U.S. Open 2010: Breaking Down Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Cliff PotterCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2010

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 16:  Roger Federer of Switzerland runs to play a forehand against Rafael Nadal of Spain in the mens final match during the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 16, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

There is a lot to rejoice about today. Roger Federer is still on track to meet Rafael Nadal after his straight three set win over the No. 12 seed Jurgen Melzer. The match showcased a number of significant aspects of Federer's game, none bigger than his hands.

The games played by Nadal have also shown numerous aspects about his improved game. Particularly his serve.

So what will the Finals bring, if indeed both reach the Finals. Leaving aside the relatively tougher draw for Federer, which could mean more sets than Nadal will have and consequently more energy expended, let's assume that both players reach the Finals in about the same shape. What factors will affect the play, whose game will be better, and what do we see as the match up for the two players when considering their games?

To review these points, we could study largely the categories used in most player evaluations. Instead, let's study the following aspects of the two players' games: hands, footwork, court coverage, serve, net play, and intangibles.


Perhaps the least observed and most important part of Federer's play has been his hands. While footwork is excellent too, Federer's hands were showcased in one point yesterday when he moved his hands in both directions seemingly effortlessly, and then placed a perfect drop shot from a fair distance from the net. The drop shot is largely due to a tennis player's hands. And Federer has become one of the better drop shot players in the game. Whether called "touch" or as here "hands," Federer has wonderful play in this, perhaps the most important of all aspects of the tennis game.

Nadal has weaker hands play, particularly due to the fact that he changes his grip continually as he moves from backhand to forehand. Indeed, perhaps because he is largely still a backcourt player, his hands are perhaps the weakest part of his game, even though he can and does use the drop shot effectively once in a while.

Evaluation: Advantage Federer


Both players excel at outstanding footwork. Few balls can escape either player, and most are playable. Because of his style of play, Federer has his footwork more often on display. And, due to the fact that his footwork is rarely if ever poor, Federer plays with confidence from almost any angle on the court.

Nadal's footwork is a lasting reminder that superiority from the baseline comes from have the feet in the right position constantly. While he showcases his footwork less, Nadal is one of the best with this aspect of the game. 

Evaluation: Even

Court Coverage

Moving at the baseline is perhaps harder than any other movement, since the ability to reach the ball from one side of the court to the other is often among the hardest ways one can play tennis with aggression. There is little doubt but that Nadal has mastered the ability to play aggressively from the baseline, more so than any other player playing today.

Federer still has speed and court coverage of a younger man. Yet his game has matured and quickness has slowed a bit. Particularly from the baseline, Nadal has the advantage.

Evaluation: Advantage Nadal


With service winners at over 130 mph, Nadal has gained stature as a server. Before his serve was slower and had more topspin. Today's serve by Nadal has reached new heights.

Federer also has a very fast service, with placement perhaps better than almost any player ever. While not in the fastest of serves, Federer often serves aces to the point that he is among the top players at this year's open in that category.

Evaluation: Advantage Federer  

Net Play

Always outstanding at the net, Federer has become more aggressive recently. Most credit this to Paul Annacone's coaching. For net play today, few are close to Federer.

Nadal rarely comes to the net, although his work there is usually excellent. For the sheer number of net play opportunities, Federer comes out ahead.

Evaluation: Advantage Federer


Among the intangibles here are the crowd, outside pressures, and mental toughness.

The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium is likely to be more vocal for Nadal. His fans tend to be louder, and he generates more excitement than Federer. On this one, Nadal wins.

For Federer, his major outside pressure is the ability to win the U.S. Open for a record sixth time. His will to add another Grand Slam to his already bulging portfolio of Grand Slams is another. These pressures provide substantial strain in his ability to win his sixth U.S. Open.

For Nadal, winning the Career Grand Slam is the biggest outside pressure either player faces. To win this one makes Nadal a major part of tennis history. The pressure to win this is larger than that facing Federer.

Mental toughness, especially the ability to tune out the crowd and all outside pressure, is huge for both players. Yet, there is a tendency to believe that Nadal has more mental toughness, if only because of the crying Federer when he lost the Australian Open to Nadal, and Nadal's overall demeanor.

Evaluation: Advantage Nadal


With so many possible factors, these are only some that will be seen if the Federer-Nadal Finals actually come to pass. The factors above are subjective and obviously subject to debate. If each were rated of equal importance, Federer wins. Yet, the intangibles could be the most important. Five sets, anyone?