Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Top of the World



It's official. Rafael Nadal is the best player in the world. With his 6-3, 6-2 victory over Nicolas Kiefer in the Rogers Cup final, Rafa has won his 12th ATP Masters Series shield (his fourth on hardcourts), surpassing Pete Sampras with 11 (only Andre Agassi and Roger Federer have more), won his 30th title, finishing behind only Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg for that many titles won at the ripe old age of 22, extends his winning streak to 29 matches and 5 straight titles.


He has won seven of the last eight events entered.

But what's most impressive? Five events, five titles, three different surfaces. Two clay, two grass, one hard.

In that run, he's defeated Raja and Novak Djokovic three times each.

The rankings say he could become the World No. 1 soon if he keeps winning.

The results say he's the best player in the world.



::



Out at the East West Bank Classic, Dinara Safina continued her fine form with a 6-4 6-2 victory over Italy's Flavia Pennetta.

23 comments:

oddman said...

Ahhhhhhhh. This feels SO good. This young Spaniard is a phenom. Just look what he's done at the tender age of 22, and all of it while in the shadow of Roger Federer, world number one, and the constant focus of the press for the last four years. Rafa quietly went about his business, trying to improve, everything, no? Serve better, play more aggressive, play more inside the court, go in with the good mentality, show respect for all opponents, be the best for the 'sportivity' - an amazing young man.

Now, Rafa is finally approaching his long-dreamed goal of attaining the number one ranking. He's had to scrap so hard for that, learn how to transition from clay to grass, how to come back after bitter defeat, and to not give up his dreams. I think the belief this young man carries around within himself is phenomonal. He's such a great role model.

He listens well to his Tio Toni's words of wisdom:
Stay humble. Stay hungry.

Rafa, you are simply the best. I adore you! Vamos!

Pamela said...

Congratulations to Dinara! Perhaps with her improved fitness and mental stability on court - she'll realize her potential. I'm still not happy about her she falters when serving for a set or match - but she breaks serve well so I'll forgive her.

rabbit said...

Congratulations to Rafa and Dina! I've never believed Rafa to be anything less than great on hard courts; he'd just had unfortunate physical or mental issues after Wimbledon each year. Just watch his 2006 Dubai final against Roger! As for Dinara, I love her game and her attitude. I think she is so much more enjoyable to watch than any of the other Russians.

oddman said...

And that is just an absolutely gorgeous pic of Rafa holding the trophy there - thanks for that one, CraigHickman.
The fans and media are going to be all over him in New York, more so than usual. I think he will deal with it well.

sgh07 said...

congrats to Rafa! I'm so happy for him. He realy has achieved many things at such a young age. and congrats to Dinara. She's playing amazing tennis!I think she'll get better.

mznblue said...

Great picture of Rafa. He's positively beaming. I forget he's as young as he is because it seems like he's been around forever, but what he's accomplished thus far is absolutely amazing.

Although I'm not a fan of Dinara per say, I've always wanted her to get over the hump. I'm glad she finally seems to have. If she stays healthy, I think she could eventually be the #1 Russian.

M. R. said...

I wanted to stay out of it over here until after the final.

First, congratulations to Rafa and all the diehard fans. (And in a note deliberately intended to keep the mood light, I will have to say that as much as I look forward to the warrior red-and-black of the U.S. Open, I have one word for Nike’s color and design choices for Rafa’s Rogers outfit: Yow!

Bring That Back Soon and Often.)

Now.

As a FEDAL fan, I have a question. I’ve asked it elsewhere. Some people get it. Others, seemingly giddy with Impending #1-itis, emphatically do not, to the point where the lack of comprehension seems almost deliberate. The level of discourse here is high. I have faith.


Rafa swept through the tournament for a couple of reasons:
1) He is a great player.
2) There is no one currently on tour who can beat him consistently.

And wasn't that the state of tennis for so many years when Rogi was in charge?

Tsonga - frequently injured.
Gasquet - always runs out of gas.
The Djoker - mentally inconsistent.
Murray - physically inconsistent.
Marat - a wildcard. Literally.
Verdasco - chokes under pressure.
Simon - shouldn't have made it this far into the tournament. Cruising on borrowed adrenaline from Indianapolis. And I hope he doesn't show up at the Olympics. Do NOT want.

