One week into the new season and not much has changed from last year when we saw Rafael Nadal rebound from crippling knee injury to paint one of his best seasons while his fellow GOAT running mate Roger Federer was left reeling from a string a poor losses and an ailing back.
This past week as we officially opened 2014, that trend continued. Nadal, not at his dominant best, still toughed out a bunch of three setters including one in the finale over my man Gael Monfils to capture Doha.
It’s a great start for Rafa who I thought faded a little toward the end of last year. Sure, he didn’t beat any big threats at the event – both David Ferrer and Andy Murray both lost early – but an outdoor title on hardcourts (of any kind for the Spaniard) has to help Rafa’s confidence heading to Australia.
“Beginnings of the season are important always because seems like every time you start another season, seems like you start from zero again. Every victory is important, and title today means a lot to me. First time in my career that I am able to start the season with a victory. That’s always important. And playing much better tennis at the end of the tournament than what I did at the beginning.”
Does the early title move Nadal ahead of Novak Djokovic as the favorite for Melbourne? No, not for me. But it does give Rafa an indication of where his game is at and what he needs to do better. And even though he didn’t play his best, he still won. So with Uncle Toni surely on his backside, Rafa has plenty of time to iron out the wrinkles ahead of Australia.
While Nadal was adding to his trophy case, Federer failed to follow the script of opening week top seeded triumphs (Serena and Wawrinka the others). Playing in Brisbane for the first time, Federer and his new racquet and healed back started promisingly with two early crushing wins but then he struggled against Jeremy Chardy in the semis before completely falling apart against Lleyton Hewitt in the final.
Give credit to Hewitt, who’s been left for dead more times than Jason from those slasher films. But like the aforementioned mask-wearing villain, Hewitt seems to just find a way to rise up to the occasion. The 32-year-old beat Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open and now he takes down Federer.
For someone so undersized, slow afoot these days and short on power, Hewitt’s fighting instincts and heart are hard to beat. With a good draw I think Lleyton can and likely will make some noise (not just “c’mon”) in Melbourne.
Turning to Federer, that’s a match he’s got to win. If he can’t beat Lleyton how is he going to beat a Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, etc. at the Australian Open? Can he really put three good sets together to beat a Top 10 player there?
“I definitely needed a little bit more confidence to play well and hopefully win the tournament and so forth,” Federer said speaking about Melbourne. “But I’m not thinking too far ahead. I’m not thinking short‑term. I’m definitely going there to hopefully be there for a long time and putting myself in a good position.”
Roger might indeed be there, but the reality of it is there’s little to indicate he can beat the top guys on an outdoor court. Maybe Stefan Edberg can help, otherwise losing a 6-1 set to Hewitt doesn’t portend good things to come, short term or long.
As for the other two big names playing last week, Ferrer and Murray, it wasn’t a particularly memorable showing for either but at least Murray has an excuse since he was playing his first tournament since the US Open. So with a good early draw in Australia I think he’ll be fine, though, as Federer hinted, the test will come when he has to play a long 5-set match.
Unfortunately for David I think this is the start of the decline. The one everyone has been predicting for a while now is finally here for the Spaniard and by this time next week he might already be on a plane back home.
So to wrao, week one’s concluded and already Nadal has a title and a Swiss has one as well. Well, just not that Swiss.
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