If you follow men’s tennis, you usually belong to either of two factions: Team Federer or Camp Nadal. Well, not this 2011. This year was solely dominated by Novak Djokovic.
He won 92 percent of all matches played (70 of 76). He earned a record-breaking $12.6 million in prize money. Out of the four Grand Slam trophies, he lifted three: Wimbledon and the Opens in America and Australia. In the first half of 2011, he was unbeaten in 43 consecutive matches.
And, in the best statistic that I researched, against Rafa and Roger, he was 10-1. Against the Spaniard, he won six of six. Of R & R, Djokovic said: “They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years. They have won most of the majors we are playing. So sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the latter stages of a Grand Slam. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most.”
What change paved the way for the 24-year-old Novak to annihilate his two rivals and emerge as No.1? His mind.
“It’s a process of learning, a process of developing and improving as a tennis player and just finding the way to mentally overcome those pressures you have,” he said. “I always believed that I had the quality to beat those two guys.”
Novak is scary because he has no fear of the top players. In the most memorable shot of the season, he was down two match points to Roger Federer at the U.S. Open and, instead of playing if safe, he drilled one forehand return-of-serve for a smashing winner. He beat the Swiss. He beat the Spaniard. He won New York.
“I had an unbelievable year,” said Novak. “Nothing can really ruin that. I will always remember this year as the best of my life.”
As to the question whether he can repeat one of the greatest years in tennis history, he says: “This year’s success gives me a reason to believe that I can win again. Why not? I think it doesn’t make any sense to be anything other than optimistic. I need to believe in my qualities and my abilities and I need to believe that I can repeat the success.” That’s the mentality of a champ.
The experts, what do they say? Bruce Jenkins of Sports Illustrated: “I can’t see him repeating such a surreal winning percentage, but it’s entirely possible that he could win three majors again.
Jon Wortheim, my favorite tennis writer, comments: “Barring injury, which, granted is no small conditional — there’s little to suggest he can’t sustain this level of excellence. His game translates to all surfaces. If one component of his game fails him, he has plenty of other weapons at his disposal. His fitness, once so shaky, has, with great abruptness, become an asset. He’s younger than the players who pose the biggest threat and, right now anyway, he is swelling with confidence.”
ANDY. Looking ahead to 2012, I’d like to see Andy Murray finally win a major. A Grand Slam runner-up three times, it’s hard to see him not winning that major trophy. The perfect place for him to triumph? Wimbledon. Then, months after, with the Olympics still to be played at Wimbledon, he repeats as the Olympic gold medalist. If his fellow Scot Rory McIlroy can do it for golf, why can’t he follow with tennis?
RAFA? While losing six of six to Novak (all in the finals, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) were painful, the medicine that erased the hurt was winning the Davis Cup for Spain a few weeks back.
ROGER. Already 30 years old, he had the best finish this year, winning three straight indoor events, including a 6-3, 6-0 embarrassment of Rafa in London. Not bad for the daddy of twins Myla Rose and Charlene Riva.
Here’s a comprehensive and entertaining piece by Tom Perrotta…
Roger Federer shouldn’t look this good. He has played 959 professional matches in his career, appeared in 46 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and spent more than a decade criss-crossing time zones while collecting a record 16 major singles titles and more than $60 million in prize money. Married and the father of twin 22-month-old girls, Mr. Federer brings his family—jet lag, runny noses and all—on the road with him from Melbourne to Paris to London to New York, and many places in between.
All of this for a man who in August will turn 30, the beginning of the twilight years in modern competitive tennis.
Yet as the 125th edition of Wimbledon is set to begin next week, Mr. Federer is fresh, fit, confident and, remarkably, on the upswing after a stellar performance at the French Open, where he ended 24-year-old Novak Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak and pushed Rafael Nadal, age 25 and perhaps the best clay court player in history, to four sets in the final…
Read more of Tom Perrotta’s article here.
Roger Federer should have won that first set. He led 5-2. He owned a set point. But, after missing a drop-shot by millimeters, he lost the next five games. Had Roger won that set, we never know…
But now we know. We know that, after the first 63 minutes were his, Rafael Nadal was invincible. He started jumping, lunging, fist-pumping. Vamos! reverberated throughout Stade Roland Garros.
Head-to-head, Rafa has won 17 of the 25 occasions that he and Roger have played. At the French Open, the record is 5-0 (including four in the Finals). On clay, it’s 11-2; hard-court, 4-all; on grass, Roger leads 2-1. And the most telling of all statistics: in Grand Slam finals, Rafa owns a 6-2 winning edge.
