Nadal v Federer Part Two

The Nadal/Federer H2H

Where does one begin with this positively over-hyped, misunderstood trivia? Well, we begin, of course at 23-10.

Before we begin, one of the main reasons I want to address this “issue” is how unanimous “everyone” seems to be, Federer fan and non-Federer fan alike, on how Nadal just owns Federer.  You, who so willingly want to shout this from the tennis mountain top, what’s your endgame?  What’s your point?  I have a problem with all of the hype surrounding it.  It’s over-valued, exaggerated, and used to reach unreal conclusions about tennis that seem to overlook so much data and eye-test and history and common sense.  But who needs all of that these days; it’s all about bias and marketing hype.

The Nadal/Federer H2H rolls off nearly everyone’s tongue, like a second language, like a conversation from some far off fantasy land.  Let’s re-visit reality, folks.

For starters, 23-10 is pretty decisive.  When the two have played against each other on the tennis court, Nadal has won more often than not.  As I pointed-out in Part I, these kinds of one-sided match-ups can seem more like a mis-match. This happens all the time, like I said, even when the one coming out on-top seemingly every time is an inferior talent. That’s just the way it plays sometimes.  That’s why they play the game.

In Part I, I clarified how the quality of their games (the skills, style and class) determines Roger to be a far superior talent historically (which is where we’re going here).

Roger’s game, as I clarified in Part I, translates to all surfaces of tennis whereas Nadal’s is suited primarily for clay. Roger’s sustainability on the court is enough of a statement to end this part of the mystery.

Take away clay and Nadal is probably following his other uncle into professional futbol. Without that clay-inspired confidence, he’d have almost zero relevance in the sport of tennis.  Get that through your heads.  Nadal’s “mental fortitude” comes from his clay success.  Sure, he’s a great athlete and a brilliant fighter, but to have the success and the relative longevity he’s had, he’s needed clay.  As I said, the Nadal camp realized they owned Roland Garros and that was it, which is not nothing, I admit – it’s a fairly common surface on the tour, a surface of one of the four majors, etc.  But that’s all they had.  Indeed, they chipped away at the other surfaces, starting with grass, progressing to hard courts. Nadal has made a great career for himself.  But it is what it is.  He’s a glorified clay courter who has faired very well against Federer, primarily on clay.

It’s not necessarily when they faced each other, but when they did not.

Here’s a quick run down of when they faced-off:  2004-2005: Rafa 2-1 (In ’04 17 y/o Rafa beats #1 Fed in Miami 3R; Rog beats him in the Miami final in ’05. Rafa then beats Roger in ’05 FO SF).  2006: Rafa 4-2 (Rafa ends Rog’s 56 HC streak at Dubai, then beats Roger at Monte Carlo, Rome and FO, all finals.  Roger then wins Wimbledon and the SF of the Masters Cup). 2007: Roger 3-2 (Rafa wins at Monte Carlo and FO, but Roger ends Nadal’s 81 clay win streak in Hamburg – again, all finals.  Roger wins Wimbledon and the Masters Cup, as well). 2008: Rafa 4-0 (Again, three clay finals all going to Rafa and then he breaks through at Wimbledon). 2009: 1-1 (Nadal beats Roger in the Aussie Open final, his first HC major.  Roger beats him at the Madrid Masters, breaking another of Nadal’s clay streaks.  This sets-up Roger’s FO win against Soderling). 2010: 1-1 (Nadal wins Madrid and Roger wins the ATP tour finals). 2011: Rafa 3-1. 2012: 1-1. 2013: Rafa 4-0. 2014: Rafa 1-0.

Let’s see now: 23-10.  You already know what I’m going to say about the clay.  Rafa is 13-2 vs. Roger on clay.  In my opinion, that’s a pretty significant number that undermines the over-all H2H quite a bit. Rafa gets a lot of credit for the over-all H2H and his dominance of the clay. We’ll get to Roger’s surface dominance later, but what about the nature of the these players’ H2H?

Remember how Rafa burst onto the scene and won four straight FO?  He played Roger in three of those finals, ’06 – ’08 (they played in the ’05 SF). Rafa played him again in the 2011 final. In ’05 Roger was #1, ’06 they were #1 and #2, ’07 same, ’08 same.  In 2011, Nadal was #1 and Roger #3, but we all remember that bitter sweet SF in which Roger beat Novak in four sets. Why bitter sweet?  Because we knew Nadal had Roger’s number on clay, and we were excited to see the Serb challenge Nadal.

BUT the point here is that in terms of the H2H, Roger got himself to those Finals (and SF) to be feasted upon by the dominant clay courter (Roger’s major SF and F appearance numbers are staggeringly historical).  Rafa owned the clay, not Roger.  But Roger at least got to those finals.  This absolutely pads the H2H.  And think of the effect all of this has on Roger’s psyche vs. Rafa.

For shits and giggles, let’s look at some of the other majors that were being contested during that time. Remember, the French Open is not the only tennis grand slam tournament.  In fact it’s #3 or #4 in terms of tennis prestige.

During Rafa’s first French Open run, what was happening at Wimbledon? Roger won in ’03 – ’07. In ’05 Nadal was a 4th seed, but bowed out in the 2R.  In ’06 and ’07 Nadal was #2, made the final and Roger beat him though Nadal did overcome the Swiss in ’08.  Of course Roger has a 2-1 lead over Nadal on the grass.  Roger won again in ’09 where Nadal was the #1 seed, but he withdrew. In 2012, Roger’s last Wimbledon title, Nadal was #2 but lost in the 2R to Lukas Rosol. Insignificant numbers?

What was happening at the U.S. Open during this stretch?  Roger won in ’04 – ’08.  In 2005 Roger and Nadal were #1 and #2, Nadal out in the 3R.  In 2006 #1 and #2, Nadal out in the QF. In 2007 1 & 2, Nadal out in the 4R.  In 2008 Nadal actually #1, Roger #2, Nadal out in the SF.

In the Aussie Open, Roger’s ’07 and ’10 victories again have the two at #1 and #2, but Rafa fails to reach the finals.

Here’s my point, and the numbers bear this out: Sure Rafa has dominated Roger in majors, but Roger’s consistency put him in those FO finals to be beaten by the all-time clay court player. Roger was dominating the other three majors, essentially simultaneously, but Rafa was never around on those surfaces to build a more reliable, realistic H2H.  Rafa had to fail miserably on the other surfaces before finally breaking through in ’08 (grass), ’09 (AO – first HC), and ’10 (USO).

