Sunday, April 27, 2008

On Top of the Dirt

Rafa Wins Four in a Row

For the fourth consecutive year, Rafael Nadal takes the Monte-Carlo title with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over world No. 1 Roger Federer.

Four in a row. That's no small feat.

I didn't watch the match. The Rafa-Raja show has left me completely uninterested. We haven't seen it since China and I haven't missed it one bit.

Since I didn't see it, I'll turn you to my write-up of last year's final, which I thoroughly enjoyed, partly because it was best of five sets.

Enjoy this walk down memory lane.

Getty Images
(Getty Images - Click to enlarge)


Karen said...

Craig, if I did not know better I would swear that you were a bit disappointed that Roger lost. All I can say is that if a player is inside a player's head, it is Rafa in Roger's. It is absolutely inexplicable to me that he had leads in both sets, up breaks in both, a double break in the second set and still lost the match. I too did not see the match (was in church and then went to brunch with family) but after seeing him come back from 5-1 in the third in his second round match and going through some tough 3 setters on his way to the final, I just cannot believe he lost the finals. I am totally bummed about this one. Totally bummed. I cannot even think straight right now.

oddman said...

Sorry karen, that you're bummed. I get it though. I didn't see the match either, but had my fingers crossed that Rafa would do it again.
I'm just thrilled! And he won the doubles too with Robredo. This has got to be some kind of record, no?
Vamos, Rafa!
Interesting post on Memory Lane, Craig. Are you saying things are about the same this year? I guess I really should watch the match, eh? Too much to do right now. But I have something to look forward to tonight, yay!

rabbit said...

Congrats Rafa and oddman!

And Roger still manages to leave with a bad performance after giving such inspired matches against Nalbandian and Djokovic. He literally choked the second set away. I'm pretty bummed too, karen. Hoping the season keeps improving for Roger.

Carleton said...

Hi, Craig. I watched the match. It was really strange watching Rafa come back from 4-0 down in the second set. Fed played four games of lights out tennis and basically left the building. And what is that thing on Fed's face (right cheek)? It looks like a MRSA or a bad bruise.

Dan Scarlett said...

uygexyeCraig, your refusal to comment is very disappointing. Wasn't Rafa's comeback from 0-4 worth a small amount of your time.?

rabbit said...

Dan, I'm also pretty disappointed at not getting to read Craig's insightful and incisive blog posts. The post from last year reminded me even more of this. But we must understand; there can be things going on in Craig's life surely more important than tennis half a world away.

Craig Hickman said...

thanks, rabbit.

dan, I didn't watch the match.

Craig Hickman said...

I must say, though, I do enjoy the blog family.

Karen thinks I'm disappointed Raja didn't win and dan thinks I have nothing good to say about Rafa.


Savannah said...

I don't usually do the commentary thing but I did watch the match.
During the first set Rafa and Fed exchanged breaks. Neither one got a "lead" over the other. Fed was coming to the net and putting pressure on Rafa. One of the commentators, Konig I believe, said that when playing anyone else Fed can play hard court on clay but that he was not sure he'd be able to do that against Rafa. What Fed was doing was trying to keep the ball away from Rafa and not get into long rallies where Rafa would just wait him out.

I remember reading somewhere that 7-5 scores are all about what's going on in the heart and mind of a player. The first set was all about will and Rafa pulled it out with steady play.

The second set did give this fan pause because Fed, again keeping away from rallies, served his way to a 4-0 lead. I think he thought that Rafa would concede the set and that they'd go to a third. But they put the camera on Mirka and Higueras. Both had their heads down. When Higueras looked up there was nothing but tension in his face. Rafa is smart enough to know to take it one game at a time which is what he did. Perhaps Fed forgot who he was playing, I don't know, but Rafa proceeded to give Fed a methodical working over working with the surface not against it, taking what the court was giving not trying to overpower it. And that is what won him the match.

I don't match Craig's eloquence but that is what I saw. You best believe I'm being a fan girl today. A four-peat and a double up, the first double up since 1991 when Jim Courier did it.

Helen W said...

Actually Savannah I think your commentary is very insightful. I am struck with your unique observation that Rafa was "...taking what the court was giving not trying to overpower it."

For other commentary, here is Neil Harman of The Times Online and Alix Ramsay of The Daily Express who offer their take on the match.

Karen said...

