Remember the argument I made about a year ago in response to the hiring of Ivan Ljubičić? The reasoning went something along the lines of Roger needs to start winning ugly; the beauty pageant is over if you want to win anything resembling anything of significance.
Re-read this completely different post I wrote on the eve of 2015 U.S. Open. This amounts to what I would have told Roger before he took the court against a guy (Djokovic) that will play the match like his life, his very last breath, depends on it. I called it “Attitude and Form.” His form ultimately would depend on his attitude, which often looks like he’s on vacation.
Roger’s pretty much considered tennis class personified. His elegance precedes him, defines his greatness and his flaw. The rise of Nadal and Djokovic has been at the expense of Roger’s sophisticated style that became more and more flawed and even soft in light of the grind and grit of the Spaniard and the Serb. Almost everything about Roger had come to be associated with this style of tennis: his nationality, his family, and his coach. The latest had been Edberg, about as buttoned-up, almost stoic, as Roger.
I had been arguing for a while (to no avail) that this was killing the guy. His game still may have been the easiest on the eyes, but the flaw (that nonchalance) was devouring his relevance.
Enter Ljubičić. I liked it from Day 1. Ljubičić had always been an uncompromising opponent for anyone on tour. The move seemed a little late in the making, but Roger was still knocking on the door at the majors; he just couldn’t muster the strength, the attitude, to kick the fucking thing in and take what belonged to him.
This highlight could not be more appropriate to this point. Look at coach Ljubičić’s reaction to Roger finding a break-point at this critical, and I mean critical, juncture of the final.
Can you imagine Edberg doing that? Perhaps I should admit to have not looked at much of Edberg or Annacone (or any of his past “captains) to determine their “attitude” or “focus” during a match like this. This was the end of the rope for Roger. He had to break, or the match was pretty much in the refrigerator and the jello would’ve been jiggling.
Ljubičić’s form was perhaps as brilliant as Roger’s. And this is not a stretch when you consider how Roger MENTALLY was able to come out of quasi-retirement and win his 18th major. . .against Nadal, after surviving a pretty stiff draw (by the way, the Murray exit is not necessarily a luck of the draw for Federer because you and I both know that Murray v Federer would have been very very interesting – Murray’s run last summer was really sans Novak and Roger, keep in mind, and the Swiss has usually faired pretty well against the Scot – but that’s for another post 🙂
In other words, Ljubičić’s influence was massive. This look and shake from the box should not be underestimated. Nor should the sudden resilience and devastation of the BH. Ljubičić’s hands are all over this historical run from Federer. What a masterpiece on all sides.
Would Edberg do anything remotely resembling this?
Brilliant. Great sport brings-out the best in people, right? You think this passion (from both sides – the mental toughness and the ecstatic joy) benefits Roger’s game?
I watched most of the final again, jotted down some notes during the opening and closing sets of the match, which were really the heaviest in the way of importance. We all know that Roger winning the first set was paramount. We said the same things about Roger’s 2015 finals vs Djokovic at WB and the USO. If nothing else, the early lead helps mentally. Of course, Rafa still had the match on his racquet in the fifth, so the fifth, obviously, became incredibly consequential.
First Set Notes
7th game, Rafa serving 3-3. At 0-15, after a nice BH return to S&V put-away, Federer on the second point comes 2-3 ft inside the BL to hit the BH and misses, but Nadal serving 15-15 is uncomfortable.
Roger’s aggression seems to be a little intimidating, even this early. The FH is working early and he outhits Rafa to win the following point and then with a running volley he stamps the next point to create the double break point. He converts the first BP.
He has dominated the first set. Roger inside the BL, coming to net, Rafa on his back foot. Roger’s return and defense the better of the two, as well. Serving well and quickly. Suffocating tennis. Consolidates at at love with an ace. The chess match.
Nadal caught off guard.
Roger running around the second serve, again getting control of the point on return (aggressive play).
In closing out, serve is solid, BH still dominant, 2 aces over 90% first serves won, about 68% FS efficiency.
Roger’s look at his box after 1st set isexpressionless, just a stare. Lubicic.
Different mindset here, this time, and the BH has completely shaped the tone of the match.
Fifth Set Notes
Rafa serving 2-3. First point typical of what Roger was doing with some of that big FH tops-spin to his BH, ballooning it back, playing safe, keeping ball in play and then he finds an opportunity and drills the flattened BH CC winner: 0-15.
(these ballooning, rally perpetuating shots play a big role. People will say that Roger was more aggressive in this match, and they’re probably right, but he’s also keeping some points simply going, playing some defense, playing some shots safe; but he is certainly looking for the offense. No doubt. None the less, watch his “defensive” tennis accentuate the offense. It’s smarter tennis).
Back to the sixth game of fifth set, Rafa serving 2-3. Solid rally, but Roger starting to really out hit Nadal: forced error: “Come on” says Roger 0-30.
15-30, errant FH.
Great serve out wide, easy put away for Rafa, 30-30.
Rally, Nadal long. 30-40 – break point Roger (he has had BP in all of Rafa’s serve games in 5th set. Considering Rafa doesn’t win another game, you can say that table was turned).
Nadal saves a BP with great spot serve up the middle. Another good serve follows, Rog dumps into net. Ad Nadal. Pretty much match point.
Nadal hits the tape on FH and it bounces into alley, back to deuce.
Roger then wins next point with the lethal BH CC to reach another BP. The box, Ivan the terrible…again because it’s worth an encore.
6th BP of set and that’s the one. Roger Breaks, evens the set at 3-3.
7th game. Ace. S&V quick point 30-0. Tough serve, Nadal misses, 40-0. Second serve ace (#17), 4-3.
Nadal misses wide on FH. 0-15. Wide again as Roger is flying all over the court, 0-30. Nadal fading. 9 straight points for Roger.
Double fault, 0-40.
He saves one with great FH. 15-40.
He saves another with big serve. 30-40.
Roger misses badly,deuce.
Nadal a warrior even in this diminished stage. What a fighter.
Then “the rally.” 27 shots. BP Roger:
(Here’s a look at the box after the massive 27 shot exchange. The Box. EyeVan making eye-contact with his student. . .ha ha)
Then, Nadal huge serve back to deuce.
Roger another hitting clinic, Roger dictating. BP # 5 of this game.
Insane BH CC return, Nadal wide. 5-3 fifth set of AO final.
Nadal from way back, BH CC return winner. Vintage Nadal, 0-15.
Out hits Roger in next point, 0-30. Will not go away. Insane mettle, this guy.
Ace. 15-30. 18th ace of the match.
Nadal eats him alive in the next point and it’s double break point, 15-40. RAFA!
Ace #19, 30-40.
Second serve…huge inside out FH, vintage Federer. Deuce.
Big first serve, Nadal long, Ad in, championship point.
Second serve. Double fault? Challenge. Rog wins challenge.
Rog hits it long, deuce #2.
Ace #20, 2nd championship point.
Roger hits line, it’s challenged. Roger wins the AO.
How does some discussion about court speed sound? These are the conversations I love: time to go macro and put careers in perspective! 😀