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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Wimbledon preview: Men's final

Wimbledon preview: Federer vs. Nadal is still on...

I'll be praying fervently that both overcome their semi-final opponents and deliver us with the final we've all been waiting for. If they do, then the incredible statistic is that Federer and Nadal will have played in BOTH the French Open and Wimbledon Finals for the last three years in a row! It was back in 2006 that they first met on the grass, a month after Federer had lost to Nadal in Paris, and we've seen the same two finalists for the next two years. It's a remarkable run of dominance on two completely different surfaces, and is testimony to the quality of the game's two best players (or the relative weakness of the players behind them, take your pick!)

Federer knew two weeks ago that he'd be facing a tricky semi-final, but he would have thought it would be Novak Djokovic. Instead, he gets Marat Safin, who dumped Djokovic out in three sets in Round 2. Safin is perhaps one of four players Federer would genuinely fear (the others are Djokovic, Nalbandian and of course, Nadal), because on his day, Safin has weapons to beat him. A few years ago, in the Australian Open Semi-final, Safin made Federer look ordinary at times. Friday will be a tall order, however, because Federer is playing brilliant tennis at the moment.

His movement is exceptional, and the grass seems to highlight just how beautifully he moves. On the clay, ironically, movement seems to be one of the problems, whereas on grass, it's his biggest strength. So I'll pick Federer to win that semi-final, probably in four sets, but only if Safin serves really well. Otherwise it will be three relatively easy sets.

The other semi sees Nadal take on either Schuettler or Clement, who have yet to finish their quarter final (it's one set all). That should present few problems, and I'd expect a straight sets victory, setting up the big final (at least, I'm hoping for it!).

Nadal's quarterfinal victory over Andy Murray was a huge relief because he disposed of one of the game's biggest "Freudian-fascination" players, which is a pet hate of mine in the game. I wrote about these players a few weeks ago, who stare up at their psychological crutch...I mean support group, after pretty much every single point, win or lose. A winning point is usually accompanied by a fist-pump and a "Come on" shout, with an apparently longing look at their mother, girlfriend and coach for some divine intervention or affirmation - "Well done, son! You're the best, you can do it, etc.". Jelena Jankovic asks her coach whether she should challenge line calls, such is the apparent inability to think for herself on the court. Murray took the "Freudian tennis concept" to new levels when he beat Richard Gasquet in the previous round, after coming back from 2 sets down.

I've not seen that level of "dependency" in professional sports before. Little surprise then that Nadal, once he got on top, finished Murray off easily - there is no "family showboating" to be done when you're running back and forth chasing tennis balls for two hours. Of course, the British press believed they'd found the new world number 1. The morning after his win against Gasquet, the papers called him "Miracle Man". They should have run a picture of Gasquet and called him "Meltdown Man", because he blew the match more than Murray won it.

Murray himself spoke of his ambition to win Wimbledon THIS YEAR - bear in mind that he'd never even reached a quarter final and you see no lack of confidence there. That's not a bad thing of course, but he's so far behind the top 3 (and especially the top 2) that if his eyes are the title, he's looking the wrong way. So I was particularly pleased with Nadal's win last night.

As for the final, that's anyone's guess. I'd say Federer is still the favourite, only because it's grass and he's looking unchallenged. So too is Nadal, however, and if they perform at their best, it should be a great final. Perhaps the winner will be the player who performs closest to their true ability, thanks to the pressure of the match, and the expectation on both. Federer of course has a 6-0 hiding in Paris he'd no doubt like to forget, which might affect him. Nadal has the expectation and desire that might choke his own shot-making ability. Time will tell. I'm not calling the winner on this one (but let's just hope they do make the final!)



Andrew said...

Murray wasn't seeking moral support, he was looking for covert coaching signals. Pretty much every player has a coach/friend/family member in the stands who gives coded signs of advice, even Nadal. Some are just more subtle about it.

Anonymous said...

I'll be watching the final. I think it will be Federer once again.

MitchBlue said...

As Nick Bolleteiri said, the mens final will not come down to the sonic federer serve , or the rafa high forehand finish, but more the two contrasting backhands, the swiss classic one handed
backhand, versus the futuristic right hand of nadal ripping the double handed backhand two inches inside the baseline kicking higher up on the federer defense, eventually cracking the closing points leading to a spanish wimbledon title for the first time in 40 years.