Tennis Prose



Sampras Says Rafa Can Break Record

There’s a reason Rafael Nadal sports biceps pumped up to the point you might think there’s a pineapple protruding beneath his skin. Since snapping his 11-month title drought in Monte Carlo in April, Nadal has been doing some heavy lifting in raising title trophies in six of his last nine tournaments.

Pete Sampras has watched Nadal’s resurgence, which recently spiked again as the World No. 1 captured his first career US Open crown to complete the career Grand Slam.

Sampras says the nine-time Grand Slam champion is on pace to pick up the greatest Grand Slam record of them all. Sampras said today Nadal “could very well” break rival Roger Federer’s all-time mark of 16 major titles and become the Grand Slam king before he calls it quits.

“I think if he’s smart with his schedule and the fact he has so many at such a young age, I think he could very well do it,” Sampras said in a conference call to promote his February 28th BNP Paribas showdown vs. arch rival Andre Agassi at Madison Square Garden. John McEnroe will face Ivan Lendl in the under card with tickets on sale September 27th at 10 a.m. “He’s obviously got a lot more work ahead of him. The only question with Rafa is physically how much can his body handle the pounding of how hard he works for every point. The kid is relentless. It’s a huge goal. It’s a lot of majors. It’s a lot of work.”

The 14-time Grand Slam champion suggests if Nadal, who has add more variety to his game and is working to shorten points on faster surfaces, can withstand the physical pounding the record is within his reach.

Interestingly, Sampras, who admits he was driven to break Roy Emeron’s Grand Slam record, suggests Nadal does not need to surpass Federer to go down as one of the top three all-time greats.

Given the fact the 24-year-old Spaniard is five years Federer’s junior, owns a 14-7 career edge over the Swiss stylist in their head-to-head series, and in addition to the career Grand Slam has won the Olympic gold medal in singles and the Davis Cup championship, two feats Federer cannot match, Sampras suggests Nadal has already achieved tennis immortality regardless of the Grand Slam record.

“Quite honestly I don’t think he really needs to (break the Grand Slam record),” Sampras said. “He’s won all the majors, he’s won the Olympics and he’s dominated his main rival in Roger, and I don’t think his goal (is to win) 16, 17 or 18. I think his goal is to improve as a tennis player and if it happens great. He could do it. You look at what’s ahead — it’s a lot of work. He’s got to work so hard for every match that he plays. But he’s a beast.”

Federer is well aware Nadal, who is 6-0 in his last six Grand Slam finals, can lay claim to the mythical Greatest Of All Time crown if he continues to collect majors.

“Clearly has a chance because he’s young enough. He has already so many, let’s say, French Open titles to his name just alone at his age is an amazing accomplishment,” Federer said. “Plus he’s had some incredible clay court records that are going to be very hard to beat.”

Factor in Nadal’s 6-2 advantage over Federer in their major meetings and should Nadal reach double digits in Grand Slam titles at the very least you have to put him alongside Federer in the Great Debate, right?

Wrong, says Nadal, a World No. 1 who has the humility of a World No. 2 and says he dismisses head-to-head record as a criteria in determining the mythical GOAT.

“Head-to-head is not an element for me,” Nadal said after his semifinal sweep of Mikhail Youzhny at the Open. “Even a Grand Slam is important element, but not all on tennis because for me some things, more important things and more difficult things to do than win a Grand Slam.”

Nadal asserts that Federer’s record of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, a mark some view as the gold standard of tennis milestones, should carry weight as well as Masters Series titles.

“In my opinion, Roger won 16 Grand Slams already,” Nadal said. “But what he did 23 or 24 semifinals in a row, that’s something amazing. It is impossible to repeat, in my opinion. For me, what I did on clay the last six years in the previous tournaments, winning Monte-Carlo six, Barcelona five, Rome five and Hamburg one and Madrid another one. These previous places before Roland Garros much more difficult to win than Roland Garros because it’s three sets, it’s tournaments back-to-back and you play against the best players since the first round.”

In the past, Sampras has supported Federer as the GOAT, but said today he believes it’s impossible to accurately assess a single GOAT and prefers if each generation has its premier player rather than engaging in the Great Debate.

“Everyone wants to name the one guy each generation has their guy,” Sampras said. “In the ’60s it was Laver. You had Borg (in the 1970s), Ivan (Lendl) and John (McEnroe) during the ’80s and myself and Andre in the ’90s. It’s hard to answer because each decade has their guy and I think now we have Rafa who has done everything in the game, won all the majors, won the Olympics and has a winning record against Roger. There’s no clear best player of all time. Each decade has their guy. Put Borg and Don Budge up there too.”

Regardless of Nadal’s final Grand Slam total, Sampras says the muscular Mallorcan has already earned his place as one of the top three greatest players of all time.

“Rafa’s definitely up there,” Sampras said. “You gotta put him in the top three or four and it’s not over yet. He’s in the middle of his career.”

Is Federer at the end? When Sampras himself was Federer’s age he endured a two-year title drought before beating arch rival Agassi to win the 2002 US Open title in a fairy-tale farewell to tennis. Sampras, who recently had dinner with his good friend and former coach Paul Annacone, who now coaches Federer, said he believes Federer will win a few more majors if he stays motivated.

“He’s done everything in the game,” Sampras said of Federer. “You get to a point in your life and things slow down quite a bit. You’re not quite as fresh as you were at 22. He had two match points against Djokovic and he could have been in the final. I think Roger is up for the task.

“I think he he can add little bit here and there. Having dinner with Paul a few nights ago he talked about Roger trying to implement coming in and being more unpredictable. At the same time, he’s one of the top two or three players in the world playing from the back court. I am always a believer in coming in, but you do it out of strength, not weakness. It’s a fine line with Roger because he does everything so well so does he really need to chip and charge?”


  • Scoop Malinowski · September 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Just a year or so ago Pete was singing the praises of Roger but after the amazing success of Rafa this year, a lot has changed. Pistol Pete speaks the truth here. All this success by Nadal and the public accolades from the media and former champions should motivate Roger to raise his game and he can never be counted out. But it appears no man can stop this unstoppable freight train who appears destined to break the Federer 16 record.

  • Covenant · September 23, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Well, Pete is also aware that “Federer will win a few more majors if he stays motivated” . Just don’t count him out yet as you seem to by writing “the Federer 16 record”. Let us wait and see.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 23, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    I liked how Pete called Nadal “a beast.” That’s about as big a compliment as you can get in pro sports these days, street lingo wise.

