Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Counterpuncher

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Getty

I've been calling Roger Federer this for years. Tennis Week's Raymond Lee agrees:

Federer essentially is a great defensive baseline player with one of the most powerful and lethal forehands in tennis history. His movement is as good as anyone's and he's smoother than a player like Nadal, which helps him last through the tough tennis yearly tournament grind. Though he is often described as an all-court player, watch closely: Federer today, like most players on the ATP Tour, counterpunches from the baseline. The difference is Federer can punish players with a pulverizing forehand that no one else hits as well.

Except, of course, when that punishing forehand completely breaks down against other top-tier counterpunchers with weapons of their own. Lee also doesn't think Raja has been pushed all that much.

Roger Federer can play shots that only a tennis genius can produce. While Federer's brilliance is undeniable, his losing streak to Rafael Nadal makes me wonder: was his genius magnified by the fact he was playing people like Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick in major finals who could not take advantage of his vulnerabilities the way Rafael Nadal can?

That's one of the challenges of rating players beyond their generation as I did in statistically examining the greatest players of all time: Federer is unquestionably a great champion, but was his dominance due in part to the fact that there was no one to push him except Nadal?

Is that you, Graf_Sampras?

And while he praises Rafael Nadal for his ever-improving game, he offers reservations.

But with the exception of Nadal's blow-out win over Federer in the 2008 French Open final, his margins of victory are not always great and the energy he exudes in majors can be draining. When John McEnroe was at his peak in 1984 he was so dominant it sometimes seemed no one could handle him. The same can be said of Sampras at his best on grass or Laver in his prime.

I don't get that feeling with Nadal, whose game is based more on attrition than the pure shot-making explosiveness of a Laver, McEnroe or Sampras. I remember Jo-Wilfried Tsonga demolishing Nadal in the 2008 Australian Open semifinals and Nadal seemed helpless against the attacking Tsonga game. Nadal still tends to play from so far behind the baseline he nearly dares you to use the short court as Tsonga did, but very few top 20 players volley with the finesse and flair of Tsonga. As great as Nadal is now — and I do believe he will get better — I don't feel he can go into overdrive and dominant [sic] another champion (except on clay) as McEnroe, Becker, Borg or Sampras did.

Rafa admitted just the other day that he likes to win but he likes a good fight even better. So, is he unable to dominate another champion off clay, or does he take his foot off the gas, as he did in the Wimbledon final, consciously or not, in order to drag out the match to its dramatic (or, in the case of the Melbourne final, anticlimactic) conclusion?

30 comments:

Helen W said...

Here's an analysis of Federer's competition by Nick on the boards at Tennis World:

Steve (Tignor):
The answer to your question: no, Federer cannot be, and should not be, considered the GOAT, a discussion that’s been originated, fueled, fed and driven by Tennis Media. And not just because Nadal owns him more then ever now. Sampras may have had his “Pioloine’s”. But I argue Federer’s whole generation (the 25-30 Set) are loaded with guys not even as accomplished as Pioline, who at least made it to the Final of two different Majors. Here’s a list of men from the Federer Fraternity who’ve been at least Top 20 in their career and have never even been to a Major Final (some not even as far as a Semi): Davydenko, Ljubicic, Ferrer, Verdasco, Lopez, Ancic, Robredo, Blake, Haas, Canas, Youzhny, Kiefer, and Mathieu. Talk all you want about Federer’s artistry, he’s only in 1 half of a draw. Over the years, none of these guys made it through the non-Federer half of a draw to a Major Final. I’d say that speaks loudly to their underachieving as a group. Federer’s vanquished in his 13 Majors consists of two guys who were already over 30 (Agassi & Phillipoussis); a past his best Hewitt; two guys who made a dream run and have done little to back it up since (Baghdatis & Gonzalez); and 3 defeats of his hapless whipping boy Roddick, whom you accurately point out has little in the way to hurt Federer at all. Compared to the multiple Majors-winners Sampras routinely faced in Major Finals – there’s no comparison who had the harder road. Sampras. By far. But hey, Federer’s nothing if not opportunistic. Like Hingis, they both got in a large share of their Majors in the “tween” years, before the game’s next metamorphosis was complete. That money still spends, and they still give you trophies. Good for them. But not GOAT stuff.

oddman said...