Craig, I think of all of Roger's losses to Rafa, I think this one hurt the most because it seemed to me from reading the blogs and from what I saw before I left for church, he did seem to be holding his own. As a Roger fan I am very disappointed and I am sorry but this is the first time where I am not even feeling gracious to congratulate Rafa's fans. It does hurt a lot. I did not even feel bad when he lost to Roddick or even Nalby or when he was being out played earlier this year. This match it just seemed as if he had everything working for him and to choke like that - which no matter how you slice it - he choked and choked big time. How the hail do you give up a 4-0 lead. And Savannah, he did not serve his way to a 4-0 lead, he played really good tennis. He broke Rafa twice in the second set and then choked the rest of the match away. I am sorry if I sound ungracious but just as how other players quake before Roger, other players seem to quake before Rafa. He gets every freaking ball back and I guess after awhile players just start missing. Onwards to Rome.

Helen W said...

karen someone on Tennis World made exactly your point -- how can you feel gracious to the other player's fans while you are still sorely smarting from the loss by your favourite?

Not to worry :(

Savannah said...

Karen believe me I understand. No problem.

rabbit said...

Thanks for the summary, savannah! I didn't watch the match either, and I'll echo karen's sentiments. In watching clips, it seems to me that Roger suddenly forgot the tactics he was using to gain the 4-0 lead and Rafa immediately sensed this. A mental lapse, and a huge one.

oddman said...

OK, finally watched the match. Fangirl moment here: Uncle Toni said it best, that the strongest part of Rafa is his will. His WILL to win. I saw that on full display there. Wow, what an awesome kid!

My take on the match - I think Rafa started off that second set a bit flat, and Fed was really stepping it up. Then at 4-0 Fed, Rafa just decided he wasn't going to miss any more shots. And he pretty much didn't. I think Fed's tactic of trying to get to the net wasn't working as well cos Rafa kept the ball deep, he was painting the lines with alot of his shots. Reminded me of Agassi. (or Pong?) 'I fight for every point, no?' I wonder if Fed thought he was going to concede the second set. No! He fights for every point. He has this indomitable will. Then I see Fed getting into long rallies with Rafa? Not a wise move, IMO. And he started to go for too much, and started missing. I saw 'that' face again, Craig. :)

Superstitious me, I was pretty confident of a Rafa victory, but also felt (and didn't want to mention) that if Rafa had lost today, it would have done a world of good for Fed's confidence. Don't think it would have bothered Rafa too much, but very advantageous for the Swiss man. Seems to me that it's pretty hard to faze Rafa much. I love that about him, he shakes off bad shots, being down double breaks, how many times have you seen him absolutely step it up when he's breakpoint down?

This fan is very happy today! Vamos, Rafito, four in a row at Monte Carlo!

Savannah said...

Oddman I really think Fed thought Rafa would concede that second set. As I said Rafa took a deep breath and did what he had to do.One game, one point at a time. And Fed was not ready for that. On some level he forgot who he was playing and the WILL of Rafito.

Mirka and Higueras knew. I trust Mirka's reactions more than anyone else's when it comes to Fed. And she couldn't look at the court once Rafa got going.

rabbit said...

I must say though that I'd be much more unhappy today if Roger lost straightforwardly, something like 6-4, 6-3. Federer showed that he has recovered enough from his slump to take Rafa out of his game for a substantial stretch and can launch attacks against Rafa's serves. It gives me some hope for future encounters :)

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks for all the match reports. I'm sure all our readers appreciate them as well.

Helen W said...

Predictably after another Federer loss to Nadal on clay, everyone is analyzing the game and coming up with solutions for Roger. He himself feels that he is getting closer to solving the problem of Rafa on clay. Here's Peter Bodo's analysis, entitled Nadal a problem without a solution.

PeytonAllen said...

How interesting that Nadal and Federer get their first titles of the year: on clay.

I thought Nadal gave away that first break in set one. Three errors. Aside from that, he was in control in set one. Fed, up 4-0 in the second should've won.

For all of Fed's talk about how much closer he's getting, the reality is Karen may be the only one who believes in a best 3 out of 5 set match that Fed can beat Nadal.

People want Fed to change something in the gameplan. What exactly? To come to net 100 times? To serve and volley?

Fed is close enough in all of these sets and matches that it has to be confusing to him. A point here and there he goes home thinking.

I think it's fool's gold thinking he's close.

Nadal is a grinder. He will grind for three hours. He will force Fed to go for too much, he will force Fed's mechanics to break down.

There is no solution.

