Monday, July 07, 2008

Perceptions 3: a human Roger?

[Previously: Sporting perceptions 1 and 2]

I had to log off the Tennis World blog last night around the time of the first rain break in the Wimbledon final, but I must have exchanged at least a hundred SMSes with tennis-loving friends in the next few hours. A theme emerged in these discussions. Some of these friends are fellow Nadal fans and one of the reasons we initially became fans was that during Federer’s years of unreal, round-the-year dominance (mostly 2005 and 06), it was good to see someone spicing up the mix, bringing a touch of unpredictability to the men’s game. Back then, I had blogged a bit about how annoying, even disheartening Federer’s reign had become. If he lost four straight matches to Nadal in 2006, there was no question of feeling sorry for him: it was simply a microcosmic version of what Federer himself was doing to everyone else for most of the season. (Besides, those four matches were practically the only ones he would lose all year anyway.)

This has changed, at least for the time being - since last year, Roger has been looking human (only by his own earlier standards, of course: basically, all it means is that his win-loss percentage in the last few months is around the same as Sampras’s was during his peak years!) – and with it so have the perceptions of us non-fans. It’s possible now to feel genuinely sorry for him, to hope that he comes back strongly at the US Open and the Olympics. (A year without Federer winning a single Grand Slam would be just as bad for tennis as a year in which he wins nearly everything.) That’s a hope I never thought I would express a couple of years ago.

For now though, very pleased for Rafa. There’s always going to be a question mark over his career longevity and I don’t expect him to ever reach the levels that peak-period Roger did on all surfaces, so it’s good to savour what he does have. Vamos!

[An earlier post on the fading of once-dominant champions]


  1. You've a nicely done site with lots of effort and good updates. I would like to welcome you to submit your stories to and get that extra one way traffic to your site.

  2. I am a die-hard fan of Federer. The years in which you were disheartened, i changed from a Sampras-is-the-best to Sampras-was-good-Federer-is-better.

    I sincerely hope that you are wrong when you say -
    >I don’t expect him to ever reach the levels that peak-period Roger did on all surfaces,
    - because :
    * I wish to see many more matches which are as good as yesterday's finals.
    * you know how older generations say, Windies 4 were best, or Pele was so good - I wanna tell my children about Rafa and Fed.
    * I wish Nadal would spawn a great player like Federer has spawned him. I firmly believe Nadal would not be so good, if Federer was not this brilliant.

    I wrote a liitle something on my blog about it -

    I hope you and your readers will like it.

  3. Even I was very pleased with Nadal, but at the same time sorry for Federer. And no, I never got bored of Roger, and this year has been quite a disappointing one from him. Nadal sure did a commendable job yesterday, but I would love to see Federer keeping up his word about next year.

  4. pkj: but for there to be great matches between these two, Rafa doesn't ever have to reach the peaks that Roger did. A good match-up isn't about whether player A and player B are equally good in the overall sense, it's about how well their games - strengths, weaknesses - stack up against each other. Rafa - because of his heavy top-spin, mental strength and because he's an "unnatural" left-hander whose strongest shot is directed at Roger's backhand - poses problems for Roger that many other great players might not have been able to.

    Anyway, there have already been too many high-quality matches between Nadal and Federer, and Nadal and Djokovic this year - it's been quite exhausting as a Rafa fan. Now I'm looking forward to some good ones between Federer and Djokovic!

    You're right about Nadal not being so good if Federer wasn't so brilliant - one of the best things about the rivalry is that they've spurred each other to greater heights. But Nadal seems to have benefited a little more from Roger's constant, mountain-like presence.

  5. >it's about how well their games - strengths, weaknesses - stack up against each other.

    Very well-put :)

    >Now I'm looking forward to some good ones between Federer and Djokovic!
    Same here. I just want to see great matches. Don't really care who is playing.

  6. The pirate boy has gotten the knack of net play, hasn't he? His serve has also improved dramatically, consistently clocking around 115 mph.

    One aspect of his game that could be improved is in the aces area. The way he has gone about improving his game, I wouldn't be surprised if Nadal was hitting 10-15 aces every match next year at Wimbledon.