Great article by Lee. And you have been saying that for years, Craig, anyone can go back on this blog to find it, I recall that well.
I would agree with his thoughts on Nadal too - you can see Rafa's trying to shorten his game up, but it's pretty comfortable for him to 'go back' to grinding from behind the baseline. That style has got him results, no? This year's win over Verdasco (vs last year's loss to Tsonga) is a result of some improvements in Rafa's own game (BH, serve) and maybe that Verdasco didn't come in as often as Tsonga did to volley. And look how hard Rafa had to work (or chose to work?) to get it done. I saw some evidence of Rafa trying to flatten out his forehand more, and be aggressive, mostly in the Haas match, where it could be argued Tommy didn't really have the speed of a Tsonga or enough speed on his own fh shots. But I agree with Lee, Rafa's margins of victory (off clay) against top ten players won't be huge. ie. he won't 'dominate'. But I do believe he will improve as best he can.
If Rafa's weapon is to wear down and demoralize his opponent with getting back just one more ball, making you play just one more shot, etc, it's working very well. And he's built up his own aura already - relentless, never-say-die, etc - I love this guy and his game, but I do have to agree, what might happen to him in the future? How long can he play like that? His carerra may not last too much longer. (oddman sad about that)
Anyway - Nick raises some good points about the competition Fed has faced since 04.
Defensive baseline player. I heard PMac and Cahill talking about this, and thought they had a good point - that Fed does play defense with everyone, and makes you pay with his forehand when he gets the chance. See Andy Roddick, who Fed tempts in each and every time with the short slice, then boom, hits a passing shot. Makes Andy look very ordinary. Along comes Rafa, who is even better on defense than Fed, plus is a lefty, and can pick on that 1HBH all day. PMac said Fed has to adjust to playing offense, higher risk tennis, which really isn't his game. He starts missing, and gets unraveled playing Rafa. If he just plays defense with Rafa, well, you know Rafa's gonna eventually win that one too. Matchups.
I think, to answer Lee's question, yes. Nobody really pushed him but Nadal for a long time. Murray, Simon, Tsonga, Djokovic - they're all coming, and Murray at least has verbalized that he tries to do the same thing to Fed that Rafa does, pick on the backhand as much as possible. I forget which tournament he said this. Doha?

One also has to consider the age factor now, with the young guns coming up with wins over Fed.

And hilarious, Nick, comparing Fed to Hingis!

Pheasant Plucker said...

That article is a little unfair to Nadal, given the improvement he's made to his hardcourt game in the last year. While I agree that he seems to be a less 'smooth player', it also must be pointed out that a lot of balls he returns other players simply wouldn't get to (or even TRY to get to). And looking at his Aussie open campaign, there was only one match in which he "...play(ed) from so far behind the baseline he nearly dares you to use the short court as Tsonga did..." - the Verdasco match. Not to mention that his obscene 288 winners/144 unforced errors record for the tournament doesn't exactly scream that his "...game is based more on attrition than the pure shot-making explosiveness...". That's some pretty good shot making (in addition to his ability to erode his opponents game, of course). I agree that Tsonga annihalated him last year... it's just that Nadal no longer plays like he did against Tsonga. More than that, when his game reverts to the more defensive style, it appears to be tactical more than anything else (imagine how many more winners Verdasco could have hit against him if he hadn't given himself the space to run them down!) I agree that he still returns serve from halfway to Sibera, but other than that...

oddman said...

