Good morning to everyone in the U.S., good afternoon to Europe, and good evening in Asia. Jenny, Maria, joel-la, Debra, and everyone else, are you up and ready because here comes Federer-Nadal XV. Yes, Roger Federer has resurrected his game against all odds after an early season title drought while recovering from a rather short bout of mononucleosis. Rafael Nadal has yet to lose a set on clay while Federer crawled back from 1-5 in the third set to beat Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo, of all people. Federer is playing so well that people asked plenty of questions when Novak Djokovic retired in the second set of their semifinal match. Would Djokovic have retired if Federer wasn’t playing so well?

Join with us – Pat, Nate and Nina – by leaving comments and we’ll include them in the live blog. Have fun and be sure to leave your predictions before the match gets too far along else they won’t mean much, will they? :0)

Nina: My prediction: it’s Rafa because, other than Hamburg, he hasn’t shown any weakness that I can see. I forgot that Nadal hadn’t won a tournament since Stuttgart last year!

Nate: This one’s a tough call. I’m going to say Fed. His ball-striking was awesome yesterday, and he’ll have less pressure than ever in a match against Nadal on clay (because, a few days ago, he wasn’t necessarily even favored to make the semis).

Nina: Hi Nate, I wonder which Federer prefers: less pressure because he’s not been well or the incessant questions about whether he’ll be able to return to his former glory? Any opinion about Fed’s decision to receive?

Pat: Good morning all, for the sake of argument I am going with Roger, and in three sets. Boy, Koenig is really giving Djoko some s**t for retiring yesterday. I am going to enjoy this, Number 15 but they haven’t played a final since…Wimbly I do believe

Nina: I wouldn’t mind having my name written across some beautiful woman’s chest. Okay, numerous shots to Fed’s backhand, here we go.

Federer breaks Nadal to go up 1-0

Nate: I think Fed’s decision to receive is a nice change–it’s a Rafa move–trying to poach serve early. Two chances…Fed makes good…

Pat: Federer breaks. Interesting game, smart move of Roger to receive serve at the coin toss. All the pressure looks to be on Rafa.

Nadal breaks Federer 1-1

Nate: So they both have some nerves to work out of their systems. Maybe now they will be. Two easy breaks to start.

Nadal 2-1

Nina: If Federer can bat down enough high shots to backhand to get to the net, he’s golden, but he’s already slowed down his number of trips to the net. Would you say that Borg and other clay court champions or anyone else before Nadal played such a simple game that was so effective?

Pat: Nina, we’ll get a tatoo artist to do that on your 60th this year, how’s that?

Nadal serving at 2-2

Nate: Fed moving Nadal to his forehand side. Play works so well usually because Rafa always has to expect the opposite. Another well chosen drop shot from Rafa. Couple of errors, though, 15-30.

Nina: Can you convince Renee Zellweger to get the tattoo? Yeah, I was just wondering if Fed shouldn’t push that backhand to Rafa’s forehand instead of always going cross court. With his looping, I’d think the down the line shot would be a bit harder.

Nadal 3-2

Nate: Masterful for Fed, putting more spin on the forehand, suckering Nadal, and then flattening it out. And then a mis-hit. Rafa holds.

Nina: This is the second time this week Rafa is playing someone with a two match winning streak over him. How often does that happen? Nate, any answers to whether you think Borg’s game was as simple as Nadal’s on clay?

Nate: I’m afraid I haven’t seen enough footage of Borg. Generation gap. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, I’d go with yes. Simplicity works on clay.

Nadal to serve at 3-3

Nate: This match has not caught fire yet. That last game went to deuce, but it was mostly on errors.

Federer breaks Nadal to go up 4-3

Nina: Any opinion about what Jose Higueras may changed in Roger’s game as it looks today? More attacking for instance?

Pat: Cute stuff with those drop shots, that smells like a Higueras move don’t you think? And Roger followed them in, nice stuff!

Nadal breaks Federer to get to 4-4

Nina: I don’t think Fed would have had such a loose game after a break at this point in the set last year. That’s part of the mental consistency he hasn’t shown this year.

Nate: Well Fed just choked away his advantage (except for that last point). But, on the whole I’d say he’s definitely thinking more out there. More aggressive off the return, coming to net more, but also very the pace on his normal rally balls–hitting the right shot at the right time, instead of just going for everything. Even the best can benefit from a coach…Oh yeah, and those drop shots for sure, Pat.

