Occam’s Razor

June 9, 2007

Who will win the French Open: Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer?

Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 5:22 pm

And so we stand at the throes of history. Last night to relax my nerves I went to the spa ahead of the French Open men’s Semis. I am such a fan of the game and of Federer’s that I am having trouble maintaining my cool with the prospect of him and Nadal meeting up yet again in the finals and of course the inevitable question looms: will he finally snag this one given that he creamed Nadal just a few weeks ago in the Hamburg finals on red clay.

Theirs is a classic rivalry. While Roger has a stronghold of the world number one post, Rafa has always got his number. Nadal leads in their head to head match-up 7-4.
To further expound on the gravity of the subject, Nadal has won the past 2 French Open titles. And has been running a record win-streak on clay until of course Hamburg happened. Here you’ve got Federer who seem to always fall short in dominating Rafa on clay and has had some difficult matches with the 21 year old lefty, the world number one who is in a semi “crisis” who just recently fired his coach Tony Roche because of uncharacteristic losses to relative unknowns like Canas and Volandri but in this time of seeming crisis he steps up and whips Nadal off of the red clay of Hamburg posting an unbelievable 6-0 in the final set.

It has been noted that Roger is most dangerous when he’s in crisis as most great athletes are (Steffi Graf always comes to mind and the parallelism on the Graf-Seles rivalry is just too stark to ignore). So now the question, has Roger finally figured it out? Will he step up and give us what we the raving tennis fans have been craving for? — to witness history happen and to watch possibly the greatest player to have played the sport take all 4 grand slam titles in a non-calendar succession and postition himself to win a calendar Grand Slam by taking the Wimbledon and US Open titles (which is a relatively easy task for him to pull).

Last night was probably one of the best tennis nights ever. The lineup couldn’t be more perfect. One one hand you’ve got Rafa Nadal, the clay court king of the past few years versus the up and coming Serb Novak Djokovic (three Serbian tennis players made it in the Rolland Garros semis Ana Ivanovic beat Sharapova to reach the finals while Jelena Jankovic bowed down to Henin in the other women’s semis). In their most recent match up Djokovic beat Nadal in Miami. Some fans are hoping that Djokovic will pull the same stunt and upset the defending champ to boost The Fed’s chances of taking home the title this year. Nadal won in straight sets.

Before that though, was an intense and very tight straight sets victory from Federer against the arguably second-best clay court expert in the game right now, the frail Russian Nikolay Davydenko. The match could have gone either way Roger said afterwards but surprisingly throughout the match I never felt that Roger was threatened in any way. The match was tight and of high quality but such is my faith on my man Roger that I knew he would pull it through anyway. Else, the spa treatment was effective in calming my nerves. Federer beats Davydenko in tightly contested straight sets.

The men’s finals will be telecast 6 pm in Manila via Solar Sports and 7 pm here in Hanoi. I am going to the spa ahead of the finals as I don’t want to break the routine I had when Roger won last night. If possible I will go to the temple to pray for his victory. Or just pray the whole day every 30 minutes. I am rooting for him in an insanely obsessive degree and the last time I felt this way was when Steffi Graf snagged the ’99 French Open crown for her 22nd Grand Slam title beating the then petulant Martina Hingis. The stars are all alligned for Roger’s win. He will take it this year!

Meanwhile here’s an additional reading from http://www.fannation.com/throwdowns/show/11052 a debate between CNNSI columnists Jon Wertheim and S.L. Price.

 Federer is owed the Swiss equivalent of “mad props” for finally solving the Nadal riddle and beating his nemesis in clay. In taking the Hamburg title last weekend, the Fed raised interest rates headed into the French Open and breathed new life back into the best rivalry in men’s tennis since Sampras-Agassi. Still, let’s hold onto our bandanas here. Even coming off a loss-which will likely infuse him with that much more motivation-Nadal has won 81 or his last 82 claycourt matches. He is the two-time defending champion in Paris. The fast red clay is ideally suited to his topspin-heavy game. His superior conditioning benefits from the best-of-five format. The current stalemate in men’s tennis is something out of classical mythology. No matter how much Nadal wins on clay, he will never be No.1, not so long as Federer is around. And no matter how thoroughly Federer dominates, he will never win that elusive Roland Garros title, not so long as Nadal is around. So it goes…