True, Pheasant Plucker. Nadal said himself he had to play like that as a match tactic against his countryman, also a lefty. And well aware of his game.

What a match that was! I gagged up my heart more than once, swallowed it back down again, and did this all night.

Savannah said...

Comparing Fed to Hingis is a stroke of genius. I've often said Hingis was the last of the old school players who relied on touch and finesse as opposed to the Big Babe tennis era ushered in by Monica Seles and perfected by Venus, Serena, Lindsay and that is now being modified by the up and comers. Fed copied his game from Marcelo Rios and I feel that because Rios' career was cut short by injury we never got to see what his game would become.

rabbit said...

Right, let us just all decide to close our eyes, forget all the tennis that we have watched Roger play over the years, forget the fact that Roger won his first Wimbledon playing serve and volley, forget the fact that Roger demolished Rafa in Shanghai 07, cherry-pick some statistics and call him a lucky tweener who somehow managed to amass 13 slams and also acquired the skill of turning on his eye faucets at will. Right, Rafa is not a great player, Roger is a pathetic hack.

Savannah said...

Rabbit I know you posted before HelenW's commentary on the draws CM has received over the last couple of years.
I went into how a draw could be rigged when the AO draw came out so I won't get into it here. Suffice it to say that it can be done. The computer will act on the parameters it's given.
Something is being done to ensure that CM gets to face the men who are beaten before they step on court. Once is an accident. Time after time isn't. He feels no need of a coach, no need to change his game because he doesn't have to. Anyone with just a rudimentary knowledge of programming can hazard a guess at what is being done. Keep in mind someone footed the bill for all those legends to be ready to accept a new member of the pantheon in Australia.

Karen said...

I notice that in all of the comments being made about the AO final, no one, except my most hated commentator Jimmy Arias, has said what needs to be said. The court was as slow as dirt. There were rallies that went for 20-30 strokes of the balls. Could that have enabled Rafa to accomplish what no other Spanish player had ever accomplished? As to the commentary about Fed playing in a weak era, I guess the same could also be said of Venus and Serena. Stop taking away people's accomplishments. You play the person in front of you. If Roger played in a weak era, in what era is Nadal playing. As far as I know the same set of players are still there. We have new faces coming up who are yet to accomplish anything of note. I repeat, you play the person in front of you.

Helen W said...

First of all, I find the whole concept of a GOAT rather specious. I don't think there is much validity in comparing players across generations due to changes in racquets, etc.

That being said, there have been endless discussions, fueled by Tennis Media and some Roger fans, about whether Roger qualifies as the GOAT. The most commonly-quoted criteria is his total slams, compared to Pete Sampras' totals. That being the case, I do not think it out of line to take a look at the players whom they won those slams against, as "Nick" did in the post I quoted.

No-one is saying that Roger is not one of the greats. Of course it is no-one's fault if the players in their generation are not as strong as those in other generations. But if we are to have this discussion continuously thrust upon us, then it is, by definition, comparing players from different generations, so let's look at the total picture.

As far as Roger & Rafa being in the same generation -- Roger is 5 years older than Rafa, and in terms of tennis generations, that is a significant age difference. That being said, I agree that, like Roger, Rafa has not had to face the type of competition that (say) Pete did when he won the bulk of his slams.

pompelmo said...

In my humble opinion, if we are going to compare Sampras to somebody, it should be Ivanisevic or Philipoussis, in either case Pete being the better one. Pistol Pete was a strong server, who declined along with his serve. Never been able reach the final of Roland Garros, not a tactical genius who can adjust his game, prone to mistakes. A Leyton Hewitt with a longer career. Remember how Hewitt and Roddick were unhappy about the new Wimbledon and overall courts being slower than before? We would have different Sampras grand slam figures if it would have done earlier.

MMT said...

Nick’s argument appears to make sense if you’re inclined to believe it, but because he only applies it to Federer (nobody else in tennis history is afforded the pleasure of this scrutiny) it is in my opinion incomplete and invalid.

