Rafael Federer: Basel 2015

I was prepared to write a post in the event that Nadal overcame Roger today in Basel, explaining how the Nadal win and the reaction (morons sautéing their low tennis IQ in H2H bullshit) completes a perfect microcosm of the these two players’ careers against each other.  The reaction would have been: Rafa owns Roger.  In effect, the stupidity proclaims Rafa is better than Roger.  The win in Basel would have been over-valued.  The rest of the year would have been overlooked. People who wear cheerleading uniforms and cast themselves as tennis fans/aficionados would be, essentially, giving Nadal the edge on 2015.  Rafa owns Roger in 2015.

Roger’s 2015 has been spectacular and the Spaniard, on the other hand, has been awful. He disappeared per usual … and reappeared!  Boo!

2015 is a perfect microcosm for these guys’ careers.  This would have been especially the case if Rafa had won today, but it even works in the actual case where, indeed, Roger prevailed.  Roger is consistent (like most top players).  He is always around, always putting his game on the line against the youth of the tour.  Rafa?  He disappears.  He plays like a top 100 talent, flailing about the court, scoffing and picking his butt.  And then he finds his form, every other year, or at only certain times of the year.  I have no idea why people don’t include this in their greatness calculus.


Today’s match was brilliant and, at the same time, pretty putrid from Roger (please see my response to Utsav in the comments where I qualify this harsh blanket statement).

The one thing you have to say about Rafa is his ability to read points, games, his opponent, etc., is world class.  The tennis is inferior.  But he can make things interesting.  One has to play the chess match against Rafa.  It’s less about tennis with Rafa and more about gamesmanship.

Roger does not play with an urgency that would make him so much more dominant.  If that makes sense.  You could see him at certain points in the match today where he had the momentum to break Nadal and put this match away, say up 1-0 in the second, having just broken Nadal to win the first and won his first service game in the second easily.  Rafa was

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - NOVEMBER 01: Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain pose prior the final match of the Swiss Indoors ATP 500 tennis tournament at St Jakobshalle on November 1, 2015 in Basel, Switzerland (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 587608347 ORIG FILE ID: 495232624

vulnerable early in that second set.  But he hung around and Roger made mistakes, pretty characteristic of uninspired, tight tennis that we’ve seen so often against Nadal.  Listening to Paul Annacone call the match was interesting.  A few times his professional demeanor shook a bit as he would react to a shot from Roger.  “Noooooo, Roger,” responding to Roger coming to net on a shot that was poorly planned, the former coach pointing-out that the Swiss should have approached two shots earlier. Tentative Roger is so not dominant.  Attacking Roger (especially with that BH working) is quite dominant.  I liked Roger mixing-in the SABR.  I liked Roger’s game today, but as he didn’t establish a break early in the second, and the tennis tightened, Roger’s flaws exploded onto the court, long, wide, and into the net.

At the same time, Nadal playing from 10 feet behind the baseline is just poor.  The clash of styles between these two is tennis inequality in a nutshell, of a higher class game against a working class approach.  The latter has a certain work ethic that polishes the metaphor perfectly.  Roger has a kind of complacency, seems indifferent, seems above the fray at times whereas the Spaniard is playing to the death, even if he’s down 0-5.

This was a close match.  The surface and venue favored Roger.  Nadal’s form is a complete mystery with his POS tennis throughout the year, yet suddenly he’s losing to Novak and Roger in finals. We’re almost surprised Nadal didn’t win these matches.  As ridiculous as that sounds.

I also like how there was discussion about Rafa coming to conquer Basel, Roger’s last stronghold (sarcasm).  What’s this bizarre crackhead tennis historian crap?

In 2009, Roger was beaten by Rafa in the infamous AO final. People sucking the H2H nipple love the taste of that milk.  I have already pointed-out that this 2009 is again an example of the irrational understanding of these two players’ careers. Nadal asserted his dominance.  Nadal is great, Roger is overcome, etc. Roger played in all four major finals that year. After that AO loss, Roger won the French and Wimbledon and lost an epic battle to D-Po at the USO. Amazing year for Roger. Overlooked.

As a matter of fact, on his way to Rolland Garros that year, Roger rolled into Madrid and beat Rafa in the final in straights. This is a month or so after the AO final, on the Spanish clay.  Again, Roger is doing okay.  Everyone calm down.  The image of Rafa invading all of Roger’s territory, claiming ownership, etc. is just another case of dumb-shit tennis commentary.