It’s obvious that, between the two, Nadal is better. So why, you ask, is Federer universally proclaimed as The Best Ever? All this chatter, of course, is pointless. RF fans will forever defend their man; so will RN devotees. Rafa himself addressed this issue, saying, “When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it’s not very interesting to me. I’m very happy with what I have, with who I am. I’m not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I’m among the best. That’s true. That’s enough for me.” Roger offers his own analysis: “He plays better against the better ones, and that’s what he showed today. He’s a great champion, on clay especially.”
What did we witness last Sunday? I cite 10 thoughts after observing the 10th Slam victory…
One, the Roger v. Rafa Rivalry is one of sport’s most compelling. No other one-two contest (Borg-McEnroe, Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus) can compare. The contrast in personalities. The styles and spins of play. The emotions: cool vs. combative. These are incomparable. And a message to all tennis fans that, should one have the resources, they ought to watch them play “live” before they retire.
Two, on court, if it’s Rafa’s forehand against Roger’s backhand, the outcome is as obvious as Pacquiao-Marquez III. The lefty wins. Roger has to find a way to avoid such ping-pong, cross-court exchanges.
Three, the tenacity of the Spaniard is unfathomable. His doggedness, resolve, and fortitude — more than his whipping forehand topspin or 100-meter-dash speed — gifts him victory. Tennis is mental. He who grits his teeth harder and wants it more pockets the $1.7 million prize money.
Four, defense wins the game. Watch the NBA. Listen to Coach Yayoy Alcoseba and to LeBron James & Co. “Defense is the key to success,” they’ll voice out in unison. Same with tennis. Nadal’s retrieval prowess — his ability to return a shot that, to anybody else on the ATP Tour, would have been a point lost — makes him greater than Bjorn Borg on clay.
Five, Roger is only 29. Which means he’s not 30 – a “psychological barrier” age when tennis pros (who’ve played since six years old) are on decline.
Six, the question is: Can Rafa, now with 10 majors, surpass Roger’s 16? At 25 years old, he’s five years younger. That’s about 20 Grand Slam title opportunities. He can if…
Seven… his body doesn’t complain. No body is subjected to more excruciating torture than Rafa’s 188-lb. frame. He slides, stretches, smashes, swings, sprints… suffers. Injury can derail his pursuit more than Federer Express.
Eight, Rafa can win despite “playing ugly.” Rafa almost lost. In the first round against John Isner, he was down two sets to one. Had he been defeated, that would have ranked as the greatest upset of all time. But he kept afloat. He survived. “The real Rafa is both the Rafa who wins and the Rafa who plays well, and the Rafa who suffers and doesn’t play that well,” said Nadal. “You have to face this situation.”
Nine, had Rafa faced Novak in the finals, he’d have lost. I think so. Roger’s backhand is his weakness. Not Novak. His two-handed shot causes grief to Rafa. That’s what caused defeat to the Mallorcan in the last four Final meetings they had.
Ten, I can’t wait for Wimbledon…..
A funny thing happened in this 2011 French Open. Everybody forgot about Roger Federer. All the focus was on Mr. Djokovic. All the talk was on Rafa’s quest for a sixth trophy. Who’s Roger? Is he still alive? In this planet? Playing tennis? Well, he happens to be the only living (and, yes, non-living) male person to have won 16 Grand Slam singles titles. He won on the Parisian red clay in 2009. He won an Olympic doubles gold medal in 2010. He is, almost unanimously, the best hairy, male player who’s gripped a tennis racket.
And, during the past two weeks in Paris, like a stealth bomber that’s hidden from the radar view, he was silent, unseen, moving, targeting, and now, all of a sudden, he’s out in the open, in the Finals, and within sight of the prize.
Less pressure. Compared to Rafa and Novak, the Swiss had it easier. He’s relegated to a world ranking of # 3. That’s a lowly position that RF had not stooped down to since, when, 2002? Yet, all this is working for the good. For Roger’s good. Because elite, world’s-best athletes need an extra boost of motivation to allow them to climb beyond Mount Everest’s peak – and this is it for Roger.
Neglected, ignored and, yes, disregarded as a 30-year-old (in August 8) has-been former-superstar whose star has faded, this abandonment Roger is using to spark himself.