For example, you could replace every "Federer" in the piece with "Borg", every "Nadal" with McEnroe, leave everything else the same, and historically the argument would be the same. Yet somehow, Borg’s pedigree is rarely (if ever) questioned.

Just as it is absurd to suggest that Borg won all his slams because he didn't have McEnroe to contend with, so too is it ridiculous to suggest the same of Federer vis a vis Nadal. You win slams against a field of 128 players, not one. Roger's done it, and to date Nadal hasn't.

He's well on his way, but if his career ended tomorrow, it would be foolish to place him ahead of Federer in the all-time great list, merely because of his superior head-to-head record.

In fact, if this is your measure - head to head records against only the game's best – then the only possible GOAT worth mentioning is Pancho Gonzalez, based on his professional touring days. That man literally beat every #1 amateur and every pro from 1955 to 1963 and with the exception of Rod Laver, who was 9 years younger than him (that's 4 years younger than Nadal is to Federer).

That said, he still be laver in a winner take all 5 set match at Madison Square Garden when he was 41 and semi-retired, and Laver was the #1 ranked player in the world and had just come off his second grand slam.

You go with the information you have, and the best indicator is total slams won. If that isn't the case, then why do we bother with them?

The problem I have with all these creative ways of denigrating Federer's pedigree based on his failures against Nadal is that it is merely subterfuge for something else, which is to say that he is not as good as he appears.

This my friends is non-sense.

He is/was exactly as good as he appears. Before he was winning almost everything and that’s how good he WAS, and now he's winning only in the context of what Nadal doesn't and that’s how good he IS. What’s happening today does not besmirch what he did in years past, because by that same argument, a lot of great players would look pretty bad if you based their overall evaluation on how they fared as they began to be usurped by younger players.

As it stands his career record stands second only to Pete Sampras, and that’s exactly how good he is.

rabbit said...

Bravo, MMT!

MMT said...

This argument is really insipid: Let’s take a look at the honor roll of Sampras’ opponents in finals and examine their pedigrees:

USO 1990 Agassi was 2 years and 5 years away from winning a slam and being ranked #1 – image was everything at this point.

WIM 1993 Jim Courier on grass – enough said

USO 1993 Cedric Pioline – hadn’t even won so much as a tournament, never mind a slam (which he would never do) and would never be ranked #1

AO 1994 Todd Martin – a non-ever-slammer who at one point lost a lucky 13 in a row against Samras(4-18 for his career), and never also would never be ranked #1

WIM 1994 Goran Ivanisevic – Tennis Channel’s #1 one-slam wonder of all time, and would also never be ranked #1

WIM 1995 Boris Becker – a who had
been on tour 12 years by then and was 4 years removed from his last 6 week stint at #1

USO 1995 Agassi – this one I’ll give you – Agassi was #1 in the world at the time on a 26 match winning streak…but

USO 1996 Michael Chang – tennis
channel’s #5 one slam wonder, would never be never ranked #1 and had lost 9 out of the last 10 times they’d played.

AO 1997 Carlos Moya – an honorable mention one slam wonder who was playing in the first (and second to last) slam final of his career

WIM 1997 Cedric Pioline – who STILL hadn’t even won a tournament by then, much less a slam – did I mention that Pioline was 0-9 against Sampras over his career?

WIM 1998 Goran Ivanesivic – see above, he went 6-12 against Sampras and hadn’t beaten him in 2 years or the last 4 times they’d played – he would lose his next match with Sampras, just to extend the streak

WIM 1999 Agassi – Fair enough he WAS #1 at the time, but this was his worst surface and he’d just won the French, and went down in 3 sets – hardly a classic confrontation

WIM 2000 – A half broken Pat Rafter, just coming off shoulder surgery 5 months earlier and would go on to lose (the next year) to none other than GORAN IVANISEVIC, so you can hardly call him stiff competition

USO 2002 Agassi –his US Open whipping boy – whom he’d beaten 4 out of 4 times in Flushing Meadows after Safin and Hewitt, his nemeses from the previous 2 years had already been beaten

Helen W said...