    As for Federer, what can one say! He gets around 60 winners, and 40 unforced errors to go with them. If only some zen guru could come and reduce around 20 of them (for it's natural to hit some unforced errors if he is going for that many winners), life would again be normal.

  7. Perhaps one good thing to come from this loss will be that Federer accepts his usual game just wouldn't work against Nadal, not even on non-clay surfaces. Maybe with that acceptance, he will be willing to tweak his game, whatever that is, and realize his full potential. Sadly, he has got at most a couple more years to do so.

  8. Loved the older posts that were linked here...

    We tend to root for the great champion sportsmen more intensely when we sense that their end is not too far into the future.

    I've never been a huge Federer fan. But I suppose I'll follow his career more closely from now. Wimbledon 2008 has reminded us that he's not going to be around for ever. And we better make the most of him while we can.

    I felt the same way about Sampras. Hardly cared for his performances while he was at his peak during the mid nineties. However, following his defeat to Federer in the 2001 Wimbledon 4th round, I couldn't take my eyes off the television when he was playing.

  9. oops :) Had to look at the comments section before putting in my two bits :( Only to find that someone has already beat me to it . Agree with Srikanth totally.For some (or obvious ) reasons , I tend to support players only when their careers seem to be on the wane :) .Happened with Sampras, happened to a certain extent with Becker ,with Courier/Edberg ...Sometimes ,the wait is pretty futile .Once down,some of them never regain the form and confidence they once had .(Edberg and Courier ).But occasionally , just occasionally , you get moments of sheer magic , where the player shakes of years of bad form ,age , self-doubt and manages to make that wait worthwhile .For instance Becker in the 95 Wimbledon semis (ageing and then no longer one of the leading giants of the game ) .Down and out against an imperious Agassi who kept smashing winner after winner leaving Boris standing at the net (Boris of course was never that fleet of foot ).I had almost given up on the match , when at some point in the second set Boris falls down (trying to roll back the years with a trade-mark dive volley (he was only 27 though :) ) (or maybe he was on the baseline , time tends to add to the mytho I'm afraid ) , the crowd goes "aaaaah... " and goes silent.Agassi walks up to see if the old man is ok .Boris shrugs off his query and then proceeds to show him what grass court tennis is all about defeating him in 4 . Try as Agassi might , he couldn't break the boom-boom serve again . (and the match was still pretty close,Boris at his peak would still have struggled against Agassi in the rip-roaring form he was in ) .But Boris just wouldn't give up . It was tear-inducing stuff :)>Of course he did go on to get thrashed by Pete in the finals .But that one match made it all worth it .(Not to mention that he did manage to defeat Pete twice the same year and the next and won a grandslam to boot ).The same goes for Sampras . Never was a big fan of Sampras (as a character ? ) though his tennis was abeautiful(and it still is , the serve , the running forehand , the sublime volleying skills ...he was a master of his craft ) his dominance (though it was nothing compared to the Fedex) bored me . Until he started losing ..and badly at that ..Time came when he lost even at Wimbledon to a George Bastl in the fading light .He looked utterly crushed .Broke my heart.Only for him to come roaring back at the end of the year to win the U.S and retire on a grand note.It was terrific stuff .( how many have the luck to retire on such a high ?)...phewww...sorry for that bit of verbal diarrhea..hope Federer comes back again and thrashes that spanish kid the French open no less :)

  10. oh oh oh ..and how perfect was Bjorn Borg's prediction ? :)

  11. Federer becomes yet more human here:

    - Smita

  12. Will you get over this obsession with Rafa's injuries? Rafa is fine, as you can see and I think this is as a deliberate plan to jinx his opponents. You even tried this on Nieminen for godsake.

    And try saying something that we don't already know.

  13. "try saying something that we don't already know."

    Okay. Gasquet will win the next 12 Wimbledons.

