Tennis.com’s Peter Bodo wrote a piece this week about the Federer vs. Nadal rivalry called “Homeless Rafa.” To summarize, Bodo thinks that Rafael Nadal’s ongoing injury issues have allowed Roger Federer to loosen up to his current dominating form, proving just how much the Spaniard was in Fed’s head before his knees gave out last year. This observation leads Bodo to question Federer’s recent accomplishments, especially his 2009 Roland Garros title. Here’s the quote that will really get the Fedophiles riled up:
That nine-match advantage (Rafa’s lead in the head-to-head) had enormous repercussions – among them, Federers’s failure to secure a clay-court Grand Slam title until 2009. If tennis history stopped right now, this much could be said: the only man who was able to win a title at Roland Garros during the Nadal era was Federer, but he was only able to do it with Nadal absent from the draw. That was a good effort by Federer. The guy can play on clay, but let’s face it, he’s no Adriano Panatta. You may recall that Panatta was the only man ever to beat Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros, and he did it twice – including a quarterfinal in 1976, after which Panatta went on to take the title. There’s no real or imagined asterisk alongside that one, as there is beside Federer’s Roland Garros triumph.
Ah yes, the “asterisk.” It’s every sport nerd’s favorite topic of debate, whether he or she is talking home run records or Mary Lou Retton’s Olympic gold in 1984. I’m not asterisk averse if there’s a huge structural or rules change, like Open Era vs. Professional Era tennis records; and when it comes to drugs (Petr Korda, Mark McGwire) I say forget the asterisk and pull out the eraser. But debates about the luck of the draw, injuries, El Niño, etc. are nothing more than happy hour conversation fodder – two beers in and you’re slapping asterisks on asterisks, slam a few body shots and you’re proclaiming Mark Philippoussis the greatest player of his generation – hey, isn’t that ‘ol Scuddy over by the pool table?
Make it a double, bartender!
Journalist Douglas Perry of The Oregonian takes on Bodo’s “Homeless Rafa“ piece in his own blog, stating: “this way lies madness” when it comes to asterisk theories and declaring much of Bodo’s thesis “malarkey.” If you haven’t read his stuff, I recommend you check it out. Here’s the crux of his rebuttal:
Nadal wasn’t absent from the draw. This is a key point that way too many people miss. Nadal showed up at the 2009 French Open, he played and he got beat. That the loss wasn’t to Federer does not speak poorly of Federer; it reflects only on Nadal. Same goes for all those U.S. Opens in which Rafa failed to reach the final. If Nadal had made, say, three finals in New York (as Federer has done in Paris against Nadal), how many would he have won? Best guess: Maybe one, when he was playing science-fiction-quality tennis in 2008. More likely none. The Flushing Meadow cement works even better for Federer’s game, and worse for Nadal’s, than Wimbledon’s slowed-down grass or the Australian Open’s bouncy rubberized surface. When there’s so little separating two players, court surface really does matter.
But I’m falling into Bodo’s trap. Let’s face it, this kind of thinking is lazy and gets us nowhere.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being lazy, right? Pass me the bottle opener, will ya?
I often hear people complain that Roger’s opponents don’t stand up to him, mentally. They’re awed by his GOAT-ness, good nature, or shiny hair. As soon as things get tough they fall to their knees and declare, “We’re not worthy!” I heard this sentiment from one commentator or another after almost every match Federer played in Melbourne – everyone from Andreev to Murray was accused of folding to the World No. 1 like a pair of jeans at the Gap. Davydenko could’ve beaten him, if only the Russian had believed in himself! Tsonga suffered from hero worship! Murray was unbeatable until Fed’s trash talk got under his skin! Sure, his opponents shake at the knees. But why is it Federer who’s always stuck with the asterisk?
*Oh, by the way, check out the Tennis.com *asterisk* podcast which starts with the question “Is Federer too smug?” It’s not as bad as it sounds (though I disagree that one article in the London Times qualifies as some kind of anti-Federer zeitgeist)