  • Sakhi · September 24, 2010 at 12:07 am

    And clearly Fed and Annacone are going to do more than get him to come in! If one more person says that, we’ll have to just roll our eyes in despair. To quote Federer himself, he pointed out that just because he hired Annacone does not mean he’s going to start rushing the net. I think this is an exciting era for Fed fans. Unlike Pete, I think Fed enjoys the game too much to not add more variety to his game (imagine that) and that may or may not include more net-rushing. As tennis fans we are in for a treat with Nadal and Federer leading the troops.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 24, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Oh, stop the Fed rush the net decree. The guy is clearly not a net-rusher to a great degree. How many times did he serve and volley against Djoko? Or even chip and charge?

    Rafa is clearly going to break the record. What did he lose one set at the French this year? I give him five more French’s, two more Wimbledon’s and a combination of four more Aussie and US Opens, giving him an even 20. Lendl made a very good point once that if Mac had beaten him in the ’84 French, he probably would’ve played more Aussie’s to try to seize the career Slam and won 10-12 slams instead of 7.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm


    What are they asking for the tickets to Agassi-Sampras? How much are the seats? In your view, are most of these tics given away to tennis big-wigs or does the ardent tennis fan come out, and plop down $40 for a seat? Tickets are so much to a big event like the US Open, what do they charge for an exhibition like this.

    I also think, that hearing there are these slew of other Agassi-Sampras matches taking place all over the world before the Garden event, it diminishes the Garden match. What do you think?

    I heard in Agassi’s match with McEnroe in L.A. over the summer, that whoever won the first set was supposed to lose the second set and then they’d play the tie-breaker for real. But Mac was playing so bad in the second set that Agassi rolled him 6-2. Do you think that this swapping sets deal is pretty much axiomatic for exbos?

  • Covenant · September 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Clearly? You may consider that not many guys have won the French Open at age 29, besides Agassi and…who else? Insofar Agassi is a rare breed and therefore I seriously doubt Rafa’s gonna win 5 more. Concerning your last point: maybe Fed is gonna put some extra effort into it, now that Rafa seems to be steadily approaching his record of 16.

  • Richard Pagliaro · September 24, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Here is the link to pre-sale ticket info.
    The low-end tickets are $50, but this is the pre-sale link, general sale tickets on sale on Monday.
    Attendance was weak at the last all women’s event held at MSG. The promoter says ticket sales to this point (remember this is only pre-sale tickets) are on pace of Federer vs. Sampras. Scoop, Dan C. Weil and i were all at that one and attendance was very good. Can they match that attendance (if I remember right I think it was announced at 17,000 or a bit more?) in Ferbuary?
    I don’t know. Agassi and McEnroe are always big draws in New York and Sampras and Lendl were the two best players of their generations. Prior to the Federer-Sampras match at the Garden, John and Patrick McEnroe did an on-court presentation and brought Lendl out. Lendl got a huge ovation from the crowd. I remember that well so I think people will want to see McEnroe – Lendl too even though obviously it’s decades since their prime.
    Put it this way, you will think this is crazy but the McEnroe vs. Rafter senior final in delray in February was one of the most entertaining matches I’ve seen in person this year. No doubt.
    I was at Baghdatis’ win over Federer in Indian Wells and that was an electric atmosphere in the tie breaker and was at Roddick’s win over Nadal in Miami and that was also really exciting.
    What was the most exciting US Open match you saw? The end of Verdasco vs. Ferrer, even though Ferrer got sloppy at the very end, was a buzz. The end of Djokovic vs. Fed. I liked both of the Ryan Harrison matches. Wawrinka over Murray, Wawrinka played well down the stretch but Murray did not. Bryan brothers final was fun match.

  • Richard Pagliaro · September 24, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Also, I was always told that swapping sets at the bigger exos was pretty much mandatory. I am not sure if that is the case here only because I think there was a level of genuine antipathy between Sampras and Agassi. I think the Agassi allegations about Sampras being “A cheap skate…” (comments Patrick McEnroe revisits and perhaps reinforces in his book) and the comment Pete was “duller than my pet parrot…” I think that stuff (and remember the comments years back about Sampras) genuinely stung Sampras to the point where he does not want to lose to Agassi and obviously Agassi doesn’t want to lose either.
    After the whole Indian Wells fiasco a writer said to me that night “do you think Agassi, whose a brilliant PR master, might have just provoked this whole thing to sell the exos they’ll be doing…”
    AS for the comment about them playing exos prior to MSG, I look at it the opposite: you don’t premier the show on Broadway, you take it off Broadway first to work the kinks out and tune up the orchestra, I am glad they’re playing a few first so they don’t come into MSG, which can be a pretty intimidating place to play if you have not been playing in front of large crowds recently, unprepared.
    The Federer-Sampras match you could see Sampras was tight or just off for the first set. He couldn’t put a backhand into the court at the beginning. Fed carried him in that first set putting the passing shots right in his reach. But Sampras did pick it up considerably.
    I’m interested to see what sort of shape Lendl is in as well. I was always told that his back injury was a real injury – not an insurance situation as some speculated. So I hope he’s able to move around without pain, etc. but he is playing some senior events so he must be fit or training to start playing again. McEnroe is in good shape – he looks thinner now, almost too thin, than at times earlier in his career.
    I’m definitely going to see it. Will be interesting to see the Agassi-Sampras relationship once they get there. Sampras said yesterday “We’re fine…” says Agassi apologized, that they had a long talk etc. I don’t know. I think there will always be an edge between them any time they go on court. Let’s face it remember the year Connors played McEnroe in a senior match in Texas that was televised? Connors got so pissed he walked off mid match and McEnroe had to ask him back.
    Some of those rivalries will always have a bitter edge because you can’t erase the past even if you move past it people will raise it up again.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 24, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Lendl’s fitness coach and friend for 30 years was at a function pre US Open and he told me Lendl is fit enough to wear his old adidas shorts which if you remember, were quite tight. Lendl, he told me, also wants McEnroe to wear the throwback nikes that he wore back in the day, so they both wouldl wear throwback outfits. Both are fit enough and could do it, hope they do.

    It’s almost common knowledge that exhibitions split sets then play out the third. I have read this so many times it’s like hearing Rafa Nadal is from Mallorca Spain. Agassi might have been trying to hammer McEnroe in LA, Agassi has an espect of him that likes to aggravate and annoy great champions in public. I do remember McEnroe needling Agassi in a Newport doubles exhibition, so LA might have been payback. Did anyone ever see that Agassi/Laver vs. McEnroe/Emerson exo the year Graf was inducted to Hall of Fame?

