Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lucky No. 13 (UPDATED)

Back to the good old days. Roger Federer got a boost of confidence in Beijing, a workable draw in New York, and a virtual walkover in the final.

Everyone has an opinion about Raja's draw. All I can say is that he fought off a tough unseeded foe in five sets in the round of 16 and a qualifier in the quarterfinals. He played as well as he needed to play, but it wasn't until the practice-session-passing-as-a-final did Raja display the magic his fans have been calling for all year.

2005 Wimbledon final redux.

For those who recall, Raja finished his semifinal just before the rains fell. Andy Roddick had completed one very long tiebreak set against Thomas Johansson in what turned into the best match of the forthnight.

But Andy and Thomas had to finish their match on Saturday while Raja rested, mentally, physically, emotionally.

The final was a joke. Andy had no energy, no fight, no shots, and Raja ran through him like a freight train.

Fastforward three years and two months, change the surface and the tournament, but keep the same first names and you get the same result.

You see, the scheduling, the luck of the draw, if that's what you want to call it, means that Raja was virtually spotted a set in the finals. I say that because the player coming in with no rest to contest a best-of-five affair feels enormous pressure to win the first set.

Both players know this.

So Raja blasts out of the blocks, plays a flawless first set, faces little resistance, and the match is over. The rest is a formality.

No one can blame Andy Murray for not being able to fight. Unless you argue that he was genuflecting. I say it was his first Slam final, and just a day before, he managed to beat the world No. 1 for the first time in his career. For him to even have had a chance to make the final competitive, he would have needed a day to digest it all. At the very least, he would have needed a similar turnaround between matches as his opponent. He didn't get it.

Which is why the US Open scheduling, with or without rain, pisses me off. It's all about television ratings. They need to air the semifinals and finals on Saturday and Sunday in order to maximize advertising revenue.

The USTA doesn't give a damn about the players or the fans who come to see the event in person.

Unless there's a fluke finalist or one player is comprehensively overmatched, the fresher player is going to win the men's final nine times out of ten.

Which means as soon as the second men's semifinal was suspended till Sunday, it was game, set, match for Raja, no matter his opponent.

Lucky number thirteen.

That Andy would say something to effect of, "Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't win again," during the handshake at the net had to be music to Raja's ears. Can't wait to see the dynamic between them the next time they play.

Federer is now the only player in history to win two Slams five consecutive times. And he adds to his record-shattering 18 consecutive Slam semifinals. Like I said in the comments a few days ago, he hasn't gone anywhere.

It's too bad the feeding frenzy also known as the media has been tempted to overreact to his wavering confidence this year. But when making three consecutive Slam finals is marketed by the pundits and bemoaned by so many of his fans as the sky is falling on Raja's career, Raja is washed up, blah, blah, blah, perhaps folks need to step back and put things in perspective.

Something tells me that somewhere, right now, as I type this, Raja is again being extolled as the greatest player of all time and the media frenzy to declare him such will begin anew.


edma1022 said...

Just dropped by to say hello, Craig. Great day, eh?


Craig Hickman said...

It's a wonderful day.

In fact, the weather was perfect today after all the wind and storms that blew threw here over the weekend.

Andrewrg said...

YAY! Finally, after a disappointing year for all Federer fans.

Can't wait to watch this match when I get home.

anonymous said...

RF is the greatest ever the game has seen. No doubt about it. Roger, think about French 2009 next!

oddman said...

I much prefer to think about French 2008. Boo-yah!

Mad Professah said...

I do think Roger will win the French before he retires. I'm not sure if it will be 2009, I need to see how the clay season goes.

That being said, Rafa will be defending a lot of points for all of 2009, more than Raja will, for the first time.

oddman said...

Yes, Rafa will have a lot to defend. All other things being equal, I think he's not too shabby at defense.
Hope he stays healthy - hope they all do.

Ed Tseng, Princeton, NJ, USA said...

Kudos to Roger and also to Craig for a great blog.

Ed Tseng, author of Game. Set. Life. - Peak Performance for Sports and Life.

Daily Tips on Peak Performance: edtseng.blogspot.com

rabbit said...

Yeah, that's an understatement, oddman! :)

Matt said...

