he'll be up to the challenge of New York. I don't see him losing early this year.

Nadal has to improve his serve. But also, I think his handles (read: Uncle Toni) need to be smart about how they schedule.

After the Open I'd shut it down. At most play two tournaments. Although that should happen anyway. Who cares about after Open Tennis? Sans Davis Cup and the yearend event. Anyway, I'm babbling.

Great final. Nadal's forehand may be better than Roger's. Pace, but he can top spin it, and whip it deep into corners. In a lot of ways he outplayed Roger today. But watching that 5th set again (Girlfriend is a major Fed fan. I'm typing on Federer wallpaper as we speak) Fed stepped up. Serving out of trouble. That forehand that Rafa pulled wide by two inches will haunt him.

Roger also played great defense. I don't buy the "he had another level" Roger played his best today. It's easy to beat Roddick in Australian and say "i was in a zone" but not say the same when you beat your rival in 5 sets and needed every bit of talent and blessings to do it. He was on today. As was Rafa. May they play in New York.

As far as the Series. Neither Nadal or FEd will play enough to win. It's Roddick or Djovokic I think. Andy looked drained after his loss. He needs a big summer.

Anonymous said...

Just read that Nadal is playing Stuttgart (clay) in two weeks, then will play the TMS events and the open.

Weird. A week off then clay. Interesting. Not LA. Not two weeks off then Washington.

Is this an appearance fee issue?

Savannah said...

As a Rafatard I turned my television off after the match was over so I missed Roger changing. I have to say I was stunned to see him in full regalia for the award ceremony. Did he do that on court?! And no one laughed?

The US Open Series is very important for the guys mentioned, Djoke but especially Andy Roddick. Blake has reverted to the player he was before his miracle year so what he does during the US Open series will be interesting.

As for Rafa he says he's playing Stuttgart which starts July 16 IIRC. He's the top seed so he may not play until Wednesday. I agree that he needs to take about a month off and not pick up a racquet for a good part of that month.

Then again Jack over on TAT posted these numbers: Summer preview: Federer defending 1535 points and Nadal defending 450 points. If Nadal earns 980 more points than Federer between now and the completion of the US Open, he has a shot at #1.

helen w said...

Savannah I did the same as you -- turned the TV off as soon as the handshake and hug at the net were over; I didn't even watch them get to their chairs. I just couldn't bear to watch the ceremony.

I always feel so sorry for the runner-up on these occasions. I know it "goes with the territory" but to go through the whole thing trying to smile and make appropriate noises when you are so desperately unhappy and your feelings in such a torrent.

And then you have to gird your loins for the interview with Bud Collins....

oddman said...

Wow! Congrats to Roger Federer, and to Federer fans! Five straight Wimbledons, a rare accomplishment.

I am SO proud of my Rafa! Indeed a Superman, battling quite a few obstacles, and taking Fed to five hard-fought sets - almost taking the title too. It was tough for me to see his face as I caught a glimpse during the Bud interview. I've got that Five For Fighting song going in my head - 'Superman' - kind of appropriate.

Can't say more just yet, just this - Rafa, you are amazing! Vamos!

bogledance said...

Personally I see this match as the turning point for both Federer and Nadal, where Federer enters the latter part of his career and is more continually and thoroughly tested by the new kids who's hormones are still raging as his own settle, and where Nadal's new style of play truly begins to gel into something formidable on grass.

It also looks like Federer's career will eerily mirror Sampras' where he is able to ride his serve a long way for years to come (Federer's serve saved him today), and in my opinion while Federer's ground game on grass is still spectacular Nadal's is even better.

I agree with a lot of what has been said about the scheduling issues but since I'm a Nadal fan I'm not going to get into that. I'm just happy with what I saw from Nadal and feeling good about his future.

Karen said...