MMT I think your argument reinforces just how meaningless the concept of a GOAT really is. As you point out, there really isn't a concensus as to how you could measure it.

In this whole discussion around Federer's claim to GOAT status, it is often claimed that one of the reasons he has as many slam wins as he does is because he is playing in a relatively weak era, as compared to when Sampras played. Nick is presenting some detail to back up that claim.

Another popular issue in GOAT-assessment is whether someone can be considered a GOAT if they have a poor record against one of their contemporaries (and of course, the two people always mentioned in this context are Federer & Nadal).

If we want to go there, we could add: Is someone a GOAT candidate if they also have the dubious distinction of having suffered the worst loss (in terms of games won) in a slam final in the open era (Roger's loss to Rafa at FO 2008).

This is all just stupid stuff, IMHO. There is no agreed-upon measure of how to compare individual records.

At this point in Nadal's career (for heaven's sake, he's only 22 years old) it is simply ludicrous to start talking GOAT-speak (IMHO). It is certainly premature to compare Nadal's record to Federer's, given the difference in the stage of their respective careers. And it is unfair to Federer to keep comparing the number of slams he had won at the age of 22 to the number that Nadal has won. Players mature at different ages -- and they decline at different ages.

If we must have these discussions, can't we at least wait until their careers are essentially over?

In my view, it dishonours BOTH of them. Why can't we just enjoy the fact that we have two tremendous players, and a bunch of exciting up-and-comers?

MMT said...

And just for good measure, let me complete the argument with Borg: Borg lost the last 3 slam finals he played against McEnroe, and McEnroe beat him on all surfaces but clay.

And PLEASE don't bring up Jimmy Connors - this self-annointed great competitor lost 14 out of the last 16 times they played - 10 in a row to end their career "rivarly", so clearly if Connors can go 0-10 and still be offered as evidence of Borg's "great" competition, then the same can be said for Roddick vis a vis Federer.

Some of his other slam final opponents:

1974 FO Manuel Orantes went 1-10 the last 11 times he played Borg and won 1 slam in his careere

1975 FO Guillermo Vilas who lost 15 of the last 17 matches he played against Borg

1976 WIM Ilie Nastase who was 30 and lost 7 of the last 8 times he played Borg

1977 WIM Connors - see above

1978 FO Guillermo Vilas - see above

1978 WIM Connors - see above

1979 FO Victor Pecci, who was playing in his first slam final, never won a slam and went 1-6 against Borg

1979 WIM Roscoe Tanner who won 1 slam and was playing his first slam final

1980 FO Vitas Gerulaitis who never beat borg in 16 meetings and the year before offered to practice with Borg the day after he'd lost to him in the semi-final at Wimbledon (talk about being servile)

1980 WIM McEnroe - Borg's personal Nadal

1981 FO Ivan Lendl who was playing in his first slam final and 3 years removed from winning his first slam and 4 years from being ranked #1 and went 1-7 against him in his career.

So you see, nobody plays their nemesis every time they win a slam, and nobody plays world-beaters every time they win a slam, and nobody wins a lot of slams without putting a mental hurting on his opponents, and benefitting from it.

Okay - I rest my case.

MMT said...

Your Honor if it pleases the court, I'd like to redirect!

Helen - you said it's fair to compare the pedigrees of the players a GOAT candidate has beaten, and then when I provide evidence of the holes in Sampras and Borg's contemporaries, suddenly it's not a good measure?

You said let's look at the total picture, well there it is. And here's some more for you...

Fed's slam final opponents sum slams are is 6 (Nadal) 2 (Hewitt) 8 (Agassi) 1 (Roddick) 2 (Safin) 1 (Djokovic) for at TOTAL OF 20.

