why Federer struggles so much against Nadal

2 02 2009

While watching the 2009 Australian Open final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, I think I figured out why Federer struggles so much against Nadal.  (I have to give some props to Darren Cahill and Brad Gilbert, who were discussing strategy and coaching, which led to this.)

There’s the obvious difficulties which I’ll mention first.  We know that Nadal’s left-handed forehand has lots of topspin, which kicks up high to Federer’s backhand so he can’t hit it with as much authority as he normally would.  And we know how great a player Nadal is, that he rarely gives away any points and he plays each point like it was championship point.  And of course Nadal is a great shotmaker, able to hit winners from just about any position.

Some people say Nadal is “in the head” of Federer, meaning he has a mental block or fear now.  I don’t think that’s true.  Federer was within a few points of winning this match (toward the end of the third set, with those 6 break points, and I think he would’ve won if he had went up 2 sets to 1).  Some people say Nadal is that much better, but I disagree with that.  Federer was within two points of winning 2008 Wimbledon and 2007 French Open.

I think the main problem is that Federer is stubborn about changing his gameplay strategy.  All throughout the match, the announcers were wondering why Federer wouldn’t attack Nadal’s second serve, especially considering we all knew it was going to his backhand.  Why did Federer usually just block it back, even when the second serve was sometimes just 80-something miles-per-hour?  That gave Nadal a chance to take control of the point, which of course is a very dangerous thing to do.  Federer also didn’t play aggressive enough at times, and Nadal tends to go on the offensive rather quickly, which puts him in control of the points.

I really think if Federer had attacked Nadal’s serves more, he would’ve won this match (and many others between them).  Sure, he would’ve hit a few more errors, but he would’ve won more points and gave Nadal a lot to think about during his service games.

Darren Cahill said he’s talked to some of Federer’s past coaches, and they’ve told him these things, but Federer is stubborn about changing his game.  I can see why, too — Federer can play his style of tennis and beat anyone in the world.  But because Nadal matches up so well against him, he can’t consistently beat him with his regular style.  Nadal is a one-of-a-kind player, and he’s the only one who causes Federer so much trouble.  Perhaps this latest painful loss will make Federer realize he needs to make some adjustments to his game plan against Nadal.  He will have to leave his comfort zone, but he’s actually already left it with all these losses.

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One response

5 02 2009
Ben

Maybe Federer will consider changing his gameplan at the French Open. Clay seems to be his least favorite surface, so maybe he will be willing to try something new. On hardcourts and grass Fed can point to a long line of titles to defend his playing style, but I think on clay he only has six (and not the big one at Roland Garros).

I’m rooting for Roger to recapture the #1 ranking.

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