Me again. See what I am talking about. Rafa is not giving himself enough off time. The type of game that Rafa plays guarantees (unfortunately) that he will have injuries. He goes after every ball, he is intense, he is all about the fist pumps and the Vamos. That uses a lot of energy. Roger on the other hand seems to glide, but he does not. Rafa is so intent on becoming No. 1 that he is neglecting his health. Playing on different surfaces day in and day out is not good. Forget about what everyone says about clay being good to your body. It is sometimes not the physical aspects of the game that get you but the mental aspect. As to Roger and his career, can you smell retirement in the offing and very soon. Somehow I think the minute he is no longer No.1 he is going to start cutting back on his appearances at Masters series events as well as the appearance fee events, and concentrate on the majors. This is quite unfortunate as that means that we will be seeing less and less of him. I am not very happy that everyone seems to be writing him off and putting the nails in his coffin, but like one of the "experts" said today. Next year he will be 26 and the young guns are nipping at his heels. Then again, Venus Williams is 27 and she just won Wimbledon, taking out players in the teens, tweens and early 20's. As far as I know Roger has a much more technically sound game and is less prone to errors than Venus. Somehow I think he will be around up to age 30. These young guys can win the smaller TMS events, but when it comes to the whole shebang, they just roll over and die, a la Novak, Andy etc. Let us see what the U.S. Open Series brings. Craig, do you know whether there will be a live internet feet on the US Open series similar to what obtained for Wimbledon?

sher said...

I think it's a good decision to play a clay event.

To lose something you dreamt about is always demoralizing, no matter how well you try to take it. Last year after loosing in the final at Wimbledon, Rafa wasn't the same player for the rest of the year. Partly because he took a month of, thought too much about the loss, came back to US Open series and lost early. And then loses were snowballing from that, and his confidence dipper further.

I'm the first to say that QF and SF are great results, but obviously he wants more than that.

So he is going back to clay after Wimbledon because he is likely to win and build up his confidence before the US Open. And if he doesn't, nobody cares because he has played "too much tennis". It's a win-win for him, plus a pay-check.

Craig Hickman said...

I'm back. Just put the finishing touches on my father's memorial flower gardens we designed in the plots where he grew vegetables. My mother couldn't even look out of the window at the barren land, it made her too depressed, but now she has a place to sit and meditate and absorb the beauty of the flowering perennials that bloom there. She is beside herself with happiness. And she's looking forward to taking care of it. We're driving back to Maine tomorrow with a truck full of my father's jazz album collection, featuring rare recordings never reissued on cassette or CD, and many other effects. It's been quite a trip. And to think, Wimbledon happened within it. Whew. I'm exhausted.

Wow, you readers are a wonderful, articulate, intelligent bunch of tennisheads! I'm honored to have all of you at my house contributing thoughtful discussion to the sport we all love so much.

peytonallen: Right before the presentation as Raja dressed up, my mate barked something to the effect of, "He is not about to put that getup back on is he?"

I just rolled my eyes at it. Federer lives in his world and he's very comfortable in it.

Personally, I wouldn't have bothered. But it seemed to be all about the photo opps to follow and apparently, Raja was not going to be caught without his three-piece suit.

I wasn't surprised he put it back on. I was surprised, however, that he didn't wear it to the ball.

bogledance: are you going back to the US Open this year?

sher: Raja showed guts today. I don't think though that discussing the context of Raja's victory neither diminishes it nor spins it. Things are what they are. Raja may be lucky, but he still has to deliver and deliver he did. All other issues aside, his serve ultimately proved the difference between a win and a loss.

The next time anyone says that my players depend too much on their serves, I'll direct them back to this match and to the women's final as well.

karen: the US Open doesn't have a video on demand service like Wimbledon. If I find any live feeds, I'll post them.

oddman said...

Your memorial garden sounds wonderful, Craig. Hope your mother spends many years tending it.

One comment I have, after viewing the match, is this: Rafa's knee injury physically slowed him down only slightly, IMO. But, it looked like he was thinking about it and thus lost a tiny bit of mental edge there, and that was enough. Only natural that part of his mind would be dealing with the worry, but he needed to be 100% focused, and wasn't quite up to that task at that time. Timing, timing... Same as the timing of Fed's fuss-up. He had to have benefitted from that injury timeout and cooled down. That's the way matches go sometimes.
Rafa, you are the MAN!