Simply giving Rafa all the credit in the world for beating Roger in those FO finals yet not factoring in the fact that Rafa was already sleeping in his own bed in Mallorca while Roger destroyed those other major finalists is ignorant.  You’re not a very astute tennis fan if you can’t put that together.  Oh (says the imposter tennis fan), if Rafa had made those finals he would have beaten Roger because he OWNS him.  Sure.

I can’t believe people overlook these numbers.  How many times was Rafa a #1 or #2 seed in a major OTHER than the French and he flamed out before facing the big boys?  Nine French Open titles.  Do the math.

I factored in only one withdraw above, I believe.  Rafa’s inconsistency can be stacked on-top of his inferiority on the other surfaces and, voila, you have yourself a whale of a case, Mr. Tennis Status Quo.  Roger’s consistency is remarkable (that has actually hurt him in this case – IF YOU PAY MUCH ATTENTION TO THESE H2Hs).  His insane ability to get through so many draws gets overshadowed by a player’s dominance on clay.

The Aussie 2009, granted, was a disaster for Roger.  For me, then, Roger’s greatness did take a dip.  I mentioned this in Part I.  This body language argument is for real; Roger seems to let-up when facing Nadal.  But the bigger picture yields a much more vulnerable Nadal.  And for me, Rafa’s inordinate amount of success on clay absolutely affects this H2H. This boosts his mental game, no doubt.

Think about those ’04 to ’07 years.  Roger was dominating the tour.  From ’04 to ’06 he won almost 70% of the tournaments he played (look that up).  Guys on tour were clamoring to beat the Swiss king.  Rafa’s work ethic can certainly be traced to his family, his background, etc., but I would add that the desire to beat Roger was probably volcanic.  As I said earlier, the 2007 Wimbledon final loss to Roger was apparently DEVASTATING for the Spaniard, according to Toni.  Rafa is obsessed, clinically.  I think that obsession to beat Roger was the real deal. To a point.

I didn’t even get to some other numbers of Roger’s that I wanted to share, to add to the perspective.

Rafa has beaten Roger on outdoor HC, as well.  He has had success against RF for sure.  But it’s just not that simple. The WTF is a very prestigious event and Roger has owned that surface, having his way with Rafa, too.

In short, I’m not buying whatever you are selling, team H2H.

Again, I’m not sure what the endgame is of these Rafa/Roger H2H advocates.  Are you saying Rafa is better than Roger? Leave me a comment, so I can make my closing argument on behalf of Roger.  Are you saying Rafa’s dominance doesn’t mean he’s better than Roger, but it punches holes in Fed’s GOAT claim?  The GOAT debate is futile, first of all.  But if anyone is making such a claim (one that’s being acknowledged by other sport greats) it is Roger (personally, I am big Pete guy, but Roger’s latest run at 34 is pretty persuasive).  I say we simply analyze and enjoy some hearty debate, but not lose the forest for the trees.

I’ll leave it there for now.  But let me know.  I’ve got a second serve ala Pistol Pete if you think this post hit the tape and bounced wide. 🙂

51 comments

  1. Dear Matt,

    This part two is interesting because, although using other words, you make the same points I did for years.

    First, let’s remind other readers to a few elementary things: tennis is an unfair sport. While two players can have the same level of skill and play in a similar form, winning about the same number of points, matches are very often decided by a few crucial points here and there. Rafa, there, always had a tremendous advantage: against Roger, he had a clear cut plan — not that he played especially wisely, Roger just fitted well in Rafa’s usual game, and he played a very safe game, using spin and height instead of speed and depth. Playing within himself, without risks, gave him a big advantage in key moments, and Rafa used it well. Just to mention that, on the other side, Roger played a high risk game with an old fashion racquet, made more for the previous decade.

    The faster the court, the less efficient was Rafa’s game, and now that we see how vulnerable his psyche is — everybody is vulnerable, but Rafa’s mental strength grew to mythical proportions before it was utterly destroyed lately — I believe that it is legitimate to assume that, while he didn’t always try to avoid Federer on fast courts, “ducking” dangerous opponents deliberately was also a part of his strategy (or Toni’s strategy, but it’s the same thing). It was clear in 2012 and 2013, when Rafa avoided mandatory tournaments, first citing injuries, then simply because he was bigger than the game and could do whatever he wanted, to “rebuild his confidence”. The ATP let it be his way, and I think it was very unfair, because “rebuild one’s confidence” by avoiding his opponents and choosing the time and the place is something the ATP fought against at the end of the eighties (a move that was well used by big corporations for their own sake), and when others can’t do the same, it looks to me like a kind of gamesmanship. It allowed also Rafa to peak for the slams, when it mattered most.

    The positives were great for Rafa. Playing against Roger on slow courts, with high rebound, he slowly built a growing mental advantage — he start feeling confident that he would eventually outlast Roger in every match (he “wrote” it in his book, btw). He started believing that he owns Roger.

    On his side, Federer didn’t grasp what was happening in its totality, and Rafa wasn’t the player that made him understand. In circa 2003 he realized that the courts and the conditions of play have changed, and that it was much safer to retreat a bit, to use his short slice/big FH combo to win matches. But he didn’t understand that bigger racquet, luxilon strings have improved defence to unseen levels, and that he needed more efficiency, and especially even more consistency in his attacks. He tried to adapt hiring Higueras, but he didn’t crossed his mind that he needed to evolve and improve. Annacone opened his eyes, but then, it was almost too late, and when Roger hurt his back in 2013, it well could have been the end of his career. But at the beginning of 2014, when he changed his racquet, and made the necessary adjustments, it was clear that he was back… or almost. He was already 32.

    Back to Rafa. Everybody noticed how effectively he used his “clay fortress” to assure a great year, his ranking, play with more calm and confidence the rest of the season, and to assert himself over his opponents. I just checked the stats from the “big four”: Rafa is 62% overall, but only 47% on hard. He played 98 matches on clay against the other three, and 48 matches outside clay. Less than an half. Of course, it skews the results more than a bit.