It is great to finally see this guy smile and enjoy being out there. Love the emotion and the coming to the net. Maybe we will see more of this.

Karen said...

As an ardent Fed fan and a fan of both this blog and Savannah’s blog, I have to say that you have both been able to bring tears to my eyes with the postings on your blog. If anyone had ever seen Roger play they would think that this fellow not only won 13 Grand Slam titles but that he won them in a time when there was absolutely no competition in the men’s game. He won those titles when the AELTC and the USTA guaranteed that he would win those championships back to back. There has been nothing written about the fact that for all the talk of Roger declining etc that he still had to go out there and win those matches, something a lot of other players who are supposedly more talented and who have more cojones than Roger has not been able to do.

I am sorely disappointed at the commentary and the excuse making that has been going on for the past couple of weeks. It is all well and good to have favourites in this sport, absolutely nothing wrong with that, but Roger had to go out there and face his greatest demons and win that match, regardless of whether Andy had proper turnaround time or not. Andy has beaten Roger the last 2 times they had played, you best believe that Roger did not underestimate Andy, which is why he went out there and played the match of his life. Why could it not have been looked at as Roger having respect for his opponent and come out with guns blazing.

Everyone has been quick to point out that Roger has lost to virtually every American player with whom he has held a winning record. The fact that these players were able to win has been put down to players finally figuring Roger out and playing fearless tennis. Clearly, the fact that he was able to rise above all of those losses and go on to win his 13th Grand Slam trophy should have been taken into account.

I respect both Craig and Savannah and a lot of other bloggers for taking the time out of their busy schedules to do this blog and to entertain us but please for the sake of being objective, let us have objective posts and not emotionally charged ones.

Beth said...

I agree with Craig's post, 100% on all accounts. Could not have said it better. Thanks Craig!!

cfdman said...

lucky? haha, how come no one else ever gets lucky? maybe because they never put themselves in the position to get lucky in the first place?

btw, i think you are wrong when you said that Fed never had mono. this is a player who has never even called for a trainer during a match. what better way to disrupt Nadal during the french final than to call a trainer and have a quick massage? he took his beating without complaint.

cfdman said...

during the last 5 years Fed has, as every other player, played on consecutive days on Sat. and then Sun. also, Murray and Nadal had two day rest before facing each other. 3.5 hours of tennis over two days is not an excuse for not showing up yesterday.

i remember McEnroe playing a 5 setter late into the evening against Connors and then coming out and winning the very next day.

your continuous diminishing of Fed's accomplishments are nothing but sour grapes.

Oryem said...

I think it's unfair to minimise anyone's success. Raja as u call him won without cheating or breaking any rules why can't we not leave it at that. Otherwise i would say that Serena won her match because of the deliberate actions of the chair umpires that were designed to put Jelena in bad spirits and prevent her from winning. For example the fact that they gave her a warning for time violation but not Serena plus some very aggressive umpiring in her match against that Danish girl. Oh and the fact that the umpire challenged a call on behalf of Serena! Lol.

rabbit said...

I'm speechless.

Craig Hickman said...

This blog never promoted the end of the line for Federer.

Check the record.

It is for that reason alone that his win yesterday doesn't compel me all that match.

I saw it as I saw it.

Of all the things I've written about Raja in 2008, agree with them or not, three major points stand out:

Raja's wavering confidence made him vulnerable (true), it would become harder for him to dominate the tour (true), and Raja would win Slams again (true).

We can disagree on the details, but those were the observations communicated by all our contributors.

This is my objective post. If I'd written one based upon my emotions, I'd have posted nothing at all because outside of the USTA's greed, I don't have any real emotions about this final.

It didn't inspire any in me.

I don't understand all the outrage, but have at it.

I appreciate the discussion.


A note on the nickname. I chose it because of the rivalry with Rafa (Raja/Rafa flows) and because I live in New England where most of the folks in my neck of the woods don't pronounce r's at the ends of names while they add an r to names that end in a. In Maine, it's Raja and Raf-er. Go figure.

oddman said...