Sampras' list is 8 (Agassi) 4 (Courier) 1 (Chang) 1 (Ivanisevic) 6 (Becker) 2 (Rafter) and 1 (Moya) for a TOTAL OF 23. 23 is more than 20, but not enough to invalidate the comparison - and remember that Federer has 4 years to go before he reaches the age of Sampras when he won his last slam.

So what gives? Yes, 1 of Federer's opponents was old (Agassi), but the same could be said for Sampras (Becker), and both were good enough to GET THROUGH THE FIELD.

In fact, ALL 43 of the were good enough to get through the field, so no matter what you think of them historically, over the those 2 weeks (and those are the only two that count) they were better than 126 of the world's best players.

And by the way, what's wrong with slam totals, other than the fact that Federer has 13 of them? If slams don't indicate the best of the best, then why do we give a hoot about them? If you want to delve in to H2H records, then as I mentioned before, only Pancho Gonzalez's career is equipped to win that argument.

We DO have a good measure - it's slam totals. We should use it. Any OTHER measure is so loaded with idiosyncracies and subjectivity, the only one that should count - THE RESULTS - is obviously the best.

As for Laver and the slam argument - how many slams do you think Laver would have won had Gonzalez and Rosewall been around to compete for them? In 1962 he won the calendar slam and then proceeded to get his arse handed to him the next year by a man 9 years his senior and 12 years removed from even playing a slam. And for a nice bookend - Gonzalez then beat him in 1970, after being down 2 sets to love, I should add, in that winner take all match for 10K, which was more than the other slams were offering for their finalists COMBINED. This is back when prize money still meant a lot.

And do you think if he hadn't played professionally that he would have won his second slam? Pick up a racquet and play for a year against the best players in your club - then go back and compete against everybody else the next - you'll probably go undefeated too.

No the only measure is how many times were they best player out of a field of the best 128 players in the world. And by that measure Sampras is #1 and Federer's #2 and Nadal is # 12 (after Emerson, Laver, Borg, Tilden, Connors, Rosewall, Agassi, Wilander, McEnroe and tied with Becker and Edberg).

And wood racquets - THEY ALL PLAYED WITH WOOD racquets, and they all play with composites. Like pitchers and hitters in baseball, they're all juiced.

You may not like the measure, but because it's based on results against the best of your era it's the best measure. But you can't have one without the other - you can't pick on one or two opponents of Federer's and ingore the ignominious list of Sampras' competitors (or anyone else's for that matter) and say, "There you have it, Fed's overrated!"

That's not looking at the whole picture. As you said the whole picture is too complicated, so let's stick to what we know, and what we know is that Sampras had 14 and Fed has 13.

Slams are greatness, and greatness is in the slams, that is all you'll ever know or need to know.

Helen W said...

MMT my main point was that I think any purported measure to determine a GOAT is meaningless. The concept, at least to me, is meaningless. After all, what is the definition of Greatest Of All Time? Does it, for example, depend on how long a player was active?

I am not interested in picking a favourite candidate, then hunting around for a set of stats that will support my choice.

Total number of slams won in a career is an interesting number. But so are lots of other stats -- winning percentage, for example.

Go ahead and redirect, but defense counsel is heading home :)

MMT said...

I have to say I also disagree with the contention that Nadal cannot dominate because of his style of play. This man, who supposedly compiled a list of the greatest tennis player of all time, must have encountered Borg's incredible numbers, who is, in my view, very similar to Nadal, albeit with a little less of his own firepower.

Borg too was interminably competitive, made very few errors, could play for days on end (without injury timeouts) and could win on all surfaces. As you can see, aside from McEnroe, his record against his contemporaries is similar (if not better) than Federer's and he was ranked #1 three years in a row between 1978 and 1980.

I also disagree that Federer is a counterpuncher. Not true - he defends well, but that doesn't make him a counterpuncher.