    He tried this strategy against Djokovic from the AO final 2012, and it worked. But Novak having a game that adapted well to clay, and spin, he slowly improved on clay, and since 2013, he started dominating Rafa on that surface too. Data from tennis abstract are clear: while in 2012 Rafa was the better player, from MC 2013, Novak’s DR against Rafa on clay was higher and higher. See here:

    http://www.tennisabstract.com/cgi-bin/player.cgi?p=NovakDjokovic&f=ACareerqqB1&q=RafaelNadal

    It’s clear that the results at RG were the product of circumstances in that period. It’s interesting to look at all the data from their clay rivalry. Novak slowly improved, to be utterly dominant. The clay “fortress” became another trap. In the war of attrition Rafa waged against other top players, he finally lost. And whatever other tennis writers may think, he won’t recover. He has nowhere to hide now.

    1. Great stuff, Mat4. What we see with our eyes through the years and feel with our instincts can be backed-up more or less with numbers. I don’t know if I’ve heard many people clarify what you and I have said here: he established his dominance on clay, maintained that steady diet of clay, and thus his confidence and mental edge over other players grew. He never ventured very far from that fortress. No question about it.

      People talk of the great winner/loser is Rafa, a lot of humility, etc. I just always saw gamesmanship. Which is fine, whatever it takes. That was one thing I loved about Stan’s AO win over Rafa in the finals. Magnus knows how to beat Rafa, it appears. Stan was the first to the court at the AO final and he took Rafa’s chair. That was the beginning. He bossed Rafa throughout that match. Sure Nadal came down with a bad back, but he was beaten. Stan overpowered him mentally and physically. As did Soderling (coached by Norman).

      I’m surprised the clay numbers are so out of whack. 13-2 v Roger on clay and 1-2 on grass. If you look at the big picture, Rafa is not that intimidating. But he does, at this point, have an edge over Roger. I saw Roger’s last win over Nadal in person, at Indian Wells. Roger ran circles around him. But then he’s lost the last 5. I don’t think the numbers mean much, however. You have to go back to the beginning.

      What about what’s happening now? Like you said, Nadal is done. Any sort of comeback would be highly suspicious. Even on clay.

      Novak’s emergence has been great for tennis on so many levels. He will carry the torch quite well.

  2. Very nicely done Matt. And even though I’m completely persuaded (and was persuaded even before reading this excellent article), I’d still like to see your second serve.

    😉

    1. Nice, Incondite. There are several similar perspectives floating around out there. I would more or less aggregate the data and add my own little sauce 😉 What persuaded you even before? I suspect your intelligence for the game? having watched a lot of tennis made this pretty clear already?

      1. Hey Matt, my tennis knowledge is that of a beginner, but I love the game for its beauty, athleticism, and its intellectual aspect.

        I think a lot of what you said in this article was in my mind before you posted, but you definitely added some facts I didn’t know about.

        I tend to think that Roger’s unmatched consistency is actually a strike against him in the H2H with Nadal, as Roger goes deeper in most tournaments on average than Nadal (probably deeper than anyone else ever has as well, as we note his streak of 10 GS finals followed by 8 GS finals, 23 consecutive semis, etc.), and is in general putting a little more out per tournament in the course of a season, and thus he is more worn down when he plays Nadal – than Nadal is when playing Roger.

        But more than anything else, Nadal’s tendency to take long absences from the game, to play only when he is ready, etc. have allowed me to think the H2H doesn’t matter very much.

        Tennis isn’t boxing, where you can avoid certain opponents, or certain styles. You have to play who is in front of you, and you don’t get to determine who the opponent will be. If you have a hole in your game it will become apparent to everyone.

        But Nadal, in fact, does play the game of tennis the way boxers (Mayweather may be a good example) manage their careers, taking extended absences and playing in the tournaments – and on the surfaces – that he chooses. I don’t want to get into all the reasons I think Nadal does that in this post, but just ask if you want to punch one of my perpetual motion buttons.

        For whaterver reasons, some perhaps valid, Nadal just wasn’t there to play Roger on non-clay surfaces consistently, and when the two play on clay, Nadal can attack Roger’s backhand until his shoulder is exhausted, so that by breaking down Roger’s backhand, he essentially deconstructs his serve and forehand as well. Again it’s like a boxer would fight. I can imagine Roger saying to himself, “this isn’t even tennis,” the first couple of times he played Nadal.

        People who think tennis is like boxing tend to favor Nadal because of the H2H. But I don’t buy into that for several reasons, most of which you clarified in this article!

        And I would like to see the two play again, and see if Roger’s new strategy and mental strength would make a difference. And I think we’ll get to find out fairly soon.

        Thanks again for a bunch of excellent articles!

      2. Incondite, I agree and say basically what you’re talking about in this latest post about the H2H. Nadal is pretty contrived, but at the same time he was able to snag 14 slams.

        If he comes back and makes another run, I’ll be surprised and not surprised. I don’t trust him, along the lines of what Mat4 is talking about. I have read recently that Nadal likes his “progress” and just needs to add “speed” to his game, to which he himself clarified is not running speed, but rather power. That sounds suspicious. I suspect he’ll make another run at RG for his tenth. That seems to be what the Nadal camp will be juicing for, I mean shooting for.

        We’ll see. Hopefully Djokovic, Roger and Stan will have something to say about that.

        The point here in this post and clarified by the comments is that the 23-10 is BS.

    2. Incondite,
      I don’t think the H2H will hurt Roger in the end because his pronounced longevity (major finals relevance) is too impressive along with all of his records. Nadal’s inability to match his records (at all) along with his steep decline (continued case of inconsistency) will undermine his legacy. He will be known as king of the clay and that’s about it. MHO.

      1. Well said Matt, and I agree completely. What did someone say a while back, that 1-9-2-2 is not a GOAT resume? 🙂

        As far as H2H is concerned, if I were allowed to paraphrase Churchill, I’d say that never in the history of sport has a lesser player ‘owned’ a greater player by avoiding him more often when the surface (excuse me, or the cycle time) didn’t suit him. Or when he simply wasn’t good enough to make it to the later rounds of a tournament. H2H = BS, as you said.

        Dwelling on Roger’s many records removes any question about relative merit, in my opinion. He has so many records, but many are also well-known so there’s no need to enumerate them here. But ten straight major finals, followed by one semi, and then eight more consecutive major finals, is five years of utter domination, and one that I think is among his most impressive achievements.

        When we balance that against Nadal’s consistent inability to defend any title on a non-clay surface… Well, Nadal does have some impressive records, and he’s been a great player, but I agree that there’s really no comparison between these two.

