Saturday, January 31, 2009

Men's Final Preview

By Mad Professah

Rafael Nadal ESP (1) vs. Roger Federer SUI (2). For the seventh time in a Grand Slam final, Federer and Nadal will face each other as the two top players in the world. Nadal has won 4 of those matches, including the instant classic from Wimbledon 2008, which some commentators are calling the greatest match of the decade, or even the greatest ever. If Federer is indeed the Greatest Of All Time, why is it that he consistently loses to his Spanish nemesis?

Nadal not only leads Federer 12-6 in overall head-to-head clashes, the Spaniard beat the Swiss all four times they played in 2008!

Nadal is now the No. 1 player in the world and Federer is No. 2. Federer is now at 13 major titles, one away from tennis immortality at age 27 while Nadal currently has 5 and is more than 5 years younger.

All this data would seem to lead to the conclusion that Nadal should defeat Federer (again) for his first hard court major in Melbourne Sunday night. And it is indeed quite likely that will happen. But somehow I doubt it.

Although I do think that Nadal has greatly improved his game since their first Grand Slam meeting in 2005, he has still not quite made the full adjustment on hard courts. The very fact that he played an incredible 5 hour, 14 minute match against Fernando Verdasco simply to reach his first hardcourt major final is both an indication of Nadal's indomitable win but also a nagging reminder that there is still room for improvement in Nadal's game on this fastest of surfaces.

The only players to beat Federer in Melbourne since 2004 have been Marat Safin in 2005 and Novak Djokovic in 2008 and both managed the feat in a semifinal, not a final. Federer is a big match player (as is Nadal, obviously) and he desperately wants to win his 14th major title.

However, in the end it simply comes down to who plays better on the day (and sometimes, a little luck).

I do believe that Federer playing at his best would still beat Nadal playing at his best, but it's not clear for how much longer that will be true. Very soon (and the point may have been reached already as indicated by Nadal's Wimbledon title) Federer's very best will not be enough to surpass Nadal's very best. Then the question is how will the he (and the rest of the field) react, and whether Federerwill be able to regroup and actually exceed Sampras' milestone of 14 major singles titles. I believe 2009 will be the year we find out the definitive answer to these questions, starting with a result in tomorrow's Men's final.

PREDICTION: Federer in 4 sets (or Nadal in 5).


Beth said...

I'm praying for Nadal in 5. Still think it's really unfair that he'll be operating on 24+ hrs LESS rest than Federer....but that's where the chips fall. Too often it seems. I really hope that Rafa's physio has done everything humanly possible to help get him ready for this match. On S.I. they said if Federer wins, he owes Verdasco a case of wine. How true is that?!?!?!

cate said...

I'm for Roger on this one. Go for the 14th.

(who listens to those SI/ESPN talking heads anyway? haha.)

Helen W said...

An insightful analysis, IMHO.

I'd throw in the fact that on occasion in his match with Verdasco, Nadal seemed to slip back into his old hard-court style; it is no doubt hard to overcome long-ingrained habits, especially under pressure. Also it must be said that having just played the longest match in AO history, having less thatn 2 full days of rest will be a factor against Rafa.

On the other side of the ledger, I do believe that Rafa owns Roger mentally, and that it is Roger who is feeling most of the pressure -- pressure to win his 14th slam, and pressure to reassert his dominance.

IAC, I'm looking forward to the match!

Craig Hickman said...

Mad's prediction skills are quite good, but I think Rafa will win in 4.

You see, Federer will be trying to win his 14th. That's not going to be easy. He feels pressure, too. Granted, he didn't feel any pressure in his last two matches because he was playing two doormats, but that won't be the case in the final.

Federer has won three Australian Opens by taking out the surprise finalist each time. Safin, Baghdatis, Gonzalez. None of them were expected to make the finals the year he played them and even though Safin had been there before, he was coming back from wrist surgery and had played three five-set (T. Martin, Roddick, Agassi) and two four-set marathons (Nieminen, Blake) to get there.

In the finals, Safin had nothing left. In the finals, Baghdatis was poised to go up two sets to one before choking. In the finals, Gonzo was poised to win the first set before choking.

But this year, Federer is "supposed" to win this match because Rafa is "supposed" to be spent.

Rafa did something pretty remarkable to make the final and that hasn't been talked about very much. I'll cover it in my AO postscript.

Suffice it to say, he's on a mission and I think he's going to stop Raja's quest for 14.

Pamela said...

I like Craig's prediction. People tend to forget that you have to change styles depending upon the kind of player you and the person you're playing. He couldn't match Verdasco's power, so he had to slice a lot but it worked. Verdasco took out the heavy hitter Tsonga easily and Murray as well.

I give Rafa a lot of credit. I hope he can make a 3rd surface win - even if it means stopping Fed from matching Pete. (or especially if?) I like that my favorite male player has prevented Fed from winning on clay, even though I like Fed. If he can prevent him from reaching 14 ... wow.

tangerine said...

I've been reading some pre-match comments over at MTF. I don't think the Federer fans should read too much into Roger's great play over Roddick. It's easy to be relaxed and hit winners from every corner when you're facing somebody you own and who doesn't threaten you in any way. It'll be a different story when Roger faces Rafa. On Sunday, the tables will be turned in Rafa's favor.

And congrats to Serena on her 10th slam title! Who said American tennis was dead?

Beth said...

Here are direct quotes from Roger from his pre-final interview on the AO website in regard to whether it is fair that he has 24+ hrs more rest than Rafa:

"I don't think Rafa will struggle too much to get over this kind of a match. Like I said before, he's had an easy tournament so far. This was the tough one. I'm sure he's going to get over it. I see the point, but I don't think it's a valid one on this occasion."

He admitted he didn't see the whole match....then what planet is he living on thinking Rafa will just breeze through the recovery from a 5+ hr match?? It doesn't matter how many easy matches he had BEFORE when you look at what his semifinal was. Federer doesn't think his having the extra rest is a 'valid point'? I am completely stupefied.

Beth said...

Another comment from Roger:

"Q. Would you like to see both semifinals on the same day?

ROGER FEDERER: For me it doesn't matter. I think it's fun to have one at night session yesterday, you know, and one the day before. I think it's great for fans. So I think it works. "

Oh, yeah. Easy to say when you're the one who had the extra day off!

oddman said...

Beth said: I am completely stupefied.

I'm not. At what he says? Not ever.

Craig Hickman said...

Mad Professah strikes again.

Rafa in 5.

Only 20% of our readers called it in the poll.