AO QF: Nadal’s Loss and Federer’s Win

The Nadal loss is. . . stunning for some, predictable for others, symptomatic of the plague of injury, somehow an injustice . . .

My crap detector condemned the premature ejaculation over Nadal’s championship form against this or that also-ran (I sound pretty disrespectful in these over-generalizations of ATP talent, but I think my point is taken, understood: there were much deeper draws elsewhere). I said the same about Federer’s early going: the media’s unwarranted advances on the Swiss Maestro seemed pretty foolish — to the ears and eyes.

Looks like the early warning signs we got from Nadal’s camp pre-Melbourne were indeed as consequential as some believed (which is another reason to slow your roll on the hype machine. There are some fitness concerns in addition to the fact that he’s not really being tested based on his draw).

I am guilty of assuming that more often than not: these #1-seed angels will lift and carry him to another unearthly title that seems to betray my common sense (this is a confession).

But to the point: Nadal was not in any shape to really contend. He faced his first legitimate threat and looked a little nervy and less than ascendant early before Cilic finally pulled his game together and started playing some business-end of the tournament tennis (this is what I was interested in with Federer last night. He hadn’t been tested. And consistent with these concerns, he was in trouble early. But he too pulled his game together and yes THAT was a clinic, compared to the one against, who was it, Bedene?).

Although Cilic looked shaky as well early-on in this QF and lost the first seemingly important set, he was able to resist and test the Spaniard’s body. That third set TB, though going Nadal’s way, was perhaps the straw that broke the bull’s back. Cilic really won going away from that point on.

We will explore this injury plague (myth) when we resume writing hopefully later tonight.

One could compare the Nadal/Cilic and the Federer/Berdych QFs in this way: the two victors responded to a “call” from the chair that moved them to channel their anger and thus impose their will in quite the decisive mien.

Actually, Tennis.com’s Steve Tignor brought this up in arguing that this happens in tennis perhaps more often than not. Tignor is arguing that a player who may feel offended or aggrieved for being assessed a code violation often goes on an anger-driven run, resulting in a win.

“Chair umpire Eva Asderaki chose that oddly crucial moment to hand Cilic a violation. Cilic complained, double faulted to give away the break, and kept complaining through the changeover. At first glance, it appeared that Nadal, who was now up a set and a break, was fully in charge of the match.”

Of course, Nadal was not in control. What soon occurred was a change in fortitude from the 6’6″ Croatian.  “After being content to rally with Rafa for the first set and a half, Cilic finally did what he had needed to do all along: Move forward as soon as possible and pound his ground strokes into the corners.”

Ahhh, the old power game of the 2018 Australian Open. Cilic smelled the coffee, woke-up and took matters into his own hands.

We know a similar transformation occurred last night in Federer v Berdych. The Czech was doing what I thought he would do: come-out of the gates strong and probably take Federer by surprise early (not sure why this seemed so obvious since Federer and camp had to have scouted the same tennis and might prepare for such a start).

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Mid-to-late in the first and Federer has that issue with his final challenge of the first set at, was it, 2-4?

Then this happened: the challenge replay can’t make the big-screen (technical difficulty), the Chair relays the review from the booth upstairs, which goes against Federer, resulting in a loss of the point (this happened on the first of two BPs Roger had on Berdych, at 15-40; Federer goes on to lose the game); a bit of frustration affects Federer’s usual composure.  He then walks-over to chat with the Chair (asking for his last challenge back; I believe was the extent of the conversation), returns to the court and poor Berdych finds himself holding serve, still up a break, eventually serving for the critical first set, seeing three SPs come and go, and becoming a victim of the aggrieved Roger.

Kudos, Tignor. I support your claim. Don’t underestimate the character of a maligned man or woman. We need more people to do such things with their anger/frustration. Using a very professional disposition, kick some ass.

My Federer v Berdych preview didn’t push too many buttons, so to speak, but I did clarify three things: Federer’s form is a bit of mystery at this point in the tournament, Berdych is looking demonstratively destructive, and Federer needs to be ready (or else).

The clinic Federer put-on after that brief interruption in the first act was classic Fedičić (I still lean Ivan as a major influence on this 2017-to-present form). Breaking back at 3-5, serving to even it at 5-5 and so on was truly Houdini-like. The serve got better, BH scarier, winners buried UEs, the winning expression articulates and that perhaps overlooked Federer defense, which continues to dazzle, demoralizes.

