Competition - Winning isn't about respecting your adversary. It is fundamentally about breaking them. As nice as Federer seems on the surface, don't for a minute be fooled. It’s only an enemy across the net that he sees. He is the master of being nice and sympathetic after he’s won. The pat on the back, the self-deprecating speech saying how wonderful his opponent played, complimenting them - getting into their heads, letting them know he appreciates the effort - we have to be entertaining after all - but make no mistake: he lets them know he is the best.
Only Nadal has the confidence to rise to the challenge in the Grand Slams. Murray, though talented enough, usually still falters in those Grand arenas while holding a winning record against Mr. Fed overall. At Wimbledon, he played superbly but without his usual fire. He was controlled, thoughtful, and a bit boring. You don’t win the ultimate prizes without fire. It’s not enough to be controlled and thoughtful. Heart is what wins the great ones, not technique.
Roddick has the fire. He has huge weapons, has proven himself adaptable, and has gone from fairly one-dimensional to a mutli-faceted player that now deserves to be in the top four. Next to Nadal, he is the only one thus far to consistently show that fire in the GS’s. Unfortunately, as with Wimbledon, the weight of that 2-18 record slowed his feet just enough to let Federer sneak through. Fed is in his head.
It’s not that Roddick, Murray or Djokovic can’t play with Federer. We’ve seen them push Fed to his highest gear. But they falter where he digs in and guts it out, never allowing thoughts of losing to affect him. Only Nadal, who unabashedly revels in his physical strength and warrior heart, has consistently beaten Federer when it counts. He has been able to raise his game just that little bit to a level that Federer can’t reach.
Federer is a player in the style of Agassi; no single giant weapon, but always solid, always consistent - on an extremely high level. As is Nadal, though Nadal is redefining shot-making with his unusual game. Murray is the chess player, and Djokovic another in the mold of Agassi. Roddick is more in the line of Sampras; huge weapons - though he doesn’t close it out like Sampras did and is hurt by the slowing of all the court surfaces. His best chance should be the US Open, the one truly fast court left in the Grand Slams.
So what to do about Federer? First, convince the head that he’s human, hate him, put his picture on a board and throw darts at it, make a punching doll of him and beat it mercilessly, convince yourself not to respect him, that he’s weak, that he’s beatable. You can’t be friends with your fellow competitors, not while you’re competing - save that for retirement.
As to the contenders:
First: By all unofficial accounts Nadal is still the number one player. If there is ever any doubts about Federer being the GOAT, it will be because Nadal owned him in GS’s, but can he come back? I think he’s maybe got another good year left in him. I’d put it all into the U.S. Open. Win that and his place in history is secure, and he should be able to pick up at least another French Open. Federer actually needs Nadal - he needs to beat him few more times to even things up or that doubt will always be there.
Roddick- Has the highest likelihood of beating Federer next to Nadal in a Grand Slam final - if he can make it to another final. He’s got the fire and if he can mentally use that epic Wimbledon match to his advantage, he could still win a couple more Slams - no one deserves it more, and it would be a damn shame for him to be a one-hit wonder. But somehow he has to get that 2-19 elephant off his back at those critical junctures in the matches.
Murray- He’s running out of time. If he doesn’t win this US Open, his head will be a mess and I think he’ll have to wait until time starts to take its toll on Federer to win a GS. For his legacy, he needs to win a GS while Federer is at the top of his game, or he will always be a footnote.
Djokovic- He’s lost in his own self-doubt and hasn’t shown a lot of heart of late. He got lucky and got his shot when Federer was down, just a Federer did when Nadal was down at the French. Studying the one Grand Slam Winners Club, he fits the mold perfectly; made a final, and won the Australian. The Australian has become the classic venue for the one hit wonders.
As for any of the others? Well maybe if Federer offered the above mentioned four a ride in his private jet and then crashed. I don’t think anyone else out there is going to get a chance for a long time.
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