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Wimbledon 2008 Mens Final - How Nadal Really Beat Federer

Jul 7, 2008
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer produced their second great Wimbledon Final in a row. Nadal won 9 - 7 in the fifth set in a classic match. "Rafa" became the first man to claim the Wimbledon - French Open double since Bjorn Borg in 1980 and is now laying siege to Federer's coveted number 1 ranking.

A combination of factors had led to Nadal claiming favouritism for the tournament, despite Federer's dominance of the event for five years. Nadal's stunning performance in losing last year's final; Federer's flat start to the 2008 season [due to illness]; Nadal's crushing victory in the recent French Open final; and the Spaniard's improvement on all surfaces this year had caused authorities as respected as Bjorn Borg to favour Nadal before the tournament.

The match itself was severely affected by rain delays, gusty winds and finally bad light as the match stretched into a fifth hour. Despite the difficulties both players produced superb displays. Each set was its own drama and key turning points worth studying.

The first set was decided by a careless Federer service game early on. Nadal was his usual clean self, committing just 2 unforced errors for the set and ready to pounce on any slight lapse in Roger's game. Federer had more chances but didn't play the important points well, he did however turn the momentum in his favour late in the set holding serve comfortably and pressing Nadal's serve constantly.

The momentum continued at the start of the second set as Federer jumped to a 4 - 1 lead. It was some old fashioned grass court tactics of slicing and net rushing combined with some of the most stunning inside out forehands that saw him reach a winning position. Nadal relentless pounding of Federer's backhand began to pay dividends and he reeled off the last five games to take a two sets to love lead and a hand on the trophy.

The third set contained two remarkable momentum changes. At 3 - 2 up Federer held 4 break points against Nadal and failed on each occasion to capitalise. Disturbingly on 3 of those points he lamely dumped backhands into the net. Nadal held and the furious Federer found himself down 0 - 40 in the next game. The match was quickly becoming a repeat of the 2007 French Open where Federer won 1 / 17 break points during the match half, way through the second set he was 1 / 12 in this final. But the Swiss is a great player; and he recovered to win that game and then take a tie breaker with some trade mark serving and forehands. Two sets to one.

The forth set produced the most dramatic tie breaker, this time it was Nadal who failed to capatilise. With two serves at 5 - 2 Nadal produced a double fault and an unforced error, he later held two match points which he failed to convert. The excruciating sequence of set and match points that followed evoked memories of that famous Borg v McEnroe tie breaker many years ago. The quality of tennis late in the tie break was breath taking. Federer levels at two sets all.

The fifth set was a fitting finale to the great match, first Federer then Nadal holding break points before Nadal was the one to convert. The darkness that the match finished in was a talking point for the press after the match, and certainly Federer was far from happy with the light and the time Nadal was taking in between points late in the match.

The result has many consequences, most notably Nadal is currently the best player in the world and Federer only just holds the #1 ranking. Historically Nadal has failed to perform at the US Open, injuries robbing him of full preparation and fitness while Federer comes home full steam ahead. Nadal already seems to have picked up a knee problem at Wimbledon and his game certainly takes its toll physically on hard courts. Djokovic will come back into the frame on the US hard courts were he took Federer close last year.

Federer's reputation at the best ever is in question. The relentless Nadal has beaten him in 4 slam finals now and has denied him the missing jewel in his crown, the French Open. There is still some work to do yet before he is undisputedly considered the best ever.

Opportunity Points - There are many statistics taken at a tennis match, Federer hit an incredible 99 winners including 25 aces, but in a contest as close as Federer v Nadal the most important stat is converting the big points. The most obvious flaw in Federer's match was his 1 / 13 break point conversions. Break points are the most obvious examples of big points, but there are many others, 30 - 30 second serve, 15 - 30 etc... The truth is Federer played tense tennis on the big points during the first 2 and half sets and paid the price for he should have been 2 sets to 1 up given his opportunities.

Improving performance on big points is one of the toughest issues facing a developing performance player. It is extremely difficult to simulate the pressure of a final during training, so players really have to go out, play tournaments and find their nerve through experiencing different and uncomfortable situations. Federer has been in so many big occasions that he was able to shake off his early big point nerves and play extremely good tennis in two tight tie breakers.

Tactical Framework, Pounding the Backhand and Strengths and Weakness. Nadal's tactics during the course of the match were predictable and didn't change. He virtually hit every serve and every brutally spinning forehand to the Federer backhand. This tactic, otherwise known as "pound the weakness", paid enormous dividends through the match as Federer's struggled to hit high backhands off the back foot.

Federer on the other hand played from the baseline, charged the net, sliced his backhand and showed he can be a true all court player. Unfortunately when the he let the match slip during the first two sets, Roger too often rallied from the baseline, especially hitting topspin backhands. The difficulty is that Roger can cruise through an entire tournament, not dropping a set, playing from the baseline but against Nadal he must adjust. Many respected commentators were imploring Federer not just to mix his game up against Nadal, but to mix it up in the lead up matches so as to polish that style of game.

For developing performance players the ability to recognise and play to your own strengths; must be complimented by a capacity to assess your opponent's weaknesses and form a counter attack. For example the great Federer tried to counteract Nadal's attack to the backhand court by hitting his inside out forehand with great effect, making Nadal hit with more accuracy and risk. It almost tipped the match to his favour, but that left handedness allowed Nadal to generate the necessary extra angle.

Can Federer be satisfied that he was 1% from winning the match and play the same style against Nadal again but just execute better? Judging by Federer's despondent comments post match this loss may have shaken him far more than previous disappointments at the French Open. On the evidence of 2008 Nadal and Djokovic are both better than Roger in the baseline exchanges. Federer has the ability to mix his game up better than both his young adversaries; and by developing this side of his game he can build on his 12 grand slams in the face of the new generation of challengers.
About the Author
David Horne is co-founder of the leading tennis website with free tennis drills, articles, training tips, free tennis ebooks for all coaches and players. Tennis Training Website
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