The story so far: After years of unparalleled domination, Roger Federer suffered a decline in 2008, finally surrendering his stranglehold on Wimbledon to rival Rafael Nadal in an epic 5-set final that many have declared the Greatest Match Ever (I still think Borg/Mac '80 was better, but whatever). After over four consecutive years as #1, Federer was knocked out of the top spot by Nadal, whose Wimbledon victory resoundingly confirmed that he’s not just a clay courter. But Federer redeemed his troubled season with a victory in the US Open.
Meanwhile, feisty Novak Djokovic, having broken into the big time last year with an Australian Open victory (comfortably beating Federer in the semis on the way to his trophy), but having suffered an otherwise lackluster 2008, attempts to defend his crown. And to the Gang of Three is added a fourth – surly Scot Andy Murray, who lost to Federer at the US Open final but has defeated him a couple of times since, and in fact has a strong head-to-head advantage over Fed. After some excellent play in the pre-Open tuneups, Murray comes in as arguably the hottest player on tour and potentially a favorite to win it all.
All of the top four are moving comfortably forward in the opening rounds at Melbourne. Dangerous floaters abound – Andy Roddick, still trying to recover his mojo; the endlessly unpredictable Marat Safin, suddenly playing well again and awaiting a 3rd round matchup with Federer (whom he beat in an epic semifinal in 2005, one of the greatest matches ever played); and former AO finalist “el forehand” Fernando Gonzalez, who plays with so much power that he makes anyone nervous. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who played magnificent tennis to beat Nadal in the semis here last year, is also alive, and we’re all eager to see if he can live up to his potential rather than just be another flash in the pan.
Can Federer claim the elusive 14th Grand Slam victory to match Pete Sampras’s record and strengthen his case as a contender for the title of Greatest Of All Time? Can he regain the #1 ranking?
Can Nadal finally win a hard court slam and consolidate his position at the top of the game?
Can Djokovic build on his successes of last year?
Can Murray become the first male UK player since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a slam?
It’s a GOAT chase – Greatest of All Time – and it’s starting at the Australian. Federer needs to win a couple more Slams to make that claim, and he’d probably cement it if he could win the French. He’s arguably the best clay player who isn’t named Nadal, so I think he makes a strong case for GOAT if he can surpass Sampras’s record even if he never wins the French.
Nadal could be chasing the GOAT too, though. The guy is so good on clay I can see him winning another three or four French Opens if he can stay healthy. He’s had three Wimbledon finals and one win – could have easily been two – so if he can add a few more Wimbledons and break through at the U.S. Open and Australian, he may make a strong case for GOAT in four or five years.
Yeah, early days yet for Nadal. There are concerns that his body may break down before he can rack up a high slam total. But he’s an enormous talent.
In my book Fed would already be GOAT if he had won one of those French Open finals against Nadal. Bad luck for him that just as he reached the peak of his powers, tennis produced the greatest claycourter since Bjorn Borg (maybe the greatest ever). If Fed hits 14, I would say he edges Sampras because of the intangibles – 3 years with 3 slam wins apiece, twice only a match away from the Grand Slam, longest run of consecutive weeks at #1, game that functions well on all surfaces, etc. I say that somewhat begrudgingly, because I’m a huge Sampras fan – I actually prefer his balls-to-the-walls, smashmouth brand of serve-volley tennis to Fed’s more elegant and balanced baseliner style.
Really interesting to see how Fed holds up as he enters the twilight of his career, faces down the pressure of matching Pete, and deals with an increasingly-large number of young challengers. It’s not just Rafa banging at the door anymore.
I prefer Sampras’s play over Federer’s as well. Sampras was just so damn efficient at winning points, it’s hard not to repect that. Federer’s points seem to be longer and are arguably more exciting to watch, but when it comes to tennis I’ve always felt that the greater efficiency with which you can win the better.
Yeah, Pete was the perfect mixture of power and brutal efficiency. And it takes courage to come in behind every ball like that, always moving forward, always rushing the net, no matter how many times you get passed. His last match against Agassi was a textbook example of how to play efficient power tennis. His hold game was so strong that he could afford to swing away and go for broke on the returns. That said, his game (unlike Federer’s) was all wrong for clay and he was never one to grind out long defensive points (I think he tailored his game style with the awareness that he suffered from anemia and was never going to have a whole lot of endurance on the court).
Goran Ivanisevic once said of Sampras’s game: “Pete is destroying.” Yup, that’s about how it looked to me.
Somehow, Sampras was able to win with a net game in the age of the more powerful rackets. I can understand how players today have trouble winning with a net game – they hit the ball too hard and are too deep in the court still when the opponent is retrieving.
I don’t like tennis today as much as the older game with the wooden rackets. I enjoy the rifle shots the players have today, but they had to work harder for points back when Borg and McEnroe were at their prime. It was really hard to blast a winner from the baseline back then that wasn’t a passing shot. Now it’s routine.
Safin/Federer is happening tonight (or, I guess, tomorrow, in Australia) – should be a good one. Looks like it’s scheduled for a night match, around 9-9:30 PM Aussie time, and they are like 18 hours ahead, so I think that comes out to the wee hours here on the West Coast… sadly I probably won’t be able to watch it but it’ll air on espn360.com for anyone who has that service.