I totally agree with the US Open scheduling being all about frickin' ratings and never about the bloody players who are giving the powers that be those frickin' ratings. This is the only slam that does this - the last slam of the year, coupled with a dearth of hc tournaments in the summer heat - it's always been a big thorn in my side to see any player have to try and give it their all on back to back days at the END of a tough grueling two weeks (and how many commentators say exactly those words 'grueling two weeks'? All of 'em). How many anticlimactic finals do we see? Sure, sometimes the semifinalists with less rest do win in the end, but overall, it's got to be very hard knowing you've got another hurdle involved in trying to win the USO. Not a Henin fan, but I was mortified that she had to come back and play after her epic match with JCap. Yes, Henin did win in the end, but it would be interesting to check out stats on all the matches to see outcomes. No other slam does this, and I'd bet the farm it ain't gonna change.

cfdman, players don't get to store up match minutes over the two-week period like cell phone users - it doesn't work that way. I'm sure Murray was saying 'yeah, I got some extra minutes there three days ago, that'll help me recuperate, I can add them onto my 23 hours To Go and I'll be like brand new...' Pffffffft.

karen, I'm happy that you're happy. You must be celebrating with your Appleton, no? But, I don't get you here: '...but Roger had to go out there and face his greatest demons and win that match, regardless of whether Andy had proper turnaround time or not.' The discussion here is more about the turnaround time, so I don't think it should be disregarded.

Where are the 'order restored' headlines? Haven't seen any yet.

A question to those of you who tend to bristle a little at the 'Fed is lucky' comments, can you give me some examples of where he's been unlucky? I can't think of any off the top of my head. IMO, he hasn't achieved 13 slams, 18 slam semifinals, countless other accolades I won't mention here cos of space, etc, purely by luck. Of course his tennis is mighty fine, worthy of number one even, lol. But has he been unlucky anywhere and had to fight through that? I'm curious, maybe someone with better Fed knowledge can tell me. Thanks.

rabbit said...

Oddman, sure, if playing a semi-final and a US Open final on consecutive days is considered unlucky, Federer has had such misfortune the last few years. If going deep into most tournaments as Rafa has done this year is considered too tiring and hence bad luck for the US Open, Federer has also done that for the last few years. I'd also say losing your most influential coach as a teenager, getting ill just before the start of the season, having a chronic groin injury are not particularly lucky events. In any case, making it seem he is always lucky is more a testament to his character than to any supernatural ability.

Craig, I distinctly remember you wondering whether Roger would not go the way of Borg. At the very least, it would have been nice for you to acknowledge that Roger could pick up the pieces after a devastating defeat at Wimbledon.
Also, if you remember, Roger got defeated by Simon after Simon won the tournament at Indy and was justifiably tired. So, it was far from a sure deal (as you make it sound) that a fresh Federer would win the match against Murray.

In any case, I don't feel like arguing any more. Have a great day!

oddman said...

Rabbit, why do you assume I'm not including Federer in with the other players when I condemn the USO scheduling? I believe I said 'ALL the players...' He has had to face the same Saturday-Sunday thing as the others, and has also been part of the second semi on Super Saturday in the past. And has come through just fine. (5 friggin USO's, greedy bugger!)

Would 'perceived advantages' be a better phrase? All I'm saying is, on occasion, Fed has had some episodes of 'advantageous events' such as a rain delay, retiring opponent, etc. So have others. Example - 07 Wimby, Rafa got Youhzny (I think?) who retired... that's a bit of luck in my book.
Has Roger had some disadvantageous moments during a tournament? My knowledge of how his tourneys go is less than with Rafa, say, or Andy R.
IAC, I don't want to argue either, just clarifying here. You have a great day too - oh, yeah, I bet you already are!

Jonas said...

@rabbit: Hear, hear! I had a vague recollection of the Borg remark, great that you picked that one up.

To me, it feels like TMF is still vulnerable. However, I definitely felt some of the magic returning in the semifinal/final - at least for portions of the match. It feels weird not to acknowledge this - there's a huge difference between a Fed who is ripping winners off of both sides (last matches of US Open) and a Fed who is consistently dumping unforced forehands and backhands into the net (Roland Garros final).

Anyway, I am intrigued to see how this victory is going to affect his confidence for the end of the season.

Craig Hickman said...

Today (emphasis added):

"This blog never promoted the end of the line for Federer."