Other than someone else doing it, an injury, or a really, really bad day.

Nadal has already won the French Open for the next three years. Period.

tangerine said...

Remember the days when Federer fans hated Nadal and his butt-picking vamosing ways, and Uncle Toni was the bad guy? Has anyone else noticed how they're singing a new tune about Rafa these days?

I wonder if Novak and the Djokovic family have anything to do with this sudden turnabout? ;)

Anyway, congrats to the Rafa fans, winning four MC's in a row and doing the double is history-making. If Nadal doesn't go down as being the best claycourt player ever then, uh...

And congrats to Roger's fans, even though he still can't solve the Nadal riddle on clay, he still put in a great performance this week, is looking strong and healthy again, and face it, this video of him telling the Djokers off will go viral a la Youzhny bashing his head in.

It'll be interesting to see how Djokovic responds to all of the criticism from the media, his fans and nonfans alike in the coming weeks, and also if he'll be incensed at Roger for yelling at his family and go looking for some revenge. (oh goody! a new bad blood rivalry coming right up)

Karen said...

For all of Fed's talk about how much closer he's getting, the reality is Karen may be the only one who believes in a best 3 out of 5 set match that Fed can beat Nadal.
I am LMAOROTF - thanks for making my day with that comment above. Absolutely hilarious.

oddman said...

I just went to Steve Tignor at TW and read his latest on Nadal. Nice article from him.
As for your prediction that Rafa will win RG for the next three years, peyton allen, I hope so, but one never really knows. I always worry about the Mallorcan getting injured.
Crossing my fingers for him.

oddman said...

Hi tangerine. I remember those days very well. It's taken Rafa a long long time to earn a little respect, finally.
peytonallen, I agree with you about people wanting Roger to change his gameplan. Spot-on, how the heck would he? And didn't he once snap at some interviewer about that very thing - 'you try playing Nadal'? Or am I just wishful thinking or perhaps it was someone else. I remember Agassi having trouble with him and his weak serve in 2005. You'd think Agassi, despite his bad back, would have easily been able to return that 90 mph thing back with interest, but he said he had trouble with the spin. I think most can play Rafa tough on a hardcourt with the right gameplan, but on clay, it's another story.
Oh, well, it's Rafa's time to shine. Soon enough all the 'buttpicking, vamosing, celebrating other's mistakes' cranky comments will resurface. Despite the fact he's toned all that down alot. Well, maybe not the buttpicking, lol!

rabbit said...

Thanks oddman for pointing to Tignor's blog. A very interesting post as always from him! All credit to Rafa, as I said before. He played some magnificent tennis and even more than that, he could stay focused in applying his time-tested tactics throughout the match. I think Roger also had some new tactics that were pretty successful in the beginning of the second set, but then he lost focus. Rafa's mental concentration is absolute and intense, something I don't think can be acquired overnight.

Also, tangerine, I don't think there is any doubt that us, Fed fans, have become more appreciative of Rafa's humility off court because of Djokovic :) Uncle Toni's occasional on-court coaching pales in comparison to Novak's dad pointing his thumb down at Roger! Also, I think Rafa has toned down his bicep curling vamoses from earlier on in his career.

oddman said...

Oh, yes, one last comment - very important - I don't find inflammatory comments on this blog. We can argue, disagree, and get quite heated, but no one resorts to personal attacks. A huge thanks to you, Craig, and fellow posters too!
OK, I'm done. What a blabber I am.

john said...

Sorry Craig,but you missed a great match.

Maybe its because you are living in the USA and you know that Spain rule on clay, and of course the time difference.

How many Americans turned up for Monte Carlo?, and how many will be in Barcelona?

We out here in Spain are looking forward to the Davis semi final..on clay of course!

PeytonAllen said...

Karen, I said that with love. I admire your devotion to Fed. I used to live and die with Agassi matches, and still nearly do with Nadal. You should be happy that Fed woke up a bit. A really bad start to his year. Of course without that miracle first round win, we'd all be throwing more dirt on his grave. I don't think it'll happen, but with Fed struggling like this, wouldn't this be the time to win just one major this year and have it be the French?

Oddman...yeah what's he supposed to do? Fed isn't overly aggressive on the serve on ANY service. So people getting on him for not ripping it should realize he's not James Blake go for broke on the serve on a fast surface either.