COME ON!!!!!!! I’ve never, in over eight years of observation, seen him pump his fist and shout “Come On!” as many times as now. He’s feeding off this omission by the media — myself included — and using it to power his smash. You think I’m gone? I’ll prove you people wrong! he’s mentally saying.
Did you see his annihilation of Novak? He served 18 aces. He fired his forehand down-the-line. He snapped his backhand cross-court. He gracefully performed drop shots. He attacked. He was unafraid to exchange shot versus shot against the Serb. “I really wanted to make it as physical as possible,” which I was able to make happen,” said Roger.
Because of RF’s win, the happiest man in Paris today is… Rafa… the arch-rival but best friend of Roger (you should see their YouTube video, giggling and joking for endless minutes while filming an advertisement).
Had Djokovic entered the finals, he’d have been world No.1 when the new ATP rankings are released tomorrow, Monday. Roger prevented that. And he did so during Rafa’s 25th birthday last Friday. Best friends help each other. Roger did his part. Will Rafa return the favor, losing to his similar 6-foot-1, Nike-fully-clothed amigo in tonight’s Grand Finale (at 9 P.M., PHL time)?
Ha-ha. It’s like LeBron James asking Nowitzki, “Hey, Dirk, can you pleeeease give me a chance and give me my first NBA ring?” (Dirk’s reply: ‘Bron, me, too. I’ve never won a title!)
And so we’re back to one of the greatest rivalries in history. “I have another opportunity to beat Rafa here and get the Roland Garros title,” said Roger. “I’ve got to play some extraordinarily special tennis. I’m aware of that. But I obviously took a huge step today, and hope I can get everything together for the final.”
My pick? I’ve always attempted to stand on neutral ground when these two play. Roger is an exquisite, Swiss-cool, one-handed-backhand-hitting, effortless, injury-less gentleman. Rafa is animalistic, bull-like, tenacious-beyond-compare, humble yet ferocious. The two — apart from having collected 21 of the last 24 Grand Slam singles titles since 2005 — also share a loftier accolade: they are two of the most courteous, good-mannered role models in entertainment.
So I pick… “R.” Once, in a Casino Español luncheon with Frank Malilong on one side as Rafa’s Cebu-based attorney and Moya Jackson, Chinggay Utzurrum and Michelle So on the opposite end as I’m-In-Love-With-Roger lifetime members, it was a cross-fire worse than Mayweather, Sr. and Freddie Roach.
Seriously, as inspired as Roger is by his twin daughters, I’d pick RN. A winner in 44 out of 45 matches in Roland Garros, he’ll add a sixth crown past 12 midnight tonight. Vamos.
Novak Djokovic is the world’s No.1 player. Unofficially. Because based on the ATP rankings, he is No. 2, having recently supplanted Roger Federer. The numero uno is still Rafael Nadal. But, in my tennis book, given that Novak sports an 18-0 record this 2011 and due to his twin wins over Roger (in the Indian Wells semis) and Rafa (finals), then he, rightfully, deserves to be the Top Gun.
Will he, soon, finally become the true ATP No.1? I have no doubt. His confidence level is at its highest. He won the Australian Open. He won the Davis Cup for Serbia. He’s en route to replacing R & R. Is this good for tennis? Absolutely. Rafa and Roger have exchanged No.1 rankings since February 2004. That’s seven long years ago. Since then, it’s been all R & R. Nobody else has become “The Best.” The Roddicks, the Murrays — they’ve all tried. And faltered. Roger and Rafa are the Qaddafis of tennis; they don’t want to relinquish their thrones (I know.. bad joke). Djokovic’s ascension will inspire others to say, “Hey, finally, someone’s been able to do it! We can, too!”
Rafa? He’s got plenty of points to defend in the upcoming clay-court season. If he loses some matches–and Novak wins a few more–they can exchange positions. Novak will be on top. But the problem (to his opponents) is this: Rafa hardly loses on clay. In the opinion of many, including mine, he is the greatest ever on that slow court. Last year, he was undefeated at 22 matches on clay — including his fifth French Open crown.
