By Jane Voigt
Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer, again. No surprise there.
For Rafa, though, the win — 75 63 — was a big deal.
It puts him into only his second ATP World Tour Final. The first was in 2010, which he lost.
His victory today, though, tipped the scales just a teensy, when considering the rivalry between these two heavyweights. Federer had had a 4-0 lead on Nadal for the year-ending tournament. Now … 4-1. Little steps.
“A great dream to be in the final,” Nadal said on court after the match.
In a year that was as spectacular as one could have imagined, Nadal has done it all. To have accomplished those heights after a 7-month layoff adds icing and cherries to his cake.
He played 81 matches and won 75 of them. And, he was 36-3 on hard courts. He had 24 wins over top 10 players. Made 14 finals in 17 tournaments. Won 10 titles, two of the them Majors: Roland Garros for the 8th time and the U. S. Open, his second.
In contrast Roger was 45-17 for the year, the fewest victories since 2000 and the most defeats since 2003, tweeted Chris Clarey of The New York Times. Roger went 4-10 versus top-10 players, won 1 title in Halle, Germany, and made two finals: Rome and Basel.
No one, though, can leave out Federer’s strong finish to a back-injured year.
There were no posters on display at the O2 Arena that would herald his 12th coming to the year-ending event. He made the cut too late. But … he made it. His performance in Basel and Bercy thrilled fans and ignited the inspiration Federer needed to make it to today’s semifinal, and his back was better. He gave himself the chance. He remains a threat at 32.
“Winning titles. Winning 5 titles, or something,” he told the press. “Something exciting, leaving the tournaments as winner. That’s what keeps things exciting. Rankings … it it’s not world No. 1, then I’m not that, you know, interested.”
But how in the world could have Federer sustained the level we witnessed in the first seven games today throughout the match?
Step back and take a look at this event. Top 8 players. Every match a Grand Slam quarterfinal or better. It runs 8 days, with round-robin play dominating the first six days. One day off all week. Nadal lucked out and had his yesterday while Federer pounded away at Juan Martin del Potro for three sets, coming from behind in each one to grab the win. A proud moment for Federer, and maybe the crowning moment of the week for him and fans and pundits, if they were honest in their assessments.
To turn around and play a rested Nadal the next day was tantamount to running a marathon barefooted on a beach — not enough energy. And with the court slowed from 2012, the deck was stacked against Federer.
The decision by tournament directors and others in that mix to slow the court and not allow for rest between matches is a deadly one for players. They would probably all agree that, well, we each face the same obstacles: slow court (I love it, winked Nadal to Uncle Toni), intense matches day to day, a spectacle of spectacles with court brightly lit and audience darkened … is this the Rome Coliseum of the 21st Century? Does this not trumpet management’s goal? Money should not be it. The Paris Masters 1000 should not come the week before the World Tour Finals.
“Unbelievable [Nadal] gets away with playing so far back indoors the days,” Matt Cronin relayed on Twitter from Federer. “But that’s conditions. Credit to him for making that work.”
Federer’s forehand has been, throughout his career, his lethal weapon — Brad Gilbert calls it a ‘fearhand.’ It has not been that scary of late. Today, it failed him too many times.
Federer committed 37 unforced errors, 19 on the forehand side and 17 on the backhand side, according to Tennisabstract.com. Twenty-one of the unforced errors came in the second set, as his energy collapsed. His footwork faltered. During one point he almost stumbled, dipping to pick up a low return from Nadal. Federer continued to come in, infrequently, but his execution on drop shots, half-volleys, and volleys was technically poor. Bottom line … his timing went out the window, as did his mind most probably, about his chances to fight like he needed to fight to pass an aggressive and never-say-never Nadal.
The Spaniard excelled at his job today, doing everything right at all the opportune moments. Not only does he now have a winning record over the top 30 players in the world, he has a winning record over top ten players on all surfaces. The man is brilliant.
“Many thanks,” Nadal told Gilbert on court. “It’s the most satisfying year of my career.”
Nadal wil face Novak Djokovic or Stanislaus Wawrinka in Monday’s final. Bets are on Djokovic to come through in this afternoon’s second semifinal.
We will then witness another baseline-extravaganza match with scarcely any definition in points. For some, the tennis will be called ‘exceptional’ or ‘another epic’ from two of the greats in the game. For some, the tennis will be labeled ‘boring.’ Both perceptions are correct and acceptable, depending if you see the court half-fast or half-slow.