Roger Federer discovers the rearview mirror, and guess who’s coming?
Usually after I tape a tennis final I don’t like to see it right away. Mostly I am just tennised out and loathe to see anything further that even slightly resembles an orb-like object, particularly when colored yellow. Yesterday though I couldn’t resist dipping my hand back into that cookie jar that was Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon ‘07 again. Talk about your instant classic. It’s so classic already that ESPN’s classic channel showed it last night. Like seeing a great movie, reading a fine novel, enjoying a good wine, this match left us with a feeling of keen satisfaction.
First off, let’s simply congratulate the lads for showing up, in one piece, fully prepared to play. No whining about my aching this or that. They are performers. That’s been a problem at Wimbledon this year, particularly late in the second week, when the rain delays put an undue burden on the capabilities of the players to get through matches. Nadal had already played all seven days, even though it was five matches. It didn’t seem to faze him though; at times he seemed fresher than Federer. From the mental standpoint, Federer may have faced the greater burden: he simply doesn’t play that many five-setters, so just getting his mind around that prospect may have been taxing. He couldn’t finish his man off in three sets this year or even four. That sent a message Federer didn’t want to hear. He displayed more crankiness during this match than we have ever seen from him before.
Isn’t it great to know that even the mighty Fed can suffer from bugs up his alimentary canal? I tell ya, that restored my faith in tennis humanity. When he uttered the “s” word about Hawkeye I felt like standing up and applauding.
What made the difference in this match on Sunday? It came down to the serving. Nadal served well enough, but it was Federer serving well at the crucial points which made the difference. Nadal was asked this in his presser. For him there was no doubt where the difference in the match resided.
Maybe if we have to find any difference, maybe the difference is the serve. He serve better than me, and that’s important in every surface, but in this surface more, no?
Federer echoed this in his comments:
From the baseline he was not outplaying me, but I always thought he had the upper hand for some reason and I couldn’t really play that aggressive like I wanted to, maybe like last year. But my serve kept me in, and I definitely won the big points today, which was most important.
Federer was only playing the Pete Sampras style of winning sets: you go through a set making sure you take care of YOUR serve. Of course you try to break HIS serve too, but you’re not obsessed about it. Then you get to the tiebreak and you turn on the afterburners. You serve lasers at the proper moments, grab those ever so few key points and your opponent’s ass is grass.
Nadal has learned a lot of new skills for grass court tennis. He’s shortened his windup on his ground strokes, he was coming into net more than Federer, and he’s learned how to angle volleys sharply off to the sides. You’d almost think he thinks he’s Patrick Rafter or Stefan Edberg the way he volleys.
But he needs to make one more change, and that’s to his serve. I want to see him hit through the serve more, rather than roll his racquet over and around the ball, creating a ton of spin. Spin is good, but sometimes you need the laser beam, right up the “T”. I said this about Richard Gasquet’s game last week after he dusted Andy Roddick in what I think is still the most brilliant match of Wimbledon. It occurs to me now that this can be said of Nadal’s game too.
Nadal and Gasquet both need that silver bullet. If Nadal adds that shot to his repertoire, he will win Wimbledon next year. He needs to feel confident that he can whip out an ace when he really needs it. But what about his high serving percentage, you’re saying. Doesn’t that count? Yes, it does. But you don’t want to give your opponent a way into the point by rolling in a serve that he can still get a racquet on. And Roger managed to at least get most of those serves back into play. You need to blow a couple right by him. End it fast. You can see what Federer does with that serve, and the enormous confidence that comes to him from hitting that shot when he needs it. That made the difference on Sunday.
Luck also entered into the equation. When it was over I immediately felt that Federer caught more than a little of it on this day. Nadal outplayed him overall. But Federer won the crucial points at the crucial moments. It was so nice to hear that Federer said that to Nadal during the handshake.
Da Man is definitely looking over his shoulder now, and if Nadal makes those few changes to his game by next year, he’s going to be the one watching his opponent recede in that rearview mirror.
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