Fallacy #1: Rafa’s tiredness resulted in his three set loss to Federer.
"I'm not going to say I lost the match because I was tired. I feel I lost because I played against a very good Roger Federer on one of his favorite surfaces. And when he's playing like this, it's very difficult to stop him, no?"
He may or may not have been tired. The fact is that it’s irrelevant: If Rafa doesn’t cite fatigue as a factor then no one else gets to either (N.B. this is not the same as saying he couldn’t possibly have been tired – very important distinction).
Before you start citing Madrid 09, remember Rafa (and Nole) played over 4 hours of clay court tennis that day – the longest three setter ever played, and, I daresay, the best – with only 24 hours to recover. You’ve got to be pretty obtuse and/or naive to think fatigue played no part there.
Slams are a different animal as they offer up a very welcome 48 hour rest period. I know many amongst the “far-right” of tennis fandom like to pretend ‘roids are the only possible way to explain Rafa’s incredible recovery in between the semis and final of Aus 09. The altogether more boring and factually inconvenient explanation is that 48 hours is more than enough recovery time for any athlete at this level, let alone someone as physically gifted as Rafa.
The point is that this one belongs in neither of those two categories and has much more to do with the electrifying way in which Fed began the match.
Fallacy 2: Roger Federer has “figured out” Rafa targeting his backhand.
Newsflash: Targeting Fed’s backhand will not cure male pattern baldness.
With the amount of success Rafa has had targeting Fed’s backhand over the years it is perhaps understandable that it has become something of a goto-play for him.
It is, however, a mistake to confer upon it the pseudo-mystical properties it seems to have acquired in some quarters.
Any strategy is only as good as it’s execution.
And no strategy can account for days when Fed’s backhand is nuke.
On the other hand…
Newsflash: Fed winning the final by timing his backhand better than he had all year does not suddenly make targeting it a “failed strategy”.
Does Andy Roddick stop serving big because he’s playing Roger Federer?
Do we stop believing in climate change because of a freak snowstorm?
I only bring it up because three or four games into the final there was a rush of dickheads calling for Rafa to abandon his goto-play because it seemed Fed had finally “figured it out”.
Fed has no more figured out Rafa making his backhand the frontline of his attack than we’ve figured out climate change.
This is not his fault – you don’t “figure out” systemic problems; you mitigate against them and minimise their impact.
Fed’s done that pretty well over the years, but will still for the most part be fighting an uphill battle. Every so often he’ll play a match in which nothing Rafa does will seem to work.
That’s no reason to abandon what’s proven to be the greatest-ever play against the great-ever player.
The thing about form…
There was, in any case, something more subtle at work. Subtle enough not to feature on the blinkered radars of those that would scream “fatigue” in the immediate aftermath of the Rafa/Muzz semi: Rafa’s form, as good as it was this week, wasn’t quite up there in the stratosphere of his best moments of this year.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
Nor should stating that be seen as some kind of last ditch, madcap attempt at explaining away Rafa’s loss – let us please not insult either of them by doing that (for the record, I’m also one of the few people that believe Fed wasn’t all there in the first two sets of the Wimbledon 2008 final too).
Form is an incredibly complex, divisive, misunderstood and mysterious force – quite possibly the only thing we know about it is that we know nothing about it. Conventional wisdom says it feeds on momentum (or should that be the other way round?) but it can blossom just as well with adequate rest and careful preparation.
It’s no different for the top two players of all time,
Fed has very publicly “struggled” (by his standards) with form this year. Just one week ago his entire season was being defined (by some his own fans I might add :-( ) by the deathly hallows of those infernal five unconverted match points. Now, three out of three converted break points and some unspeakably acute-angled shoulder high backhand winners later, it seems he’s a dead cert for the Aussie Open. Neither are true, of course.
He (along with Rafa) simply has a higher ‘coefficient of awesome’ than most everyone else and that gives him a better handle on his form than the overwhelming majority of the tour.