        There are other players, I think that belong in a GOAT discussion, for example Laver, Sampras, and maybe Borg, but not Nadal.

      2. “As far as H2H is concerned, if I were allowed to paraphrase Churchill, I’d say that never in the history of sport has a lesser player ‘owned’ a greater player by avoiding him more often when the surface (excuse me, or the cycle time) didn’t suit him. Or when he simply wasn’t good enough to make it to the later rounds of a tournament. H2H = BS, as you said.”

        That’s money right there, Incondite. I typically get too long-winded and I wish I’d clarified that point you made in that quote above. That he has been unable to dance consistently, yet he has these little private dance parties on the clay where he inspires a massive home court advantage is just absurd.

        Of course the H2H looks good, it’s on your terms, Rafa: when you play and where you play. Get the fuck out of here.

      3. Hey Matt,

        I just wanted to say that I find your antipathy toward Nadal almost as outstanding as your excellent articles. I hope you’ll keep both going for years to come!

  3. I think the idea of Nadal being better than Federer was probably first uttered by Martina Navratilova, at least that’s what a Spanish journalist seems to insinuate during a live interview on Spanish rado on thanksgiving day last year (in Spanish). That part of the interview went like this:
    Journalist: Do you agree with me that Roger Federer is the best of history ?
    Toni Nadal: Yes I believe so. The numbers tell it. Federer is the best player of history together with Rod Laver. Unfortunately for us.
    Journalist: I agree with you, and I also agree with Martina Navratilova who says that Rafael Nadal is the better of them two. Which brings me to my second question: How can the best tennis player of history lose 23 times and not win a slam against him since 2007 ?
    Toni Nadal : “I do not know. The truth is that Federer’s game is not doing bad at all to Rafael. Anyway, one is the best by winning titles. Federer has won 17 Grand Slam titles, Rafael has won 14. He has been number one, I think five years, Rafael has been three. So there is no argument, he is the best,” said Toni Nadal.
    http://www.cope.es/player/Toni-Nadal-en-El-Partido-de-las-12-Le-hice-creer-a-Rafa-que-yo-era-la-maxima-figura-del-Milan-y-que-habia-ganado-un-Tour-mas-que-Indurain&id=2014112801150001&activo=10
    Some people in the blogosphere wondered if Toni Nadal was being honest there in his reply.
    I think he was. Rafa has beaten Roger on clay and HC right away from the start of their rivalry, and on grass later on, and as a consequence didn’t fear playing Roger Federer. But the final goal is not beating Federer or any other player for that matter, but winning titles.

    1. Wilifried, thanks for stopping by. It’s so subjective. My point is the 23-10 is, in a way, bullshit. It’s too dependent upon a certain player’s success at one particular venue (this padded numbers AND developed a mental game that Rafa used to his advantage throughout the tour, later on especially). Roger was successful on all surfaces and, really, still is but his career is very much in the twilight. What has happened in the last 2-3 years, when Roger is in his 30s, has to be taken with a grain of salt.

      But in those early years, Nadal only peaks for FO yet Roger is making every major final year after year? Where’s Nadal? That’s lopsided, in Roger’s favor. That has to be considered. 23-10 is skewed.

  4. The myths about the Fedal rivalry are the product of a game of deception by the Rafa team, on one side, but also the consequence of Federer’s consistency. It’s the same with Novak.

    When Rafa is not at his best, they just can’t play against him, because he doesn’t make the finals, and often even the semis. Even when they play subpar, both Federer and Djokovic are most of the time in the last four. I could quote numbers here, but it’s easy to check on the ATP world tour records wiki.

    In 2010, at the USO, Roger tried to rebel against such misconceptions. When journalists made the point that he never played Rafa at the USO, he said (I quote by memory) that he was there, waiting, and that it was not his fault.

    Another thing wasn’t his fault… For years, Rafa, who by his own admission, didn’t like to play Novak, never had the Serb in his half at the slams, RG excepted. From the USO 2007 to the AO 2011, when Novak was ranked no3 and theoretically could face Rafa in the semi, Federer and Djokovic were always in the same half, 13 times in a row if a row if I remember well. He also avoided another dangerous player with the luck of the draw: JMDP. I have no numbers to back such an assertion because Juan was often injured, but they faced each other deceptively few times. In general, while Djokovic started playing Wawrinka in every GS after their encounter at the AO 2013, when Federer draws Seppi at least twice after the AO loss, Nadal has always somehow avoided big, powerful hitters on hard. His luck changed lately, though.

    Although I tried to remain firmly in the politically correct in my previous paragraphs, I venture now in an area where it’s hard to remain in the grey zone. There is a flagrant correlation between Rafa’s recent “confidence” and the size of his muscles (Fabio, I adore you!). While it was obvious that he deflated visually a bit and looked smaller since the inception of the blood passport in 2013 (and his results deteriorated rapidly), he lately looked bigger than ever and suddenly, before tournaments, started talking again about this famed “confidence”.

    Anyway, beside luck and confidence, a lot of things in relation with Rafa are gamesmanship, and reading his biography, I suddenly understood that he simply doesn’t know what’s wrong and what’s right on a tennis court. Let’s take and example: Rafa doesn’t realize that, by taking an unlimited amount of time between two serves, he throws the returner out of rhythm. He openly admits that he used to serve quickly, but unca Toni advised him to take his time, and his results improved.

    Another example was how he insisted on a two years based ranking system, counting on the fact that he probably would always have the points of two clay seasons piled up, and two slams in that span. Every thing that suits him is right, it seems. He even thought that asking for Carlos Bernardes not to umpire his matches was fine, and the reason he gave was that Bernardes put pressure on him by penalizing him for taking too much time between points.

    A bit of “confidence rage” at the end of the fifth set at RG 2013, three minutes between three serves at 4-4, love-40 in the third set of the USO final, and that’s how you become champion of the world.

    Hopefully, Rafa is such a nice guy.

  5. Mat4, yes, the Nadal camp to me is very strategic, very orchestrated. That’s why the AO 2014 was so brilliant – Stan undermined the plan which starts even with where Nadal sits on the court (in relation to his box). Big time gamesmanship.