  • vinko · September 24, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I hope they get into shape and don’t play hit and giggle tennis. That gets old awfully fast. I have not seen tennis at MSG but I know from basketball that if you are not near the court you may as well stay at home because you won’t see more than some remote figures running around doing something you can’t quite make out.

  • tom michael · September 25, 2010 at 12:50 am

    I believe that Nadal may not break the record. Even if he wins the grand slam of men’s tennis next year reaching a total of 13, he may reach a mental burn-out phase later that he may only win one or two more majors after that. He puts so much mental effort into winning, that is greater than his physical effort. He is healing physically well with the current treatment he is getting; however, mentally, he has to reach a point of loss of interest. He may come close to the record of 16, but not really break it. But as Pete Sampras said, Nadal already has done so much. How much more does he have to do, or want to do with his career?

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 25, 2010 at 12:55 am

    Good point Tom, even if Rafa stops tomorrow and decides to move on with his life to a different path, I think he is still the ultimate greatest player ever. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain the same passion and intensity and love of competing now that he really doesn’t have any special goals to chase after. He really doesn’t have that carrot in front of him, other than to continue to improve his game based on his love of the sport.

  • Covenant · September 25, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Luckily Rafa doesn’t think of himself that way – as the ultimate greatest player ever, non plus ultra, perfect. Rafa, as we know, needs the certainty that he can still improve because that’s mainly what fuels him. Do you honestly think Rafa is the highest evolution of this sport forever? Okay, I see – you wrote “ever” and I might even agree on that. Although I do think that Rafa seems more like an aberration of evolution, given the way he’s playing. It just doesn’t fit the ordinary human frame or chassis, does it?

  • Dan Markowitz · September 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Longevity is important in judging an athlete’s greatness. To call Rafa the greatest ever now I think is jumping the gun. He’s got nine slams. A lot of players could’ve had nine by 24. Johnny Mac comes to mind if he won 84 French, he was 25, but what’s a year–and 1980 Wimbledon and at least played the Australian. You don’t think on grass he would’ve carved up guys like Gerulaitis and Kriek who won the Aussie in those days. Johnny Mac could’ve had 10 or 11 or more slams by 25, but it didn’t work out.

    Nadal is a great player, great athlete, but as a tennis player, I think Borg, McEnroe, Sampras and maybe even Laver, were all more impressive. Each of these players moved with more grace than Nadal, hit the ball cleaner, and the latter three could volley so much better than Nadal.

    Nadal basically plays a game of bludgeoning the ball. If you like that style I can understand the power and the torque of it, but to see a player like Mac take his backhand early and then glide to the net and knife one of those no-knee-bend volleys that he hit on a dime, that is more beautiful tennis to me. A lot of Nadal’s game, his serve, his volleys are so studied, there’s little fluidity to them. There was something so stately and elegant to Borg and Sampras was like a big cat and McEnroe edgy genius of body and mind. To me, Nadal is more like a Mike Tyson, brutish, picking at his butt shorts, the seemingly-contrived sprints to the baseline to open the match and the fist pumps, all the mannerisms with the pushing back the hair and the lining up the water bottles. He always looks like the striving contender to me rather than the dominant champion.

  • tom michael · September 25, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Longevity! Rafa has a long career already. Understand he turned pro early, at the age of 16. He was in top 50 by age 17. He was number 2 by age 19, and stayed in the top 2 for 6 years straight. When I wrote that Nadal may retire in the next couple of years, it is because of what he achieved so early.

    I really do not believe that people understand how extraordinary Nadal is. He managed to be in the top 2 in the world all these years without a powerful serve. This is because he has the greatest forehand in the history of tennis. Most know that he hits with more average and peak topspin than just about anyone in tennis history. But he is able to win because he is crafty. He has to be in order to win without a powerful serve; his non-serving game is just that great. (Take away the serves of Laver, McEnroe and Sampras, and you take away grand slam victories they achieved). His speed, strength, and stamina are maybe the highest rated in tennis history. His court sense at present is very good, and is continually improving. His return of serve, and groundstrokes are so consistent. About his volleying ability, it is so underrated. His balance at the net (as well as the rest of the court) is ridiculously awesome. McEnroe considers Nadal one the best volleyers in the world. Coming from McEnroe, that is a big time compliment.

    If people compare Nadal to McEnroe, Sampras, Laver, and Federer, in terms of tennis esthetics, that is so shallow and unfair. Of course, Nadal body lines on the court when moving are not as attractive as the aforementioned. He has a different body type. That is not his fault.

    I will say this. Going back to his forehand, it is the prettiest stroke in the game. The varied follow-throughs and extreme action he gets on the ball make it so. Maybe the rest of his strokes are not as pretty. But they are so effective.

    Ask the likes of McEnroe, Sampras, and Laver, to hit back shots 10 feet wide of the doubles alleys, or 15 feet behind the baseline. Shots that would be winners against the average opponents would be returned by Federer and Nadal. Watch Federer return overheads back for winners. Watch Nadal running wide off the doubles alley, curl his forehand down the line in with ridiculous topspin.

    Even though McEnroe may have nifty half-volleys, he has the ugliest groundstrokes ever. They are just push shots. His volleys had to be great to compensate for his strokes. He did not deserve to win the French Open in 1984 with those bad strokes. His problem, despite years of therapy, is that he has not come to terms with that.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 25, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    You dismiss or don’t address the fact that Mac learned the game with wood rackets. You ever pick up the Dunlop Maxply racket he used? It was a club. I taught a lesson to a guy today who had the old Borg Donnay racket and the Connors’ T-2000, these are heavy rackets, that cannot be whipped through the air the way the modern racket can be. Besides, Mac’c backhand is sublime. The touch on the slice, the way he hits it on the rise. If Mac had such lousy groundstrokes, then how come he’s the best doubles player in the history of the game and his return of serve off both sides was great? How many doubles titles has Nadal won? Has he ever doubled at a Slam and won both the way Mac did easily.

  • tom michael · September 25, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Borg and Lendl learned to play with wood, and their groundstrokes were excellent. And McEnroe learned to play on clay. So what is his excuse for having lousy groundstrokes? None! Basically, a talent deficiency in a certain area that he never addressed. Doubles ability has to do more with volleying ability. So Mcenroe is going to be a great doubles player; basically, that is what he would be in this era. Nadal has about six titles in doubles. None at the grand slam level, but two at the Master’s Series level, which include Indian Wells 2010, and Monte Carlo 2008 (where he also won the singles). Nadal has talent and skills to play great doubles. But his strategy is his downfall, case in point, the I-formations he used with Djokovic in Canada.

