It’s rare to read anything new and provocative when it comes to Federer vs. Nadal. That’s why I really enjoyed Carl Bialik‘s recent piece in The Wall Street Journal: The Federer-Nadal Rivalry, Rekindled. It takes a close look at both player’s stats, in terms of the match-up and separately, and makes some points that have gone widely forgotten in the standard “Roger’s losing ground” discourse. Sunday’s result in London only highlights what these numbers already support – when it comes to Rafa vs. Roger, it’s still “Game on!”
Or as the author puts it: “(A) closer look at the season’s results suggests that if anything, the two players are closer competitors than ever before, with both playing near the peak of their powers at the same time and even closing the gap between their seemingly opposite styles.”
Click here and read the whole piece. Then come back and tell us what you think.
Undoubtedly, Rafa’s victory at the US Open was HUGE and potentially GOAT-making, but Roger’s still the man to beat on hardcourts:
“Nearly the entire second half of the season is spent on hardcourts, and during that span this year, Federer arguably was as good as Nadal. Though it was Nadal who lifted the U.S. Open trophy, Federer won four titles and went 34-4 after Wimbledon, reaching the semifinals or better in all eight tournaments he entered. He held multiple match points in two of his losses. And, most impressively, he wasn’t playing an easy schedule during that span. He won 13 of 16 matches against players ranked in the top 10, including nine victories against fellow top-five players Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Robin Soderling. In less than five months, Federer had more wins over top-10 players than Nadal had all year, and the same number he and Nadal had last year.“
What I really find interesting about this article, is its interest in showing how both players are evolving and therefore growing similar to one another. A tricky argument, but cool to think about:
“Another indication the two players’ seasons were closer than they appear: Each won 70% of points on his own serve, while winning 40% of points on opponents’ serve. This also indicates how Nadal is learning from Federer’s example about how to stay healthy and fresh throughout the year. Nadal’s serve has improved to the point that he ranked second on tour in winning his service games, ranking between rocket-serving Americans Andy Roddick and John Isner.”
The article also brings up a popular point amongst Fed supporters regarding the clay vs. non-clay head-to-head. Roger’s long been the second best on clay, Rafa’s just starting to enjoy that distinction on hard court. Would the career head-to-head be weighted any differently if we’d had more than four Fedal hardcourt finals so far?:
“Nadal’s shaky history on hard courts is the best argument against using the two players’ head-to-head record to judge their rivalry. Nadal has won 14 of their 22 meetings, but 12 of those meetings came on clay, where Nadal won 10 times. Federer is 2-1 on grass and 4-3 on hard courts. (Federer’s all-surface excellence at the peak of his career may best be encapsulated by his reaching the final of an astonishing 17 consecutive tournaments through Toronto in 2006.) During Nadal’s reign on clay, Federer has been the second-best player on the surface, reaching 11 of the 31 finals reached by Nadal. [The article also points out that Rafa's been the opponent in only 4 of Federer's 55 hard court finals appearances - of course, Roger's had a head start.] Federer’s two wins in those 11 finals may seem skimpy — until you consider that Nadal is a perfect 21-0 in clay finals against players other than Federer. Nadal’s improvement on grass and hard courts makes him a far better overall player than he once was, yet may also paradoxically diminish his head-to-head edge over Federer — if, as all tennis fans hope, 2011 and beyond bring many more Federer-Nadal finals.”
Hmmm. . .as much as I don’t want to knock Fed’s hardcourt prowess, I think a slowish, high-bouncing hard court is at best an equalizing surface for the Swiss.
And finally, a really depressing stat if you’re Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic or Andy Roddick:
“they (these three players) have career winning percentages that rank in the top 20 in the Open era of men’s tennis. Yet that trio of players has just two career major titles, to 16 for Federer and nine for Nadal. The era of Fedal may soon pass, but 2010 gave no reason for their competitors to think so.”
If Federer’s victory on Sunday did one thing, it’s changed the tennis media’s tenor going into the Australian Open. Heck, even I was riding the “Fed always loses to Murray, always loses to Rafa, always flubs match points and will be lucky to eke out another Major before he retires” train of thought that’s been zooming through Tennis Town this season.
I leave you with Nick Bollettieri’s “picks” for 2011 (Nick worked with Paul Annacone):
I firmly believe that he (Federer) is going to have a huge bounce-back year in 2011 and that some of his best days are still in front of him.
As for Nadal, he will not let this match get him down. He is probably already thinking of ways to combat what Federer did and because of his great determination I am sure he will look forward to playing Federer in 2011.
Now Rafa and Rog just have to make it happen for all of us in 2011! Game on!
In the meantime, we can look forward to watching them play their charity matches this December, which will be broadcast in the States live on ESPN2 and online at ESPN3.com. Fedal plays in Switzerland on December 21st at 2:00 p.m., Eastern and in Spain on December 22 at 1:00 p.m., Eastern. Both matches will be on indoor hard court, and the results, let’s face it, will mean next to nothing in terms of the match-up. BUT both matches will have “Major” impact in terms of fundraising and helping people in need – and that says quite a lot more about these two guys than any stats can.