So a few weeks ago I wrote in my last blog why Rafael Nadal could win Wimbledon before Roger Federer will win the French Open – and wow, was I hammered for it! Well, I’m back from my 10-day vacation and it’s time for an update, like it not.
If you are Roger Federer you can’t be feeling that good. At the start of the event you didn’t even list Rafa among the contenders, and now in your backyard, your house, who do you face in the final? Rafa.
While Fed on grass has the huge edge just in playing style and experience, you have to guess that Roger’s not going to sleep as well tonight than if he were to meeting Andy Roddick or Lleyton Hewitt Sunday.
Heck, Rafa is arguably playing better at Wimbledon then he did at the French and more domininating. He has held serve an incredible 80 straight times in winning 15 straight sets. Add that the grass at the baseline has given way to dirt (or clay if you wish) and with the air dry and ball bouncing higher up than ever at Wimbledon Rafa has to be feeling good about his play.
Honestly, I didn’t really think that Rafa would make the final this year – I thought Hewitt would get him – but when you look at Nadal’s draw match-by-match you can see why he’s in the final. He’s physically stronger, faster and more mentally tough than just about anybody else in the game, and fortunately, in my mind, for him he avoided playing big servers like Andy Roddick, Ivo Karlovic and Dmitry Tursunov on the turf. You saw how close Robert Kendrick came to beating Nadal, and the only reason for that was the American had a monster serve, which I think is a problem for Nadal to handle.
But now he’s reached the final and up against the King of Grass, Federer. Can he actually win it Sunday? I would say no but he has a better shot than I think most would give him. Of course there’s that 6-1 mental edge head-to-head for Rafa, But Nadal’s biggest problem on grass against Roger is that his lefty forehand to Fed’s backhand will not kick up quite as much as it does on clay or hardcourt. This will allow fed to hit more backhands in his “strike zone.”
And even though Nadal’s been holding serve pretty easily Fed’s been the break king all this week. If he’s breaking Mario Ancic four times you know he’s going to break Nadal, even though Rafa has superior groundstrokes.
The problem for Fed has been his lack of netplay (Rafa’s come in more than Fed 146-122). If he continues to stay back he will be rallying more from the baseline so Rafa should feel more comfortable than facing someone like Kendrick who’s rushing the net and given zero rhythm. Of course Fed could (and should?) change tactic and serve/volley on everything, and I think that’s what he’ll have to do.
On of the other keys will be Fed’s nerves. This is a match he simply cannot lose. He can lose to Rafa at Dubai, Monte, Rome and the French, but not here, not in his “house.” Just if think if Rafa wins, we could be talking Rafa Slam come January at the Australian Open (and i’m a Fed guy, that’s right!). Yikes!
Remember, in this match Rafa’s got nothing to lose – no one expected him to get this far.
Bottom line is I hope you now can all see that I wasn’t all that crazy in suggesting that Rafa would win Wimbledon before Roger the French. In fact it could very well happen as early as Sunday. Remember, this isn’t the same grass court game that was played 15 years ago with Becker, Edberg, Sampras, McEnroe, Stich ruled at SW19. The men’s tour is slowly turning like the women’s, where surface no longer matters. And Rafa’s just taking advantage of it!
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