    Actually, based on playing level, the best doubles players I have ever seen are Edberg and Federer.

  • vinko · September 25, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    The grand slam record is not a real record because until 1968 the pros were banned from entering the slams. The great players like Laver, Gonzalez, Kramer etc played briefly as amateurs and then turned pro and faced exile from the tennis establishment. It would be as if Babe Ruth were denied a chance to play in the world series.
    I don’t see JMac being the equal of Nadal because he was finished as a major force in tennis by the time he was 25. He still sold alot of tickets but he was routinely beaten by Lendl, Becker, and later Sampras and Agassi after he hit 25. JMac only had two years where he dominated the sport (1981 and 1984) and Rafa has already surpassed that.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 26, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Borg McEnroe and Sampras all moved better than Nadall and hit the ball cleaner? Volley better than Rafa? Not quite. They all had shortcomings on one surface that was too much for them to conquer. Nadal has conquered them all at the age of just 24. Nadal is the supreme ultimate champion of tennis history. Laver was the best of his time, which we know was a weaker era not nearly as deep. Nadal plays the game he has to play to be the best. If he wanted to be an artist he could do that too, as we saw with that beautiful graceful pirouette move at net. Nadal plays to win, he plays like “a beast” like Pete said. But he also has the grace and artistry when he wants to show it. Nadal is head and shoulders above and beyond any champ in the history of the sport. No diesrespect to Laver but it would be a physical mismatch. Laver would be eaten up, chewed up and spit out by Rafa. Wood racquets, Rafa can eat them for lunch!

  • Dan Markowitz · September 26, 2010 at 10:32 am

    McEnroe played more memorable matches than Nadal has. I think back to the Borg matches at Wimby and the Open, and the Connors matches and even the Lendl matches. I think of the Wilander and Becker Davis Cup matches. Besides the Federer Wimbledon final, what match of Rafa’s really stands out to you?

    McEnroe lost his dominance because he basically didn’t train and he partied a good deal and he married a woman who didn’t give a lick about tennis and being an athlete. What he did winning 70 or so singles and doubles titles will never be matched. What he did coming back in his 40’s to win tour event in doubles will never be matched. What he did this summer, playing Roddick to the last point of a WTT match, which was on the up and up in my observation from the first row, will never be matched. McEnroe was so much more than just volley. His return of serve from the ad court was a thing of beauty, the touch, the angle, the variety. If you’re looking for a brute force, top-spin baseline, stall for a minute between each point, sit down fake a knee injury down 2-1 to Phillip Petzschner at Wimbledon and milk a time-out charlatan, then Nadal’s your man. If you’re looking for an artist, who was genius/crazy and brought that fascinating/but infuriating quality to every match he played, and still does (Rafter-McEnroe was the best match of the year, viewer-wise) then JMac is your man.

  • tom michael · September 26, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    What matches of Nadal stand out? Besides the 2007 and 2008 Wimbledon finals, the Australian Open 2009 semifinal against Verdasco and final against Federer (both in 5 sets), the Hamburg 2008 semifinal against Djokovic to retain the number 2 ranking and final against Federer (both in three sets), the French Open 2005 semifinal against Federer, 2006 and 2007 French Open finals against Federer, Miami final 2005 against Federer (five sets), 2005 Australian Open round of 16 against Hewitt (five sets), the Dubai final of 2006 against Federer (3 sets), 2008 Olympic semifinal against Djokovic, 2009 Madrid semifinal against Djokovic (three sets), 2008 Queens Club final against Djokovic (two tight sets), 2010 Wimbledon semifinal against Murray (straight sets), 2008 US Open semifinal against Murray (four sets), 2009 Roland Garros round of 16 against Soderling (4 tight sets), and even 2010 Wimbledon third round against Petzschner, all stand out.

    What is the world coming to? There are tennis fans now calling Nadal a dirty player (all because of the Petzschner match at Wimbledon–which Nadal won fair and square), and McEnroe a clean one?

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 26, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Another memorable Nadal match was the Davis Cup SF live fifth rubber vs. Czech Republic on the road, indoor court. Nadal was chosen to play this match vs. Stepanek. Nadal was about 17, still a kid, but his focus and intensity were absolutely incredible. I have this match on DVD and will save it. Classic Nadal performance, goes in to hostile territory and just crushes the veteran Stepanek something like 75 76 64 to send Spain to the Davis Cup final. INcredible pressure situation on the boy from Mallorca but he handles it so impressively.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Whoever said McEnroe was a clean player!? Not me, he was anything but. I talked to Gene Mayer at the Open this year and he said Mac you had to train yourself when playing Mac to not lose your focus when he would inevitably have his tirade or two during a match. Mayer said once in the fifth set of a US OPen match, Mac took so long during his tirade that Mayer started practicing his serve.

    But Mayer said this wasn’t gamesmanship. Mac actually believed (deluded or not) that every ball he hit was good and every ball his opponent hit was out. Mayer said Mac was actually a very fair player, he just had this belief system that sent him over the top. ‘

    I don’t know if it’s because Mac was from New York, or he had a crazy dad to some extent, or he grew up in suburbia and actually didn’t go away to some academy, or he went to Stanford and was called “junior,” and got to the Wimby semis at 17 as a qualifier, the guy is just nuts. To this day, Gilad Bloom, told Scoop and me that he was following online a match between Bloom and Rios in Chile–as Bloom said, “Who goes on the internet to look up a senior tennis match?”–and then called Bloom up to congrat him on his win, he was the most competitive cuss I’ve ever seen. And he created drama with his body language, the way he spoke, argued with adults with clarity as a teen and a young man. He was the Ugly American, but every American boy, or most of us, who grew up in similar fashion to Mac, even though we couldn’t come close to his talent on the court or the gall of his arguments and tirades, wanted to be him. Why do you think his Tachini outfits and Nike shoes sold so much? Nadal, even though I don’t see his effect in Spain, doesn’t have that transcendent appeal. If he writes a book, it won’t be a happening.

    I know you’re discussing Mac and Nadal solely as tennis players, and that’s another matter, but as Mary Carillo said, the biggest compliment you could give Mac was to call him “an artist.” And an artist doesn’t like to repeat himself. That’s why I think tennis got tiring and boring for Mac by the time he was 25. Nobody could beat him, not the great Borg, or the uber-American Connors. He won the NCAA title as a freshman, I think the first to do this, without dropping a match all year long. He beat Vilas, Lendl and everyone else you can think of without having great groundies. He beat them with his artistry–truly, have you ever seen a more elegant or stylish serve in the history of the game? Compare it to Nadal’s come on!–his guile, his unorthodox play and his ferocity. As he said, I became No. 1 by playing ferociously and then when I became a husband and dad, I had to unlearn being ferocious because it didn’t work as a husband and father.