“Mad props?” The guy deserves a medal. The men’s tour has grappled with two weirdly contradictory themes over the past couple years: Federer’s inevitability and Nadal’s dominance over him, and for things to remain locked up that way would’ve been deadly for the game. Federer’s win in Hamburg tossed all the chips into air as we head onto Roland Garros. Nothing seems predictable, suddenly, and that’s all to the good. I’m putting my money on the Fed, though, because it makes absolutely no sense for him to win the French Open now. His spring has been filled with losses, he’s adjusting to a new racket, he just fired his, er, coach, Tony Roche: The man’s a mess, right? And then, right smack in the midst of all that, he waxes Nadal in Hamburg in a way we’ve never seen the Spaniard go down. That tells me plenty. Roger has been a bit bored by all that winning the last few years, and all these mini-crises have snapped him awake. It’s a dangerous thing to have the world’s most talented player feel he’s an underdog, that he has no choice but to fight, that he has something to prove. But that’s what we have now.

“It’s a dangerous thing to have the world’s most talented player feel he’s an underdog, that he has no choice but to fight, that he has something to prove.” Doesn’t that describe Nadal on clay? The guy has still won 81 of his last 82 clay court matches, including every match he’s ever played at Roland Garros. This spring he played more tennis than anyone should be allowed to play–some of it owing to his unshakable habit of winning; some of it attributed to the nonsensical ATP calendar. Midway through his 20th singles match in barely a month, he runs out of gas in the final. Suddenly amnesia kicks in and he’s no longer the player to beat in Paris?

Actually, no, it doesn’t describe Nadal. He’s not the underdog here, and at Roland Garros he has nothing to prove. Everyone knows he’s the king of clay, and now that you mention it, his exhaustion over the past month is yet another reason why Federer is my bet here. And let’s not underrate the transformative power of one match. Andre Agassi won in Paris in 1999, and that, in essence, rejiggered the conversation on his entire career. Nadal nearly beat Federer on a hardcourt in Miami in 2005 and it convinced him, and everyone else, that he could battle the man on any surface. As for amnesia, I haven’t forgotten that he’s the player to beat in Paris. I just happen to know a player who can beat him.

Novak Djokovic? You want to bring him into this, now? One tangential observation about Nadal-Federer, before this point-counterpoint devolves into “Jane, you ignorant slut” territory. I read a report that after Federer won in Hamburg- essentially on the eve of a Grand Slam!– Nadal approached him and, in the soccer football tradition, asked him his autographed jersey.

Rivalries in sport tend to polarize fans, Roe v. Wade debates that demand taking sides. No one is Yankees AND Red Sox, Ohio State AND Michigan, Man U AND Real Madrid. In the case of Nadal-Federer it’s pretty hard to summon much disdain for either guy. And, thus, it is entirely reasonable to root for both of them to win. Just that in this case it will be the Spanish guy with the stringy hair and the wedgie.

Wow, Novak. You really know how to hurt a guy. Personally, I thought the devolution was leading more into Airplane! territory (“Shana, they paid for their tickets; I say let them crash!”) Look, I’m right there with you; the odd thing about this Throwdown is that it revolves around two guys who have managed to keep their rivalry free of in-your-face, “Quien es mas macho?” posturing. Their mutual respect is palpable, almost to the extent that it leaves fans confused. When these guys play, they force us to focus on the tennis, not the far easier quirks of personality or clothing. This makes for great technical drama, but it hasn’t quite gotten personal yet; save for Fed’s one-time complaint about Rafa’s coaching, there’s no hint of animus in the air. The greatest rivalries, like Sampras-Agassi, have that extra spice.

But maybe that changes here. Federer knows the clock is ticking, and he’ll be full of confidence after that 6-0 third in Hamburg. He’ll do what he’s supposed to do at last: Tuck away his hair (believe me, it’s just as much an issue with him as it is with Nadal), serve out the match, and send Senor Wedgie packing.


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