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?