I've never watched Roger Federer look so good against Rafael Nadal. Until today, when he beat Nadal, 6-3, 6-0 in the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Yes, Nadal had a bad day. He was coming off a fairly long break from playing tennis. In addition, Nadal reportedly had a stomach illness a few days ago. Yet, who among us thought Federer could even pull off another match vs. Nadal like this one? Federer, while having some terrific moments in the past year in Grand Slam events, still has not won one since the Australian Open in 2010.
Federer looked almost flawless. His serve was fantastic the whole match. He was more aggressive vs. Nadal and hit winners at all angles. In fact, remarkably, Federer had 28 winners to Nadal's four! That stat tells it all, really. Plus, Federer had eight unforced errors compared to Nadal's total of seven. (Usually, when these two play, Nadal has FAR less unforced errors and hits his good share of winners, too).
Federer dictated most of the play. Federer, in a role-reversal with his nemesis, hit the ball consistently—with great success—to Nadal's backhand. Nadal, looking less energetic, lost many rallies without his typical display of outstanding defense. Nadal looked rusty and unfocused—as he did in his early round matches at the US Open earlier this year. At one point, Federer won 20 of 25 consecutive points against Nadal. That is almost unheard of! Indeed, the "unlikelihood" of this match made it seem like a fantasy at times.
Federer, by contrast, has played outstandingly in recent weeks. He apparently benefited significantly from taking a five-week vacation from tennis and won a tournament in Paris recently.
Granted, it's one match. It was on Federer's favorite surface—the same indoor court where he defeated Nadal a year ago in the same tournament. That time, Fed lost a set, but beat Nadal 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.
"Clay goes his way," Federer told the Associated Press afterward.(http://espn.go.com/espn/print?id) "At least I have one surface that goes my way."
Beyond that, it was so unusual to see Federer play with such non-stop confidence vs. Nadal. From start to finish, he seemed to expect most of his shots to be winners.
What does this mean? It suggests to me that Federer, amazingly, still has quite a bit of life in him as we approach 2012. I had thought his chances to win another major would be tremendously diminished by now. Instead, after seeing him today, I think Fed still has a chance to win another Slam in 2012. One of his best chances, interestingly, may be at the 2012 Australian Open, on the hard court surface where he plays better.
Nadal has a way to go to get back on top. Today, he looked more ordinary, slow, and tentative than in most matches I've seen him in. However, I have no doubt he will restore his game and come back in 2012, barring serious injuries. Novak Djokovic has weathered a few ups and downs due to injury at the end of 2011.
It's a good time for Federer to apply his brilliance one more time and win another Slam.