Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
Over the last few days I’ve been bombarded with emails suggesting I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to prognosticating the end of Roger Federer’s career. This is good news and bad news – I guess. The good news is many of you are reading the blogs that I spend quite a lot of time writing. The bad news is many of you disagree with my synopsis.
These emails coincided nicely with Federer’s stunning 4-set win over Novak Djokovic on Friday – theorizing that I am crazy to indicate that Federer might actually retire at the end of this year. Well, after watching most of his last two matches I haven’t changed my mind. The only thing that might make Fed play another year (2012) – which I failed to acknowledge in my previous blog – is the 2012 Olympic Games in London – playing on his favourite surfact (grass)!
Federer played spectacular tennis and really could have beaten Nadal Sunday at Roland Garros. It was the second best match these two have ever contested – the first would have to be the epic 2008 Wimbledon Final won by Nadal in 5 stirring sets. Nadal now holds a 17-8 lifetime advantage in their head-to-head meetings. And clearly, for those that watched this scintillating match, Federer had several chances to make history with a result that would have shocked the tennis world. A few points in the crucial moments could have turned this match in Roger’s favour.
In one of my latest columns I made a strong argument that Federer (almost 30 years old) could not beat Nadal and Djokovic in back-to-back matches. I said, if the conditions were perfect, he could beat one of the two (Nadal or Djokovic) on any given day but not consecutively.
Well, guess what – I WAS RIGHT.
I also said that Fed’s backhand would break down against Nadal. The top player in the world would continually hit penetrating high rising balls that would force Federer to hit at eye level – and this has always caused problems for the 16-time grand slam winner.
Again, I was right!
Federer’s backhand was as good as I’ve ever seen it and for that reason he came very close to winning. But in the end – it was also the shot that let him down in the critical moments. The first set drop shot is the first one that comes to mind.
So for all of you that were quick to jump on me the second Federer beat Djokovic – remember one thing – he didn’t win the tournament. He ended a marvelous streak by Djokovic and lost in another final to his main rival. Nadal is now 6-2 against Federer in grand slam finals. As good as Federer has been in his career – he’s definitely not in the same league as Nadal. I’m sure I will get grief from this line too – but how can we even compare the two. Nadal has dominated Federer and it’s just going to get worse if Roger keeps playing.
The Mallorcan Magician looks like a good bet to surpass Fed’s total of 16 slams – Nadal’s 10th major championship on Sunday puts him ahead of Fed’s pace by about 10 months. If Nadal can win either Wimbledon or the US Open – tournaments he won last year – he will be significantly ahead of Federer and the talk of greatest ever would continue to escalate like never before.
It was the first ever meeting between two champions who have held all 4 majors at some point in their career. And the rivalry – in my opionion – is the greatest in tennis history. And the numbers would back my argument up (the 8 matchups greatly surpasses any of the other great rivalries in the history of the game) – never has a rivalry (Agassi vs. Sampras, Borg vs. McEnroe, Lendl vs. Wilander, Connors vs. McEnroe) produced such fantastic tennis – yesterday was extraordinary. I hope we see a repeat in 4 weeks on grass at Wimbledon
Roger had a terrific tournament. But terrific wasn’t good enough. He blew a 5-2 first set lead after playing flawless tennis for 7 games. He had a set point with Nadal serving at 30-40 in that eighth game where he tried an ill-advised drop shot to the far sideline. He had multiple chances to win the second set and played a poor tie-break. Going down 2 sets to love against a guy as good is Nadal is a recipe for disaster.
But nonetheless, Roger continued to fight. The up-hill climb was going to be like scaling Mount Everest. And he had a ray of hope early in the 4th set playing awe-inspiring tennis.
The biggest stage of the match occurred after he courageously won the 3rd set with some brilliant tennis – he clearly had Nadal on the ropes – especially after battling back from a 4-2 deficit. Nadal could feel the pendulum changing and the momentum shifting – and Federer seemed be back in perfect form. The first 3 points of the 4th set all went to Federer and one could only hope – if you wanted to see a fifth set – that he’d be able to capitalize and break Nadal’s serve in the pivotal first game of the set. But, as we all know, it didn’t happen. This, then, would be the final twist. Nadal erased two break points with groundstroke winners, and the third with an ace at 120 mph. A service winner at 114 mph followed. Then Federer shanked a backhand off his frame and into the stands.
“Very important for me, no?” Nadal would say later. “That was a big turning point of the match, in my opinion.”
That made it 1-0, and Federer held to 1-1. But that was it. Nadal didn’t lose another game as the sun finally broke through the gray clouds, bathing the court in light. An appropriate conclusion for Nadal, who seemed to be getting better as the match wore on.
Federer had so many chances in this match – more chances than in any of his previous 17 losses to his arch rival – but at the end of the day it was too many unforced errors and not enough success on the big points. Federer, who turns 30 in August, has never beaten Nadal at Roland Garros in five tries, four of them in the finals.
Coming into the tournament, Nadal had lost four straight finals to Djokovic. For that reason, he admitted, he came into Roland Garros with less confidence than ever.
In the eight Grand Slam singles finals between the Swiss and the Spaniard, Nadal has now won six.
The biggest question I have after such a great match is simple:
How can Federer be the greatest of all time, his skeptics (and this includes me) wonder, if he isn’t the best player of his generation? Nadal has owned Federer winning 68 percent of their matches. All of the greatest players up for consideration – Sampras, Borg, Laver – have dominated the players in their generation.
Rafa looks like he’s good for another three or four more years and maybe more!! Especially if he is close to the magic number of 16! Seven slams over the next 4 years seems very realistic. The only question mark at this point is a guy name NOLE. What will his dominating presence do to the history books?
Here’s a thought: What if Nadal is the best player of his generation and, at the age of 25, building a résumé that one day will be considered the greatest ever?
The numbers suggest it is now possible.
Nadal’s resume looks as good as anybody’s at this middle point of his career.
•Nadal Won his 10th major title, leaving him only six behind Federer’s all-time-leading total.
• Nadal Earned his sixth championship at Roland Garros in seven years, tying him with Bjorn Borg (1974-75 and 1978 to 1981). The talented Swede won his six titles in a span of eight years.
•Nadal Is the second-youngest man in history to win his 10th Grand Slam singles title. At 25 years, 2 days, Rafa is nearly a year behind Borg — but he retired from the sport a year later at the age of 25. Perhaps more interestingly, in the ongoing arms race for supremacy, Rafa beat Federer to No. 10 by 171 days. That means he can open up some more ground at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, tournaments where he’ll be expected to win.
So in summary, Roger had a great tournament and looked better than ever – but with Djokovic and Nadal on the horizon – another grand slam looks bleak. If he serves well, Wimbledon will be a tournament he can definitely win – but the baseline bombers will find a way to take him down on the new and slower grass. The tennis landscape has changed – and unfortunately for Roger he is at the end of the rope.