Congrats, Federer on a seventh Swiss indoor championship.

20 thoughts on “Rafael Federer: Basel 2015

  1. Trigg

    Dear Matt,

    This is the Rafa that we should have watched in the last decade. A excellent player. I have no doubts that he plays at his absolute top, but…


  2. Utsav

    Hey Matt!

    Top post as usual. Read the others as well. Excellent discussion on the previous one. I have to say, yours is my favourite tennis blog. Even though you don’t have hordes thronging this place, the discussion is unfailingly civil and the writing balanced (discounting the antipathy towards Nadal, which I thoroughly enjoy). So I just wanted to say, it’s a pleasure coming here every now and then.

    Now, as a fan of Roger, obviously I’m very happy today. To me, three points stood out today:

    1) Federer is an amazing 34 year old: He’d played three days in a row before this. I pegged him to be at a slight disadvantage, given that he’s ancient and what not. But the old man had me pleasantly surprised. In set 3, he looked really, really tired, but he seemed to be able to push himself over the line against a Nadal who is suddenly, miraculously resurgent on his worst surface.

    2) Roger had a clutch day: The volley he made at deuce when he was serving for the title? Vintage stuff. That’s the kind of shot he’s missed against Nadal in the past. Remember the big WW 2008? I think 3-3 and up a break point in the fifth, Roger had a far easier volley to convert, but he dumped it into the net. Also, the serve was working almost as well as it has all year (12 aces and more unreturnable). Roger hit 32 winners in open play and dominated from the baseline on a court with reasonably high bounce. Somehow, I feel that the extra 8 square inches made a big difference here.

    3) This match adds something to the H2H discussion: This result was rare in that it was one of the few occasions where Federer was able to defeat an upward trajector-ied Nadal. Usually, success for Roger and Rafa is a zero-sum game. Their careers since Rafa’s breakthrough in ’05 have been alternating cycles of high performance. Roger rises, Rafa falls and vice versa. Therefore this is unusual and therefore, special.

    Fact is, Rog was mediocre for large patches of this week. Rafa had the tougher draw, undoubtedly and overall, had probably looked sharper in the earlier rounds (discount Dimitrov’s habitual charity). But Roger came out firing after his opening service game. The pass he hit to save break point? Ooh Mama.

    Predictably, he had a set 2 blip ainst the run of play. BUT he outlasted Nadal in the decider. You don’t see that often in this rivalry. With Roger at 34 and seemingly a year, maybe two, away from retirement, this really shouldn’t be happening. I’m not dumb enough to regard this as more important than it really is, but these moments offer a long-time Roger supporter such as myself a window into what could have been, in this rivalry. You know, if they’d played more off clay early on.

    But have I missed indoor tennis! I really wish we had a major indoors. Wonder why that hasn’t happened. Flushing Meadows has always struck me as an ideal indoor venue. When the elements are stripped away though, Roger’s game is really a thing of beauty – even more so than usual.

    Looking forward to a grand finish to the season with Novak in the mix. Also, Roger, Novak and Rafa could end up in the same group in London if Roger is #3 after Paris. Talk about a group of death..


  3. “The pass he hit to save break point? Ooh Mama.”

    “With Roger at 34 and seemingly a year, maybe two, away from retirement, this really shouldn’t be happening. I’m not dumb enough to regard this as more important than it really is, but these moments offer a long-time Roger supporter such as myself a window into what could have been, in this rivalry. You know, if they’d played more off clay early on.”

    “I really wish we had a major indoors.”

    What a comment, Utsav. Thanks for the contribution. I quoted you above but there is a lot more in your comment that I echo whole-heartedly.

    And one thing I need to clarify – thinking of editing my post, but that’s cheap: describing Roger’s play today as “brilliant. . .and . . .pretty putrid” is really weak on my part. That was in regards to some of those moments that I even heard in Annacone’s voice, and other tennis fans who have marveled at Roger’s tennis through the years but CRINGE when he gets soft at those moments. The tennis wasn’t putrid at all. My bad.

    In fact, really it was more flat-footed at times. He did not seem 100%. As you so eloquently point-out, much of their run-ins are when Roger is descending and the other one is on the rise. I think most of us thought Roger had a tough assignment today. But like you said, “he outlasted Nadal in the decider.” Vintage stuff.