I love watching concerts. From Don Moen to Duran Duran to Dionne Warwick (ha-ha, just kidding on the last one; I’m not as old as my mom!), I’ve seen plenty. There’s one concert I strongly endorse you attend. It’s Monday next week (Dec. 6) and it’s called The GIFT OF LIFE Chorale Concert and Benefit Gala. Featuring four university choirs—from USC, UC, SWU and UV—the audience will be serenaded with Christmas carols and Cebuano favorites. Best of all, all proceeds will go to a most-worthy cause: to help “blue babies” (children with congenital heart diseases). Organized by the illustrious Rotary Club of Cebu and headed by President Joe Soberano, the ticket costs only P1,000 per person—with free dinner. Please watch. Listen to beautiful voices. Give the gift of life. That’s Dec. 6 at the Waterfront. See you there!
ASIAN GAMES. Our continent is the world’s biggest and most populated. We are about four billion-strong comprising 60 percent of the earth’s people. For two weeks ending last weekend, our continent staged the once-every-four-years sporting meet called the Asian Games. How did our Philippines do? If you ask our three gold medalists — Dennis Orcollo of billiards, Rey Saludar of boxing, and Biboy Rivera of bowling — the answer is obvious: Gold is the most precious metal… and medal.
But, as a whole, “PHL” failed. Of the 476 events representing 42 sports, we achieved a 3-4-9 score-sheet. That’s three golds, four silvers and nine bronzes for 16 medals. Given that we sent 188 athletes, that’s an impoverished finish. We scored an “F” or failure. This is worse than the Doha, Qatar Games of 2006 when we scored 4-6-9. This pales in comparison to Busan, South Korea in 2002 when we won 3-7-16. We are getting worse.
The reason? As we progress slowly, our Asian neighbors are sprinting rapidly. Take the Chinese. They’re not only dominating the Asian Games (scoring 199 gold medals, the most-ever by a country) but even topping the Olympics, besting the Americans in total medals won. Of course, their population reaches 1.33 billion. Still, they surge while we languish.
What’s most pathetic is this: we never saw TV footages of the Asian Games. The least our local networks could have done was air the Opening and Closing ceremonies—plus games of the Pinoys. There was none. We lost in China. We lost at home.
ROGER BEATS RAFA. This 2010, Mr. Nadal won three of the four Grand Slam titles: the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Mr. Federer did not win any. But, at the finale event of this season, he sought revenge. Roger defeated the world’s No.1 in this year’s last official big-time ATP match: the championship of the ATP World Tour Finals.
What does this mean? Plenty. One, it means Roger—who was trailing 14-7 in their head-to-head prior to last Sunday’s match—will gain confidence. This means RF is not bygone, past-his-prime. It means heading into 2011, he still has the game to win—going undefeated in this round-robin format event. Two, this reaffirms the dominance of both R & R. They have combined to win 21 of the last 23 majors—a fantastic statistic. This rivalry will continue.
The sad part? Like the Games of Asia, there was no Star Sports or Balls Channel TV showing. Not in this event; not the entire year with Masters Series tournaments. This was a missed opportunity for all tennis lovers.
UC VS. ATENEO. Today is an important day for collegiate basketball. It’s Cebu against Manila. It’s Junemar Fajardo, the 6-foot-10 giant from Pinamungajan, who will lead the University of Cebu Webmasters against the Ateneo De Manila University Blue Eagles.
On paper, it’s a mismatch. Ateneo is seasoned and is the three-time defending UAAP champions. They’re playing on home soil, in Manila. Their cheerers and blue pompoms are aplenty. But, as the cliche goes, “the ball is round.” Anything can happen in the semifinal of the Phil. Collegiate Champions League. If UC upsets ADMU, it will be historic; a win for the taga-probinsya.
The word is Tenacity. It means to be persevering and dogged. The word is Determined. It’s defined as being “forceful, single-minded.” The word is Competitive. It translates to one’s being “merciless.. aggressive.. brutal.” All these words are synonyms to one name: Rafael Nadal.
Has there been an athlete as forceful? And fist-pumping, Vamos-shouting, I’m-willing-to-die-on-court-to-win persistent? Yes, Michael Jordan was intense. So was Mr. Armstrong during his Tour de Lance. KB24 is another. And, we can point to our own: Manny P. They are history’s most strong-willed of sportsmen. Add two more letters to the shortlist: R.N.
You want to know Rafa’s secret? Actually, there is no secret. We’ve seen it on our TV screens ever since he won the 2005 French Open (on his first try) as a 19-year-old. It’s called attitude. Mental strength.
“What’s my best thing?” he asked himself. “I think the mentality, attitude on court I think always was good for me,” he said. “I am positive on court, and I fight all the time. But not the only thing. Positive attitude is not only fight on court. I think I was able to listen all the time to the coach and to have adjustments and to be ready to change things to be better and to improve.”