    The Mac serve, the volleys, the ballet footwork, think about how beautiful he is compared to Nadal going back on an overhead, his backhand, a shot of beauty, the touch, the precision. Best SI cover–“Mac the Knife.” he cut you up, he made you bleed, he didn’t bludgeon you with a blunt object the way Nadal seemingly does.

    Then Mac got tired and bored of beating everyone and started dating Hollywood actresses, snorting coke, playing the guitar, and even as great as Mac was/is, you can’t be No. 1 on that diet. My favorite athletes to this day are: Mac, Walt Frazier, Michael Jordan and Gale Sayers and O. J. Simpson because they weren’t only great athletes, they were artists in every sense of the word. Nadal is an artist as well. His forehand s a thing of beauty, but that’s the only part of his game I see as being extra-special in technique. Everything else is just blood, guts, drive and special athletic skills.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 27, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    That’s some good tennis prose there Dan! A guy at the court yesterday was saying if Llodra played back in the 80s he’d win slams. He has that kind of graceful artistic game but he just gets overwhelmed by the power and speed of today’s sluggers. Good point, no?Llodra is somewhat McEnronian without the tirades or antics.

  • Dobey · September 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Nadal is a player of sublime talents. His speed and whip like forehands are things just to marvel at. When Rafa played Fed at Wimbledon in 2008, Federer was hitting some brilliant shots into the corners and Rafa not only got them back but he hit winners to end the points. Granted, most of Rafa’s wins against Roger are on clay surfaces but you still have to marvel about anyone who can go 14-7 against a player of Federer’s talents. Is Rafa the best of all time? I think we will have to wait until Rafa and DelPotro have had a long series of matches. Pat McEnroe has pointed out that those brutal shots Rafa hits which bounce way up and make Roger and others hit a backhand from their shoulders can’t have the same effect on DelPotro. The guy is so big that those shots are right into his wheelhouse and he wallops the ball back. Two of the best performances on a tennis court that I have watched are DelPotro back to back against Rafa and Roger. Maybe Rafa’s gimpy knee caused him those problems with DelPotro. We have to wait until Rafa has 10 or so matches with DelPotro before we can make a real judgment. The one player who seems able to harness Rafa’s raw power and speed is Andy Murray. On the summer hard court events. Murray seems able to do an effective job of counterpunching against Rafa. In five setters, Andy is not as effective.

  • Dan Markowitz · September 27, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Thanks, Scoop. Here’s an input from our own, Rich Pagliaro, Tennis Channel star analyst, on the McEnroe game and appeal.

    I was/remain a huge Edberg fan and reflecting on TB’s doubles point, I just can’t say Edberg is a better doubles player than McEnroe. I mean, I agree with him: Edberg is slightly underrated as outstanding doubles player but I can’t agree that either edberg or Federer is a better doubles player than McEnroe.
    McEnroe/Stich, when Mac was well past prime, won Wimbledon.
    McEnroe and Bjorkman won San Jose when McEnroe was off the tour for years. The year MCEnroe/Graf played mixed at Wimbledon I remember they played Venus and I think it was Gimelstob and MCEnroe was slicing his serve so extremely on the ad side Venus wasn’t even making returns. He was hooking her completely off the court. He plays a different game, a game that looks funky and asymmetrical but he is a master of making you hit from awkward spots – places where you don’t want to be at paces you don’t want to be dealing with.
    Even for pros one of the toughest things in tennis is to generate pace off no pace. Especially now where the spin they play with requires so much racket-head speed. Meeting McEnroe now can be even mroe jarring because he can still play at angles, spins and paces that are unsettling.
    McEnroe plays the opponent and the court in a way which is totally unique. In boxing they call it ring generalship and in tennis they sometimes call it court craft. It’s his relationship with the ball – how many players today hide the ball like Luis Tiant in full stretch the way McEnroe hides the ball in shoulder turn on serve – how he changes speeds, he seldom hits the same shot at the same pace, the fact he uses the frontcourt as a finish point better than just about anyone I can recall because so few players have that feel to not only hit drop volleys but to angle them that way and the way he moves at angles.
    The funny thing about McEnroe is while his serve looks like a contortionist doing an elongated snake dance, he has amazing efficiency, economy of movement around the net. he’s a hyperactive person but a very still player. If you watch him play doubles he’s movement is razor sharp at net. There is no wasted movement, no extraneous swing. Everything is so compact, so precise, it’s beautiful seeing those minimalistic movements from a player with an operatically over-the-top personality. An unorthodox beauty but still dazzling in its way.
    I remember asking the Bryan brothers a week after that match how would McEnroe do if he played Wimbledon or the US Open and Bryan brothers said with the right partner (big serve, quick around the court) McEnroe would still, even at that age, probably be good enough to make Wimbledon quarters (with the right partner).

  • Sid Bachrach · September 29, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    McEnroe totally dominated men’s tennis from 1979 through 1984. He defeated Borg the first big match they against one another (WCT finals) and then pretty much had an edge over Bjorn. He also won most of his matches against Connors. Lendl had an edge over him but that was in part because McEnroe got pretty lazy after 1984. So you have to concede that despite his lack of power, McEnroe was astonishinly good. The guys on the tour just did not know how to play McEnroe. Had McEnroe not been as indifferent and lazy after 1984, he might have gone on to have a great rivalry with Lendl, Becker, Cash and Wilander. Instead, he is remembered for a series of losses to guys who were not in his league talentwise. I recall him losing at the US Open to Annacone, Woodforde, and other guys who were solid players but not equal to John McEnroe. Pete Sampras mentioned in his book that when he played guys like McEnroe and Wilander, he respected their craftiness and skill but felt that he could always overpower them. Good as they were, neither McEnroe or Wilander had any answer to Pete’s serve. Pete would win easy games on his serve and they would have to labor mightily on their own serve. Eventually Pete would get a game or two on their serve and then it’s over. The frustrating thing for artists like McEnroe and Wilander against Pete was that Pete’s service games were over so quickly that they were always forced to struggle just to stay even with Pete. So John’s game, which could dominate in the early 80s was behind the time when Pete came around. One harbinger of what was to come was the 1985 Wimbledon. John was expected to win. Instead big serving Kevin Curren just knocked the crap out of both Connors and McEnroe with his big serve. Guys like Connors and McEnroe, neither of whom was physically big like a Becker or Krajicek, could do nothing against the big serve.
    A match that would have been great to watch had they played in their glorious primes would be Agassi vs. McEnroe.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    McEnroe was like Gretzky, slight and slender of stature but oh so gloriously talented. Then when the big boys came, and Gretzky went through the same reality, they were passed by. It would have been interesting to see how Mac would have fared had he gone on a hardcore fitness routine, a la Lendl and Andy Murray, if Mac had put on 15-20 pounds of muscle and worked on sprinting, rather than just relying on his inherent talents. We’ll never know for sure but I think he would have had a longer reign of dominance.