July 23 (emphasis added):

"For the first time in his career he has to deal with losing the final of the Slam that means the most.

It helps that he's won the thing five times, and like other Wimbledon champions who have lost subsequent finals, it's likely Raja will play on the final Sunday in London once more.

Or not.

I'm thinking of Bjorn Borg right now.

Whatever will be will be.

But Raja has some healing to do and while he's doing it, the quality of his tennis will be anybody's guess.


The defense rests.

Karen said...

Now that I have had a chance to digest what everyone has to say I will end by saying this - Roger has been the beneficiary of lucky breaks. Rafa has been the beneficiary of lucky breaks. Novak has been the beneficiary of lucky breaks. Andy Roddick, everyone has had lucky breaks. The fact of the matter is this: lucky break or no lucky break you still have to go out there and swing the racquet and win the darned thing. I for one was not happy when I saw that Roger had to face Murray. Murray has taken him to the cleaners on the last 2 occassions that they met. Roger, himself was not happy about meeting Andy as Andy knows how to play the game and has been able to frustrate Roger on many occassions. The fact is that Roger came to play and for whatever reason Andy could not find the game that took out Nadal. As someone posted elsewhere somtimes players come out and play mindless tennis knowing to take out a top player (insert Janko and Srebotnik here) and then lose comfortably to a lower ranked player. It is the way of the game. I for one am one happy woman that a season that started off so dismally for Roger now has a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether you are a fan of the guy or not, to see him back in the mix is good for tennis, whatever anyone wants to say.

Karen said...

This is GVGirl.

First let me say Congrats to Raja. Happy # 13.

You still have to beat the person they put in front of you. I remember chatting with a pal of mine from Spain back in 2003 when Andy Roddick beat JC Ferrero in the US Open Final. My friend complained that JCF has to play a long semi and was doomed to lose due to Americans making the schedule.

While nearly everyone puts all of the scheduling blame on the USTA, I need to say you folks do not know the power of TV. CBS and their ad dollars ruled here. Greed, greed, and greed felled the winner of the Murray-Nadal semifinal.

Rafa has had an awesome year and will end the year as #1. He also made his first US Open Semi. He will only get better.

How many days until the Austrailian Open?

edma1022 said...

can't we all just get along? Rog is happy he ended the year w/a slam (after almost everyone wrote him off), Rafa is happy he won 2 slams and the Olympic Gold, Djoke is happy he won a slam 1st time, Murray is happy he's now advanced to a slam finals and now taken seriously thereafter, Roddick is happy players fear him and his power still, McEnroe brothers are happy they're both in the booth for the 2 blockbuster semis (at the same time!), USTA is happy they completed the tournament (albeit with shady decision-making at the end), Fed fans are happy they're slobbering in glee (mea culpa), Rafa fans are happy their boy got a boatload of leading race/ranking points, it's a wonderful day today (rained a bit though), the sun will shine tomorrow ............

Mad Professah said...

I would also like to say as the resident Raja fan at this here blog that I think the coverage overall has been relatively fair.

I do think it's a bit niggling to question Federer's 13th because of scheduling and VASTLY over-estimating things to say that 9 out of 10 the fresher person wins. Show me some data! Raja is 27 and had 48 hours rest. Murray is 21 and had 24 hours rest. So 50% fresher for someone with legs 6 years older is a huge advantage? B*llsh*t.

Oh, and when has Federer been unlucky?

He was unlucky to lose against Karlovic in Cincinatti. He was unlucky to have Djokovic in his half in both Australian and US Open.
He was unlucky that deep in the 5th sets the damned All-England Club doesnt have any lights!

oddman said...

LOL, mad - curse those fools at AELTC who didn't put up lights! It was a pity...

What Craig wrote about Raja having some healing to do is noteworthy - I'd agree with jonas about his confidence level. Surely it got a big boost with this slam win. Like the Terminator, he'll be back...

Karen said...

Thank you Mad. We really logical Fed fans around here. Methinks I get too emotional when I read negative and/or unfair things about Roger. Dang lights indeed - LOL

Craig Hickman said...

Nice comment, ed.

cate said...

Why are a lot of people in the tennis blogs so bitter?