    “When Rafa is not at his best, they just can’t play against him, because he doesn’t make the finals, and often even the semis. Even when they play subpar, both Federer and Djokovic are most of the time in the last four. I could quote numbers here, but it’s easy to check on the ATP world tour records wiki.” I actually did quote numbers where he’s been missing. I focused on the earlier years, but I think that was the key for Roger because basically Rafa avoided him and very carefully built that H2H. That camp does everything in its power to tilt the competition in their favor and I guess how do you blame them. But for me and I bet many others, it’s pretty transparent.

    The H2H is pretty hollow, yet I hear “knowledgable” tennis fans refer to it ad nauseam. That’s called an agenda or you’re not very smart. Either way, good luck with that.

    In what ways have you heard that Nadal can ensure that Djokovic or Del Potro is not in his half?

    1. Not to mention the agenda jn saying that Roger now is better and more solid than he’s ever been. That’s hilarious! His backhand is definitely more consistent, but he is nowhere near as explosive as he once was. And as Nadal’s body of work demonstrates, movement and footwork are almost half the battle in today’s game.

      Of course, someone looking to enhance Novak’s resume (like a padded brassiere full of lies) has to make that point because, by their reasoning, Novak’s achievements get devalued if he wins a bunch of major finals against a 34 year old. An extraordinary 34 year old, but a 34 year old nonetheless.

      1. I totally agree. If he’s continuing to reach F, maybe it’s a sign he’s just playing great and the rest of the field (Cilic, Nishikori, Nadal, Wawrinka, Tsonga, Ferrer, et al) is inconsistent or just not that good.

        Funny twists in logic.

      2. [(…) Novak’s achievements get devalued if he wins a bunch of major finals against a 34 year old]
        Don’t agree entirely with that part of your comment.
        Novak and Roger played 42 matches against each other, of which 19 (almost half of those 42 matches !) Roger was 30+ years old. So what ?
        Is Roger’s age more important to you than what he achieved like f.i. the 17 slam titles he won ?
        Defeating a 17th-slam-champion, be it at age 33-34, doesn’t devalue your performance at all, on the contrary.
        In my opinion it is always better winning against Roger than beating someone new or a 2-time slamholders like Murray and Wawrinka for instance..

      3. Hey Wilfried!

        I agree with you, but you misunderstand me. I’m not making that point at all. I was merely saying that a person driven by the agenda of enhancing Nole’s achievements is compelled to make the point that Roger is now playing the absolute best tennis of his career; we know this simply isn’t true. To me, all these major final wins don’t devalue Novak’s achievements one bit.

        However, every time someone makes the ‘weak era’ argument against Roger, I have no choice but to defeat them with their own logic.

      4. Wilifried,
        Novak’s performance is not devalued at all, imo, but I think what Utsav is pointing-out is the agenda in trying to argue that Fed now is better than a younger Fed. Even if Fed says so himself, that he’s playing better tennis now than ever, it’s preposterous.

        What’s the biggest flaw in Roger’s game right now, for instance? His ability to go 5. With out even comparing his games then and now (serve or BH, etc.), this endurance short-coming has EVERYTHING to do with age.

        As I have said, Novak should thank Roger. If Roger goes away in 2013 as it looked he might (and who would’ve blamed him, at 32, 17 majors,etc.), the top of the ATP would be weaker. By how much, who knows (maybe a statistician can clarify that for us ;). Roger has added tremendous class, imo, to these finals v. Novak. I argued it adds historic weight to Novak’s resume.

        But at the same time, Roger is 34 years old. Six years Novak’s senior. Can’t really get around that no matter what anyone says.

      5. That site has gone far too much to ridiculously biased places, Utsav. Neutral observers will be regarded as biased by that guy. It’s just pure stupidity to argue that Federer plays his best game at 34. Nobody in top tennis professionals peak at that age. His agenda is obvious: to make Novak’s achievement otherworldly, ridiculously bigger than it already is. I once said the site should be renamed “ultimatedjokovicblog” or the like, it really should now more than ever. The guy’s nuts, he’s in some sort of jihad against his previously faithful Fedfan readers and now by extension he’s in a mission talking down Federer’s achievements. I mean, from a marketing point of view, it takes lots of effort & time to build followers…but after you have them, you just go jihad against them? That’s utter insanity.

        I would think in a way, there is some truth to Fed’s statement “I’m playing my best tennis ever”…with the caveat that we must consider what is available for him to exploit/what his body allows. If this is the measure (tennis quality vs body capability ratio), then it’s quite probable that he’s playing his best tennis ever. But in absolute terms? No, damn no. It’s like previously you owned a 5 acre real estate, and you optimized 4 acres of them…and now you are only owning the same property but only 3 acres and optimizing all of it. It means you were richer before, although you’re more efficient in using your resources now. That’s I guess an analogy for the situation.

  6. Dear Matt,

    I saw the sample you gave, but I thought more synthetic could be given. But when I myself analysed the numbers, it’s difficult to add much. I’ll add here the stats from the Djokovic-Nadal and Federer-Djokovic rivalries.

    Against Federer and Djokovic, Nadal leads 46-31.

    He played against his biggest rivals 35 matches on clay, 45% of all matches. If we assume that IW, Miami, the AO are slow or medium paced hard, the number of matches played on slow courts are 50, that translate in 65% of all matches. Of his 46 victories, 27 were on clay; he won 34 matches on slow, high rebound surfaces, so 59% of his wins were on clay, and 70% on slow courts.

    Here I don’t take in account the fact that the USO was slowed down from 2011-2013 to the level of the AO, while IW is as slow as Roland Garros, while Miami is marginally faster.

    (There’s an analysis here http://www.tennisabstract.com/blog/2013/11/19/the-speed-of-every-2013-surface/)

    I checked for the numbers for the years when they were ranked 1 and 2, but here it’s difficult to make meaningful conclusions.

    About the luck of the draws. It’s a difficult question, and I had a lot of disputes against other posters about it. First, I didn’t say that Rafa decided where Djokovic would land. I rather believe that the organisers wanted a Fedal final, and did all they could to get it — e.g. draw Novak in Fed’s half, and Andy in Rafa’s, since Novak had good results against Rafa on hard, and Murray was a dangerous foe to Roger.

    I was first appealed by the fact that from the AO 2008 to the AO 2011, Federer and Djokovic were always in the same half at the AO, WB and USO. I looked at the draw at RG, and noticed that in France, where Roger is a half-god, Novak landed always in Rafa’s half in that span, 2009 excepted. Why not in 2009? That year, Rafa and Novak played finals in MC, Rome, and a classic SF in Madrid. And there was the 2008 beating in the final, so the French organisers decided to put Nadal and Djokovic in different halves.