Pat: Eeech! What an ugly game, and again Federer can’t hold onto the break!

Nate: Federer serving at 4-5, 40-15: Yeah, Rafa’s aura on clay clearly affects even Roger. Strong serving from him here though. Fine, low pass from Rafa, 40-30.

Nadal serving at 5-5.

Nina: Who’s got the advantage in a tiebreak between these two. I notice that Fed even snuck in to the net in the last game. Also, Rafa’s starting to wake up. Except, why didn’t he celebrate after that passing shot in the last game. What’s up with that?

Nate: I don’t know why he didn’t celebrate, likewise on that down the line forehand, just now. Totally fooled Federer on it. Maybe they’re a bit too familiar with each other for Rafa to get all crazy unless he breaks for the lead, or at least gets a set point. I favor Rafa in a tie-break right now. He’s slowly turning the tide of the mental battle. Might not need the breaker, though. Gorgeous pass for 0-30. Rafa forehand lands on the line to give him two set points, 15-40.

Nadal wins the first set 7-5

Nate: Fed fakes the drop shot, pushes the slice deep, and Nadal out-finesses him with a short slice cross-court to take the set.

Nina: Classic Nadal. The shots get a bit deeper and bounce a bit higher and Fed has to reach higher on his backhand as the set goes on, throw in a few passing shots and just like that, despite suffering two breaks, the set is over.

Pat: It looked like Roger hesitated a bit coming in on that shot (Nadal won the set on a slice backhand passing shot), but he did it anyway and paid for it. Rafa won a ton of points in those last two games it seemed.

Nate: Rafa serving at 7-5, 0-0: Fed hits an IMPOSSIBLE angle, and has a break point. And even a slight mis-hit (off a slight is-hit from Rafa) worked for him.

Fed serving at 5-7, 1-0:

Nate: Another one, Fed is seeing those angles now. Rafa not expecting that. And a ridiculous reflex volley from Federer. He’s really come alive. Rafa’s turn: a strong forehand, and then a beautifully constructed point, with drop shot, from Nadal. 40-30. But Fed digs in at net again to hold. Highest quality of the match so far now.

Federer holds after the break, Nadal 7-5, 0-2

Pat: Roger breaks with some great play, love that looper forehand crosscourt. He showed good variety in that game all around. Now, can he back it up?

Federer breaks Nadal for a second time, Nadal 7-5, 0-3

Nina: Did Federer all of a sudden learn to hit the backhand cross court at such an angle? No, but he’s doing it better and Nadal had an obvious letdown right after the set which picked up Fed’s confidence.

Nate: Yeah, Fed’s running away with it at the moment. His angles have impressed me off both wings, and it’s a largely new tactic for him against Nadal. He’s usually trying to hit through Rafa, or, if he’s moving, it’s deep to the corners.

Pat: How about a bagel with that Starbuck’s? Hhhnm, yummy!

Nadal holds. Federer to serve at 5-7, 4-1:

Nate: One break back for Rafa off two Gonzalez-esque kill-swings from Federer.

Rafa serving at 7-5, 2-4:

Nate: And Nadal works Federer on the first point. Very well constructed from Rafa. Quickly out to 40-0. And an easy hold. Way to build the pressure back against Fed.

Fed serving at 5-7, 4-3:

Dennis Cheung: Good morning all from the US. Unfortunately, I don’t have a TV but Roger seem to be catching up stats wise. Thanks for the blog because it feels like I’m watching live!

Nina: Hi Dennis, we’d be happy to be your TV. Okay, then the Higueras checklist: more variety, sharper cross court shots, more attacks at the net. Does anyone have anything to add to the list?

Dennis: How’s the level play? Consistent? Stats wise there seems to be streaks going on for both sides. The number of breaks are incredible. I wonder it is the surface that makes return plays easier or the players we have today?

Nate: Was Mirka sleeping there? Anyone else see that? Not the right time for it, he’s about to give back that second break.