Opinion. Sorry.

Craig Hickman said...

Great question, cate. Maybe someone who's bitter will tell us.

Beth said...

edma1022 thank you, thank you for your latest entry. Very well written and very appropos. I don't understand why so many people seem to let others' commentary get under their skin. It was a great tournament, very nice outcomes for all those concerned (Federer, Rafa, Murray, etc.) so can't we just leave it at that instead of nitpicking over eachother's comments and going back and forth over who is getting down on who? Just seems like a waste of time. I actually don't want to visit this blog when I start to see that happening....but on the flip side everyone is entitled to their opinion, we are all human and all have emotions and I guess some people just need to get it 'out there' more than others. There have been MANY, MANY times that I have wanted to 'blast away' on this blog about someone's comment but have restrained myself because I didn't think it would be serving anyone but me and would not add to the discussion in any constructive way. I guess, to each his own.

Karen said...

LOL and on that note I think we should all follow edma's example and say that it was a very good tournament for all our faves (some more so than others), the fans enjoyed it (judging by attendance numbers and tv ratings) and those who won are very happy. What more could you ask of a sport that all of us here in some way shape or form really do enjoy.
Craig, I have written to you on a private matter about a month ago and no response. Can I hear from you please. Thank you.

MMT said...

Draws always look easy when you blow through them. Aren't you doing your job if you take 3 sets to beat someone others would need 5? Only if your name isn't Federer, I guess.

Is it a disadvantage playing all (but one) of your matches in the heat of the day? Or facing 3 players who have beaten you the last times you played them (Stepanek, Djokovic and Murray) all this during your worst season in 5 years. Only if your name isn't Federer.

With 128 players in the draw there's bound to be bogeys for everyone (scheduling, history, matchups, etc.) Over a career they even out, and at the end, the best player over 2 weeks wins, unless (of course) your name is Federer.

Murray, 21 years old, played 90 minutes over 2 days - most players practice more than that, so why all the fuss? Of course, because he's Federer's opponent.

There's always an excuse to distract us from the obvious - that during this fortnight, Federer's game reigned supreme over the field...again.

Here's a draw for Federer that might satisfy those that poo-poo:

R1) Simon
R2) Canas
R3) Fish
R4) Stepanek
QF) Nalbandian
SF) Djokovic
F) Nadal

But wait! Doesn't that give you the psychological advantage of, "Well, if he beats all these guys who've beaten him in the last year, what chance do I stand."

Advantage Federer...as always.

Craig Hickman said...


As you probably gathered, the last month of so has been more busy on so many fronts than I can express.

Can you please resend your correspondence?

I'm checking email more regularly now.


cate said...

No need.
It could be answered here. Not to mention an explanation on how the draw and bracketing system works would be apt.


Karen said...

Craig, just saw your response. will forward it to you later today. Karen

PeytonAllen said...

I've always thought Andy Murray would be one of the top players. It looks like he's finally found his game, mentally and physically to make a charge.

It was nice to see Fed win again. I would have been shocked if he never won another Slam. I'd be shocked if he doesn't do Pete one better. But I still think his days as being the calendar year "best player" on the tour are gone.

He's already entered the stage of his career where he relishes bringing his A game and remarking "why can't I play like this all the time anymore?"

I don't know how lucky Fed got. Murray had a winning record against him previously. I'm shocked it was straight sets. Didn't see the match, so I'm not sure if Murry was just uninspired or what.

I do find it funny in some of the media i've seen, with fed winning he's now the GOAT again. After London, the tune was more "well if he can't beat Rafa..." now he beats Murray in the Final and he's the GOAT again. lol

I hate that tag anyway. Players are defined by eras.

Fed will obviously be a major player at every slam still for the next 2 years. He should given his talent at least win one a year over that span. 2, maybe. If he ever wins 3 again in a year I'd sue the ATP tour. I don't see it happening. The fear factor is gone.

I see '09 as being the year he doesn't make the French Final.

For the other guys...

I think Djok needs a little help from the PR machine. Needs to tone down his bluntness during interviews on and off the court and needs to wrangle in his parents.