Nadal destroys players who give him trouble on a hard court, on clay. It's a credit, major credit to Fed that these matches are close. Again , I think that's confusing. He's so close, why change? It has to be a challenge just to play his game and try and beat Nadal. But, if you win the 100 meter dash by a millisecond at the Olympics you're still the fastest man in the world.

Nadal doesn't mind the close matches, doesn't mind Fed's determined shot making. Rafa's will wants the challenge.

Only a fast surface where Nadal loses time and his shots aren't quite as effective is he in trouble.

That said, these next 2.5 months are Rafa's money time. The Clay season and oddly, the grass...I like like Venus, the grass forces him to play without thinking, and he can use his athletic ability to really move around the court. The hard court is still foreign, he can't move as freely.

On a hard court, I think Rafa is gonna have to hire a new coach, someone like Larry Stefanki to really rework his attitude. But still, he's 21 years old. Feels like he's been around forever.

Nice video on Fed saying shush. That rivalry is hot, huh. Good for tennis. Can you imagine those two at Wimbledon?

Best player this year, maybe it's Nadal right now. He lost to a player in Australian who played out of his mind (where is Jo Willie now? Anyone?). Two finals on American MS soil, and now it's his season.

I think Rafa is just so mentally whipped by the time the American hard court summer rolls around, its hard for him to re-energize.

Should be a fun season. Fed is Fed. Not dead yet. I've said before, this season is gravy, but he's still king until he loses in London or New York.

PeytonAllen said...

On a side note, why would Roddick and Blake not play here?

It's beautiful. The view. But i'm sure Houston is lovely this time of year too.


Beth said...

I think Rafa has intense focus and concentration - the unique ability to work from point to point without getting overwhelmed or bogged down with the 'what ifs' of the next game or the next set. He is able to be fully in the present and this is a huge asset in his game. I think most players would kill to have the kind of mental tenacity that Rafa possesses. He deserves this win and I'm really happy for him.

rabbit said...

beth, I'd agree that Nadal can achieve supreme mental concentration, but I think it's false to suggest that he doesn't look at the entire picture and only plays in the present. In the post-match interview, Nadal, when asked how he got back from 4-0 in the second, himself said that he didn't want a 6-0 second set and fought for something like 6-1 or 6-2. So I feel he is very aware of his situation, he can reduce unforced errors through his mental fortitude, and most of all, his game allows him to remain extremely strong on clay even while making less unforced errors. Also, at the other end, Federer needed to cooperate which he gladly did :(

rabbit said...

[I]I don't think it'll happen, but with Fed struggling like this, wouldn't this be the time to win just one major this year and have it be the French?[/I]

Peytonallen, I could live with that gladly :) (Maybe then with a few other Masters Series wins)

Beth said...

Yes, Rabbit, you are right about Nadal's planning, absolutely. What I meant is that he doesn't let missed point/games get into his head and he realizes that each point and each game is an opportunity to come back. Some players become so obviously flustered and discouraged (think Safin!) when they are losing ground that it ultimately affects their play. Nadal is able to be present for each point and not panic in a situation when others probably would. And, yes, Federer's cooperation is always much appreciated. ;-)

Beth said...

BTW, I have to compliment Craig for this blog. I am the only one among my family and friends who follows tennis (quite obsessively!) and so there aren't many people I can chat with about tennis. They don't know the players, what tournaments are going on, etc. This blog is fantastic and I really look forward to checking in on it. :-)

Karen said...

beth, are you the same beth with a daughter called Misie, if so, hi, this is Karen from Cayman. If not, welcome.
Peyton, I knew you were joking which is why I am ROTFLMAO. I will always be a die hard Fed fan and I know that this year is the year that he wins the French Open and do it by beating Nadal in a best of 5 sets scenario - LOL - it can happen (:)

Beth said...

No, Karen, I'm not that Beth. I'm new to this blog although I've been following tennis for decades. It's so nice to see everyone so 'into' it and talking about the players and the tournaments - thanks for the welcome!

Karen said...

beth, on behalf of Craig (who seems to be MIA these days, Craig what is up with you?) let me welcome you to Craig Hickman's tennis blog. Very nice place. We have an eclectic mix of people. Conversations are usually very warm here, even though there are a couple of us here who are KADs (me!!!!) but we do try to be respectful of each other and the thing that draws us all here is our never ending love for all things tennis. We love players who exhibit sportsmanship and those who have a healthy respect for the sport. We do not support on-court coaching and we do not much care for over-hyped players, but we respect anyone who comes here who does. We are equal opportunity folks here whose first love is tennis. Again, welcome.