That’s it. For while nobody in the ATP Tour possesses a more Herculean build, it’s more than biceps and triceps that enable Rafa to win: it’s brain power. Nobody, simply put, wants it more.
The U.S. Open final against Novak Djokovic? Well, the Serbian was handed plenty of favors. After a draining five-set upset of Roger Federer, Novak was scheduled to play Rafa just 20 hours later. It rained. He was given an extra 24 hours. Plus, during the final itself and while showing early signs of fatigue, it rained in the second set. Novak rested. It didn’t matter. Well-rested or not, there was no stopping the 2008 Olympic gold medalist from claiming his first gold in New York.
Now, with Rafa’s ninth major, the question in everybody’s lips is this: Can he overtake Roger’s 16? YES!!!!!! NO!!!!!! No!!!!!! Yes!!!!!! You see, in this debate, there are two opposing “R” camps. And so, the best answer to that query is, “It depends who you ask…”
Take the luncheon I joined two months ago. British Consul Moya Jackson, although nearer in hometown to Andy Murray, adores Roger Federer. Same with Michelle So. And Chinggay Utzurrum. Regardless of whatever Rafa accomplishes—even if he wins Major No. 155—their hearts are forever transfixed on Roger.
Frank Malilong, one of this island’s best debaters and a left-hander with wicked topspin shots, is, on the other camp, a Nadal devotee.
They argued. Teased one another. Everybody left Casino Español with stomach pains—not from sumptuous-food overload—but from laughing. Nobody admitted their R was weaker.
It’s the same elsewhere. Bobby Lozada, Ernie Delco and Fabby Borromeo are for Rafa; so are my Jasmin and Jana. The Polotans—Jourdan and Jingle—are for Roger; so are Emma Siao and “R” doctors Ronnie Medalle and Ronald Eullaran. This debate is two-sided.
My personal analysis? Yes, Rafa will eclipse Roger. Only 24 while Roger is 29, that five-year gap means 20 Grand Slam opportunities. Can RN win at least seven in the next 60 months? (The French Open alone he’ll win 12!)
But, you ask, won’t Roger also win more and add to his 16? Maybe; maybe not. Sure, Roger is still a threat. Had he converted on those match points in the semis, he’d have faced (yet, I believe, still lost to) Nadal. But here’s Roger’s problem: When facing the Spanish matador, his muscles melt like Swiss cheese. Their record is a lopsided 14-7 (in Nadal’s favor) and—here’s the more telling score—RF has lost six of their last seven meetings and has not beaten RN in a major since ‘007.
Still, it’s a long way to go. But with Frank Malilong as his lawyer, I wouldn’t bet against Rafa.
The 24-year-old Spaniard just won the title that has eluded him for years: the U.S. Open. Now, he has nine major titles and 42 trophies in all. Here’s an interesting piece of information from the official website, usopen.org:
An hour or so after Roger Federer lost to Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semifinals, my close buddy Graeme Mackinnon wrote this commentary from Australia:
NY will have to wait another year… but will it happen ever?
It is 9am here and the news is just through that the rivalry of R&R will be on hold for another Grand Slam. So will Rafa open his Open account in New York and claim the biggest apple they have for tennis there. If Rafa will win I suppose the inevitable of will he overtake Roger in the number of Open wins in the future will be ignited again.
Rafa is clearly several rungs above the pretenders. Djokovic and Murray have not rattled the cage consistently enough to believe that Rafa would be troubled in the majority of games he plays against them. Only Roger we believe will give us a classic match. But given Rafa’s record (14-7) against Roger would he be shaking in his nike tennis shoes?
Again the debate of whether there are chinks beginning to appear in the armor of Roger’s invincibility will again be ignited after this weekend. Only time will tell if Roger has won his last Open tournament. Rafa (with age on his side and if he stays fit) will be as relentless as he is in his games in his pursuit of Roger’s record number of Open’s wins. But the indisputable fact will be that for those lucky enough to have witnessed both Roger and Rafa during their careers, there will be debates (another one?) as to who is the GOAT or would there be a consensus to call them co-GOATS. I think if Rafa does eventually equal or gets near either way there would be a compelling case as they are so unique in their techniques and have brought so much theater to tennis.
Interesting times ahead both on and off the court John. Now given my terrible tipping record I have most probably put the hex on Rafa and Djokovic will blow him away, but I wouldn’t bet on that either.