    I also checked the draws for Rome and Monte Carlo. In Italy, Novak is hugely popular, and there he landed inevitably in Roger’s half, avoiding Rafa. It was the same thing in Monte Carlo, where the tournament director was Zeljko Franulovic, a close friend of Niki Pilic.

    I then went on YT to watch the draw ceremony of slams to see if there was a way to cheat. I advise you to do the same, and answer if you can see all the numbers drawn. The player drawing those numbers can’t see them either. There was a huge controversy and accusation of rigged draw for the World Cup, and here a similar process was used time and time again: the key numbers are shown for a very short moment to a distant public that can’t see them clearly. I’ll add that the computerized part of the draw is also suspect, since the code of the software is not open to the public.

    I found also this:

    http://www.playthegame.org/fileadmin/image/knowledgebank/Tennisdraws_Katarina_Pijetlovic.pdf

    And, at T-x, we made successful draw previsions since 2010, when it became all clear… This year I was challenged by another poster at lesasdutennis.com to predict the RG draw. Unfortunately the site is no longer online, but although I was heavily mocked beforehand, I got the qf with one error (Nishikori/Ferrer). I also made some comments about the draw of some French players, and suggested that Tsonga would land in Berdych quarter. The subject was immediately closed.

    Wilfried, who posted here (if it’s him), made also statistical analysis of draws (that’s his job, btw) and found irregularity beyond the standard deviation. You’re free to believe the numbers, or not. The main problem is the size of the sample, which isn’t big enough. At least, there are very reasonable doubts.

    I am an older man with a very high level of education, writing myself scientific papers (in the field of history of language, though), and while I don’t use myself statistical methods, I know them well enough. I just hope that you won’t be as unpleasant as some previous posters about that specific topic. I recently wrote a lot about the ELO system adapted to tennis — I myself made calculation for 2011 and published them — but since it didn’t fit in the narrative (Novak’s rating is much better than assumed), the same thing happened: BFIL (bad faith, ignorance and lies) against arguments. I can admit that I am/was wrong, but I’d like a friendly debate.

    1. Mat4, very interesting stuff you bring to the discussion. I would say this: we don’t need to much “synthetic” or deep numbers to know that the 23-10 is a half-truth. It’s deceptive. Nadal and Toni are deceptive, part of which makes them good.

      I have yet to dig into that sort of background investigative work that you’ve done with the tournament draws. Sounds like a can-of-worms. In the end, you have to beat who is in front of you. Roger has done that better than anyone and even my superficial analysis uncovers quite a scandal in terms of Nadal either dodging matches/players or just not being good or consistent enough to play at that level throughout the year. Roger had 3 years of 3 slams, Djokovic now has 2, Nadal had 1. Sounds about right.

      Please continue to bring that kind of insight to my blog. I really appreciate it. I will try to look more into what you’re talking about.

      Can’t wait for some top ten tennis!

    2. It’s me indeed, Mat4. Never saw another person posting with the same name on the blogs I read on a regular basis (mostly Tennis-x, heavy topspin and amortie et lob). Wilfried is a pretty rare first name anyways, even in Belgium although we had a Prime Minister here in Belgium called Wilfried Martens in the seventies/eigthies.
      By the way, I’m not a mathematician or statistician the way Jeff Saksman of ‘heavy topspin’ is, but an auditor,though with a pretty decent knowledge of statistical hyptohesis testing.
      My comment here was only meant to inform Matt about the origine of these rumors in reply to his question « Are you saying Rafa is better than Roger ? ».
      I don’t really share Navratilova’s view, although I can see the paradox of course.
      I consider the H2H as a very imperfect measure/criterium to make a judgement about who’s the better player of two players, or a sample of players.
      Djokovic for instance has a negative H2H with Marat Safin (0-2), being defeated by Safin twice at slam level in a pretty pretty straigthforward way (AO 2005: 6-0 6-2 6-1 ; Wimbledon 2008 : 6-4 7-6 6-2) and not having competed against him in other occasions.
      So the H2H seems to suggest that Safin has been the better player of them two.
      It is clear though that you can’t make such a general judgement – that Safin is a better player than Novak – and base it just on two match results.
      So your judgement is conditioned on the availibility of more pertinent data, and implies adding other criteria to the evaluation than only the H2H-criteria, which raises the question which one of these criteria is in the end more important.
      Number of major titles won, and weeks spend at number one seem to me the most pertinent criteria. Year-end number one however, to which Toni Nadal was referring during the interview, seems to me less important, but that’s just my personal view.
      But I think it will always remain to some extent a matter of personal opinion.
      Gotta go now. Will tune in later.

  7. Dear Matt,

    There wasn’t a lot of digging, in fact. Most of the things I wrote here are well known in the locker room, and a lot of people are not naive. I heard a few things, read some, and noticed a few more. For years now, there are too much money in sport, so it was easy to follow the flow of the money, and sometimes to ask the simple question: “cui bono” to find answers.

    As an example, here is a link for you: https://www.reddit.com/r/tennis/comments/2jw3qe/c_roelant_ama_60_itf_atp_player

    Just find the part about Nadal. And, while I could quote names but won’t do it for reasons that are quite understandable, his opinion is mainstream among players. You can write me to my mail (I’ll be happy to answer) to give you a few details.

    And it’s not only the draw, but the schedule is sometimes very fishy. Let’s look at this year schedule at Cincinnati. The top seed, Djokovic, played against Wawrinka in the heat of the day, instead of playing an evening match. Everybody knew that Novak was tired from his final/semi in doubles in Montreal, and that he has great difficulties to play in a combination of heat/humidity (just compare atmospheric conditions Cincy/Belgrade, especially the “subjective” feeling, easy to find). While Fed was fresh as a rose in the final, Novak was extenuated. That way, the organisers got two things: a record 7th win from Fed, and, next year, Novak will still be chasing the only MS1000 he hasn’t won. As simple as that.

    On the other side, Novak’s status has changed at the AO. It remain to be seen if it is a trend, or the luck of the draw.