  • tom michael · September 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    One of the biggest lies perpetuated in the media is this talk about McEnroe not training hard. One of his childhood friends, who gave my brother some lessons a few years back and still in periodic contact, said that Mac’s extremely competitive personality and intensity does not allow him to be idle. He trains more than people realize. He was and still is very fit. Remember he admitted to using some legal steroid around 1985 that is given to horses, to help his comeback. He still could not add mass, partly because he stoppped taking it out of fear of side effects, and because he just could not get stronger.

    And by 1985, he was too busy licking his wounds over the 1984 loss at the French Open. When Johnny Mac was smoking pot with his bud, and on a high, he still was thinking about his competition. He moaned, and I quote, “I bet Ivan is probably on his bike.” His friend told him, “Don’t let me stop you.” So Tatum O’Neill is really not responsible for Johnny Mac’s fall either.

    This talk about McEnroe’s talent is just old and lame. He was not athletically talented enough to catch with Lendl, after Lendl became Lendl.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 30, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Yeah it does seem inaccuarate that he didn’t train much. He sure was fit enough to play those five setters at Winbledon, NY and FO, and win many of them. This is the legend that they spread through the media, John would rather play doubles matches than practice or work on his fitness, blah blah. Mac clearly did not have the fitness regimens equal to Nadal or Muster, the pure love of the sport o play and practice so much (though he does seem to have it now). You have to wonder, if McEnroe did transform himself into a physical fitness beast, like a Nadal or Muster or Courier, he might have been able to hold off Lendl. Maybe not though. Maybe Lend just physically and psychologically conquered Mac completely after beating him in the FO final and a few times after, and Mac just rolled over. Kind of like how Borg rolled over and left the sport completely at age 25.

  • gaspard · October 3, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Nadal is not the greatest player ever. He’s one of the greats, but I put Federer, Laver, Sampras, Borg and Lendl before him at a minimum and in that order. Others can be debated.

    Despite the additions he has made to his game, I still find it one-dimensional. There is also a lot of clay court padding in his results (only 13 of his 42 titles have been won off clay). He is almost certainly the best claycourter to ever play the game, but not amongst the best exponents on grass or hardcourt, despite his titles on those surfaces.

    With Nadal, there’s always the sense that his mental strength in relation to others wins him his matches more than his tennis. His tennis is good, but it’s far from the best ball striking I have ever seen. What he has over most others is his defense and consistency, due to his athleticism and the margin he plays with. It’s an effective strategy which results in many of his opponents beating themselves, but it’s not the greatest tennis.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 4, 2010 at 1:11 am

    Welcome to Gaspard,
    Nadal plays the style that it takes to win on all surfaces. Tennis is deeper than ever now, the prize money has never been greater, tennis has never been tougher, but Nadal has found his way to master all surfaces, win the career slam at the age of 24 – a full five years earlier than Federer did it. I believe this shows his style is more intelligent and superior to Federer’s. It may not be as aesthetic as some would like, but it is phenomenally effective and successful. I think Nadal is influenced to play a defensive style due to the power of the players and their equipment, there’s no other better, smarter way to play in this current era. Defense is a critically important aspect of tennis and boxing and always will be. But the champion needs both defense and offense and Nadal unquestionably has major weapons in both departments.

  • gaspard · October 4, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for the welcome.

    Nadal’s style is definitely not superior to Federer’s. The only sense in which Nadal is superior to Federer is on clay. I’m sure if you asked current and former pros, most would agree. He’s winning the most at the moment, but if you compare Federer and Nadal’s performances across their whole careers, Federer is vastly superior, except for on clay.

    As I said, there’s a lot of clay padding in Nadal’s resumé, which is in line with his clay superiority. If you look at his efforts on other surfaces, he actually won the non-clay Slams at a later age than Federer, despite the fact Federer was considered a late bloomer, and also has fewer titles outside of clay at the same age. In any case, age will not be a factor when they are both retired if Federer has the bigger haul. The fact that Einstein was not a prodigy is inconsequential when comparing his intellectual superiority to scientists who bloomed earlier.

    Nadal’s game is effective, but very limited. It relies heavily on youth, extreme effort and the errors of his opponents. It’s not so much great tennis as great athleticism. It will be interesting to see how competitive he is when he is 29.

    I recall an article (which I have posted the link to below) after Nadal first became No.1, in which Toni Nadal identified the difference between being better in the present and having the best game. He explained that Federer’s game was too good for Nadal to emulate, but that Nadal could still remain competitive by making the most of his more limited game. Again, I think you will find that those who know this game well, put Federer’s game at its best on a much higher level than Nadal’s, regardless of the former’s clay-court heavy h2h deficit against the latter, not to mention his deficits against Murray and Simon. It’s not like deficits against inferior players is a new thing, just look at Sampras and Krajicek or Nadal and Davydenko.

    Here’s a short extract from the article:

    Is his coach encouraging Nadal to mimic Federer? “No, Federer is too good,” says Toni. “Rafael must play like himself but better, [less spin], quicker points.” But how can Federer be too good when Rafael is ranked No. 1? “There is a difference between who is better and who knows more,” says Toni. “Better now is Rafael, he is No. 1 in the ranking. But who has the best game? Federer.”,9171,1870373-2,00.html

  • tom michael · October 5, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I am responding late and even thought about not responding at all, but I have to write something. To imply that Nadal is winning on his athleticism, and less on tennis skill is just not fair. Federer won on athleticism and off opponent’s errors when he faced the likes of fat Nalbandian or Agassi. But no one wrote that he won this way. Nadal has underrated skill. Before this year’s US Open, he was winning without a powerful serve. It takes skill and athleticism to do this, especially against competition who have bigger and better serves than him. Take away Federer’s serve, and you take away most of the slams he won.

    Clay court tennis is about winning without first strike arsenal, i.e. the serve and return are nullified. Then groundstrokes with varied spins, , directions, and angles, fine movements with shifting of gears, drop-shots, and volleys, are the only way to go. Nadal does not just win the French Open with athleticism-running everything down, but with the aforementioned skills.