Nadal serving at 4-4: That 30-15 point was Rafa in all his glory. He looks thoroughly in charge at the moment. But, finally a good point from Federer, 40-30. But Rafa holds. What does Fed have left?…

Nina: He’s thrown every tactic he has at him but without some grinding, you just can’t beat Nadal. There’s no bigger grinder I’ve ever seen, except, of course, Borg. Is it because Fed was passive or because he couldn’t keep the ball in the court?

Federer 5-7, 5-5

Pat: Nate, I think Mirka was praying actually. Things are slipping fast here. Dennis, welcome, the level of play has been all over the place as you may gather. Koenig was speechless as to why Federer has let this slip away. I second that.

Rafa looking rock-solid on serve. Fed hits a bush-league drop shot. And now he has to serve, once again, to stay in the match…

Fed serving, 5-7, 5-6:

Nate: Rafa a bit off down the line, 15-0. Fed can’t quite control the low volley, 15-15. Rafa pulls the trigger on the return, 15-30. Fed answers with a good serve, 30-30. Another strong serve, but then a terrible tactical error from Federer gives Nadal deuce. Serve keeping him in it. Ad-In. Cheap error. Deuce. And one more error gives Nadal championship point. It’s over.

Dennis: I was hoping for a third set but that’s slipping away fast. If I were Mirka, I would be praying too!

Pat: Nina, to your list I would add: SERVE BETTER! Federer seems not as strong on that as he was against Djoko. Also more rally shots that loop and kick high off the baseline. That may be part of the variety you mentioned though.

Nadal breaks Federer to win his fourth straight Monte Carlo, 7-5, 7-5

Nate: Well what do you guys make of that? Weird match…

Nina: I can hear Fed in the postmatch media session now: No, I’m not discouraged. I’m encouraged. Tried some new things that worked, had a bad patch at a bad time. I’m pretty positive, I’m feeing pretty positive…

Nina: What I think happened is that’s his conditioning is still not 100%. This is his first final in a Masters event this year and he tapped out before the final in the previous two.

Nate: That’s a fair guess, Nina. In the past, when he’s gone on tears against Nadal (even on clay) he’s at least been able to claim a set. He claims to have been training at full mast for at least the last four weeks now, but he did play just last week at Estoril.

Pat: 98 of 99 matches Nadal has won on clay. Quite a comment, huh? Another tactic too for future use: more drop shots, that seemed pretty effective I thought.

Pat: Roger’s first serve yesterday was pretty bad (statistically) so definitely something to work on. Sure he won the points but he wasn’t getting them in. Comes second serve his odds plumets (29% today!)

Dennis: Thank you everyone! See you at Hamberg?

Nina: Dennis, what about Rome? Gotta tune in then too and it’s a pretty good guess who we’ll see in that final too, for better or worse.

Nate: I guess the good news for Federer fans is that he’s certainly finding his form again. For us Rafa fans, the good news is that he finally has a title this year, and he’s made the first big step toward defending all those clay-court points. I can’t believe he’s really going to play Barcelona without a week off before Rome this year. If it wasn’t a Spanish tournament, I can’t imagine he would.

Nina: Dennis, what about Rome? Gotta tune in then too and it’s a pretty good guess who we’ll see in that final too, for better or worse. Yeah, he needed Estoril to get here but it also may have taken something out of him and one day I would like him to go to the net twice as much and damn everything else just work that through because he’s still too cautious. He went for more angles, now go for more net.

Nina: Yeah, Barcelona is ridiculous. Is it like Roddick and Dubai, are his endorsers strongly encouraging him?

Dennis: Nate: As I mentioned the quality of play seems very inconsistent stasticially, swinging back and forth. Sorry I can’t comment on the quality of play but the match looks weird stats-wise as well. Nina: Good point. It doesn’t help that people retire on him as well. Not only he needs to build his confidence, playing more games will boost his skills as well.

Nate: Hah! Nadal says it’s the best tournament in the world–coincidentally the only tournament he’s won four times in a row.

Nate: Nina, Fed did win something like eight of nine net points at one stage in the second set. He kept trying, but it wasn’t always working. I think Federer lost that second set because he just started missing. Crisis of confidence and/or fitness, I guess. Anyways, we’ll see what the rest of the clay season brings…

Nina: Yeah, but when he was losing all of those points, he wasn’t as aggressive, right?

Bye everyone, we’ll continue this conversation at the Rome final. See you then!

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