    1. That Reddit link is pretty interesting. It’s too bad we can’t access more definitive evidence on whether or not players are using. I think the Armstrong (cycling in general) case and other cases where they “passed” tests when it seems pretty obvious (in some cases from actual admission) that these “clean” athletes were using makes this very difficult. The eye test, though, does help – if a player looks juiced and is injured a lot, or “missing” for other reasons, it looks very suspicious.

      But here’s my point in this post: He wasn’t there to play Fed to add more legitimacy to the H2H. Why wasn’t he there? Who cares. Either way (injured or he isn’t very good on another surface, in an unfavorable draw, he’s scared of being tested, etc.) this lack of consistency hurts him.

      23-10 is a half-truth. Period. The worst case scenario is Nadal is a bona fide cheat. Best case scenario, he is not nearly the all-around tennis great that guys like Pete, Roger and Novak are. When all is said and done, there’s the top three, most likely. Tough to say who is GOAT, but Nadal’s claim, which uses the H2H (and the 14 which is impressive sure) is a weak case. It’s not convincing. He’s not the class of those other three.

  8. The Rafa myth was build on marketing, deception and cheating.

    I definitely opened my eyes comparing the Djokovic-Nadal in Paris Bercy 2009 with the final of the USO 2010. Oscar Borras worked in 2009 on Rafa’s serve, and in Paris, Rafa was already serving at 200 kmh easily, but the match, played on a slow surface with higher rebound, was a tremendous beat down: Rafa helplessly watched Novak’s IO FH fly by him. One year later, on a faster surface, he easily ran down all those shots.

    2009 was a very special year for Rafa: although he felt fine in Madrid, playing his usual heavy clay schedule, when he lost to Soderling he suddenly felt pain in his knees and skipped Wimbledon. But that year, the French anti-doping agency did the controls at RG. The ITF/ATP practice is to take urine from the losers round after round, and from the winner only after the final. Rafa lost in the QF, and since then, the French anti-doping agency was forbidden to test players at RG. Strange, isn’t it?

    Rafa came back in the summer. He played well at Beijing, but lost in the semi to Cilic. Cilic played well, but the 6-1, 6-3 was a beat down, something he never repeated, and, in fact, he never won a set against Rafa again, losing quite handily at the AO 2011, one round before Rafa played “injured” (left leg or right leg?) against Ferrer… Then, in Paris, Novak utterly destroyed him, winning from 2-2 in the first set 19 points in a row. Rafa was 10 pounds lighter.

    But Fed’s form, after a successful AO, was abysmal in 2010, and Rafa won 3 slams. I guess it was the time it was decided by Nike and IMG that he could well be the next GOAT — he had 11 slams, Fed 16, and another great season, a few more wins at RG and he was certain to get past Roger. He bulked up again. The USO was slowed down. Djokovic and Federer continued to face each other in semis (they played 21 times in SF!), JMac suddenly said that Rafa was the best ever, Novak was influenced by Perez Barbadillo (Rafa and Novak had the same PR person) to say the same, etc. The public was slowly prepared for a take-over,

    Unfortunately, Novak decided things would go in a different direction, and beat Rafa 7 times in a row in one of Rafa’s most dominant season otherwise, the only season when he didn’t skip mandatory tournaments.

    1. Mat4, I love the commentary. Thanks. I remember having those thoughts about Rafa becoming kinda unstoppable (but the numbers don’t support said takeover. Only ONE AO, only 2 WB and USO). But anyway, I recall djokovic beginning to turn back the tide and that 2012 AO final being so symbolic. Huge win. Someone beating Rafa at his own game. Very pleased that Novak has consolidated that greatness.

      1. Thanks, Utsav. This is an excerpt from a longer article I think that’s circulating. The praise for Murray sounds scripted and odd. Glanced at their H2H. It’s only 15-6 that includes a 6-1 advantage on clay for the retiring Spaniard. From what I’m reading, some of his talk is of being done, and some sounds like he’s preparing everyone for a big last hurrah via whatever sort of “inspiration” he can get from the Nadal camp.

  9. A nice completion of your initial article Matt. “mat4” ‘s level of commenting is pretty high, too.

    For me a H2H can be easily be explained if you look deep enough. The Fedal H2H is pretty easy as you pointed out if you consider Νadal’s: a) surface dependence -take out the clay then it looks much more balanced-, b) natural style of play which is not convenient to Federer (there are claims that he was formed to be the anti-Federer but I keep my distance from those), c) inconsistency/long absences from the tour which leads to avoidance of some opponents -Djokovic included- when not at his very best (suspicious to some, but again I keep my distance from not proved claims).

    About point b) Federer stubbornness is partly to blame: the long-overdue racket change+his lack of will to play an different, maybe more net-aggressive and one-sided (attack the backhand), game against Nadal hurt him, I guess. Moreover, about the percentage of randomness in some GS draws, I’ve been almost sure of other influencing factors for some time, given the money involved… About point c) next year (2016) will be telling about Nadal’s chances in the top of the game (and maybe about the blood passport claims).

    All things considered, I suspect we shall see a Fedal match before this year ends (if not earlier, in WTF where it can be “ensured”): it’s all about marketing these days and the world craves for such a rematch.

    1. Thanks blackspy and Matt.

      Matt, I didn’t see your second answer to incondite, otherwise I wouldn’t worry so much not to offend posters here. I see that one can speak his mind freely, and the most important thing is to have arguments for the stated opinion.

      About Rafa’s future: I had a look at his stats at tennisabstract.com. They look good, his DR is excellent, just behind Novak’s and Roger’s. His % of points won per match too. But I believe that he was hit hard in his intimate self, and while he will continue to be dangerous, Novak has definitely won their war — because for me, it wasn’t a rivalry, a competition, but a war of wills. It’s all on Novak’s racquet from now on.

      Rafa would have to improve, but for this, he needs a new coach, and a good one. (I just got some news so I’ll have to finish this post later, with some comments about Toni Nadal. Sorry.)

      1. I’ll check, but I think I’ve responded to Incondite.

        I am going to look next, with not too much effort, at some of the massive upsets Nadal has been on the receiving end of. Just to cement this notion (I think most real tennis fans know) that he’s such a brand of inferior tennis beyond the dirt.

        He is almost an anti-Federer, another nod to Roger’s impact.

        I don’t think this was really clear enough in my post: Nadal, early in his career and more or less through out, has not played very consistent tennis, to such an extent that everything he’s done has a kind of asterisk. 2010 and 2013 are exceptions to the rule and, again, are surrounded by inconsistent, suspiciously inferior tennis.

