10 Jul 2007
With Wimbledon just having concluded, and Federer capturing another grand slam title (there are four tournaments that make up the tennis grand slam: Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open), it's interesting to read all about Rafael Nadal's "coming of age". Nadal is Federer's main competition in the tennis world, and he was runner-up to Federer again this year at Wimbledon. Except this time the match went the maximum five sets, indicating that Nadal is getting better on the grass surface there. (Another note: tennis is played on different surfaces, with different players usually playing better on their favorite. Nadal dominates on the clay surface of the French Open. Federer also does well on clay but dominates the grass of Wimbledon and the hard court surfaces of the Australian and US Opens.)
The praises heaped on Nadal as he seems to approach Federer's greatness always reference Nadal's 8-5 advantage in head-to-head matches (which excludes the weird half-clay half-grass battle of surfaces which Nadal won, and doubles matches). What those praises fail to indicate is how many of those eight wins came on clay. It's six. Stop playing on clay so much and the head-to-head record starts looking a little more equitable. Duh. Nadal's record against Federer is 6-1 on clay but just 2-4 on other surfaces.
Other stuff I've read indicates Federer has "come of age" since he was finally tested in a grand slam final and came out on top. Guess what? This was Federer's first grand slam win where he needed five sets. His first 10 grand slam wins came in less than five sets. He dominates when he plays. But Nadal has frequently needed five sets just to get by weaker opponents in earlier rounds. People have started to think that just because Nadal reached this Wimbledon final that he's really improved his grass game. He may have improved some, but my guess is that he'll still be wildly inconsistent at times, leading to finals where Federer rolls over some other opponent. Federer has been a rock of consistency and has been improving his game on clay, too, ending Nadal's record 81-match winning streak on that surface earlier this year.
I think Nadal's domination of the game can only occur when Federer's age starts to limit his ability. Give it a couple of years, since Federer will turn just 26 in August and Nadal is still only 21.