No. 2 to Roger, he’s No. 1 against Federer

Only five men in the history of tennis have won all four Grand Slam singles titles: Andre Agassi, Don Budge, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver and Fred Perry. Sad to say, the initials “RF” won’t be scribbled alongside that list.

At least, not yet. Because the way Rafael Nadal embarrassed him at the French Open final, it’s hard to imagine—on clay—the world’s No. 1 beating the world’s No. 2. Ever.

Funny, no? Roger Federer is close to being crowned “The Greatest.” Against almost every player on the ATP Tour, he has a winning record. Against Andy Roddick: it’s 15-2. Against David Ferrer, 8-0. Against Nikolay Davydenko: 12-0. But against Nadal, it’s the opposite: he’s lost 11 of their 17 encounters; 10 of 11 on clay.

The question begs: Can Roger be adjudged as history’s best if he fails to beat Nadal and continues to falter at the French Open?

To me, the answer is No. Because how can Roger lay claim to that mantle when, in fact, in a match-up between him and Rafa, he always receives the smaller trophy?

Which brings me to Nadal and to make this conclusion: It’s impossible to beat the Spaniard in France. He’s 28-0 at Roland Garros; 115-2 on clay since April 2005; and, in clay-court finals, has won 22 of 23.

In the finals, Roger succumbed to 35 unforced errors while Rafa made only seven. Yes, seven unforced errors! Here’s more: When Roger hit a second serve, he won only five of 24 points. And when Roger attacked the net—an excellent strategy—it turned into a futile attempt against Rafa: He only won only 18 of 42 points at the net. Finally, the man considered one of the best servers, Federer faced at least one break point in all but one of his 11 service games.

The game—6-1, 6-3, 6-0—was so lopsided that it triggered back memories of the first time Roger had been “whitewashed” in a set: in 1999.

“He dominated from the first point until the end,” said Federer. “It’s the strongest Rafa that I’ve ever seen. He was more dominant than the previous years.”

Dominant? How about masterful? Supreme? Or the “Greatest Clay-Courter Ever?” Look at it this way: Nadal won 18 of 22 games against the player who will go down in history as the best. It was the fewest number of games won by the No. 1 seed in any Grand Slam final in the four decades of the Open era.

As much as millions longed to see Roger win, they also respected the brilliance and humility of Nadal, who, in the awarding, told his friend, “Roger, I’m sorry.”

Jourdan Polotan, my seatmate last Sunday night watching the final, who came to my house with his wife Jingle, said it best: “It’s hard to hate Nadal. He’s such a nice guy.”

Left-handed like Rafa, Jourdan is right. It’s hard to find a pair of champions as humble and gracious as R & R.

And Federer? What happens next? I like what writer Jon Wertheim said: “It would be interesting to get into Federer’s head after this event. He reached the final, retaining his points from last year. He’s still the world No. 1. Wimbledon awaits. But will that demolition job—the faulty execution, the unforced errors, the loss on the last nine games—stick in his head when play turns to the grass?”

My guess is No. When the Wimbledon grass is opened to the public in two weeks, Federer enters its hallowed gates in the same way that he’s entered the past five years: Defeated at Roland Garros but, two weeks after, emerging as the “W” winner. The five-time Wimbledon defending champion, I’m sure the thought of London nearing will erase, in Roger’s mind, the throbbing pain of France.

But for now, one man reigns. The champion, he’s only No. 2.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!


  1. Some fans can be so antagonistic towards athletes they don’t like! As brilliant as Nadal was last Sunday, no doubt he, too, had his share of loses in the past and will have many more down the road. Can’t win them all; such as life in every sense of the word! Sunday’s loss was a humbling experience for RF, needless to say. Yet, there is no question that he is still the best player in the world (how else would he be ranked #1?). His record speaks for itself and, although some opinions differ, I consider him to be the greatest the tennis world has ever produced. As for Nadal, he is good and has a bright future. In due time, the tennis world will know if he can catapult himself to such great heights and be considered one of the greatest.

  2. I didn’t get to watch the game, but somehow I knew that Rafa was going to win. I just didn’t expect the results would be so devastating for Roger. I just love these two players. They have such a healthy competition and they’re both just amazingly humble. I just gotta add though, in women’s I loathe Sharapova.. or should I say Shriekapova. I’m glad Ana got the number one spot. She totally deserves it.

  3. This is the interesting thing about sports: Anybody can win. Plus, if you’re No.1, you’re the target of everyone. And the more interesting fact is that, while he’s the undisputed No.1 in all other surfaces, on clay, Federer is a far No.2 to Nadal. On to Wimbledon…

  4. in masterful net pniyalg — we all have seen , wehther it is during the times of laver or sampras or today — regardless of how good the baseliners are – it almost always requires about 3-4 or even 5 volleyes – both requiring the qualities of offense and defense at the same time…as for example if a sampras has to be at the net applying pressure BUT is met with resistance with attempted passes or lobs ..and has to be ready to shift with lightning speed..naturaly a player has to be very athletic and in great condition and unhamered by injuries or exhaustion or old age. that is why — when we saw Tsonga play nadal — there was nothing nadal could do FROM the baseline — considering that nadal is one of the greatest “baseliners EVER” was simply a demonstration of the SUPERIORITY of a TOP of the LINE performance by a PROPER allcourter and serve and volleyer. Federer fails in the latter category. that is the problem with his talk of “being more aggressive”. his aggression is LIKE nadal’s — from the baseline. but has been surpassed BY nadal and neutralized by murray in THAT category…and roger has NOT the kind of athleticism and touch AT the net and the APPROACH shot that sampras in his quicker days or tsonga in his healthier days possess.

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