Tuesday 4 April 2017

A Sort of Older Order of Tennis Restored

One commentator on tennis has simply summized the change in tides
of the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal this year as
“Rafael Nadal is thinking. Roger Federer is playing.” More on that later.

The Tennis Handshake Between Nadal & Federer at Miami Open Apr'17 (Source: Twitter.com)
LineBallTennis's principal tennis coach at Clapham Common Krishna, has written about the fortunes of Federer so much, that a serialization publishing and TV rights must be on its way to him! The last speculation and observation on Federer's fate from the “local tennis coach” was in July 2015. When Federer was in the final round at Wimbledon, against Djokovic and watched on Centre Court by LineBallTennis & friends, is entitled “Revolution By The Deposed King Federer”. Even after watching the sad defeat of the “King”, Krishna offered this on that blog:

"I do not believe it is fantasy wishful thinking that Federer can win another grand slam, especially on grass; or that he has just blown his last chance losing to Novak Djokovic in the final of Wimbledon. But moreover, that the chance and opportunity may prevail again". Krishna, 22-July-2015

We told you so! Returning to the now and after April Fool's Day, the incredulous reversal in competitive fortunes between the older protagonists of international tennis, which this coach at LineBallTennis of Clapham Common well understands from experience of tennis-playing adversaries, is worthy of exposition here. A story of surprise which has seen Federer “the deposed King” clawing-back to number four in the men's world ranking (behind leading troupe of Andrew Murray, Novak Djokovic and Stan Warwinka). 

"Roger" had initially been at similar world ranking on his way to his first visit to the summit of world tennis in 2002. Federer is only half the story in this "Older Order" restoration story. Following injuries, Nadal has also climbed back to number five in the world, after their latest and recent finals encounter at the Miami ATP Masters, yesterday Sunday on 2nd April 2017. This report follows the west coast USA hard court season peak  dubbed "Sunshine Double", the Indian Wells and Miami Open ATP Masters.

In the space of three months, a sort of older order has been restored to the world of men's tennis, in that of Federer and Nadal are competing in the finals of tournaments, both big and small and back-to-back. That last happened with regularity between 2007-2010 (see their head-to-head table below). Since then to end-2016 they have rarely both met in tournament finals. Only thrice in the final round of French Open 2011, Rome Masters 2013 and Basel 2015. In that six year period the domination of men's tennis has mostly been Djokovic; interspersed with Murray and Warwinka et al winning. 

Throughout 2016 there was a changing of guards in the top flight of mens tennis. A year which incredibly saw our own British Murray become world number one; taking the spot from long-reigning new King of tennis from Serbia, Djokovic.

The Old King Is Alive!

LineBallTennis said “a sort of older order has been restored” because prior to the three months of this year February to April 2nd, Federer had only defeated Nadal in the final of Basel 2015. Their last encounter. And before that, in a semi-final in 2012 at the Indian Wells Masters. A win Over Nadal which Federer repeated last month in March. So in their eight head-to-head matches since 2012 Federer had only won 2 of them coming into this year. A situation of scant joy against a what we local Clapham Common tennis players and fans of LineBallTennis discuss, as Federer's “ultimate nemesis and foe”. And as if to underlie that head-to-head contest, which saw the Spaniard dominate the one who we worshipfully refer to as “The King Of Tennis”, the statistics are 23-14 in favour of Nadal. More telling is their head-to-head in grand slam encounters, in which Nadal is winning 9-3 and only 4 grand slams less than Federer's total haul of 18, including this year's Australian title.

For Federer, defeating Nadal three times consequentially is an exceptional novelty feat, from studying their head-to-head statistics. In fact it is four consecutive wins in their personal battle, as Federer conquered Nadal last in 2015 at Basel, their previous meeting. Add to that that the feat was completed in the space of three months of this year between February to April 2017, including a grand slam win in the final of the Australian Open – Federer's 18th Grand Slam; and then striking-down his nemesis to win the ‘Sunshine Double’ (Indian Wells and Miami) titles, what a rejuvenation in fortunes indeed. Their contest for kings of tennis began from 2004, oddly enough at the Miami Masters round of 32, Nadal won that first encounter 13 years ago – unlucky number for some and lucky for others.

