For the second year in a row, it's down to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the finals in Hamburg. And judging by the way he's been playing the past few weeks, I think you'd really have to like R-Fed's chances, even though he just lost to Rafa a couple of weeks ago in Monte Carlo.
But as these two get ready to play their quadrillionth (actually 16th) match against each other, something kind of came to mind: Is Rafa a true rival or just a roadblock? Rafa leads in the head-to-heads, and has been a justifiable number two in the rankings all these years. However, is he a legit threat to what Roger's going to do in a given tennis season? You're probably thinking, "Van, what are you talking about? Look, Rafa's won more than he's lost against Federer. What else do you want?" Well, let me tell you!
What I want out of a rivalry is that bit of anticipation of who's going to win when the two face each other — you know, "It's his turn to get him" — and I think the R-Fed/R-Nad one lacks it because so much of it depends on the surface they're playing on. If it's on clay, nine times out of 10, Rafa's gonna take it; the exact opposite is the case if it's on grass or carpet. Hard courts offer a little bit of a toss-up, but technically, Federer should be able to nab those seven or eight times out of 10.
Also, even though he's probably the most musclebound player in history, Rafa's basically disappeared post-Wimbledon the past couple of years due to his body breaking down on him. I think Nadal is way more prone to early-round upsets once you get off the dirt than Federer is, his recent slump aside.
Nadal's made big strides in his game as his back-to-back finals at Wimbledon shows. However, I just don't see him being a year-round threat to Federer. They're just no Chrissie and Martina, or Seles and Graf, or McEnroe and Lendl. Novak Djokovic could become a more legit year-round rival, but he's not there just yet.
So while there may be roadblocks in Federer's path, rivals are lacking.
An old friend of mine and I used to talk tennis for hours, whether it was our own games or what was happening in the pros. I've started Tennis Talk, Anyone? to, well, talk tennis with an even broader crowd! My name is Van Sias and I've been playing for 20 years now, and not only am I player, I'm a huge fan of the game as well: pro, amateur, you name it. I'll post links to news items related to the sport, and offer my own personal opinion, predictions and hopefully get some of yours as well.