Nadalism Addendum

First, yesterday’s Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Andrey Rublev Adelaide SF was almost blogged as a “must watch,” but I didn’t quite have the faith in FAA to rise to the occasion.  We’ve all liked his athleticism and the fact that maybe this is a little era in Canadian tennis that might push guys like Shapo and Felix to reach even greater heights. Speaking of eras, how about the Russian revolution that’s underway; Medvedev has gotten most of the attention, Khachanov too, to an extent, but Rublev, after a nice display of tennis in 2017, going MIA in 2018, for the most part, has returned, showing some of that promise in 2019 and starting-off this season on fire, looking to win his second consecutive tournament this season.

Felix showed-up last night and they gave us a nice round of BL tennis. This video is just of the first set. The scoreline went to Rublev 76(5) 67(7) 64. We want Felix to polish his game and bring this kind of form. He was very disappointing in the ATP Cup, Shapo making-up for his compatriot’s underachievement.

We need depth, my friends. The tournament draws on this tour need depth.

The incredible lack of depth on tour for years has, as we know, given way to a complete and devastating oligarchy consisting of the Big 3. Their tennis skill and confidence have been oppressive for the mere mortals of this era, going back about twenty years, to the start of Federera. This analysis will come to fruition in HRFRT, which I am developing chapter by chapter as we speak.

Not sure if you saw the exchange I had with a Nadal fan yesterday. As tough as some of my words/thoughts may have seemed or came across, I really do appreciate Tony’s thoughts on the sport and on Nadal, et al.

But this exchange really clarified the perspective of fans, regardless of their player. There’s some sort of gap between myth and reality, often (and, yes, I know that sounds pretty harsh).

Our exchange began with me saying that Nadal’s desire and will to win is more impressive than his tennis skill. This gets even more complicated in my HRFRT as I highlight the fact (or theory) that Nadal was practically built to beat Federer. Built? By whom? Uncle Toni, of course. Nadal has natural capacity and certain physical features to support this theory, but the timing and manifestation of style are too coincidental.

The point of my initial argument is that his impressive will to survive and thrive comes from a mental fortitude that has rarely been matched during his era, his run. This is acknowledged sport-wide, by most tennis historians, commentators, etc. We can interject here and say that Novak has defined his greatness partly by asserting his own iron will, which Nadal has had trouble competing against. I might also add that Djokovic’s tennis skill and style have had a lot to do with this advantage, but mentally Novak has certainly risen to the formidable task of facing and defeating Nadal. Not too many have been able to do this, at least consistently.

Per the aforementioned reader’s suggestion, I went ahead and explained how Nadal’s tennis style and skill are, we might say, more pedestrian compared to other, more gifted tennis players. However, and this is a big “however,” his willingness to throw himself, his body and soul, at these matches, some of which have been all-time slug-fests, has been remarkable, glorious, the stuff of greatness, for sure. I reach the same conclusion as the most ardent Nadal fan or supporter; I just have a different route getting there.

I can relate to Nadal personally; ironically, I, a critic of the Spaniard, approach sport in the same manner. Effort and determination always helped characterize my own style and approach. This is quite interesting as my teenage son continues to excel at soccer (my main sport growing-up) about which he can be characterized as more finesse, more skill than physical dominance. I’m just trying to encourage him to knock some of the boys around a bit, establish more of that physical presence one clearly needs in soccer to succeed at the higher levels. But skill-wise, my son has a touch of brilliance (and sure I might have a bias). 🙂

But the bias really came out in this exchange on my blog.

What Tony ended-up clarifying for us all is the idea that Nadal’s physical presence gives him an advantage. I actually didn’t include this explicity in my claim/argument, focusing more on skill/style and mental strength.

But of course this physical strength of Nadal’s has been a huge benefit to his tennis: see Best of Five, see Clay Court tennis, see the annals of Nadal footage, history and legacy.

He has routinely over-powered other players, unlike anyone we have ever seen. No question. How a Nadal fan doesn’t see this, doesn’t realize that, indeed, this is a huge factor in this player’s success is a smidge mind-boggling.

This is why fanaticism, in the end, doesn’t really work in a more intellectual pursuit or context. One has to be able to see certain patterns, contradictions, nuances, some subtle, some not so subtle.


Lastly, arguing that Nadal could change his style in a different historical context is a very awkward argument to make, highlighting, again, the flaws of fanaticism and probably strengthening the opposing view. The all-court Nadal, of quicker, lower bounce and grass court success, whose serve-and-volley prowess could catapult him into the heights of the sport under different circumstances is both wildly hypothetical and riddled with too much imagination and fantasy.

At least that’s how I see such an alternate universe.

In any case, I do like the conversation and, again, sorry if the words or thoughts come across as rough or at all rude or insensitive. After all, this is sports debate, folks!

Thoughts on MLB’s cheating scandal? The NFL playoffs? The NBA?

Let’s do this!

