What a way for the 2010 “ATP” season to end with another chapter in the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry. Two all-time greats will collide for a 22nd time tomorrow in the ATP Finals from London.
Nadal arrives in his first year-end title bout by edging Andy Murray 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(6) in a 3-hour, 11-minute semifinal nailbiter.
In the penultimate breaker, Murray built a 3-0 lead but once again Nadal showed his mental fortitude and resilience by making up the deficit and taking the match.
“It was a fantastic match,” said Nadal who has won 9 of 13 against Murray. “I am very happy to beat a great champion like Andy. For me is an amazing victory. I am very happy for everything because was a really difficult match against one of the best players of the world.
“His level is unbelievable almost always. If he plays like this, I don’t have any doubt he going to have big chances to win very important titles.”
Murray, who clawed back from a break to bad in the third, was pleased with his performance despite the heartbreaking finish in his final match of the year.
“I played a great match today,” Murray said. “Whether it’s the best match I played and lost, I don’t know. But it was a great match. I think both of us played very well. I probably played one bad game the whole match; or maybe just a couple of bad points on my serve in the third set when I got broken. I think both of us played well pretty much from the beginning of the match. I’m disappointed to lose, but it was a great match.”
While Nadal advances to the final, for Murray it is yet another tough, crushing defeat. Andy is now 0-5 lifetime against Nadal and Federer in London. And while he did play well and was oh so close, in the end he didn’t win. So the trend continues. In bigger matches there is still a vast gulf between Federer/Nadal and the talented Murray. In some ways this result only widens it.
Federer knows a thing or two about winning on the big stage. Today, the Swiss held up his end for a “Fedal” final by devouring Novak Djokovic 6-1, 6-4.
Federer’s game was firing on cylinders. He was crushing forehands and backhands, hitting deft volleys and even ripping service returns off Novak’s serve. Despite falling a break down in the second, it was quite a rousing performance from the Swiss Maestro.
“I thought Novak played a decent match,” said Federer. “I was able to outplay him at times, play aggressive. I took it to him, exactly the way I was hoping to make it. I thought it was a great match.”
Djokovic, who has now lost three straight to Federer, agreed.
“He was on top of his game,” said the Serb who will lead his country against France next week in Davis Cup. “I think he was playing unbelievable from the first moment. He deserved to win. He was the better player today. To me, he’s maybe playing the best tennis in 2010.”
And with that we have the best rivalry in tennis – and one of the best in all of sport – front and center for the final title of the 2010 season!
As for my pick…
Roger Federer v. Rafael Nadal
The head-to-head between these two is black-and-white, for the world to see. Nadal has the overwhelming lead 14-7 and he’s won six of seven since the start of the 2008.
However, on hardcourts it is 4-4 and Federer leads 2-0 indoors (4-0 in sets) beating Rafa in the 2006, 2007 Shanghai events.
I also think that Federer is playing better than Rafa this week. Roger has sailed through Robin Soderling, Andy Murray and today Novak Djokovic. Three very tough outs indoors.
Nadal’s been no slouch dispatching Andy Roddick, a one-eyed Novak Djokovic, Murray today and even Tomas Berdych. But he did drop sets to Roddick and Murray and at times against the two Andys he looked a little suspect.
Meanwhile, Federer’s looked close to flawless all week.
“It’s been a great tournament so far, clearly, having not lost a set and beaten so many good players, close rivals. Today was another great match,” said Federer. “Obviously I’m really looking forward to playing against Rafa tomorrow. Who wouldn’t? I’m no different.
“I’m really looking forward to playing him for the first time in the finals of a World Tour Finals,” he said. “I think I played him twice in the semis before, so it should be entertaining and exciting for both of us.”
I also have to wonder about Rafa mentally and physically. After a tough, emotional 3-hour win today how much will he have left for tomorrow? We’ve seen Rafa recuperate within 24 hours before, but I have think Rafa will feel some aftershock from today’s win.
Rafa, though, suggests otherwise. “I think I play better than ever on this surface. I am fresh mentally,” he said.
Nadal is playing great tennis on this surface – he was winless a year ago! – but the surface still helps Federer more. The lower bounce won’t trouble Federer as much on his vulnerable backhand and the slower speed will give Roger additional time to set up and execute an offensive, aggressive gameplan like he did today and will have to duplicate to win tomorrow.
And on the serve, I think Federer gets the big edge, both delivery and return. Fed still has so much more variety off the serve than Rafa. And I liked the way Federer started swatting the Djokovic serve for winners. If he can do that off Nadal’s second serve (run around the backhand?) then look out!
So for me, this is an easy selection. I picked Federer to win this event at the start and even in the face of confident No. 1 Nadal, I’ll stand by him here. I know Nadal has the dominated the head-to-head (especially on break chances) but indoors makes a difference so I’ll go with Federer to claim the final title of 2010 and to do it in straight sets Sunday!
Match time is at 12:30pm ET and live TV coverage is courtesy of ESPN2 Sunday.
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