Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rafa’s slam cut down at the hamstrings.

imageTonight Rafael Nadal lined up in a Quarter Final match against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. They had met 14 times before, with Nadal winning the last seven matches.

In the midst of his best run of form at the Grand Slams, Nadal was expected to make it eight in a row and advance to the Semi Finals to meet Andy Murray and then perhaps on to the final where he would go for the seemingly impossible and win the four Grand Slams in a row.

And yet it was not to be. Pretty soon it became obvious that something was not right. He went off for an injury time out, and the commentators soon relayed that it was due to a hamstring injury. From then the result was pretty much decided.

A lesser player would have called it a night, gone up to the net, shook hands with his friend and disappeared off to the change rooms to get it iced. But Nadal is made of that stuff of which champions are formed. He played on, and actually fought bloody hard. He broke Ferrer twice in the first set (but was himself broken three times). The set went for 70 minutes and that Nadal had his chances displays just how good he is – even on one leg he is almost good enough.

Almost though, doesn’t cut it at this level.

The second set went by in 42 minutes and Nadal and everyone watching knew that was it for the match. Did he give up? No he came out and made Ferrer earn it, but when he was broken again and was down 3-0, while sitting at the change of ends he looked on the verge of tears, knowing as he did that his chance of a Grand Slam (non-calendar year though it may be) was gone. And Nadal knows enough about the sport to realise that it is highly likely that this is his last chance to ever win four in a row. Not only do you have to playing brilliant tennis, everything else has to go your way for 12 months – including, as was displayed tonight, your body.

So he lost in straight sets. Ferrer, not being a fool, knew it was a win, however, he knew as well that he had not beaten Nadal at his best. Nadal himself in his press conference after the match was amazingly modest. He showed himself as a true champion saying:

If I am ready to accept both things (highs & lows) the same I think I will have a good career.…

But tennis is sport – and in sport having your body cope with injury, illness and the strains of competing is part of the contest. The history of sport is filled with athletes who “could’ve been great” were it not for injuries. In the 1999 Wimbledon quarter finals, Mark Philippoussis had Pete Sampras on toast. He won the first set, looked the winner, and then his knee gave way. Do we take away Sampras’s title that year? Hell no. Your body has to cope. It’s a sport.

Nadal also acknowledged this fact in his press conference:

It's part of the sport, accept, keep working and try my hardest in the next tournament. I think I am a v lucky sportsman

(A great performance in a press conference at such a moment. All other sportspersons should be forced to watch it, and learn from it)

Nadal’s loss not only ends his chance of the Grand Slam, it ends a couple other runs he had going, and puts into very stark relief the achievements of Roger Federer.

The loss puts an end to his streak of Grand Slam Finals appearances at three in a row. This was his best ever streak – twice before he had appeared in two in a row (French and Wimbledon). It also puts him a long way behind Federer’s record of ten Grand Slam Finals appearances in a row, and also over a year behind Federer’s second best run of eight finals appearances in a row (those two streaks were interrupted by one Grand Slam, meaning between the 2005 Wimbledon and the 2010 Australian Open Federer made 18 of 19 Grand Siam Finals.

The loss also ends Nadal’s streak of Grand Slam semi finals appearances at three. This of course is perhaps Federer’s most stunning achievement – his record is 23.

Let’s put that in some context – from the 2010 US Open, the only players who made the semi final there who also made the semi final at this year’s Australian Open are Novak Djokovic and that guy Federer. So they are the only two who can claim to have a semi-final appearance streak going. As Djokovic made the Wimbledon semi as well (Federer didn’t), he has the current longest streak at three. If he keeps it going till the French Open in 2016, he’ll beat Federer’s record.

Nadal does keep his Grand Slam quarter final streak going – it’s now at an impressive six in a row (equal with his longest ever streak of QFs). This streak is no mean feat either. The only players who made the 2010 US Open Quarter Finals and the Quarter Finals here at the Australian Open were Federer, Nadal, Djokivic and Stanislas Warwrinka. Djokovic actually has a good streak going – he is now up to seven in a row – which ties him with the best achieved by John McEnroe and Mats Wilander.

Federer? He has a streak of Grand Slam quarter finals of 27 in a row. It is the best by a very long way – Ivan Lendl got to 13 in a row.

Now there has been some talk in the media that Federer at his tournament tied with Jimmy Connors at 27 in a row. Well let me call bullshit on that right here.

Connors did get to 27 Quarter Finals in a row BUT that is only if you count the Grand Slam tournaments he appeared in, and if you ignore the ones he skipped. Within that “streak” Connors missed 5 French Opens and 8 Australian Opens. Now I don’t care if he skipped the French Open due to reasons due to the tennis establishment at the time, or if he skipped the Australian Open because he couldn’t be buggered making the trip – the thing about a streak is you have to front up every time. The thing about streaks is that you get to level required regardless of travel, playing surface, injury, illness or opponent.

Federer got to the quarter finals, semi-finals and finals even though he had glandular fever, or back injury. If he were to miss the French Open for any reason, that would end his streak, and it is why Connors’ streak of consecutive Quarter Finals is not 27 it is three.

This tournament is still very much up for grabs. Murray, Djokovic and Federer are all playing high level tennis (a lot of things would need to happen for Ferrer to win). But whoever wins, they’ll know that not only was their talent and skill good enough to get them there, but the condition of their body as well got them over the line.

That is what makes it sport.


Pip said...

Grog I agree with you about Rafa's attitude, that all the others should take a leaf out of his book, well some anyway. I'd add that Ferrer was also a very gracious winner. They both said they were good friends and showed a deep respect for the other.
PS. My daughter suggests for the ladies to Google Nadal and Armani.

BennO said...

Great post Grog.

I agree with you entirely. I remember Agassi making the similar comments after beating Rafter in the semis in Melbourne in 2001. Rafter was up two sets to one and then started to cramp up. Agassi won in five and later said he very much deserved to win because fitness is part of the game too. Hell it's as much a part of the game as serving.

As much as it hurt watching Rafter lose like that - especially because he was in front - Agassi was right, he earned and deserved his win.

Infense said...

Was very disappointing to see Nadal go out. I have never been a Federer fan (He is a remarkable tennis player but I find his personality churlish and arrogant) so I am now worried he might win again. Time for Murray or Djokovic to step up, but will they? What are your thoughts on the matches to come?

Anonymous said...

Rafa was great! And the best bit about the tennis is we don't have to listen to John Alexander. Yeh!

Unknown said...

Yes, Rafa is a real sportsman - unlike many I could name, but in particular Pete Sampras who was never more than ungracious in victory, and always ungracious or worse in defeat.