Monday, 4 July 2011

Wimbledon: Not the best final, Not his best tennis…

Not, in my mind, a vintage final. Not even close.


But I’m not going to harp on about Rafa’s UFEs – there weren’t, in any case,  as many as it “felt”, perhaps because they all occurred at the most critical moments.

I’m not going to talk about his shoddy forehand, or how I thought this was the worst Slam performance I might have ever seen from him.

I’m not even going to bother pointing out that, as well as he played, I thought that Novak was beatable today, not quite at the heady heights he attained during his streak – a place he hasn’t been in since the beginning of the French Open.

To do so would be disingenuous.

It’s not that I don’t believe in any, or all of the above, or in the validity of pointing it out. It’s just that, in the grand scheme of things, it simply doesn’t matter.

And if you want to get picky about it, many of Rafa’s errors were elicited, if not entirely “forced”. Yes there is a difference.

What we know is this: Novak is now a troublesome squatter in Rafa’s head, and it’s up to Rafa to find a means of evicting him – this really shouldn’t be contentious given he’s admitted as much in his presser, which was as unflinching as it was Yoda-like:

"Today my game don't bother him a lot,” Nadal told reporters. "He's playing better than my level. And find solutions, that's what I have to try. When I was healthy, I only lost against him. Probably the mental part is little bit dangerous for me. To win these kind of matches, I have to play well these kind of points [that] can change the match. I didn't play well these moments. That's what happened in Indian Wells, that's what happened in Miami, and that's what happened here. I don't want to count in Madrid and Rome because he played much better than me. And to change to be little bit less nervous than these times, play more aggressive, and all the time be confident with myself. That's what I gonna try next time. If not, I gonna be here explaining the sixth [loss].”

The problem I have with much of the commentary surrounding Novak’s win is that it’s still being conducted through the prism of the most mindblowing moments of his streak – a place which, if we’re honest, he hasn’t been in since the beginning of the French Open.

There’s nothing deplorable or disingenuous in drawing attention to his record this season, nor in the effusive praise that’s sometimes giving rise to – this win, like many before it, is, in no small sense, a product of that streak, if only in a residual way. But it seems to me that doing that deflects attention from its real merit: that he simply didn’t need to be at that level.

The fact is, Novak was able to put Rafa through the mill performing at barely around 85% – that also happened to be high enough to produce what he called “the best grass court match of his career”.

In other words, he won Wimbledon without playing his best tennis. How many times have we serenaded Rafa and Fed for doing precisely that?

Unhealthy obsession with the streak obscures that very “Big Picture”.


In terms of trajectory, narrative and, dare I say it, “destiny” (an overused word I’ve grown to hate), however, it’s not only valid, but imperative to take note of the streak in its entirety; for only then do you come to a proper understanding of how the best player of the past 7 months came to win the biggest title of his career and position himself atop the rankings.

Even the nerves and issues with confidence Rafa alluded to in his presser are a direct function of what transpired in those 7 months – the seeds of his fear (and resulting UFEs) in the final were laid in those four losses he suffered to Novak earlier this year.

So you see,  it’s really quite irrelevant whether or not Novak played at the height of his powers in what must be considered the crowning victory of his season (and, one must think, his career) to date.


Marathon runners don’t sprint, leap or bound over the finishing line, they sometimes just casually shuffle across, secure in the knowledge of the work they’ve already put in to reach this point – and Novak did a heck of a lot more than that to make world #1.

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