Commentary

Will Nadal last long enough to face Federer?

A Federer-Nadal final would be great for American fans to see at the U.S. Open. However, how healthy is the Spaniard heading into the year's final Grand Slam?

Updated: August 22, 2007, 2:24 PM ET
By Chris Fowler | ESPN.com

When we left Wimbledon, everyone was buzzing about the classic Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal final. What I've always felt is needed to take this rivalry to the next level is for them to have a huge match on hard courts and raise awareness in United States.

Frankly, what's kept the rivalry from getting to that next level, is Rafa's inability, for the most part, to get through on hard courts. The ultimate is for Federer and Nadal to meet in the U.S. Open final in front of rocking house on Sunday night -- that would be a very big step for their rivalry and tennis in general.

Over the last couple of years, Nadal has had pretty good results on hard court and has won at Indian Wells earlier this season; but he hasn't had good enough results to set up consistently the kind of matches with Federer that they have had on clay. We'd love to see Federer and Nadal collide more often on hard court, which many consider a more neutral surface.

My hopes for that have faded a bit because of Nadal's inability to get over the hump on the summer hard-court circuit. It's no disgrace losing to a red-hot Novak Djokovic in Montreal, but Nadal's body broke down in Cincinnati. You don't usually hear him complain about conditions and the heat, but he wasn't physically there at all when he retired against Juan Monaco. Physically, he plays so much tennis the first half of the year, I think there are people questioning his physical readiness for the U.S. Open. To me, that is a major story line.

• Djokovic has emerged as the prime challenger, although Federer doesn't consider him that way … yet. (Djokovic and Federer can not meet until the final.) Roger is very much old school, a you-have-to-prove-it-to-me type of player when it comes to assessing his opponents, and I think he still considers Rafa his main rival regardless of the surface.

Djokovic does have something to prove. His run in Montreal was spectacular (beating No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 2 Nadal and No. 1 Federer in consecutive matches) and beating the top-three players in the world at the time is very special. That was one of the most impressive three-day stretches of tennis we've seen in the last 10 years.

But he needs to make a further statement as to where he is and do it at a Grand Slam, in best-out-of-five matches, and in very tough conditions in New York. As great as his run was at Wimbledon, he had nothing left in the tank against Nadal in the semis. There is still a lot for Djokovic to prove even though he has established himself as the real deal and the buzz in the locker room and the consensus among the players is he's the real deal.

That's life at the top.

• As for the top Americans, the loss in Cincinnati for Roddick was pretty stunning, although David Ferrer is a quality hard-court player. But Roddick felt really good going in but was unable to defend his title. And it was the way that he lost: His forehand completely abandoned him and I thought he had a crisis of confidence. Not that he can't bounce back -- he will be very tough to beat on the hard surface. However, Roddick's loss in Cincinnati dropped his ranking to No. 5 and now he will have to face Federer in the quarterfinals if both players get that far.

James Blake had a great week in Cincinnati (and is playing at the Pilot Pen) and he has to build on that. He is trying to reconstruct his year, which had been a little bit disappointing, but he's now in a decent position to make the year-end championships if he can hold his position.

• The one player I thought was going to have a really good year -- but now is a huge question mark -- is Andy Murray. It's been so disappointing because of the wrist injury he suffered. It's healed but he can't overcome the notion that it's still subpar and he's having a hard time hitting the topspin forehand. He has no confidence right now and is another major question mark. It's too bad, because he has a game that's very well suited for the U.S. Open -- and pretty much all surfaces.

ESPN's Chris Fowler provide analysis for ESPN.com during the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open Series.

Chris Fowler

College Football
Since 1989, Chris Fowler has been ESPN's primary college football and men's college basketball studio host. He's anchored College GameDay, the network's award-winning Saturday morning college football preview show, since 1990.