That’s right. Call me crazy — I know you will — but that’s what I think.
Ask yourself this — who is more likely to lose before the final the next few years, Rafael Nadal at the French Open or Roger Federer at Wimbledon? Tough call. Probably neither, but if I had to pick one I’d go with Roger.
On clay, Rafa, as we all know, is the man, er, the beast. To beat him three sets on the red at Roland Garros has been next to impossible — actually it’s been impossible! And while the competition overall is much stiffer at the French Open, it’s doubtful anyone is going to be favored to knock him out before the final.
At Wimbledon, Roger has dominated recently like few others. Three straight titles, all relatively easily, has put the Swiss well above anyone else on that surface. But on grass a hot-serving player is always a threat, and Roger could find himself playing that roulette-like tiebreak tennis that we see so much at Wimbledon.
A couple bad bounces in a tiebreaker, a couple breaks and Federer could be finished against a guy like Ivo Karlovic at Wimbledon. Whereas on clay, Nadal would have a better chance of working his way through such jams.
(Example: If Fed was down two sets to Karlovic at Wimbledon or Nadal was down two sets to Fernando Gonzalez at the French, who would be most like to come back and win? I’d take Nadal only because Fed is not going to break Karlovic three times, thus he would have to play a tiebreak or two to sneak by and win.)
But back to Nadal winning Wimbledon. How can that happen? First, he needs a good draw — that is no big servers like Karlovic or Andy Roddick or even Greg Rusedski. And then of course he needs Federer to get bounced at some point — Nadal isn’t beating Fed on grass, at least not anytime soon.
On the plus side for Nadal, despite his lack of grass play the Spaniard should fare well given there are so few grasscourt specialists around who can take advantage of the surface, which is seemingly only getting slower. Also, the turf at Wimbledon rewards guys who are quick (Nadal), can return serve (Nadal), are strong mentally (Nadal), possess a big serve (okay, not Nadal but he does have a high first serve percentage) and can volley well (not Nadal, but he’s improving).
Andre Agassi won it. David Nalbandian reached the final. Xavier Malisse and Sebastien Grosjean reached the semifinals. If they can do it can’t Nadal? Agassi and Nalbandian are both very crisp ball strikers, return well and can take the ball early. Nadal doesn’t have that kind of game back came make up for it with his raw power and foot speed.
Still not feeling my vibe? Okay, we’ll imagine Nadal gets the exact same draw at Wimbledon that Federer had last year.
Match-by-match, ask yourself if Nadal would win:
First Round: Paul-Henri Matheiu. Tricky first-rounder with the talented Frenchman, but edge goes to Nadal as Matheiu hasn’t exactly set the grass on fire.
Second Round: Ivo Minar. Big edge to Nadal here.
Third Round: Nicolas Kiefer. Kiefer is certainly tough, but he’s also rather squirrelly and quite the headcase. Very slight edge to Nadal who could lose this match.
Fourth Round: Juan Carlos Ferrero. Huge edge to Nadal in this one.
Quarterfinal: Fernando Gonzalez. Slight edge to Nadal but Gonzo could win this (or any match for that matter) in straights.
Semifinal: Lleyton Hewitt. Nadal would come in as the underdog in this one, but it’s winnable for the Spaniard.
Final: Andy Roddick. Roddick would be the clear favorite but would you really bet the house on him? Doubt it! The guy needed five sets to beat Danielle Bracialli last year.
And there you have it, Nadal just won Wimbledon!
Nadal of course will not roll through that draw like Fed did but he’d be likely favored to win each match up until Hewitt, and once he gets to that stage of the event and if Fed’s been eliminated then who knows.
As for the flip side — Fed winning the French — the problem is that there are more players who can give Fed a run on the clay than can give Nadal on run on the grass. Fed does have a better chance of beating Nadal in the French final than Nadal does have of beating Fed in the Wimbledon final but both I think are long shots.
Another thing to consider is that Fed is nearly five years older than Nadal meaning that Fed’s physical skills are far more likely to slide than Nadal’s. And to win the French especially over Nadal you have to be at your best physically.
Of course if Nadal does lose early at the French, Fed immediately becomes the favorite, but at Wimbledon should Fed lost early Nadal probably isn’t among the Top 3 favorites who can win the title.
But bottom line is I can’t see Rafa getting knocked out early at the French the next few years whereas Fed could get bumped early at Wimbledon, and that’s why I say Rafa can win Wimbledon before Roger will win the French.
Just some added food for thought. Remember the last guy to beat Roger on grass, Mario Ancic? Guess who beat Ancic the following year at Wimbledon? Yup, Rafael Nadal.
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