2 thoughts on “Nadalism Addendum

  1. Tony

    Matt: first, I should say at the outset that nothing you had to say (or will have to say), bothered me in the least. I like a rollicking debate, I’m acerbic, and if someone is going to be upset about being called “ridiculous” or — I like this — a “fanatic” (more on that in a moment) on a blog, then they need harder bark. I appreciate that you posted my comments, and I enjoy the vigorous back and forth. I’ll let you know if my self-esteem ever begins to plummet from one of your ripostes.

    But, let’s be clear in term of what you mean when you say that I am engaging in fanaticism.

    Here are my main two arguments:

    1) The notion that Nadal (or anyone else, for that matter), can be one of the three or four or five (add in Sampras, Borg, whomever) greatest tennis players of all time, with a fundamentally deficient game, because he’s “a physical specimen” and has “fighting spirit” is just silly. This is not wresting. In this era — and especially now, at age 33, still winning majors, he’s not that much of a physical outlier, no matter how much you insist he’s the bionic man. No, the main reason he wins, is because he’s one of the most skilled players ever, even though you don’t care for his style.

    2) The further, central claim that because Nadal is the biggest jock in the sport, built more like a (very small) safety than a “Guga”-type, he uniquely benefits from racket technology which allows him to unleash his patented (and apparently inimitable, by anyone, because: reasons) gyroscope of a topspin forehand, is also unpersuasive in the extreme.

    The same racket which allows Nadal to impart spin, also allows a cavalcade of other players to blister supersonic serves (query: why is the ability to hit a serve 145 mph not a more potent weapon in one’s arsenal than Nadal’s heavy FH? Further query: are you seriously claiming that this “moonball shot” — your label — is some incomparable weapon?), crush groundstrokes, etc. But you do need to find some rationale to somehow explain that Nadal’s dominance cannot be due to skill, so you’ve latched onto this tortured explanation.

    I, like you, admire Nadal’s warrior mentality, but at the end of the day what you don’t realize is that in claiming he has won 19 GS’s by being the Spanish version of Rocky in tennis shorts, you simultaneously indict Federer, Djokovic, all the greats whom Nadal has vanquished (and lost to, as well). You’re saying: a guy who’s fast (faster than Djoker?) and powerful (more powerful than Kyrgios, Delpo, Wawrinka? Um, ok.) who basically has one weapon, predicated entirely on his magical spin-inducing racket which is somehow more magical than everyone else’s (yes, yes: he’s more athletic. More than Monfils?) has parlayed a one-dimensional, defensive, blunt-force approach along with lots of nitrous-powered Vamos! effort and reached the pantheon. You must not think much of Fed or Djoker, to have been bested by such a crude instrument.

    I do not think Nadal is the GOAT. He’s the best clay court player by a million light years. He’s an all-time talent on other surfaces, but as we’ve seen, he can’t really touch peak Novak on hardcourts (especially fast hardcourts) and the same holds true for Fed on grass, despite Nadal’s victory in the “greatest match ever played” (TM). But he’s unquestionably one of the handful of greatest players who’s ever lived, may end his career with the most GS’s, and thus my conclusion about someone who claims Nadal’s achieved that with a weak overall tennis game bolstered by sheer Want To and Popeye forearms is, well — he is not making reasoned arguments.

    If this makes me a fanatic, I fully embrace my wild-eyed zealotry.



  2. You’re a fanboy, so this a fairly predictable exchange. Tough to breakthrough the spell of Nadal’s cult of tennis personality on you.

    You have provided us, once again, with some glaring evidence that your lack of familiarity with Nadal’s tennis and the overall men’s tennis narrative is undermining any case you are trying to make. You seem not to have watched much tennis over the last 15 years, or so — during the Nadal era. That’s your guy!

    You: “Further query: are you seriously claiming that this ‘moonball shot’ — your label — is some incomparable weapon?), crush groundstrokes, etc. But you do need to find some rationale to somehow explain that Nadal’s dominance cannot be due to skill, so you’ve latched onto this tortured explanation.”

    Tony, “moonball” is not my label, my term, etc. Many many people over the years have used that description to describe a Nadal tactic used to torture his opponents (thanks, I did borrow torture from your use of “tortured.” Ha ha).

    Again, that is not my term, my concept or idea. That you went out of your way syntactically to make this point, as if this is my own farfetched, desperate attempt to criticize his tennis: that’s enough for me and anyone else reading this to know that you are missing some basic reality from your argument, your fanboy agenda.

    That’s okay — that’s predictable.

    These gaps are throughout your resistance to my arguments.

    You can carry-on with this criticism, apparently your single focus on this blog, but there are other discussions to be had. In the end, I don’t think you really know as well as you think you know the Nadal discourse, his style, his significance in the sport, etc.

    Good to see you enjoy the discussion and the tennis.

    Good luck to your guy in Melbourne. He’s undoubtedly one of the favorites.


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