Well, I think that horse is on its way to a high end restaurant in Japan, by now.

rabbit said...

I agree with Helen_W that the GOAT classification is meaningless simply because there are no objective criteria for it. And this is why I was a little annoyed by the post quoted by Helen_W about the purported analysis of Federer's competition. It adds nothing to the discussion, only fuels disagreements, and is very biased. As MMT says, one can cherry-pick such statistics about any time period.

Helen W said...

Sorry, rabbit, I did not mean to stir up controversy and bad feelings by publishing Nick's comment. I only intended it as a new (at least to me) contribution to the long-standing GOAT argument as to whether Roger's slam total, in comparison to Pete's, was gained in a weak era.

Here's my view on using statistics: If someone is interested in a subject, then looks at the various statistics available, the statistics can be useful in helping to shape their opinion.

Alas, statistucs are too often used in the opposite order: Someone forms their opinion, then goes selectively hunting for those statistics that will support it, which they proceed to quote passionately and ad nauseum. Perhaps such folks are what gave rise to the aphorism "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Craig Hickman said...

The court was as slow as dirt.

::

No, it wasn't. If so, Andy Roddick wouldn't have been anywhere near the semifinals.

Craig Hickman said...

I also disagree that Federer is a counterpuncher. Not true - he defends well, but that doesn't make him a counterpuncher.

::

What makes him a counterpuncher is his mindset. He's simply not comfortable being aggressive, which is one of the many reasons why he has so much trouble against other counterpunchers who wield weapons of their own.

Craig Hickman said...

Were Slams always a draw of 128 or were they only 64 deep back when Tilden was winning them?

MMT said...

That's a great question Craig: Tilden and the 4 Musketeers played in 128 player fields. But I don't know when the 128 player fields started.

rabbit said...

Rabbit I know you posted before HelenW's commentary on the draws CM has received over the last couple of years.
I went into how a draw could be rigged when the AO draw came out so I won't get into it here. Suffice it to say that it can be done. The computer will act on the parameters it's given.
Something is being done to ensure that CM gets to face the men who are beaten before they step on court. Once is an accident. Time after time isn't. He feels no need of a coach, no need to change his game because he doesn't have to. Anyone with just a rudimentary knowledge of programming can hazard a guess at what is being done. Keep in mind someone footed the bill for all those legends to be ready to accept a new member of the pantheon in Australia.


Savannah, sorry, I missed your comment from earlier.

I assume by CM, you mean Roger; what does the acronym stand for?

In all honesty, I do not really understand how one can call Roger’s draw undoubtedly easier than Rafa’s. Berdych has beaten Roger before in a high-pressure situation. Djokovic was the winner last year and won TMC. Roddick won their last meeting. Seppi is a pretty dangerous first-round opponent for nearly anyone on a HC slam. Korolev is a young up-and-comer, who hits really really hard. Del Potro is a promising star, a top 10 player, and nobody could have predicted would be blown out in the way he was. After the second half of last year, I do not think anybody would have called JMDP mentally suspect. And Rafa did not really have to spend much time on court, before the Verdasco match. So, honestly, I do not understand why someone would say this draw was fixed in favor of Roger. It is true that Verdasco and Murray were the in-form players and both were on the opposite side. That is a 25% likelihood. And it is not absolutely clear Verdasco would be a really tough opponent for Roger; he beat him in Kooyong, playing in his exho mode.

Helen W said...

rabbit I think CM is an abbreviation for Crying Man.

Of course evaluating players is a subjective exercise, but here is why I think Roger's side of the draw was easier (for him in particular).

First, Berdych and del Potro both have a history of being cowed by Roger to the point that they really look like they do not believe they can win against him.

As for Djokovic, his side of the draw would have either him or Andy Murray, and most people felt that, with the way both of them were playing at the time of the draw, Murray was the far greater threat.

