Saturday, July 5, 2008
Updated: July 6, 5:53 PM ET
Karma on Nadal's side
So here's the weird thing: Roger Federer is the five-time defending champion at Wimbledon. He hasn't lost a set here, yet sentiment is running as high as 70-30 that Rafael Nadal will dethrone him and become the first man to complete a Channel Slam (winning Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same season) since Bjorn Borg in 1980.
It's reasonable to ask why there is such a feeling that Nadal's time has come. Is this just wholesale bandwagon jumping, or simply an expression of ennui and/or discontent with the length of Federer's reign at the top? I don't think pundits and fans (at least those who aren't wedded to one man or the other, come hell, high water or reality) are being fickle here, though they might be underestimating Federer. Here are the five main reasons Nadal has garnered so much support:
1. Nadal's game has improved and remained on a higher level since the start of the French Open, while Federer's has -- at best -- remained the same. Nadal consistently hits the ball deeper now, but he's no more error-prone. He's also taking the ball from farther inside the court, taking more time away from his opponents.
2. Nadal has an additional year of experience. Word is that after last year's final, Nadal was so disappointed by the way he let it slip away (he had chances to break Federer in his each of his first two fifth-set service games) that he stayed in the shower for twenty minutes washing away the loss' bitter aftertaste. Revenge is overrated as a motif. The more important fact is that Nadal now knows how focused he'll need to be until the last ball is hit.
3. While Nadal went on his customary clay court season tear, Federer continued to flounder. He didn't win a tournament until the minor clay-court event at Estoril. Then Nadal inflicted a bruising loss on Federer in the Roland Garros final.
That appeared to put Nadal on a different plane altogether, and suddenly people started to zero on the subtle changes that make him more dangerous on any surface, including clay. Those include a refinement of his serve (he now picks spots with superb precision) and a slight flattening-out of his forehand. Nadal now hits flatter and deeper than ever.
4. Nadal's win at Queens Club, the week after Roland Garros, was an eye-opener for the quality of hsi vanquished opponents. Nadal beat Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick, while Federer won Halle over a weak field (in the final, he beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, ranked No. 40). It only added fuel to the bonfire the pundits built for the Nadal pep rally.
5. The grass courts are playing more like hard courts than ever before, helping Nadal by reducing the effectiveness of Federer's slice -- and also allowing Nadal's topspin shots to leap at Federer. Centre Court looks like a wooden basketball floor with a threadbare covering of Astroturf, except at the baselines, where there is no longer any grass at all.
Of course, it might rain tomorrow, which would be favor Federer. The weather reports originally were awful, but they've been improving by the hour. If you're looking for reason No. 6, there it is -- karma.