    That pass you point-out was unreal. Will certainly be on some sort of greatest hits montage. Unreal. There were a couple of shots, one in the second set where he’s leaning back, behind the baseline, and hits the BH cross court. It’s 0-15 when he makes that. 0-30 at that point would have been big although Rog ended losing the set anyway (pretty sure it was in the 2nd set). The point is, some critical clutch shots from Rog. I guess I saw 6-3 6-2 in the taking, but he let the Spaniard back in there early in the 2nd.

    Back to the less than 100% – Roger looked to be laboring on some shots, reaching and landing heavy, not the nimbleness we’re used to. So, having said that, I really stand corrected on his form. Nadal is lucky he didn’t see Roger earlier in the year.

    Major championship indoor. Great point. Although the WTF is pretty big. If you look back, the year-end Masters or WTF has been played in a 5-set format. With 6 WTFs, the tennis intelligentsia do recognize this incredible feat. Novak with four is in the neighborhood. Roger’s numbers are nuts.

    I think to your point you mean that the surface is so tennis friendly, that some of the best tennis is played on that faster surface. I hear you.

    Lastly, to your point about his age and to echo my point in that previous post “GOAT,” Roger’s game at 34 is just phenomenal. My point was people are really bringing it up, but for the wrong reasons. The more attention you give it, the more obvious it is: will be tough for anyone to emulate. Beating the how-the-fuck-are-you-surging-now-on-HC-Rafa, having played so much tennis this year at such a high level, again, at 34 years of age. Is insane.


    1. Utsav

      All excellent points, Matt. The way i see it, the tennis was far from putrid, but it was also not uniformly vintage. The flow of the match was reminiscent of the WTF Final of 2010, when Roger really was in vintage indoor form, of course meaning that that was a higher quality match.

      Unfortunately, the 5 set WTF Finals are history. The last was, i believe in Shanghai? Roger vs either Ferrer or Blake? A shame, at any rate. What I find surprising is that indoor tennis is the best for television money, which tennis, like all other sports, revolves around. You can’t have stadiums as big but that isn’t where most of the money is anyway, right?

      I thought about the match some more and I have a couple of things to add:

      1) The stats for baseline rallies won are Federer 40, Nadal 60. This is a lot closer than usual. Your thoughts on why this might be?

      2) The tactic of moonballing Roger’s backhand wasn’t nearly as effective as usual for Rafa. I was pleasantly surprised by this. The surface, no doubt, helped. As did the racquet.

      3) This is very crucial. i saw Roger taking the initiative on BPs against the Nadal serve. The forehand he made to brak in the first set? Woaah! This is rare, as you know, and very heartening.

      I’m actually concerned that Roger may land in London fatigued if he goes deep in Paris. This is not impossible, given his draw. I would not have minded seeing him skip Paris for a charge at the WTF. I suspect this is what he would have done if Murray weren’t so close in ranking points.


      1. I have been pretty firm in my stance on Roger abandoning his all-court tennis to remain on the baseline and trade blows with these youngsters. He had such a brilliant S&V that only compounded things for his foes to go with his great shot-making. I think Condite said it in these here comments, reiterating the stubbornness of Fed, that Roger wanted to beat them at their own game.

        Looking at Roger’s game the last year or so, especially this summer, he’s emphasized that aggressive play, coming to the net more. There are so many reasons to do this. He’s good at it, it’s garnered him many many wins, it enables him to finish points earlier, which certainly benefits the old man. . .

        Those baseline numbers with Nadal reflect Roger’s difference in attack, no? He’s coming to net more. And Nadal is improving his form, miraculously. Roger doesn’t want to stay in those rallies with those guys. He can win those rallies, especialy when his BH is sparkling, but the numbers suggest Roger taking a detour, consistent with this trend.

        I think the raquet probably has helped with the moonball, as has his BH. He’s less of a target for that top-spin crap. I think Rog has figured-out some tactical stuff that might help him against some of these threats. His excitement about the future on tour is awesome. He thinks he can be a major factor still.

        I’m with you on Paris/WTF fatigue. Murray might be in form, preparing for the DC. Roger losing to him would not be the worst thing in the world.


      2. I saw that yesterday. Surprised Serena would let a story like that go to press. Sounds bad all the way around. Those two are twins, in more ways than same knees.


  4. Trigg


    It was written tongue-in-cheek.

    But I really tend to think that this should have been Rafa’s level — he doesn’t play bad (quite the opposite!), but I can’t believe that he has lost so much power and speed in less than a year and a half, without a serious injury requiring operation. Let’s say, that he was a player of the level of perhaps Kuerten, able to win 2 or 3 RG. Nothing more.