  14. shrikanth, bala: yes, that's one of the points I tried to make in that old post from 2005 (when Roger was whipping Hewitt in the US Open). But also, neither Sampras not anyone else ever reached the level of dominance Roger did between 2004-2006 (and parts of 2007 too). Looking at Sampras's "playing activity" on the ATP website, you'll find lots of patches even during his peak years where he didn't win 4, 5, 6 tournaments in a row. This was never the case with Roger, which is why his vulnerability is even more poignant.

  15. Congratulations to Nadal, but Fed is goin to be back. to all those people who write the epitaph of such a sublime player, who has been in all the Grand Slam semifinals since more than a few years need to understand what it means to do that consistently.

    Also, Fed had around 57 unforced errors in the match and if not for those 50+ unforced errors...Nadal would still be looking for that Wimbledon trophy. I am biased...but has there been a more complete player than Federer? Fed is looking human this year, but that is only when you compare it to his own stratospheric record. Like you mentioned, even now his win-loss record is much better than that of Sampras. And all those proclaiming that Nadal is the actual Number 1, should look at what Fed did to achieve his status of Number 1...he didn't get it as a gift, he worked towards it and extended his lead over all others by clinically destroying all in his sights. Well, if Nadal needs the Number 1 title, he needs to earn it...and it is not just a matter of a couple of Grand Slams on the trot, he needs to be consistent thru a longer period of time.

    Don't get me wrong...I like Nadal for his singleminded focus, his ability to retrieve what would be natural winners for his opponent and his humility off court, but in my opinion he has way to go before he can be called the undisputed Number 1 of the world.

    But, one of the best match (in any sport that I follow) I have seen in a long time.

    Nice observations, Jai.


  16. Rahul: I agree with most of what you've said here, and I appreciate that you aren't putting down Nadal the way so many Federer fans have done in the past 2-3 seasons. But with ref. to your remark that "if Nadal needs the Number 1 title, he needs to earn it...and it is not just a matter of a couple of Grand Slams on the trot, he needs to be consistent thru a longer period of time", I think it has to be reiterated that in any other period in tennis history, Rafa would already have been number one for several few weeks by now. And that includes Sampras's peak years - if Rafa had played then, he and Pete would have been exchanging the number 1 spot every few weeks.

    You say "Fed is looking human this year, but that is only when you compare it to his own stratospheric record", which is absolutely right, but then it's equally true that if Rafa hasn't been "consistent" enough to be number 1, that's only when compared with Roger's stratospheric (and unreal) record between 2004-07. Looking at Rafa's performances in the last 2-3 seasons in isolation, he has actually been a heck of a lot more consistent on all surfaces than many former world number 1s were when they held that position (Safin, Roddick, Moya, Ferrero, Rios, Muster being only some of the names I can think of - he's already a better player than all of them, despite never having been number 1). To keep comparing him only against the standards Federer has set is terribly unfair, especially since most balanced Rafa fans I know have nothing but respect for Roger's achievements and don't believe that Rafa is anywhere near Roger's all-surface greatness.

  17. Um, I meant "several weeks", not "several few weeks"!

  18. I am sorry if I came across as slightly biased against Nadal...blame that on my admiration for Federer's natural grace. I never thought, I will see artistry like McEnroe's, till Federer came along.

    But you are right when you say that, if it was any other period, Nadal would already have been Number 1. Even now, I believe he will deserve it when he attains it as he has not only been consistent, but steadily improving on all courts. The single most factor that makes me a Rafa fan is his humilty off court, which is all the more evident when he blogs before the Grand Slams.

    When I commented, I guess I was a slightly p*****d off with so many of the so called experts starting to write Fed off. No one expected his dominance to last, but when the time comes, we should be thankful for what he showed could be done with a tennis racket. Sheer poetry...

    Hope I don't come off as some rabid Nadal hater, 'cause I actually like the guy :)

    Over to the Olympics and the US Open.


    PS: Sorry for that one smiley - I know you hate smileys

  19. I think Roger is so used to winning comfortably that he had become a little bit egotistical,which is quite natural. So you don't see him working on a plan or making adjustments against Nadal ;which he may have to do now.He is so used to playing from the cool composure of the better player,that he may have to hit a different mindset to play as an underdog;and get some killer instinct in and practice harder.
    Its good for the game.