Monday, July 7, 2008

Rafa > Roger

Photo by Flickr user bluemoose used under a Creative Commons license.

I let a day pass by before assessing what was unquestionably the best tennis match I've seen in my life and letting the result sink in. Rafael Nadal has beaten the seemingly invincible Roger Federer on grass, marking two straight finals victories over the (former?) world number 1. Does this mean that Nadal has taken over as the best player in the world?

Let's back up a little bit. First of all, grass now isn't what grass used to be. The old Wimbledon used to play so fast that the clay-courters wouldn't even make the trip. Since the resodding of the courts a few years ago, the Championships have slowed to being possibly the second slowest major behind the French. The ground has firmed, allowing higher bounces, the bane of the serve-and-volley player who called Wimbledon home, and more and more points are now decided at the baseline. Some say that grass is the new clay, and those who do aren't very far off. Once Rafa even makes the final at Flushing Meadows or the Australian Open, then we can talk about his being the best ever.

That isn't to take anything away from Rafa's win, however. His commanding win that the French, where he allowed a total of 4 games to Federer, combined with this win at The Championships has cemented Rafa into the 2008 overall points lead. Though grass has changed to favor Nadal, it was still Federer's forte, and though he seems to be declining on the other surfaces, he was still dominant before meeting Rafael at the All-England club. Yesterday's match saw 52 unforced errors by the defending champ, compared to the 79 total errors he committed in the previous 6 rounds combined. it was a truly special and inspired performance by the Spaniard and nothing should be taken away from that.

More and more this year, we've noticed that at 22, Rafa is just entering his prime, and at 27, Federer might be exiting his. We see a glimpse of the horizon for Nadal and a slow march to the end for Roger. Is Nadal the best there is right now? He very well might be, but I'd still take Roger three years ago over Rafa now.