Time for another clash between the two titans of TENNIS! “Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal” on the scoreboard says it all. FEDAL spectators are characteristically similar to tennis balls; bouncing back to gear up for yet another riveting face-off between these two champions, pretending to have healed blows carried from recent lackluster encounters. 5-time Cincinnati champion, Roger Federer, has too many conquering moments of this tournament in his bag to see himself on the wrong end of the result. Standing on the other end of the court is Rafael Nadal, the man who remains to be beaten on hard courts this season. All makes up for a mouth-watering contest.
On court previews…
Federer met his old friend and rival, Tommy Haas. Few, including me, had picked the result in favor of the German, considering the rust Federer was carrying and the recent dynamic that Haas has managed to catch Federer at the wrong time for a push. First set and a part of the second couldn’t disprove my anticipation. Thankfully, I was proven wrong in the end. As Federer rightly quoted, he hung in there for the better to greet him. And it did, when Tommy Haas found unimaginable reasons to lose a strong hold in the seventh game of the second set. Federer scraped through the back end of the set to level the match before nearing his normal self in the third. By his own admission, Federer needs more time on the court. An uncharacteristic lapse in reading patterns and strategies, which I see as one of the reasons for his first set loss, is a loud alarm for quick revisions. With time and a trace of fortune, his backhand apparently found some zip as he emerged into a better player at the end of the match and. But does it fill him with enough confidence and necessary surge to beat his greatest, certainly not the oldest, foe in Rafael Nadal?
Later in the day, spectators had more than one reason to cling on to Nadal’s highly anticipated meeting with Grigor Dimitrov. It was an on-court preview of what was expected to follow the next day. Sparkling winners are accompanied by equally crushing errors. Proportions and percentages turn out to be the deciding factors. Nadal was again reminded of this inevitability as the match culminated with 32 unforced errors in his half. Dimitrov, aka Baby FED, retained his habit of costing Nadal a set. Nadal’s meek second serve winning percentage of 14%, in the second set, vindicated the solidity that Dimitrov has managed to bring to his backhand. I wondered if Roger could add that solidity to his backhand. Because when he does, given his low & skidding slice, he certainly has more than 2 weapons in his arsenal to dominate Nadal.
Plays and Predictions…
Role reversal is definitely on the cards, considering their forms in the season. Nadal’s rhythm seems to have taken a slight tumble in his match against Dimitrov and would remain interesting to see if he can near immaculate timing on pulling the trigger. If I were in Federer’s camp, I wouldn’t mind Federer playing the “defender”, acknowledging the fact that Nadal’s amplified aggression is not his natural act.
Recipe for Nadal: Varied second serve, controlled aggression; though I wouldn’t be surprised if he resorts back to the old habits against Federer.
Recipe for Federer: Excellent first serve percentage, and solidity in his backhand with an occasional thought for “touch”.
Nadal’s tendency to revert to the baseline on crucial points might prompt few to assume the “ball” to be in Federer’s court. With Federer still rediscovering his feet on the tour, I’d go against the history books to pick Nadal as the winner in three sets.