During his worst spells this gets him through matches he has no business winning.
During his best spells we get to see him go through a string of top eight players for the loss of only one set.
This probably won’t be the most daring or captivating take on this match you’ll read all week – doesn’t make it any less true: this was a straightforward question of form – and Fed’s was faaar better all week.
1) Fed was far and away the best player this week – his opening set against Nadal might even have been his best this year. Special mention to Sod for playing the single most competitive set of tennis out of any of his pre-Rafa opponents.
2) Both Nadal and Federer are firm favourites for the Aussie Open.
No one benefits from any special momentum apart from a few small events in its lead up. As always, players with the firmest possible grasp on their form stand the best possible chance of harnessing it. Guess which two they are?
3) That Fed wound up rather than down towards the end of the season and found his most nefarious and lurid form at the WTF is due in large part to the input of the Cone, but is ultimately about Fed’s own coefficient of awesome.
4) “Fed's Back”…….*confused*….. I get that he struggled with converting the odd break point this year, but, really, when did he ever go away?
Unless you think he’s somehow culpable for losing at the Slams to three of the world’s best players having breakout days when no one could touch them. In which case you’re very silly indeed and I leave you to your…..silliness.
What this does underline (once again) is just how incredible that record of 23 consecutive semis is.
5) Lest we underestimate how badly Rafa wanted this one…
He’s a dab hand at disguising his emotions but he looked pretty welled-up when filmed walking along the corridor back to his locker room immediately after the final.
I can only assume he broke out the waterworks behind closed doors – we know this happened after losing to Fed at Wimbledon in 2007.
And if you still need proof you only need look at……
6) The hyperbolic way in which Rafa lost his very Spanish rag.
“Don’t get me angry…you won’t like me when I’m angry….”
I don’t get it……did Carlos Bernardes ask to kiss his sister?
Words are exchanged with Carlos
Sterner words were exchanged in English with the ATP
All 19 Spanish matador dolls find their way out of the pram.
Rafa sprouts limbs that wrap up the match in warp speed.
There’s something very elemental, spontaneous and disproportionate about these outbursts.
They don’t come round very often but you don’t want to risk being mowed down when they do.
It’s all completely over the top….and yet a small part of you is left wanting the T-Shirt to show your grandchildren.
7) Muzz played the better semi-final….Rafa won because he has a higher coefficient of awesome.
I’m still broken up about this one :-(
Match of the year? Perhaps. The Fed/Djoko USO semi seemed to me to be a higher quality encounter. There was way too much errant nonsense from Rafa in that second set.
I’ll settle for it being the best match of Muzz’s career.
Muzz had made no secret of his desire to play Rafa but anyone that thought that translated as “PRIVATE MUZZ, REPORTING FOR SPANISH MINION DUTIES SAH-YESSAAH!” – and there were plenty – was to be sorely disappointed just six games in.
All of the usual stuff was in fine nick…the double hander was firing, the slicing especially pernicious, the defence totally kickass.
What was really surprising is the other heavy artillery he brought. Yes it seems Muzz does do heavy artillery.
In fact, I love it when he realises he has the best first serve in the top four – you heard that right. Everyone knows this, yet it continues to be treated like some confused truth that dare not speak its name.
And that forehand I’m always complaining about not being a ‘putaway shot’? Yeah forget that – I like to talk a lot.
He even bounced back from the heartbreak of losing that high quality first set in a tie break, when form, his temperament, and suspect stamina would suggest it was time to bow out. It certainly derailed Rafa who would go on to lose the 2nd set 6-3.
In another words he ticked all the right boxes and some other ones we didn’t even know about.
And yet he lost (mostly on account of Rafa combusting spontaneously at the match’s most pivotal moments).
Moment of silence, if you please, and a Celtic Lament.
Open Question: Does he even need a coach? I say he does alright without one. *shrugs*