At a set a piece, 5-5, 30-All someone yelled out during a Novak serve and clearly rattled him. Fed breaks, that's the match. But, the Serb brought it on himself the round before. He's got to realize it pays to be nice.

Murray and the rest of the young kids coming through have nothing but positive things to look forward to.

Rafa. It's give and take. What a great year. Period. He goes through the year with little injury setting aside that claim that he couldn't go through a year without being hurt. But, once again he enters the Open completely pooped.

He had looked dead all tournament, barely getting some serves to the middle of the net.

Against Murray he just couldn't move to his backhand side. Some winners Andy hit there, Rafa normally would get to, and punish cross-court, but he was just a step or two slow. His body wouldn't allow the quick move and he made no play. The man was finished, energy wise.

How do you combat that? Well, yes, it was a long year, long summer. While his HC game has improved (two slam semis) I think he still has to end points quicker off clay, save himself, etc.

If i'm Carlos Costa, to me that's the main thing heading into '09. How do I manage my boy so that he's fresher heading into New York. At 22 years-old, that's the last hurdle to overcome. A hard court slam. I think it can and will be done, but in New York he's always so worn down. What can they do to save him?

If I'm Rafa i pull a Hewitt and just focus on DC. Play the semis and finals (let's be real) and just the Masters Cup. Nothing else. When does he recharge?

'09 should be interesting. Fed has no pressure. To me Nadal should be used to it by now, being #2 for 20 years. The real pressure is on Djok. He has talked the talk...but has not surpassed Nadal or Fed.

tristann said...


Good post. I agree with most of your points. I'm also pretty impressed with Andy M. He has beaten all three top guys this year and it can only be good for tennis to have more guys willing to step up to the plate. In that respect, I was also very impressed with players like Querrey, Cilic, etc. who even if they lost, did not bow to their opponents.

As for Fed, I agree that he will not dominate, but will still win some more slams. I do not agree that he has no pressure though. Many of his fans are talking about a Grand Slam next year.

As for Djoko, I am not a fan of his. He was hyped as the next big thing and has not lived up to it. However, I think people are now underestimating him. He faded to nothing last fall, and came out firing on all cylinders at the AO. I do not see him dominating, but he is quite capable of inflicting damage.

As to Nadal, while this USO was disappointing, he did improve over previous years. The calendar next year is better and should help. While I am glad he won the gold in Beijing, that tournament was one too many. I think all players were tired, but more so Nadal who has played much more than other players. This cannot be entirely blamed on his choices as he barely played any optional tournaments. He has been going deep and winning tournaments and the extra matches really started adding up.

I think that what will help Nadal the most in the future, is getting more comfortable with his improved game on hard courts. He is still tentative and I think it takes a huge mental toll on him. When he is fresh, his game has improved a lot. But as soon as he is mentally tired, his game on hardcourts falls apart. Other players who are more comfortable on HC can still play well when tired. Hopefully, this aspect will improve next year.

MMT said...

I agree for the most part with PeytonAllen's analysis, with 2 exceptions:

Djokovic can't control how people perceive him. He could be an angel and still get stick, and if you're concentration is good, it shouldn't matter what the fans do. In Davis Cup, the players face way more hostile crowds than at the US Open, even if it's against Andy Roddick. He needs to develop a thick skin and get on with it. Even Michael Barkhan commented that he seems to keep track of how much people are pulling for him.

Connors years ago proved that you don't have to be a nice guy to win...a lot. In fact, he'd probably be better off looking to stick it in everyone's craw and win despite the stick he gets.

2009 is going to be a big year for him if he wants to move up the ladder, but he's got some growing up to do still. No suprise there for a 21 year old man.

Speaking of which, I still think it's absurd that his parents follow him around to EVERY tournament. He is after all old enough in any country to be considered an adult. Enough's enough.

The other players parents only come for the big occassions, but the Djokers seem to be ubiquitous. (That goes for Judy Murray as well, by the way - but that kid is a whole other story.)

I think the Djokers' behavior is much better. They seem to have kept a lower profile since the Australian Open, which is good. They still act like soccer parents from time to time, but it's much better than before.

I hope no more reporters will be "writing down" whatever they say about their son, or anyone else for that metter. It's irrelevant. Matches are won an lost on the court (thankfully).