Pages: In the Nadal-Federer contest, it’s no contest

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Saturday, January 25, 2014


ROGER F. has achieved records in tennis that may never be broken. 17 majors. The world No, 1 ranking for 302 weeks. Twenty three consecutive trips to the semis or better in Slams. But the one record that will forever haunt the Swiss maestro is the one he has against Rafael N.

Match after championship match, Federer has this mental collapse against Nadal. You notice it in his body language. The confident head of Roger — held up-high against all the other earthlings — is absent when he faces Rafa. It was the same last Friday. After playing some of his best in years, Roger was tipped to beat Rafa, especially given the Spaniard’s awful left-hand blister.

But, sadly to the millions of RF fans, the answer is “No es posible.” That one-handed backhand can’t beat the lefty topspin. Those rush-to-the-net exploits resulted to passing shot winners for RN. He attacked. He ran around his backhand. He listened to Stefan Edberg’s advise to take risks, sprint to the net and smother those volleys.

Against anybody else, Roger would have won. But against one — the No. 1 — he’s beaten. Again. And again. And once more.

The Australian Open semis was billed as a heavyweight fight. With 30 Grand Slam singles titles between the two, it was — only, it wasn’t. Because it was lopsided. Nadal dictated play. He chased down shots that would have been unreachable for you and me. He’s Usain Bolt wearing Nike, not Puma. He’s Lance Armstrong-mentally-tough minus the drugs.

What does Roger have to do to defeat his close buddy? He has to play perfect and Rafa has to be subpar. But this combination doesn’t happen. What happens is this combo: Rafa’s forehand versus Roger’s backhand. That’s a painful exchange to witness. And time’s running out for the 32-year-old. This would have been his best chance. Imagine an all-Swiss final. And Roger’s record against Stanislas Wawrinka is 13-1.

But it’s Rafa vs. Stan in today’s 4:30 p.m. (Phil. time) men’s final. I just hope there’s no RF-like psychological collapse. I hope the Swiss doesn’t say...

Wawrinka: Wow-Rafa.

Their record is 12-0, all in favor of Rafa. Every single set that they’ve played (26 sets), Rafa has won. Will it be 13 straight matches for Spain? I know Spanish Consul Anton Perdices wishes so. Or will “Stan the Man,” by evening later, be proclaiming to the world, “Nobody beats me 13 in a row!”

It’s hard to bet against Spain in his encounter versus Switzerland in Australia.

The past two weeks have shown us terrific excitement in Melbourne. Upsets. Breakthrough stars in the beautiful blonde not named Maria but Eugenie. And I hope, as do her 1.3 billion fellow Chinese, that Li Na won the Ladies Final last night. For an Asian to win the only “Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific” will deliver a strong boost for tennis in the Far East.

Li Na’s finals opponent last night, Dominika Cibulkova? It shows us that a 5-foot-3 player can reach the finals. I recall her standing beside Sharapova when they met — a 6’1” giant in a “David vs. Goliath” moment — and Cibulkova didn’t stand a chance, height-wise. But she won. This tells us Filipinos that we have a chance.

The big missed moment was Treat Huey. He and partner Dominic Inglot reached the quarterfinals (and had a relatively easy draw onwards) but lost.

The Australian Open, decades back, was considered a “non-major” by many. The top netters didn’t bother flying nearly 24 hours from American or Europe to Melbourne. But today, it has become one of the favorites.

Ken Salimbangon, Fabby Borromeo and I met early this week and vowed to make that Melbourne trek in 2015. Before R & R retire! (Fabby and I were together with our dads 15 years ago at the US Open.)

Maybe then, when it wasn’t possible last Friday, Roger will find a eureka moment to beat Rafa. But for now, it’s Rafa who, in all likelihood, will tie Pete Sampras for his 14th Grand Slam singles trophy (14 this 2014). Add a 15th in Paris this May and he’s halfway through a calender Grand Slam and just two wins away from tying his beaten foe, Federer.

Vamos, Rafa.

(john@pages.ph)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 26, 2014.

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