    This talk about clay padding on his resume is also not fair in comparing to Federer. Nadal beat Federer in the finals of Australia and Wimbledon, in addition to the finals of Roland Garros—all surfaces. He won the non-clay tournaments when they count and where they count.

    Besides, if Nadal wins next Australian Open, four slams in a row; all talk about diminishing Nadal goes out the window. He has already won 3 slams in a row on 3 different surfaces (no one has ever done this). If he wins a Rafa slam, what can be said?

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I don’t know my friend Gaspard, Nadal is 14-7 vs. Federer, he has conistently beaten him on all surfaces. To say that Nadal’s game is limited is like saying the prime 1986-88 Mike Tyson’s boxing skills were limited. He does what he has to do to win big tournaments. He is the best in the world by a wide margin (at the moment). Muhammad Ali might have more skills and experience and moves “and the better game” but Joe Frazier kicked his butt at MSG in 1971, and was the better man. Not to definitively compare Tyson to Frazier and Ali with Federer which is inaccurate. You mention Uncle Toni and he is a very very important factor in this. He is a brilliant mind and strategist who has played a big part in plotting the overtaking of Federer by Rafa. If Federer had an Uncle Toni figure at his side all these years, intelligently helping and guiding his career with the loving care that Uncle Toni has with Rafa, recent tennis history might have turned out differently.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Agree completely with you Tom. It seems people just can’t accept that Nadal might just be the smarter, superior tennis player – above and beyond the majesty of Roger Federer. His achievements and slam domination this year completely disprove that he is primarily a clay court style player. He is clearly an all court player, devastatingly dominant and effective on any surface.

  • tom michael · October 5, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    About Uncle Tony! I actually believe that he has learned on the job as a coach and caregiver. He took one kid in Spain to become the #2 national ranked junior. When he saw that Rafa’s talent and athleticism was superior to his previous protege, he believed he could do so much more with Rafa. However, he never had the experience of coaching a player on the ATP circuit, so he had to learn on the job. Fortunately with video resources such as youtube, his job with technical and tactical training is so much easier. From the standpoint of psychological training, he taught Rafa first and foremost to make no excuses. Always give the credit to the opponent for playing better and beating him. This is not just a reflection of great sportsmanship. It is also a way to emphasize learning from the loss and the opponent who beats you.

    Federer had great coaches that were of even greater renown than Uncle Tony: Peter Carter (who was top 200 in the world), Peter Lundgren (top 25), Severin Luthi (Davis Cup captain), Tony Roche, Jose Higueras, and Paul Annacone. Federer, if he had an Uncle Tony, would have fired him anyway.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 5, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Uncle Toni is undoubtedly a very wise, intelligent man. Very nice too, he is friendly with the media and polite, no hint of arrogance at all. I asked him for some Rios comments this US Open after Rafa’s win vs. Verdasco and he couldn’t have been nicer. Rafa is very lucky to have a person like Uncle Toni in his corner. You get the feeling they will be united til the last tournament of Rafa’s career, whenever that may be, and that’s quite a rarity in tennis.

  • gaspard · October 6, 2010 at 12:03 am


    Don’t get me wrong. Nadal is an excellent player and can play well on all surfaces. I’m simply saying that Federer is the superior player and I believe most expert opinion would agree. Federer is both a superior player on grass and hardcourt, as well as displaying a greater variety of abilities in general. It’s not theoretically impossible for Nadal to go on to own at least 9 hardcourt Slams and 6 Wimbledons to match Federer’s current and probably temporary number, but I think it’s highly unlikely given their relative attributes. Federer is simply better on these surfaces.

    Naturally, there is more to Nadal’s game than just athleticism, but I believe this is his biggest attribute over more tennis specific skills, in relation to his opponents. Nadal is a pro and the current No.1, so he obviously has a lot of tennis specific skill, just not on the same level as Federer. What really distinguishes Nadal from the other pros on tour are his athleticism and retrieving abilities. As we saw most recently with Guillermo García-López’s win against Nadal in Bangkok, plenty of pros can strike the ball as well or better than Nadal, hit as hard or harder, take the ball earlier, serve better, slice better, volley better etc, but what they cannot do is physically reach as many balls as him and get them back into play. Invariably, most of his opponents lose because they cannot consistently match his consistency playing with less margin, less topspin, less retrieving ability and usually more aggression. Like I said, it’s effective, but it’s not an awesome display of tennis from my perspective. Now, all players benefit from errors to some degree, but this is Nadal’s modus operandi. It’s a huge part of how he wins his points and matches. In contrast, Federer is much more aggressive in going after the point. Whether an opponent makes a lot of errors or not does not matter if Federer is playing his best because it’s on his racket in either case. Nadal in contrast depends on his opponents making errors on makeable shots. If they are not making enough errors, then he often finds himself in trouble regardless of how he is playing.

  • gaspard · October 6, 2010 at 12:47 am


    Much is made of the 14-7 h2h and while it is a nice talking point, few who know the game take it as seriously as the press seem to. Not Rafael Nadal, Toni Nadal, current pros or former pros. They recognise 10 of those 14 victories came on clay, where Nadal is vastly superior. They also recognise that the margins in Nadal’s victories outside of clay were extremely close. They could just as easily have gone Federer’s way. Nadal had to play the match of his life for those wins and not against Federer’s best to my mind, though not his worst either. They also recognise that ATP h2h tallies are a poor way to compare the relative abilities of players generally and especially in comparison to overall achievements against the same general field. There are simply too many variables which pollute this kind of comparison. There are so many anomalous h2hs, one would think experienced sports journalists understood this. Is Santoro really better than Safin because he is 7-2 up and with one of Safin’s wins coming from a Santoro retirement? Is Santoro on a par with Sampras because he matched him for the most part in the h2h? I understand that 14-7 is a nice sound bite that the press can latch on to, but how about some substance once in a while? Federer’s achievements and general level of play comparative to others, by far, outmatch anything that h2h can say.

    There are so many circumstantial and logical flaws with h2hs one wonders why this one is touted so much. The nature of tennis denies that looking at isolated h2hs can ever provide the clear answers some want to imply this one does. At the end of 2007 it was marginally in Nadal’s favour at 8-6, only for Federer’s form and momentum to plummet in 2008 while recovering from the knock-on effects of mono. He lost to Nadal and many others throughout 2008, during which Nadal was able to increase his tally to 12-6 and eventually to 14-7 thereafter, but does anyone really believe this reflects Federer’s quality in relation to Nadal? Does any unbiased observer really consider this to be a bigger factor than the disparity in their overall stats? I don’t think so. Winning 2 close finals in Wimbledon and Australia also does not mean Nadal is better on these surfaces, since we would have to apply a similar standard to all other players, which would only lead to more logical inconsistencies.

