NOTE: While in London and Sevilla, I will be working as a tournament correspondent for Tennis Grandstand. For my first article, fellow blogger Ahmed Ibrahim and I collectively wrote up our perspectives of last night's Nadal vs Federer match. The following article was originally published in tennisgrandstand.com and can be viewed here.
Expectations. It’s hard to not be caught up in the hype when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off on the tennis courts. Before meeting in the 2011 ATP World Tour Finals, the two had met on 25 previous occasions, including countless Grand Slam finals. Given their illustrious history, it’s easy to expect magic every time they take the court.
Well, the only magic being showcased during Tuesday night’s round robin match between the two tennis greats was on Federer’s side of the court. He barely erred during the hour-long match, blasting winners from all over the court, serving superbly and moving with lightning speed.
Rafa, on the other hand, barely knew what hit him. He looked a half step slow, only hit four winners (compared with 28 for Roger) and his groundstrokes fell too short, time and again.
Rafa fans were stunned into silence as he was broken once to lose the first set, and then was dealt the ultimate humiliation of a bagel in a quick second set.
What went wrong? Rafa has never beaten Roger on the indoor courts. He’s 0-4 against the 16-time grand slam champion in the ATP World Tour Finals, and has historically not performed well in the indoor season.
As much as we Rafa fans want to look for reasons why he lost so badly tonight, it didn’t seem to be about the surface. Fed played nearly immaculate tennis, and Rafa being a bit flat and slow, his short, high balls were just eaten alive by Federer.
Being in the stands watching your favorite lose so badly is not pleasant. There’s nowhere to hide and suddenly the fervent cheers for the other player seem louder and more disruptive. Unfortunately, tonight was one of those difficult nights for this Rafa fan, but all credit to Roger for his stunning play. He certainly looks on track to repeat his 2010 World Tour Finals win.
For the Federer fans in the O2 Arena, however, nothing prepared them for what they would be witnessing: Roger Federer playing at his very best. It was like being transported back to 2005 with the crisp, clean, early hitting of the ball and dominating play from the baseline.
Federer did not give Rafa an inch to maneuver as he played deep ball after deep ball to keep Rafa off-guard and make him move around the court before executing the perfect winning forehand/backhand into the open court.
Notching up 28 winners to Nadal’s paltry four is testament to how well Federer played tonight and the risks he took to outplay his opponent. A 6-3 6-0 scoreline surely gives Federer a huge boost of confidence against the rest of field. No one else is producing this high level of tennis in the indoor circuit.
The atmosphere inside the O2 Arena was electrifying throughout and for Federer fans the cheers grew louder and louder with every winning shot he produced. Why can’t Fed play like this day in and day out? There came a point when Fed fans must surely have asked the question when will Federer’s form suddenly switch off (as is often the case!)?
Witnessing this performance against one the game’s greatest ever players is almost a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Federer vs Nadal legacy will live on forever but for those of us fortunate to see a match live, we should be savoring the moments as they will become less and less frequent.
Ahmed, an avid Federer fan, is the author of the website Tennis Addict and his twitter is @TennisAddict_.