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. 🙂