(I'm still really upset about Rogi and don't want to talk about him right now. And I'm an American, so I really don't want to discuss Andy and James.)

So if there's no one playing who can give Rafa a legitimate, consistent challenge -

Why go to the Open? Why turn on the TV??

- m
xo

P.S. Congratulations also to Dinara. I am confident she will "continue to improve" - especially since that seems to be the Mantra of the Champion this year.

M. R. said...

Oh, and oddman -

If you haven't yet checked Yahoo and Getty - there ARE NO bad pictures of Rafa and his Rogers trophy this round. It's all SportsGod!Rafa, all the time.

Champions always get prettier and prettier in the national press, the more they win, n'est ce pas?

Gosh darn. The media hype here in NYC this summer is going to be ...
*shakes head*

- m
xo

Craig Hickman said...

m.r.

What's your point? That Rafa appears to be dominating a weak field? The same weak field Raja dominated?

Before I offer a response, I just want to be sure I understand your premise.

M. R. said...

"What's your point? That Rafa appears to be dominating a weak field? The same weak field Raja dominated? "

No, Craig. Please don't jump on me.

(And BTW, the article of yours that you recommended that I read was actually the first article of yours that I EVER read before even coming to the site. So I do hope that you weren't predicating any assumptions you might have about me on the premise that I haven't really read your work. But I guess -- as it seems Rafa enjoys -- sometimes it's nice to be underestimated. And I digress.)

First of all, I'm NOT making an argument or assertion. I'm asking a question. So please don't lead with the Y-chromosome roar. I've had enough of that for the past three days.

First of all, to answer your second direct question, no. It is not the same field that Rogi dominated, because it is not the same game anymore. Playing Roger, among other things, has elevated Rafa's game to where it is now. So in part because of their rivalry, everyone in the field has been forced to step up if they want to be even marginally competitive and the entire game has already changed. (Which is part of Rogi's problem if he can't or thinks he shouldn't have to adapt, but I digress yet again ...)

That's not really what I'm getting at.

Perhaps this is a better example:

EVERYONE I know that follows the game was following the first two sets of Nadal-Gasquet the other evening. Why? Because both of the gentlemen in question were playing spectacular tennis.

But then Richard began to flag. He ran out of gas. He always runs out of gas because he can't keep that level of the game up playing with Rafa. He can vanquish other players with it earlier in the game, because other players aren't as good as Rafa, but he can't beat Rafa with any consistency because that's his Achilles heel against him.

So by the middle of the second match, everyone (and please don't nitpick here; I'm generalizing to keep the premise coherent) had turned off the TV.

IMO, tennis is exciting when the players are evenly matched. When there's some doubt about the outcome of the match.

My point is that right now there is no other player (that's been pointed out so far here; it's early in the post) who is so strong that his particular vulnerability won't unbalance him against Rafa.

That gives you a player who is unbeatable, which gives you boring tennis, like so many people were whining about when Rogi won everything all the time.

Do you see?

Michael said...

@m.r.,

To back up what you said, of the top 50 players, only 3 have winning records against Rafa: Nalbandian (2-0, both last year, end of season, indoors), Blake (3-2, both Blake losses this year), and Hewitt (4-3, not since 2006 and that when Nadal retired).

He's clearly got the edge on everyone, or so it would seem. You listed the weaknesses in various players, but not Nadal. So we might ask, does he even have any?

Perhaps it's not so much a weak field as Craig asks (I think the players are as good as they've ever been and better), but that it's somehow become possible to have a game almost without weaknesses. The question is how long that can last or can someone else be even better?

In general, I think you are right, that tennis becomes a bit less interesting when the outcome isn't in doubt (in the extreme, when I know the result of a taped match, it is a bit less fun to watch). But let's not jump the gun, eh? Nadal has to prove he can keep this up and 2008 is a hard year to do that, with the Olympics added.

The other exciting thing is to watch other players raise their game, as Nadal has done b/c of Federer as you say. Who will be next to do it?

M. R. said...

Thank you, michael.

That is an intriguing way to look at it.

rabbit said...