Murray knocked out by Fernando Verdasco in a 5-set match. Federer severely tested by Tomas Berdych (who beat him at the Olympics in '04) but battles back from a two-sets-to-love deficit to win. Djokovic still moving along, Roddick cruising, Nadal looking extremely convincing (hasn’t dropped a set, I think). Tsonga, I am happy to say, is once again playing well, having beaten Blake. Would be great to see him make another run here. He’s one of the most entertaining players on tour.
Who will win at this point? My heart says Federer; my head says Nadal.
To be honest, I was more concerned with the comeback of Jelena Dokic, who’s been a longtime favorite of mine on the Women’s Tour. (I feel really old when I realize her Wimbledon win over Hingis was ten years ago.) No fairy-tale victory for now, but it was great to see her playing well again, for herself and for Australia. And I’m really glad about not having to see that thuggish a-hole Damir glowering from the stands.
I don’t know Enduro_Man. Dokic played well the first set, but even playing well she was walking around like she had already lost. She was clearly tired from the moment they stepped into the heat, and she was sluggish and slow in winning the first set. She looked even worse in the second, when she showed almost no energy between points. though Safina lost that first set, I actually said after the first game “there is no way Dokic can win this match”. Sometimes the body language just tells you.
That leads me into Djokovic-who is simply not properly condition for warm weather (yes, i do know he played 3 more hours total than Roddick, and that surely tired him). I guess there is a chance that the breathing problems we heard about are a separate medical condition that have nothing to do with simple fatigue, but that was never confirmed on the telecast. All I saw was a man suffering from what looked like heat exhaustion, who likely didn’t prepare enough for extreme heat and probably didn’t hydrate properly. That was an impressive first set win, but Roddick pretty much gave it to him by playing so defensively and deep behind the baseline and trying to force him into errors. As soon as Novak got tired, you could tell it was over. He really looked like he might keel over out there.
To his credit-and I give big props for it-suffering from probable heat exhaustion, he toughed it out as long as he possibly could to not take away from the legitimacy of Roddick’s win. Classy move by Novak, and classy win by Roddick with the hug, quick wave to the crowd, and solemn exit.
I didn’t get to see the Federer match, as it was just too late-but I figured it would be an easy straight set win. Federer is the man who never appears to sweat, much less exert himself, so he is my favorite over Roddick, and always my favorite over Nadal if the match isn’t on clay.
No, you’re right. That last match had the air of inevitable defeat, but I think there was much to be encouraged about in previous rounds. She’s not yet out of the woods mentally or physically, but she held it together longer than she’s been able to for a very long time. Let’s see what happens at the Fed Cup.
Federer is still a machine among men to me. Nadal not only drives me nuts with his mannerisms, court behavior, and attitude, but I genuinely think in almost every facet of the game Federer is a superior athlete and player.
And seriously, for Federer, Djokovic must be the ultimate pussy. I remember a match with him in a major about two years ago. It was hot-maybe the US Open? It was the final I think (I know he won). He was down a set and at least one break. He looked tired, kind of listless-actually, more than anything, he looked [i]insinterested[/]. He was playing points with no energy or enthusiasm.
Then something just clicked. He realized he was going to lose, he got a jolt of energy, pride or stubbornness-I don’t know. He just turned back into “the Federer”. His eyes got a little wider, he got faster, stronger, more accurate. All of a sudden he was on fire, and he couldn’t be stopped. He just took over and dominated the match.
The part that really got me was that at the end of it all, on a hot day on hard court, he was barely sweating. He had gone from lethargic and slow to fast and alert, and an hour later he looked like he had taken a leisurely stroll through a park. That was when i knew Federer was that much better than everyone else.
I think he has it this year Gordon. He was just dominant on his serve, and broke twice in that first set easily. The heat doesn’t seem to boether him and he is much less prone to the jumping up and down go nuts excitement that makes Nadal so annoying, so no wasted exertion from Federer.
He just looks sharp-he has his angles back again, his power is good, and he had what, 41 winners to 15 unforced errors? I will always pick Federer over Nadal if its not on clay, and this time is really no different for me. He’s just a much better all around tennis player in my eyes.
I dunno, to me it’s just a question of that particular matchup. Nadal has always troubled Fed (apart from outright owning him on clay – last year’s FO final was a massacre), and the last two Wimbledon finals proved he can push or even beat Fed in slam finals outside the French. Of course, some say Wimbledon (with its new grass strain) is now the 2nd slowest slam surface, and I think the current AO surface is faster than the old Rebound Ace, so who knows? I’ll be rooting for Fed, of course.
Meanwhile, Nadal’s in a pretty intense semifinal battle against Verdasco at the moment. Some amazing hitting going on from both players.
Yeah, Nadal/Verdasco was an incredible match. Unfortunately the ESPN 360 service stopped showing it late in the 4th for some idiotic reason, and then showed an endless string of commercials while a message read, “No Live Events Available.” Either that, or the buggy video player wasn’t working for me. Pissed me off no end…
This will be the first Fed/Nadal slam final on hard courts. Their 7th overall (they’ve met so far in three French Open and three Wimbledon finals).
So Nadal prevails again. He is just better than Federer now, and he played the big points better in the fifth set. Nadal may continue to improve, too – he still has room to improve his serve and net game. Who knows where the top is for him.
Meanwhile Federer is 27. He’s still near his prime, but more and more tennis players begin to fade a bit about this time. It’s probably mental more than physical, but it happens. His best chance for topping Sampras now seems to be if someone else beats Nadal in a grand slam tournament.
That is six slams for Nadal now, and it’s easy to imagine another three or four Frenches to add to that. He may well be the one to top Sampras’s record – if his body holds up.