    1. I sometimes think of Kuerten in the context of Rafa. Rafa winning so many clay tournaments and then parlaying that success into some success on other surfaces is where things get tough to follow, especially with the extended absences, injuries, the loss of “confidence,” etc. He’s like a Kuerten built-up to play that well on surfaces that don’t suit his game. Rafa has done well making the “adjustment” but it just doesn’t follow a natural sense. I don’t buy it, have trouble trusting his process, game, etc. Good association, Trigg.

      Playing Novak and Roger in these kinds of finals does seem natural for Nadal, but then how do you explain the huge dips in production? Where does he go? I know how you, Trigg, and many others, including me, might answer that. I have yet to read the articles you sent but I saw the basic content. Sorry, weekends fill with other stuff and then it’s back to work tomorrow. But I’ll get to them and I really appreciate that you share that stuff. You definitely bring a depth of perception to the discussion.

      Great match today on so many levels.

      Some “fans” out there (Rafa fans I guess) have Roger in a no-win situation. He wins today, he should have (yet he still stinks v Nadal). If he loses, lol. The conversation is juvenile/adolescent.

      Roger, at 34, is having a great year. Pretty solid career, actually. 😉


      1. Incondite

        Hey Matt et al,

        I didn’t get to see the match yesterday, but Roger has been struggling this week to find his best tennis.

        So I think it’s a very good sign that he was able to beat a resurgent Nadal when he himself was clearly not at his best. And I hope he exorcised a few demons in the process.

        Some other “fans” say Roger is mentally weak, which is an amazing perspective IMHO. And it would have been easy to surrender after Nadal won the second set and was looking starting to look strong in the third. But I think Roger showed them something else in the Basel final.


      2. I agree, Incondite. It complicates that perspective you’re referring to. Roger was and is in a no-win situation. He’s supposed to win (even at 34 against younger “greats”), and if he loses he’s a coward and mental midget.

        Ha ha ah aha.


  5. wilfried

    I thoroughly enjoyed this final as well as its outcome.
    No dancing around for the haters, just not yet. This behaviour can wait.
    Roger wasn’t good enough to beat Rafa was the rationale …
    Part of that reasoning is perhaps true, because Roger didn’t always bring the goods when he needed to and ‘should have’.
    But the truth is more than what we see with the naked eye, it includes what is hidden behind the scenes, and it transcends time and space, and in the context of tennis, also the surface on which they play.
    What we see is that Roger, at 34 in the twilight of his career, is clearly good enough to beat Rafa, and that he might be still good enough to do it in some other venues than indoors.
    We also see that Roger doesn’t shy away from his nemesis, no matter his condition, and that he, in that respect, is a more real warrior than the one who’s named it by the press.
    On another blog they called this final ‘a final between heavy weights’,
    Roger Roger and Rafa are indeed in the same weight category, both weighing around 85 kilo’s, but that’s not the main reason why they’re using the boxing metaphore I think.
    It’s because tennis, in a sense, is a gladiatorial sport, and in some ways has more in common with boxing than with the popular team sports. Part of its appeal is the gladiatorial element, which I think is the primary reason most people become attached to the fortunes of a particular player.
    It’s no coïncidence either that Roger is right uphtere behind Floyd Mayweather in the list of the biggest money makers in sport.
    Both are way in there thirties now, but still among the best in their sport.
    I’m very grateful to witness Roger, one of the greatest of his sport, still perform on such a high level in the twilight of his career.


      1. Incondite

        Yes!!!! I couldn’t agree more Matt.

        Roger’s willing to face Nadal four times in 2013 with a bad back should dispel that idea by itself, although there are many other facts we could cite to prove your point.

        Roger doesn’t like losing, but he’s proved that he’s not afraid to lose – IMHO he’s a lot more fearless than Nadal, who ducks EVERYONE for extended periods when he’s not playing well.


      2. Exactly. Nadal gets a pass from everyone but me, it seems. I will continue to pressure his legacy deep behind that proverbial baseline from which he dazzles the blind with those one-dimensional defensive top-spins.


  6. Nambi

    Fascinating discussions over last two articles..Lots of insights with different point of view….Thanks Matt for posts and also encouraging conversation by comments… Thumbs up…


  7. Incondite

    Hey Matt, I agree with almost everything you’re saying. But if you ever see me giving Nadal a pass – please correct me at once.


    1. Will do. 😉

      Part of me loves the work ethic. But the Nadalists (and those who hijack the ideology for their own sake) are a bit in over their heads with that one.


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