Saturday, November 17, 2007

One-way traffic

Just saw Federer walloping Nadal in the Shanghai Masters semi-final. No Roddick in the final either, courtesy Ferrer. Now can Ferrer beat Federer? No, obviously.

But this one’s more about Federer and Nadal. It’s been quite fascinating down the years, and Nadal has obviously been a distant second everywhere except on clay, whereas Federer has gotten closer and closer to Nadal on clay and now looks like he can pull off something in a couple of years, if not in 20087 itself.

Today’s match, in fact, was quite an exhibition in that it proved exactly why Federer is so much better than Nadal.

- He has a much better serve, and despite not being the biggest server around, has tremendous placement; Nadal is a good server, not special
- Federer creates better angles from the backcourt; almost all his ground-strokes are directed towards the corners, unlike Nadal’s, which, because of the massive spin he puts on them, almost always curve away from the corners
- Federer has a winner up his sleeve from practically every conceivable situation, much like Viv Richards had a boundary hit from every delivery
- Federer never, I stress on this, never misses a sit-up ball – if it can be hit, he hits it and it is almost always intended to be a winner, which it usually is
- Continuing from the previous point, Nadal uses sit-up balls to set up his winner – it’s not always a straight winner, and against Federer that can’t be good
- Nadal’s got fantastic court coverage, but increasingly we will find him sagging towards the end of a long match, and at the end of a long season – that’s the problem with someone who relies heavily on court coverage; he will almost always be eager to play that one additional stroke and avoid killing off points
- Federer can hit flat, slice, top-spin, side-spin and everything else, and he can do it off the forecourt as well as the backcourt when he’s at the baseline and is competent enough at the net
- Nadal is grossly incompetent at the net and while in theory he can do everything but because he wins with his regular game, he’s loath to trying anything else

I prefer Nadal. He’s more human. Federer is the same as Lendl and Wilander and Sampras – a robot; he even smiles as if on cue, only at the end of the match, and has also been programmed to react to every win the same way: with that backward fall and the copious tears. But Nadal’s just not good enough. And though I can see I have this expert-ish tone going right through the post here, but let me conclude by saying that unless Nadal’s willing to experiment, he’ll always be second best, and will also start slipping against others soon. His game is just not good enough the way it is now, and unless he changes, he’ll be another Bruguera or Andrez Gomez or Michael Chang and not much more…

PS: What a stupid team Pakistan’s sent this time – it’s incapable of doing well!