Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is it REALLY a rivalry?

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.

(Photos: Federer, Getty; Nadal: AP)


Steve said...

Hi Van

I agree, Rafa is a roadblock, not a rival. I have enormous respect for Nadal - yesterday's semi was a classic - but apart from on clay Rafa is not in Fed's league.

The only reason Rafa leads in head to head is because his No 2 world ranking (which rests largely on his clay results) keeps him in the other side of the draw from Federer on grass and hard courts until the final. And apart from Wimbldeon (and Indian Wells / Miami??) he's yet to make many finals.

Do you think this is the year Federer can win the French?


Tennis Talk, Anyone? said...

Hey Steve. Great point about the ranking playing a part in their head-to-heads. I like Rafa and what he's done is amazing, but I would like to see him going up against Roger on a more regular basis over the year.

Weeks ago, I was starting to write Roger off and was even questioning the Higueras hiring, but things really appear to be looking good for him, despite losing yesterday. I was really impressed by him blowing guys off the court over the course of the week. It would be great if he did come through: I hope so!

Sagada Igorot said...

Me thinks Roger will get his groove back for the French, reach the final and beat another player not named Nadal. And, Djokovic will be the #2 player after the French.

Tennis Talk, Anyone? said...

Hi Sagada. Do you think it could be a Federer/Djokovic final then? Nadal did well beating both of those guys this week, but it might be tough for him to get them back to back at the French.

I have to tell you, the more I think about it, the more I like Federer's chances at the French this year.

Naf said...

Did you forget that Nadal has had great results at Wimbledon the last couple years? He's not just a clay-courter. And he's way more than a roadblock to Fed. Djokovic is coming up big time, but Nadal's not going away. But I think the question mark for Nadal won't be the quality of his game, but his body's endurance. Nice blog, Van! See you around!

van said...

Thanks Naf!

I think the point Steve was making with me is that it would be great to see Nadal as a year-round threat to Federer. Djokovic will be a better-suited rival, I think, just because his game is more varied than Nadal's.

Reem said...

I think Rafa and Fed have a rivalry that is just different from the ones we've been used to seeing in tennis history.. i mean it's no Agassi/Sampras but if someone has been number 1 for 4 years, and the other has been number 2 for 3 years... and number 2 has beaten number 1 10/16 times... i think we're gonna have to say that Rafa is way more than a roadblock..
The hype over their matches against each other is crazy... i could never miss a Rafa/Fed match. Going way back to the incredible 5-setter in Miami when Federer was 2 sets down then came back. Even relatively insignificant matches like the Dubai final in 2006, i was there and the atmosphere was unbelievable.. People were going crazy. It's a rivalry cuz people just love seeing these two faceoff.
The fact that for the past 3 years, ppl have been saying that this must be Federer's year to win the French, then Rafa would just step in it and sweep it from under his feet is just incredible...
Two out of four grand slam finals a year, we see these too at it.. and Nadal was really close last year at Wimbledon.. he took fed to 5 sets, something Fed can't do to Rafa at Roland Garros.
I get what you mean that it's easy to predict who's gonna win depending on the surface, but Rafa has managed to threaten Fed on hardcourt, maybe not in the Slams but Rafa missed most australian opens when Fed won them and this year, they both got busted by Djoko and Tsonga. But you're right, Rafa does break down by the time the US Open comes around.
Earlier this year, Nadal had the chance to be number 1... he was like 300 points away.. something like that.. that's real tight man... and Djokovic is breathing down both their necks now... if we look at this year alone, i'd say it's become a three-way rivalry... wow i got carried away with this comment haha... Anyways.. it's nice to find someone really into tennis like myself....

van said...

Hey Reem, thanks for the comment!

I see what you're saying about those two. It definitely doesn't have that "chase you down to the ends of the earth" feeling a rivalry has. I like Djoko saying he wants to be number 1. Maybe it's the rankings that's affecting how I'm viewing their head-to-heads. There's no flipflopping, which you're right, is how things have usually been in tennis history.

You were at the Dubai match? That's pretty awesome! I've had the chance to see both of them play a few times in person, but never against each other.

And feel free to leave as long a comment as you like! The more, the merrier I say!

Anonymous said...

Don't you all look pathetic now?