So what has brought about this surprising “novelty feat” from the older establishment of tennis. Aside of the marginal court surface preference, i.e., 10-9 on hard and 2-1 on grass to Federer, while an overwhelming 13-2 on clay for Nadal, we think it is a purely psychological change in the contenders. As also observed by Steve Tignore @tennis or tennis.com here: With Federer’s win over Nadal in Miami, a rivalry changes dramatically. There are also tactical changes that have been observed by other tennis analysts, but we don't believe these are unknown factors or revelations between giant gladiators who have met in 33 competitive matches. For example, Federer slice-serving wide to the left-handed Nadal into the deuce court, gains some clear advantage in the point.

To understand our opening statement, “Rafael Nadal is thinking. Roger Federer is playing”, is like knowing the difference and relationship between the power of "action versus words", or “vita contemplativa” or “vita activa”. Federer no longer has a crisis of confidence when he faces his arch rival Nadal. So he does not lose the game-turning points being on the defensive, or on the desperation to be offensive.

Nadal's "Bull" Vitalism

Equally contributory to Federer's success is that Nadal, who is 5 years Federer's junior at age 30, is now thinking more or conscience of the ebb-and-flow of the match, and perhaps feeling nerves after the exhuberance of youth and the formidable winning-streaks have both deserted him; in his bold youth he played by mechanically doing with absolute paramount belief; as a younger bulls tends to rage more
fiercely than an older one. As when we all produce our best standards of tennis play – some describe this feeling as "being in the zone" - playing without thinking, pure intuition and guts, seiing the ball as big and early as a balloon .

Nadal's invincible will-to-win
, whether against Federer or otherwise, has diminished – only slightly - since his return from injuries. As once happened to Federer's polished King status with the arrival of the Spanish bull Nadal - the Moriarty to Sherlock! Nadal would also inevitably have had the 3 successive defeats in their last encounters since 2015 in the back of his mind, so thinking and trying different tactical variations in this fourth encounter in Miami. For example, Nadal's unique revolutions-per-second devastating forehand was not so much in evidence, as observed here by www.ATPWorldTour.com

Finally, three further related points of note to this LineBallTennis tennis blog:

a) Warm congratulations to Australian-born Johanna Konta for becoming the first British-representation of any note to win a women's tennis title. She won the Miami Open women's title conquering Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets. This achievement has been compared to British women's tennis success of some nearly 40 year's ago, when Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977; when the “Sex Pistols” and “punks” were roaming London!

b) The rest of the year's nine months predictions could envisage recently deposed world no.1 Djokovic not floor the pedal of his Ferrari brand in terms of tennis ambition to regain pole position. He sacked LineballTennis Krishna's idol Boris Becker as coach in November – there is more to life than tennis! We wonder if Murray will hold on to the very unique and long unacquainted British position of being at the summit of world tennis – it's lonely at the top (and after Brexit!). We expect, both the FAMILIAR AND RISING tennis players that Federer beat in his last 10 matches (see below table), including “Bad-Ass-Aussie” Nick Kyrgios, to be making shocks and possibly waves. Add to this mix Fabio Fognini of Italy.

Mostly, LineBallTennis being a joggle of social and environmental activism in passion with tennis pleasure (see our Tweets @LineBallTennis), seeks good bookmaker betting odds in restoration of King of tennis Federer, once again take his throne in the realm of world tennis.

c) Roger Federer's incredible statistics was that up until this 4-match head-to-head winning streak against Nadal, he HAD NOT EVEN a hat-trick of back-to-back wins against his bogey-man arch rival. A rivalry begun as noted before, in the Miami Open of 2004. Astonishingly his 20 out of 21 matches this year 2017 has seen him defeated by world No. 81-ranked Evgeny Donskoy. The smart money would take odds on Federer finishing the current year as world No.1.