I admit it, the Fedophile in me ran screaming from S.L. Price’s Sports Illustrated article based on its title alone: “How Nadal humbled Federer.” But boy, am I glad I talked myself into reading it, because it’s chock-full of fascinating facts and anecdotes that even the most avid tennis fanatic may have missed along the way. Obviously, you should click here to read the entire thing, but if you still need persuading, here are some excerpts:
Uncle Toni’s past as a table tennis champion helped form one of Rafa’s most formidable weapons:
At first the (young Rafa) hit his strokes fairly flat, and Toni soon realized he needed a bigger weapon. So, recalling his own spin-happy Ping-Pong days, Toni persuaded Rafa to develop what some players call a reverse forehand — in which, instead of swinging the racket across his body and finishing above his right shoulder, he jerks the racket back after striking the ball and finishes above his left — to impart extreme topspin. Thanks to his remarkable racket speed and to advances in string technology, Rafa was eventually able to hit shots that rotated at an unprecedented 3,200 revolutions per minute (compared with Federer’s 2,500), fell inside the lines and, most important, bounced like a frightened jackrabbit, high and away from the perfect player’s backhand. The stroke’s impact? Eric Hechtman, a hitting partner for both players, says returning Nadal’s forehand feels “like you’re breaking off your arm.”
On Uncle Toni & Co.’s strict training regimen (it’s a little over the top):
Toni and Rafa both knew that Rafa’s forehand, whose height was lessened by grass and hard courts, couldn’t do the job alone. Every dimension of his game had to improve. Toni would list his nephew’s deficiencies, stroke by stroke, each time they faced Federer. “He’s so much better than you,” Toni would say, “but if you believe and work, you can win.”
Indeed, it has been easy to reduce Nadal’s triumph to mere belief and work, as if he were some implacable primitive: will personified. The truth, however, is that Camp Rafa is a fairly sophisticated operation. A Majorcan trainer, Juan Forcades, oversees Nadal’s conditioning. Physical therapist Rafael Maymo spends much of his day taking notes on when and what Nadal eats; when he goes to sleep and when he wakes; how much time he spends hitting forehands, backhands and volleys. Toni, meanwhile, has harped on his nephew’s weaknesses so effectively that even in the earliest rounds of last year’s French Open, Rafa was scared of losing. Toni reassured him — “You’re Number 1 on clay!” — but it didn’t matter. “He never relaxes,” Toni says. “He’s so afraid for every match.”
On why 2008 was Roger’s best year ever:
Strangely enough 2008 might have been Federer’s greatest year — better than his 92-5 run in ’06, better than the three years in which he won nine majors –because he battled his body from start to finish. A bout of mononucleosis in late 2007 had enlarged his spleen, ravaged his powers of recovery and ruined his off-season training; from the ’08 Australian Open on, he played a step slow, which threw off his timing and sent his confidence tumbling. Yet Federer still made the Australian Open semifinals and the French Open final, labored back from two sets down to lose the longest Wimbledon final ever by the slimmest of margins, and won the U.S. Open — Hall of Fame stuff for anyone else.
“Federer was ill all season long, and the story was completely missed,” Courier says. “He hid it from everybody because it’s his responsibility to not show weakness, and he played through it because of his commitment to the tour. Which was a mistake. Mario Ancic [the Croatian once ranked No. 7] missed more than six months on the tour with a mono bout; it’s a serious illness for a high-level performance athlete. Roger needed to get off the tour and get healthy again.”
Rafael Nadal’s mindset vs. Roger Federer’s mindset:
On March 30, at the Sony Ericsson Open at Key Biscayne, Fla., Nadal beat 74th-ranked Frederico Gil 7-5, 6-3, walked off the court and disappeared. Maymo (his physio) waited in the locker room until Nadal showed 15 minutes later, steaming from a sprint on the elliptical trainer. “I wasn’t happy with my play,” he said, “so I punished myself.”
The next night Federer, soon to be married to his longtime girlfriend and manager, Mirka Vavrinec, with whom he is expecting a child, downplayed the idea that he needs to adjust his game. He said he felt fresh, back in shape at last. “That’s been my problem, not really Rafa or Andy or Djokovic,” he said. “I feel like I’m about to turn the corner.”
I’ve included the Federer vs. Nadal stuff, but the article includes a great run down on how Nadal has steadily improved all aspects of his game in order to become the best. The whole “Nadal’s just in Federer’s head” argument loses some of it’s power after this piece. Which is a little hard to swallow as a Fedophile, but heck, sometimes being a real fan means ignoring reality!
I do quibble with the article’s general tone that Federer is some kind of crown prince who was never interested in “fighting for power.” Hello, Roger did play on the tour for years before becoming No. 1 – and then defended that position for a record 237 weeks! But despite this, the piece is still a “must read.” Click here to check it out and please tell me what you think!