Nobody could’ve been happier last Thursday when world #100 Lukas Rosol upset Rafael Nadal on the lawns at SW-19 than Roger Federer. What a day that was, and what a spectacle, and we believe, that the outcome was very good for tennis. It doesn’t happen often, or hadn’t happened yet rather, that Rafa gets picked off in the early rounds of a major. So it was good to see for once. For a lot of reasons. You know we aren’t fans of Nadal’s brutish game, and that we can’t get passed the hack pusher style. So Rosol came in and swung freely, and the same themes came up for Nadal when the hand writing was on the wall. He doesn’t hit enough winners. He doesn’t get to the net enough. The second serve is girly.
Usually he still gets by. And the masses go nuts and say that it’s great tennis. Yuck. But last week, Nadal got out forehanded as well. Frankly, you will not survive being out-approached, out-served, and out-winnered on both wings. We think it’s a really good outcome for tennis, at tennis’s best showcase, that the courts played fast and to the advantage of the aggressive player, who probably will never have a day like that again as long as he lives. Lindsay Davenport of TTC, to her credit, kept saying that defense wasn’t going to be enough to get it done here and while it is usally the case, we are so happy that she was right.
To Nadal’s credit, he did not cry about injuries for once, and gave credit to the opponent in a class fashion. Also to his credit, he signed a lot of autographs on his way off the court. But this isn’t a Nadal love in. He pulled the same shoddy sportsmanship by not playing to the pace of the server, stepping out in poor form on one return, and averaging 26 seconds between serves throughout the 5 set match, which is a violation of the 20 second limit. We guess things even out though. Less than a month back, Nadal was staunchly complaining about the rain in Paris giving Djokovic a chance, but last week it was the long delay after Nadal won the fourth set to close the roof that broke Nadal’s best stretch of momentum, a huge opportunity for Rosol to calm his nerves. This time, Nadal came out first, dropped serve, and never recovered, just as Djokovic had done at RG in the final’s marred resumption.
Federer had to have been smiling, whatever the case may be. Federer is at such a disadvantage on surfaces that push spin, which sadly Wimbledon has become, especially in the Nadal matchup because as a lefty, Nadal seems to hide his own poor backhand so well while pushing everything up high to Roger’s backhand. What Federer needs is for players with high strike zones to take out Nadal, as Rosol did. Nadal’s spin was right in Rosol’s wheelhouse, as sometimes happens when Rafa faces taller men (recall the USO against Del Potro in 2009, Nadal’s worst loss ever at a major).
Djokovic is playing clean tennis. That guy takes to grass. I have been impressed. Not serving bombs, but really, coming forward in the point at all the right times, and closing out points at net. He looks like the champ to me, Nadal or no Nadal. But Federer had to have absolutely loved his chances against Djokovic in their first ever meeting on grass after 26 matches, a sad commentary on the diminished importance of grass on the game. The grass plays true, it’s the way the God’s intended for the sport to played, and at last, we have a big grass court summer with the London Olympics holding tennis at Wimbledon. The only criticism for us is that the men’s are not best of 5 sets. And Djokovic has owned the grass. And we expect him to win this tournament and the Olympic gold medal because grass suits the guy quickest to attack on grass, and that is clearly Djokovic, who finishes off many points at the net with a fair share of smashes as well.
But Federer will take his chances because, as tennis is about matchups, and Djokovic is a much better matchup for him because he doesn’t exploit Federer’s backhand the way the lefty Nadal does. Federer probably feels that there may be a few strategies that he can use against Djokovic on the grass to keep the points short and theoretically, in his favor. The thing is, against better competition in our minds, we have seen Djokovic play very assertive grass court tennis, whether closing at the net or with a passing shot. Clearly Nadal had become the better grass courter than Federer from 2008ish to now, and he is removed from the equation. In matches where Federer has had a fast track against Djokovic he has not done that well, especially not since Djokovic started winning majors.
I think Roger is going to get passed a lot here on Friday. This is an enormous opportunity for Roger, obviously, but this could very well go horribly wrong because Djokovic is going to take the play to Roger and Roger hasn’t played anyone near this good in quite a while on grass. Djokovic is the reigning champion and he is the best grass courter in the world right now, and that’s why we are hyper interested to see the line for their match because we are thinking ahead that Djokovic is going to be a steal. And we couldn’t personally visualize how Tommy Haas beats Djokovic the way he did Federer at Halle.
But they have to go ut and play the match. Maybe Roger does have a few things to show Djokovic on grass. Maybe Roger and Nadal both have been struggling for “lack of motivation”, as Nadal claimed he was afflicted with in the first 3 sets against Rosol. Federer very likely will play a whale of a match because he knows this is one of the better shots he’s gonna get at a major with him as a clear number 3. I think the matches this one will resemble will be like the French Open and US Open semis from last year, and not the French Open match from this year, where Roger lacked fortitude and resolve, frankly.
If it’s that kind of match, then Roger has a good chance at his 17th major singles title, and 7th Wimbledon crown, tying Pistol Pete. Either way, it’s probably one of the best chances he gets to do so, since the likelihood of him being in a tournament where both Nadal and Djokovic are eliminated are slim. We’ll be up with the semifinals odds as soon as they are published.