        But I want to look at some of his real disasters. His 2015 is an example of this kind of disaster tennis, of such low quality, limited, one-dimensional tennis it’s beyond me how he got to 14 majors, although that Reddit link gives us all (among other rumors) some more clarification of how this came to pass.

        In the end, I want everyone on the same page (which is impossible): Any sort of legitimate comeback, return to SF/F form on any surface should be seen as pretty fraudulent. How does one get smashed off the court by guys in the top 200, yet come roaring back for some kind of championship quality run?

        Preposterous.

    1. Thanks, Mat4. I have read his blog – good stuff.

      His is a more statistical argument, but I say the same thing. The focus of my post is Nadal’s failure to reach matches where those H2Hs would have changed the narrative quite a bit. And the most telling point of all, one that SecondSerb makes, and I paraphrase: when Nadal has reached those finals, he’s in top form. Moreover (let me add to that), these occasions in which he does reach the finals in top form are quite rare compared to Fed and Djok. Fed and Djok get there ALL THE TIME, so not only will they be in less than top form, from time to time, but there is more mileage, more cumulative fatigue. They’re playing, perhaps, a very fresh Nadal, peaking once or twice in a two year period.

      The numbers are totally overvalued, exaggerated, i.e., bullshit. Anyone who says Nadal owns Federer (or anyone for that matter) is a clown.

      Thanks, again, Mat4. I have another post coming soon, but work is killing me right now! Cheers!

  10. Dear Matt,

    I just wanted to make those stats available.

    You wrote a good article, and suddenly, I found the numbers to back it up. But reading those stats, I believe more and more that Rafa’s “ducking” of opponents was systematic. Although I can’t always rely on my memory, in correlation with numbers, the truth becomes more and more obvious.

  11. He has some numbers, but we don’t even need those. From ’05 – ’08 Nadal was pretty much #2 in the world but really had ZERO impact on majors (or surfaces) other than FO (clay). We don’t need stats. Look at the draws. Nadal was in the lab (at home) while Federer played in ANOTHER FINAL. That’s the title of Federer’s biography: Another Final. Nadal ducked the competition. I made that case in my post.

    It’s tied to the reliance on clay argument, but it dramatically extends the argument. It points to inferiority, insecurity and drugs. Not good.

    By the way, the flaw with the SecSerb’s post is the assumption that people are saying Nadal is GOAT. They’re not. That’s an impossible case, especially as he’s so pathetic now, at 29. The main use of the H2H is to undermine Federer’s GOAT claim, not assert Nadal’s. Again, if you’re saying Nadal is GOAT, you’re an idiot. Sorry.

    All of this talk of GOAT is ridiculous. From the Nadal perspective, it’s laughable. From the Djokovic perspective, he has a lot of work to do. A lot. Denying that is foolish. Do I think he has a chance of catching Fed? He could, but think about what he has to do.

    And a point I’ve made a few times (a question I’ve asked): how much work has Djokovic already put in to reach 10?

    1. Yes, and he’s reached 10 at 28+. For Federer, 10 was almost a breeze, and done at dusted at 26. Not to mention, they were won in three-and-a-half years, while Nole won his first in 2008, at 20.

  12. “And a point I’ve made a few times (a question I’ve asked): how much work has Djokovic already put in to reach 10?”

    OK, my English is not so good so I am not sure that I understood well this sentence.

    As a Novak fan, I was OK with 7, more than happy with 8, and delighted with 10. How many can he win more? My educated guess is 2 to 3. More than that and his career would be quite exceptional, but I am sceptical. He missed his chances some years ago — USO 2013, FO 2013 were important matches he lost, then his whole 2012 season, and more important than that, the wandering between 2008 and 2011.

    But the career of a great player isn’t only defined by slams, but should be assessed as a whole, and Novak, anyway, had a great career. From now on, for every great win, the “luck” element has to be more important.

    1. I am only responding to all of the “Novak will win 16-18 majors” discussion. I think that’s a very lofty number. If he can, think of how much fun that will be to watch. I am all for it. But I just think that’s a little premature to talk like that. I am talking about all of the GOAT talk. You know what I’m talking about, Mat4.

      I like your position. What Novak has done/is doing is remarkable. 2016 should be very interesting.

      I agree he missed some big opportunities already. Losing to Nadal twice at USO final is almost as sinful as losing to Murray twice in finals. Not sure I can forgive him 😉

      And yes there are other parts of a career that define a player. I agree. Novak winning his 5th WTF has to loom quite large. Can’t wait for these late season HCs.

      Thanks again, Mat4.

    1. Nice to see you back, Utsav. Serena? You want to know what I think of her and in particular this story? I think I’ve made myself quite clear on her tennis. Injured all year?

      One thing I’ve wondered. She almost won the Cal GS, at 34, right? You’d suspect that she is in contention throughout next year, no? Maybe winning a couple of majors?

      I see a Nadal-like drop.

      1. Yeah, injured all year and almost wins a Calendar Grand Slam? Who is she kidding?

        Serena has turned the WTA into a farce. She drifts in and out of the game with no problems. No matter how many matches she plays before a major, she isn’t short of match practice. How are more questions not being asked?

  13. Dear Matt,

    I didn’t found the book itself, but there’s an interview with Michaal Mewshaw somewhere on the net. Here is a review of his book, “Short Circuit”

    http://library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/JSH/JSH1984/JSH1102/jsh1102y.pdf

    and the interview is here, found it:

    http://nochallengesremaining.podbean.com/e/episode-124-the-ugly-side-of-tennis-with-michael-mewshaw/

    I believe you will find it very interesting. Mewshaw wrote about tennis in the eighties, but a lot of things havent’ changed.

    1. mat4, is David your first name? I don’t mind calling you mat4. . .

      Thanks for the info regarding this book. Book sounds compelling. Will give the podcast a listen later.

      Do you think there is as much corruption now? More? With so much money at stake, I guess we’d be naive to not assume there is some shady practice out there on the tour. But there’s also more transparency, too, I would think/hope.

      The 80s were quite the heyday of men’s tennis. Maybe one of richest periods of talent (Lendl, Mac, Conners, Mats, Stefan, Boris, etc.).

      I hope to get another post done this weekend, follow-up to this last one, etc.

      Thanks again for the feedback, links, etc. Great discussion – food for thought.

What say you?