The clincher that the clinic was underway is when Federer in the throes of a BL rally, drilling and returning heated ground strokes, pulls from the holster his surgeon’s drop-shot from behind the BL that clears and spins back into the net, unplayable at least.

And now Federer gets Chung, who was able to take care of the now controversial game of Tennys. 😉

ATPworldtour.com:
“‘I’m very excited to play Chung. I thought he played an incredible match against Novak. I mean, to beat [Novak] here is one of the tough things to do in our sport, I believe… To bounce back from a Novak match and just somehow get it done today, this afternoon, that’s tough. That shows that he’s had good composure, a great mindset… I think it’s an interesting match for me. I’ll definitely have to look into how I need to play against him because he has some great qualities, especially defensively.”

We sense a lot of respect for Chung and Novak here (Did you hear that fanboy/girl, or is that Roger being somehow sinister and arrogant?).

Either way, Federer has to play a kid who is absolutely murdering the ball. I tried to articulate some of this in my Chung v Novak post. The defense of the kid is insane — with those Berdych-like legs — to go with those ripping ground strokes that have to scare anyone (and yes, he comes to net, too).

We do assume Federer has some fuel left in the tank having still not dropped a set. He’ll probably need all of it, along with that wand he likes to wave, to make the ball do weird things. We’ll have a few more things to say about this second SF. First up, Edmund v Cilic. Do we get the relics of a golden-age (Cilic does make the cut here as one of the only non Big 3 or 4 to win a major in the last, seemingly, thousand years) in a Cilic v Federer final, or is this where Next Gen crashes the party and calls to order the advent of the new age?

Powerful tennis either way you look at it, no matter what version of a final we get from these four big hitters.

4 thoughts on “AO QF: Nadal’s Loss and Federer’s Win

  1. Duarte

    Wouldn’t be surprised if Federer Chung goes the distance, really impressed with the South Korean.

    Also not completely sold on Cilic, Edmund has a shot. Nadal would have been a much worse matchup for him given his weaker BH

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    1. Yeah, I’m trying to figure-out a read on the Fed–Chung match-up. Novak’s “stats” were pretty bad in his match, but Chung had something to do with that for sure. And I don’t think Sandgren is much of an opponent compared to Federer.

      But the kid’s stuff is pretty threatening, especially the defense. I watched highlights of the DjokovicChung again today. His reach and the quality he sends back (with interest, etc.) is quite the spectacle.

      The serve on both sides of the net could be pretty big factor, too.

      I think Cilic handles Edmund, as much as I like the Brit’s strut.

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  2. clint grike

    One thing that will stand to Fed is the speed of the courts. Chung’s brilliant defence (and the lack of quality serve-volleyers in the tournament) has masked the fact that the court speed gives the advantage to first strike tennis. On a slower surface I’d give the Korean a much better chance. But one thing that I think could really help Chung is his ability to hit deep. Fed pounces on the short stuff but it’s hard to hit clean winners (especially against a retriever like Chung) if you’re pinned back by deep hitting like Chung is capable of. Fed could feel forced to attack when it’s not really on – the sort of dynamic we saw against djokovic in 2015. There is a path to victory for the young Korean but I’d expect the old master to prevail – maybe even comfortably if Chung wakes up and realises he’s in a grand slam semi. However I wouldn’t be shocked by a Chung win (hedging here haha). Roger losing would be a surprise but from a historical perspective the continued dominance of the 30-somethings is the big surprise. The champions of the future taking down the champions of the past is what we should expect. Think pistol Pete losing to Safin, Hewitt and Federer….
    On a not unrelated note, can we say that the much maligned nextgen finals has been retrospectively vindicated? The point (apart from the obvious marketing angle) was to give one or two of those young players a crucial confidence boost, no? That seems to have worked out ok.

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    1. I agree that the next gen has been pretty delayed in its move to even challenge this old guard. And maybe that’s where we are now, here in Melbourne as this next gen phenom moves to take-out the king. Good examples of those youngsters that gave Pete all kinds of trouble at the tail-end of his career.

      We’ll break-down the match in a few hours.

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