On top of that, such dangerous players as Gonzo, Tsonga and Monfils were in the other side of the draw.

So yes, in balance, I think Roger had the easier draw.

But to me the big question remains: Why did Roger's side of the draw get to play first, thus ensuring that the finalist from that side got an extra day of rest of the final?

rabbit said...

Helen_W, I do not know the answer to your last question. It perplexes me as much as you. Though it did not make much of a difference in the end. The USO situation was a bit more problematic, with Murray playing on back-to-back days.

As for Berdych and Del Potro being cowed by Federer, Federer and Del Potro had met only once before. And Berdych won in the Olympics and would have won if the AO match was a 3-setter. Federer has turned the matchup around, but that may have something to do with the fact that Federer now knows his game better. I still dont see why those matches were more giveaways than, say, against Tsonga. (Tsonga has also met Federer once and had lost by a similar score.)

Helen W said...

rabbit, Federer and del Potro have now met 4 times (see ATP Site) and Federer as won in straight sets every time.

Against Berdych his record is now 8-1, and the only 5-setter listed at the ATP site is this year's AO.

And for the record, I do not believe that the cahnge from Rebound Ace to Plexicushion at the AO has anything to do with giving Federer an advantage -- I believe they made the change for the reasons stated in the article I sited earlier.

As far as the extra day's rest goes, even though Rafa won, there is no question in my mind that it made his lot much harder.

rabbit said...

Helen_W, obviously I was speaking utter bullshit about Del Potro :) I guess I was confusing his record with Tsonga! But I think if you are going to measure danger to Federer by head-to-head record, you are going to find very few dangerous players. Players you mentioned, such as Gonzo (11-1!), Monfils and Verdasco, also have lop-sided records against him. Only Murray, like you said, could have been in Roger's half and was not. But then again, last year, Djokovic was on Roger's side.

The question about why Nadal played later is, like I said, perplexing even to me. I did not know, but I guess based on your and others' outrage, it must be that the top seed has nearly always played first. If this is the case, the decision was unfair to Rafa. I personally don't think that a day's rest is too little for a pro player (I guess Roger also played with only a day's rest in 2004 when he entered AO as the #2 seed?) But as a matter of consistency, I agree that it is unjustifiable to treat the #1 seed so.

Helen W said...

rabbit I can only agree that most players have a rather dismal record in their head-to-heads with Roger :).

If the draws are being manipulated, it can only be done with subtlety -- clearly TPTB cannot guarantee the result they want (assuming that they have a preference) and can only do so much to weigh things in favour of one or the other player. As far as my evaluation of the AO draws, I'm not using head-to-head results so much as players that I think are greater or lesser threats to Roger. In Tsonga's case, since there has only been one match (which Roger won easily), there is not much to go on -- but we do know that when Tsonga plays his best, he can be formidable, so I regard him as having been a dangerous floater in the AO. It was my opinion that, fo Djokovic & Murray, Djokovic was much less of a threat than Murray -- based on my assessment of their recent play. Andy Roddick is never a big threat to Roger. All in all, I still believe that Roger got the easier draw. That being said, it wasn't glaringly easier, so who really knows whether there was any hanky-panky in assembling it.

The question of what side of the draw played first was asked over and over. The fact that TPTB at the AO never chose to give an answer can only add to any suspicion that things may not have been on the up and up.

I personally don't think that a day's rest is too little for a pro player....

If both players had only a day's rest, I would agree. What is unfair is if one player has 2 day's rest and the other only 1. That being said, I do think it preferable to have a full day of rest between the semis and the final (i.e. both semis on Friday, final on Sunday).

Many many sports journalists have commented on how inappropriate the traditional scheduling of the AO is -- allowing one finalist to have significamtly more rest than the other, and they are the only slam that does this. I have no doubt that MONEY for ticket sales is a factor, but there are obvious solutions where they could have the best of both worlds. They need to change their processes, no matter who the players are.