Rafael Nadal's Pain Is Roger Federer's Gain

Andrew Prochnow@@AndrewProchnowAnalyst IAugust 20, 2012

Nadal's knee problems have forced him to withdraw from the US Open.
Nadal's knee problems have forced him to withdraw from the US Open.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Last week there was an epic shift in the fabric of the universe.  Had this type of energy transfer been expressed in terms of an earthquake, California may have finally broken off from the lower 48.  

Fortunately, the consequences of this galactic tremble weren't catastrophic for organic life and property.  At least I hope not.  Unfortunately, the news was emotionally devastating - especially if you're a fan of high-level tennis.  

On that fateful day of Aug. 15, 2012 A.D., Rafael Nadal announced to the world he was withdrawing from the 2012 United States Open.  

After already withdrawing from every tennis tournament he was scheduled to play since the 2012 Wimbledon, this certainly didn't surprise anyone.  But that didn't diminish the immense degree of disappointment felt by tennis fans across the world.

If you need any other evidence that a significant paradigm shift may have occurred, look no further than Roger Federer's recent 6-0, 7-6 (7) defeat of Novak Djokovic at the Western and Southern Open final in Cincinnati on Sunday.  With Nadal removed as a factor on tour, it's starting to look like...well, like when Nadal wasn't a factor on tour.  

Remember back before Nadal was competitive on surfaces outside of clay and Roger Federer was dominating the rest of the field on grass and hard court?  Remember when Federer used to beat Novak Djokovic fairly routinely?  Although that was a part of the tennis record a while back, it seems to have come back in style faster than a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

In the last three big tournaments since Nadal left the scene, Roger has claimed a Grand Slam title, a silver medal in the Olympics, and a title at the most competitive hard court tournament leading up to the US Open.  Were Roger a little younger, the only difference might have been gold instead of silver in London. 

It's no secret that Rafael Nadal has been plagued by knee problems throughout his career.  It's also no secret that Nadal plays a physically demanding style of tennis.

Rafa is known for never giving up, no matter the score or situation.  He's also known for his amazing defensive play, which involves chasing down every ball with maximum effort. My brother and I refer to Rafa's style of play as "bringing his lunchpail."  Each and every time Nadal steps on the court, he's ready for a full day of work.  

When Rafa punches the time clock, he's not punching out again until he's won the match or given absolutely everything he's got.  If an opposing player hopes to overcome Nadal on any particular day, he had best "bring his lunchpail," too.  If you're not ready to match Nadal in desire and effort, then you should expect a short day at the office.  That and a loss. 



Obviously, this style of play must have consequences.  Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.  For Rafa, this means that every time he pounds his legs into the ground running down that extra ball, the tennis court rebounds and applies an equal amount of pressure to his knees.  

From a personal standpoint, this must be a very painful and frightening experience for Rafael Nadal.  I'm sure he is concerned about his future health prospects as well as the longevity of his tennis career.  These are serious issues, and I'm sure everyone shares my sentiments in wishing Rafa a speedy and complete recovery. 

The reality of Rafael's Nadal's injury has significant ramifications for the tennis community as well.  Tennis is a zero-sum game - in the finals of a tournament there can be only one winner and one loser.  

And the winner is the only person history remembers, as Sean Connery said in the movie Highlander, "There can be only one."  Removing a high-calibre player such as Nadal from a tournament theoretically improves every one else's chance of winning the tournament.  

In the case of Roger Federer, one could argue that he has the most to gain from Nadal's absence.  Clearly, Federer's overall 2-8 record against Nadal in Grand Slam matches suggests this to be true.  Additionally, the fact that Federer hasn't beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam tournament for over five years is also relevant.  

However, facts outside of their head-to-head matches also suggest that Roger has a significantly better chance to win a Grand Slam when Nadal is either absent or beaten by another player at an early juncture in the tournament.  


Over the course of the last 19 consecutive Grand Slam events, there have been five occasions when Nadal was absent or beaten by a player other than Federer prior to the semi-finals.  During those five Grand Slams, Federer claimed the title on four occasions: an 80 percent success rate.  

In the other 14 Grand Slams, when Nadal reached at least the semi-finals, Federer won just one title: a 7 percent success rate.  These statistics clearly illustrate that of late, if Nadal is entered in a Grand Slam and playing well, than Federer's likelihood of winning the title is severely diminished.  


However, if Nadal is absent or playing badly, then Federer has a really excellent chance to win the tournament.

These historical facts, combined with Nadal's recent announcement, make it pretty clear who the favorite is entering the 2012 US Open.  I'll give you a hint, his initials are "RF" and they've been transformed into a nifty little logo.

Make no mistake, although Federer may not have as good of a chance to win the title when Nadal is present, I believe that Federer truly hopes Rafa will return soon.  Roger clearly feels very passionately about tennis and has a deep respect for the game.

I also think he relishes high-calibre, dramatic competition as well as the opportunity to be a part of tennis history.  The combination of Federer and Nadal in men's tennis is what originally produced such an amazing experience for the fans.  

Let's all hope Nadal overcomes this injury as soon as possible so we can watch another chapter in their storied rivalry unfold.