Beth said...

Thanks again Karen! I'm not sure what KADs means?? (I finally figured out what ROTFLMAO means though!) I have read comments here before and it's nice that it stays civil and respectful. I really look forward to 'tuning in' :-) One thought I have had recently is in regard to the ATP rescheduling the Masters clay events so that the players have three of these events in the 4 weeks leading up to the French Open. I am not well versed in the politics of the ATP but is it just me or does that sound INSANE?! How are these players going to have anything left for the French? Don't the players have any say in the scheduling? I have read some comments Nadal has made, publicly, about the situation and think he is dead on. Can't imagine how he (or any of the playerw) will feel physically by the time Roland Garros rolls around.....

Helen W said...

Yes Beth, it is insane. Here's a post from Savannah's blog that addresses the issue.

There seems to be a few factors, including squeezing in the Olympics. But I can't help feeling that the ATP is becoming (lamentably, in my view) more and more hard-court centric. The ATP seems to be very interested in encouraging tennis in the far east, and so far as I can see, this encouragement does not include clay or grass. As many others (including Rafa) have noted -- clay and grass are much easier on the body than hard court, and anyone who has jogged on city streets can attest.

rabbit said...

Yeah, it is a mystery to me why all the tournaments in Asia and Australia are hard court events. At least for clay, there is a mini-clay court swing taking place in South America early in the year. It would have been nice if there were a similar mini-grass court swing taking place in Asia/Australia around the same time.

Craig Hickman said...


First of all, WELCOME beth.

I'm MIA these days because I'm knee deep in presidential politics. We elect a president once every four years and, well, I'm blogging furiously about it. But I can't blog about it if I don't follow it.

And I write about political stuff mostly early into the AM.

(If you wanna know where I am when I'm not here, you can go to Fumbling Toward Divinity And it's not just politics, although that's its main focus of late.)

That's why I missed the final. I'd have watched it if I were awake, but alas, I slept right through it.

No biggie. It's not as though I've never seen these two play on clay.

What's crystal clear, though, is that the Rafa/Raja rivalry still inspires more discussion than any other rivalry in tennis, no matter what I think about it.

So, carry on, people, carry on!

Helen W said...

Hey Craig, glad to know that your reduced participation in this blog is for a positive reason :)

Beth said...

Thanks Craig! I look forward to becoming a frequent flyer here. I will check out your link....and, again, this is a great blog and I've really enjoyed it. Actually been reading it for a long time and just recently decided to put in a comment. I think I was reticent (or shy) about commenting because I am probably not nearly as well versed as many of you about tennis (despite being an avid fan and watching matches for decades now). I can't analyze Roger's forehand or necessarily tell you where Rafa's game needs improvement....or explain why Hewitt can't seem to get it together or why Nalbandian hasn't won more tournaments despite his obvious talent.... I watch matches for the pure pleasure of seeing tennis PLAYED and I am not adept at breaking down the mechanics of what happened on court. I guess I experience it more viscerally and emotionally than intellectually :-) Anyway, despite my lack of technical knowledge it is wonderful to see a community of people as excited about the players, their matches and tournaments as I've always been! I will definitely check out Fumbling Toward Divinity. Thanks again!

PeytonAllen said...


It could happen! As the ol' saying goes, "That's why they play the game." I expect Nadal to reign for a few more years on clay, but he has to produce the results!

And Craig..shame on you for quiting on the best match up in tennis, STILL.

And your man was in my state today playing against my Heels. I belong to the Green party so i won't be voting.

oddman said...

Wow! Look at all the comments - fantastic! Welcome, beth, nice to have you aboard.
Yup, this rivalry is compelling to discuss. Love it.
And Fedfans wouldn't be fans if they didn't believe their man would come out on top of Rafa on clay at some point. I believed Andy R. would get a win off Fed, and he just did. You never know.

rabbit said...

A pretty interesting article on players who retire in matches. Guess who comes out on top?

tangerine said...

Welcome Beth, it's nice to see another Massachusetts native post here. :)

rabbit, I saw that article too, it's very interesting. It's also interesting to note that the Serbs top both the men's and women's retirement lists (Novak and Jelena). Davydenko's record is also shameful. I find it difficult to get excited about that guy. Of the top four (heck, even the top 20), he is the Invisible Man.

Also, James Blake is the only top ten player other than Federer who has never retired from a match. Respect!