    H2h encounters don’t allow for an equal number of meetings on home and away turf. They don’t allow for an equal number of meetings during periods of strength and weakness. They ignore the relative h2hs against the rest of the field. They ignore achievements against the rest of the field. They ignore the comparative starts and finishes of both players when they are in the same draw. Not to labour the point, but as a currency for assessing relative ability, they are an extremely poor guide and merely a footnote in the big picture and history.

  • gaspard · October 6, 2010 at 1:17 am


    I forgot to mention that Nadal has always had a very effective serve on tour. He’s a lefty, which is always an advantage, and he puts a lot of curve on his ball, which causes a lot of problems for his opponents. It’s not as if he just bunts it in and relies entirely on his ground game. Like any of the other big serving pros, his serve is very important in enabling him to start points on his serve with the advantage. He’s not starting off on a 50-50 footing and never has.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 6, 2010 at 3:21 am

    This debate is as well battled as a Federer vs Nadal five set match! Back and forth we go! Hopefully, time will prove who the convincingly superior player is between the two. If not, the debate will rage on forever like an Isner-Mahut : 0

  • gaspard · October 6, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Yes, when the dust settles after both players have retired, there will be more perspective and less hyperbole, as well as more data. Nevertheless, as it stands now, I don’t see how anyone can convincingly argue Nadal is a better player than Federer on hardcourts and grass when he has not achieved 1/5 of what Federer has on these surfaces combined.

  • tom michael · October 6, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I don’t see how anyone can convincingly argue Nadal is a better player than Federer on hardcourts and grass when he has not achieved 1/5 of what Federer has on these surfaces combined.

    Nadal has won 4 grass/hardcourt slams combined. Federer 15. It seems like Nadal has won more than 1/5 of what Fed has won these surfaces combined. How about greater than 1/4. By next year’s Australian, 1/3. Yeah! Nadal is 5 years younger than Federer. So he is not going to have Federer’s achievements on these surfaces yet. Nadal beating Federer in the finals of Wimbledon 2008 and Australian Open 2009 is enough evidence for me that he is better on hard and grass. When they meet in another final on these surfaces, both 100% healthy, Nadal will destroy Federer. It will not even go five sets.

    “It’s not as if he just bunts it in and relies entirely on his ground game.” What have you been watching? Nadal only had a 90 mph serve back in 2005. His serve had less average speed than Henin the women’s champion, when both of them won Roland Garros in 2005. It went up to 105 mph in 2007 only. By 2008 his serve was 110 vs Fed’s 117. He bunted his serve in, and relied on his ground game from 2005-2008. His Australian Open win of 2009 was mostly based on his ground game. He won his first 8 slams without a powerful serve. This year’s US Open victory was one of the most efficient grand slam wins I have ever seen. I would like to see Federer try to beat this Nadal with a 135 mph serve on outdoor grass or hard.

    Federer can still beat Nadal indoor, though.
    The reason Garcia-Lopez won over Nadal in Bangkok is that Nadal’s flat forehand is not fully developed yet to dominate indoor matches. But if he has a great day, and everything is firing, he has a chance of winning the Master’s Cup this year, too.

  • gaspard · October 6, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I was not talking exclusively about the Slams when referring to Federer’s achievements on grass and hardcourt, but all tournaments and all of his achievements, including periods of domination, streaks, final appearances, performances etc. Sure Nadal beat Federer at Wimbledon and Australia, but then Berdych, Soderling, Del Potro and Djokovic have beaten Federer at the Majors too. It’s not like these players cannot beat Federer, despite his superiority. At this level, one would expect him to bite the dust sometimes, especially when serving as poorly as he did in the Australian and US Open 2009 finals. As for 2008, the entire year was a struggle in fitness.

    Ever since Nadal became a top 50 player and like most top 50 players, you’ll find he wins an average number of 1st serve points in the 70 percent range and an average number of 2nd serve points in the 50 percent range. This disparity is not because Nadal’s groundstrokes are worse after a 2nd serve but because, as good as these guys are at delivering one, getting a 1st serve in has a huge positive impact on your ability to win the point. Similarly, Federer is currently looking at an average 1st serve winning percentage in the 70s and an average 2nd serve winning percentage in the 50s. This is a very important aspect of why matches are won and lost, for Nadal and everyone else. If Nadal has a low 1st serve percentage, he reduces his chances of winning significantly. He cannot and has never just relied on his groundstrokes for any of his successes.

    Bottom line is, outside of clay, if both players serve well at around the same percentage, Federer is odds on to win. It’s only when Federer serves poorly, at a low or lower percentage, that Nadal has been able to remain competitive. That was the case in the Wimbledon 08 final and especially the case in the Australian 09 final, where Federer languished, for some reason, in the 30 percent range for 1st serves in, throughout most of the match. Despite this, he was still able to remain competitive and actually won more points, just not the key points.

    I should also remind you that Nadal was not some novice back in 2005. He was the No.2 player in the world with 11 titles that year, including victories on the hardcourt of the Masters Series event in Montreal and the indoor courts of Madrid. He won in Beijing and made the final in Miami, losing a close one to Federer. Some people speak as if Nadal is only just figuring out how to play the game, when he has actually been playing at the highest level for the past 6 years and had already acquired considerable hardcourt experience before even joining the tour. The fact that he was able to hit the ground running and achieve a lot at a young age is simply a reflection of his physical and mental maturity as a teenager. It’s not like early success of this kind has not been seen before. We saw it at Slam level with Wilander, Becker and Chang at 17, Borg at 18, Edberg and Sampras at 19, and now Nadal at 19 too. All these guys were ready young. They are not in the same camp as players who were still in the embryonic stage at the same age. They could already compete against the best.

  • Bryan · October 8, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I find it slightly insulting that the first paragraph almost seems to suggest, the basis of Nadal’s resurgence was getting his muscles back. Not taking into account the small pro-aggressive improvements he has obviously started making to his game. Yes, his game is based on athleticism, but not everything is about it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 8, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    That’s like a natural impulse, do sort of discredit the best. It’s not Nadal’s athleticicm that’s so impressive, it’s his unbelievable will and hunger to win every point, every game every match every tournament. I read one fan say Nadal’s like a bulked up gorilla on the court. It’s kind of true. His athleticism is not as aesthetic as some other players. It’s his brute force desire. He seems to want it more than anyone else. That’s what Lennox Lewis said it all comes down to: Who wants it the most.



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