Personally, I don't buy the idea that tennis gets boring when there is a dominant player. The situation usually indicates that one player is playing fabulously, and I like to watch for the sake of the fabulous tennis itself. Nadal is by no means my favorite, and yet, I wouldn't say I've been bored by watching his remarkable skills and ability to get on top of all his opponents. (And of course, I'm never bored of seeing replays of Roger's scintillating matches :))

As for the weak field comment, I didn't really believe the field was weak two years ago and I don't believe it now. Any of Djokovic, Roddick, Ferrer, Ancic can beat Nadal on any given day, provided they play right. Also, it's for a reason that Roger has the most number of wins against Nadal than any other player does.

Michael said...

@rabbit,

I think you are right that just because one player dominates, it's not necessarily boring. But all other things being equal, it is more exciting when the outcome is less predictable, the winner has to work harder to win, and the looser had legitimate chances to win as well.

Karen said...

Mr R, interesting topic and I see the point that you are making. I for one did not watch Sunday's final as I was already aware of the outcome. As a matter of fact I recall sometime ago Craig posted a comment made by a player (think it was basketball) who said that why are these players genuflecting to Roger when they are taking away their food. Guess what, the same thing is happening with Rafa. The comments being made by players who have been beaten by Rafa are glowing in the tributes to his prowess on the court. Perhaps they too are now genuflecting at the altar of Rafa. There is something inherently wrong in the ATP when players seem to be in awe of the top dogs on the tour. On the other side of the coin the women of the WTA live to take down the top seeds. Maybe it is a girl thing ...

Karl said...

@Craig-

Longtime reader and very much a fan of your blog (and because, rather than in spite of, the fact that I disagree with a good deal of your viewpoint). This is rather off topic and indulgent, but I was thinking about what you had written a few days ago about seeing Federer as mentally unsteady. I thought this article might interest you and the others here.

http://www.tennisgrandstand.com/archives/1325

oddman said...

I'm really not seeing this 'unbeatable Rafa' that it seems like other posters here are, most likely due to my fandom. But not all due - my gosh, he's only been on a hot streak for a few months, and most of that was on his two favorite surfaces, clay and grass. You mean to tell me some here feel now that when Rafa steps onto the court, no one can touch him? I'm sorry, but I'm giggling over that. He has yet to prove he can win fairly consistently on hardcourts, imo. I don't get the comparison, mainly cos Fed's been dominant for some odd years - years! And this is the first year I haven't felt worried about any opponent on clay vs Rafa. Last year's FO I was biting my nails before it went down (maybe due to Fed's pronouncements 'I've figured him out, cracked the code, etc') And I still thought the 08 FO would go 4 or 5 sets.

Is this a roundabout way for Fedfans to still get their point across (that Fed is tops on hardcourt) and have that point coming from a Rafa fan? Or am I just freakin' crazy here? Or have some here been reading too much press hype about Rafa?

IAC, I don't find Rafa's 'domination' boring, if that's what it is. Give it a year, if he's still doing it then, well, OK then.

Karen said...

Oddman, thank you very much. By golly I think you got it. LOL

oddman said...

OK, karen. It was door number one. I thought so, lol.

tristann said...

LOL, Oddman. I'm also a huge fan of Rafa's and do not see this dominance on hardcourts. I mean, he has won one (1) tournament on hardcourts this year. I hope he does better than last, but I hardly expect him to win everything during the hardcourt season.

I agree with giving it a year before we can call it dominance.

Helen W said...

Re Rafa's dominance: How soon we forget. After Indian Wells & Miami everyone was pointing out that Rafa had not yet won a tournament in 2008.

oddman said...

Agree, helen w. And not long after that, how close Djoker was to gaining the number two and Rafa dropping to three. Press was all over that.

IAC, I'm not counting out Rafa this summer swing at all. I just have to recall what this amazing phenom did for fourteen days at last year's Wimbledon.

Vamos, Rafael - Superman!

Sanjeev said...

Wow, I recently posted an article saying how Nadal is statistically able to claim the number 1 ranking.... Unfortunately, I want Roger to hold the spot a bit longer but I doubt this will happen. Nadal is becoming too strong... and at such a young age - he has tremendous potential. Lacks the clothing style of Federer, but his game makes up for it :)