Lukas Rosol

Nadal (R.) and Marc Lopez bite the doubles trophy at Indian Wells on Plexicushion.  We contend though, that Plexicushion and doubles has taken a bigger bite out of Rafa.

To what do you owe this infrequent ripple across the page?  We are so busy of late that we’ve neglected most all things, even tennis.  But those of you who know me know it has been seldom if ever that we pass on a chance on to pick up apart Rafael Nadal.  And more seldom probably is it to even get a legitimate opportunity.  Nadal has been great, frankly, in the last 3 years.  He’s won a Wimbledon and a US Open, he’s won 3 French Opens, and competed hard in 3 other major finals.  Nadal was not a good, but a great number 2 last year, and in all likelihood, was more of a 1A for the 8 or 9 months of the season.  But that was last year.

We’ll always find a way to criticize Nadal for being a pusher and playing that weak, safe defensive style, and while he played great through the French Open in 2012, for a pusher or anyone else, and was a virtual human backboard, he played way too much tennis.  Too many matches as a product of winning so much, but he also could have taken it easier at many points early to mid season, which includes pushing it in doubles as well.  We don’t think it too coincidental that Nadal and Marc Lopez played the doubles at Indian Wells on Plexicushion and won there, and that Nadal was basically out of the game 2 months or so later.  Nor we do find much coincidence in Federer beating Nadal in the semis at IW, or in losing to Murray in a walk over a few weeks later in the semis at Key Biscayne, where he also played doubles.

For Nadal in singles, the points are way too long, and there were too many of them.  I don’t know the actual numbers, but it certainly seems to me that Nadal plays a ridiculous number of deuces, and that he may be the King of Deuces as well as the King of Clay, but for the latter, who knows how much longer he’ll hold the crown?  Because his serve is not super strong in and of itself, he really has to fight hard in his service games.  The fighter that he is, he is trying to win all of his return games too and he is in most of them.  But the net cost we see now is the right patella.  Didn’t any reasonable tennis fan know that Nadal’s problems were going to come to a head?  This knee thing has been amply foreshadowed.  Let’s face it.  There have been very few losses in Nadal’s career where someone wasn’t questioning one knee or other.  That goes back to the style of play.

Too much of the wrong kind of tennis when it comes to health and longevity on clay and Plexicushion, our  “favorite” surfaces.  Plexicushion, the surface that is probably even slower than most clay nowadays, but has the same amount of general wear and tear factor as any hardcourt surface, including surfaces where you can actually hit a winner.  One of these Aussie Open finals has to have the need of the roof already, and we think even then Rod Laver will play horribly slow.  But that’s the bullshit behind Plexicushion that major corporations and entities like manufacturers and tournaments and associations want people to believe is way easier on the joints and at absorbing less heat.  Right.

We’re just of the notion that the tennis is better when people can hit more than the occasional winner.  Also, faster surfaces promotes better, more diverse tennis and tennis styles as well.  It seems that Nadal could return to the tour on Plexicushion, the surface that has done the damage to Nadal’s knees in recent years, if we are to take him at his word that he is returning at the Abu Dhabi 250-ATP event there the last week in December.  Nadal, who just last week refused to commit to the Australian Open and said that he had no idea when in 2013 he would return, because he wasn’t playing until the knee was “fully healed.”  So Nadal has changed his tune completely in the span of one week, and when pressed about his status he confessed to Spanish reporters that he has not done any on court work yet and has no plans to anytime soon.

Nadal is going to be evasive, sure.  If it were me or my player, I wouldn’t want people to know the exact  health status because that could be a competitive advantage.  But it seems to us that a guy who hasn’t picked up a racquet since Wimbledon and who is still not practicing regularly or on court is not making a good decision by coming back to play at Abu Dhabi, on a court just like the ones that exact the greatest toll on his knees.  We are now expected to believe that Nadal, who is probably only exercising in a swimming pool at this point, knows for a fact somehow that he will be playing in the UAE on December 26th or 27th?  It’s preposterous.  We  question both the flip flop in stance, as well as to pick Abu Dhabi, seemingly out of the blue.  Nadal is a guy who is best when he is playing a lot.  Last Monday, he dropped to world #4, as Olympic gold medalist and US Open champion Andy Murray moved up to #3.  But David Ferrer is a good 2000 rankings points behind him and is gimpy himself at the moment, so Nadal really does not have to worry much about rankings/seedings just yet.  What’s best for Nadal is a balanced schedule that includes him playing when he is healthy and resting when appropriate.  If Nadal is on the court soon, he should think about coming back this season.  The Spanish are in the mix for another Davis Cup and there is also the YEC, where Nadal has yet to win or even final.  Nadal’s rhythm and confidence comes from playing a lot of tennis.  We’d have trouble recalling any big event that Nadal has won off of an extended layoff, and really, we can’t see how Abu Dhabi and then Qatar has worked that well in recent years as Nadal’s warmups to Melbourne.  Disagree if you will, but what we do see with Nadal’s early schedule is a lot of Plexicushion pounding before he even sets foot on Aussie soil.

We feel that Nadal’s style is both physically and mentally exhausting, and missed months and majors are the cost.  Toni Nadal, professional sports most well known uncle, has intimated many times that he does not control Nadal’s schedule, that the player makes the schedule despite his best input.  Let’s take that at face value then.  Nadal has not won a non clay event since Toray, Japan in 2010.  He has not won on hards or grass in 2 full years.  Nadal, as good as he is when he is at his best, has reverted back to a clay court specialist, bottom line.  We think that Nadal is very weary mentally, and more or less afraid to roll out to the Paris Indoor and the YEC because he has no confidence on quicker hards or indoor surfaces, when in actuality, he should view them, if healthy, as having nothing to lose at.

Paris and London, two cities that get their fill of Rafa in June and July, do not offer the same large participation bonuses as do the Arab princes in Abu Dhabi and Doha.  So there is absolutely no motivation for him to come back until the U.A.E., though that stretch seems to get his knees off to a bad start every year.  So Nadal, again has chosen a bad schedule for the wrong reasons, whether he is chasing points, or meaningless doubles trophies (they are in fact actually significant though when taken in light of the additional toll to his knees), or money, which he probably has more than enough of at this point.

We hate to seem like we are counting people’s money.  That’s not what this is about.  Moreso, we see Federer and Djokovic playing extremely wise schedules, even missing their home tournaments in Basel and Serbia in the past, so that they are able to play important events such as the YEC.  And they are both YEC champions in part, because of it.  Nadal has never really rolled into the YEC healthy or on a high note, and that is in part due to short sighted scheduling, even more important to Nadal since he is a total pusher who has absolutely nothing when he’s flat, and has never been able to remain fresh through October and November.  Recall that Djokovic used to show up to the YEC as dead as a dead dog’s dick, but the Djoker has a smarter team that has made the necessary adjustments, and now we see him playing his brand, full of energy, in mid October and beyond.

While Nadal shows up at Halle where he partners up with Marcel Granollers, and ends up defaulting in the singles and doubles after a long three set doubles affair against Michal Mertinak and Victor Troicki.  The next week, he gets destroyed at Wimbledon by Rosol, who has not been heard from since, and four months later, the guy is not yet on any tennis court of any kind.

As much as we don’t like Nadal, his absence is bad for the game.

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Federer (above) serving to Xavier Malisse.  He’ll need to serve lights out to have a chance to de-throne Novak Djokovic.

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.

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