Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Federer Nadal again

I'm very late getting to this but Alex Massie had a post on the Australia Open final. I'm not a huge fan of sports punditry so I like it when someone like Alex writes something.

All of which leaves us in quandary: if Federer is the greatest player since Laver, how come he's only won six of his 19 meetings with Nadal? Even away from the clay the record has been narrowed to 5-4 in Federer's advantage. In non-clay Grand Slam finals it is 2-2.

If Federer is a Derby Champion, all grace and elegance and poise and acceleration, Nadal is a Gold Cup winner; equally classy in his own way, inexhaustible, courageous, inspirational. Federer's game is built upon such fine margins that the slightest mishap can have ruinous consequences. And as he gets older such mishaps must become more common. Yet it's this fragility that makes Federer's tennis so appealing; the line between seemingly effortless brilliance and collapse is thin to the point of being all but non-existant. There are times when watching Federer play tennis reminds one of watching Brian Lara or David Gower bat: beautiful but, as I say, fragile.
I don't exactly disagree with anything in the post, but I do feel that there's something missing. I'm all in favour of discussing Federer's weaknesses, like his fragility and relative (to Nadal I guess) lack of heart/deep well/fighting spirit or whatever. But this misses something if you neglect to mention that he was almost invincible for over 4 years. Fragility together with invincibility seems incongruous and is interesting! For hundreds of matches the majority of his tiny amount of losses were because he was sick or injured or because he was playing Nadal on clay. The proper response to this after we consider his fragility is to increase respect for him along other dimensions.

Another point I've made before is that if you went back in time and made Federer worse on clay, he would likely have a better head to head record against Nadal and this wouldn't be a good thing. Great players like Sampras lose in earlier rounds on clay and thus lose to random people. If Sampras got to lots of clay court finals his career head to head record against clay courters would be worse.

1 comment:

Steve sculpts critters said...

I must say, your Federer Nadal analysis is so much more eloquent than mine!
Nice writing.