Is Rafael Nadal the Roger Federer of 2008?

Let’s get some preliminary howling out of the way:


Phewww. Now I feel much better. Back to the question –

It’s been a strange experience watching 2011 unfold as a Federer fan. While I do harbour a healthy dose of warm-fuzzies towards Rafa, I don’t have  the same degree of emotional investment in him as I do in Wodge. In a way, I feel almost like a fan “once removed”. And in my emotional removal, 2011 seems oh-so cyclical: Rafael Nadal is having the kind of year that Roger Federer had in 2008, and Rafa fans are freakin’ out (or alternatively – in denial) not so dissimilarly to Woger fans back in 2008.

Of course, it’s not as if Nadal isn’t putting up solid results: just like Federer was back in the first half of 2008, Nadal is almost a sure bet for the semifinals and beyond. But just as 2008 showed for Federer, the blow that knocks a king off his pedestal comes most poignantly on his traditional surface of dominance. For Woger, it came down to the final set of Wimbledon 2008, and for Rafa, it may or may not come at Roland Garros.

Actually – scrap that. It probably already came.

Rafael Nadal could go on and win Roland Garros, as – I think – most people still expect him to. Despite two consecutive straight set losses, the respect and awe inherent in his record in Paris still makes him the presumptive favourite going into the tournament.

But more or less, the battle for No 1 has already been fought and lost. The clay season, the usual linchpin of Rafa’s year, has lost much of its symbolic shine in 2011. To put it another way, “only” winning Barcelona and Monte Carlo may be fabulous results for anyone else on tour, but Rafael Nadal isn’t just “anyone else”.

It will also be interesting to see how these losses contribute to perceptions of Nadal in the locker room. While there’ no question that Nadal continues to inspire a whole lotta awe, how much has his aura been slowly whittled away by recent losses, the way Roger’s was back in 2008? And how much of it can be rebuilt, re-established and refortified against a field that’s probably busy studying tapes of his recent losses for future application?

We’re in for a very interesting French Open, that’s for sure.

Of course, I’m not saying that Nadal won’t go on to post more incredible achievements in his career. Nor am I writing a premature obituary on his years of dominance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the guy regains or solidifies his No 1 position over the next 18 months.

But I am seeing tiny signs from Nadal in 2011 that were similarly evident in Federer back in 2008 – bizarrely wild forehands, unconverted break points, opportunities wasted, overheads blown. You can put it down to a bad performance here and there, but soon it’ll become a trend, and soon after that, it’ll start to resemble a mild case of tennistic Alzheimer’s. Sometimes the Clay Monster (or our darling Tee Em Eff) is there, but at other times, you have to strain to find him in a torrent of uncharacteristic errors.

Have I just depressed the crap out of you?

It’s okay. At some point, we must all come to terms with the cruel passage of time. It gets us all in the end – you, me, Rafa, Wodge, and one day, Djokovic too.

xx doots

Psssssst. More on Wodge and Maria later, bitchezzzz. 

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19 responses to “Is Rafael Nadal the Roger Federer of 2008?”

  1. jb (chocolate FTW) says :

    it’s funny – nole and rafa are closer in age – but rafa’s got a lot of mileage on him and in somw ways much closer to fed with the amount of mental wear and tear.

    either way – it’s going to be an interesting summer!

  2. caliope says :

    both of them are beating everybody else, including Roger at the moment, but maybe because i’m also a fed fan i don’t think that it is so much fun to watch… not the same cool seemingly effortless no sweating chic tennis…

  3. Kathryn Benninghoff says :

    Three points: (1) I have loathed Djokovic’s persona for some time but have, of late, been quietly impressed with Nole’s aggression, mental ferocity and on-court creativity; (2) I am obsessed with the preservation of Fed’s record and seek any occasion whatsoever to keep distance between Roger and Rafael. I’m not worried about Djokovic surpasssing Fed in majors; I am worried about Nadal.’s overall ability to rack up majors; (3) Message to Doots: You should coach tennis. I am a mere high school coach of boys’ and girls’ tennis in the States, but I think your analysis is spot on and such a tennis mind would most benefit young players. Get thee to a high school team (or its equivalent in Australia, Doots). Your wisdom is needed.

    • dootsiez says :

      Hmm I’m not bothered about Rafa threatening Fed’s records. Mainly because records are made to be broken. If Federer wants his record to last, there are two simple ways – he’s gonna have to add his own total, or failing that, he’ll have to stop Nadal in his tracks when they meet in a semifinal.

      Otherwise, it’s a fair competition. 🙂

      • Deborah says :

        Great piece as always, doots. In 2008, I was obsessed with the GS record and each loss seemed to push that further and further. Despite all the hype about Nadal last year, he has never had to operate under that cloud/pressure, something Roger had to contend with for years. We know, Nadal does not wear the mantle of favorite very well, understandable for a young challenger, kind of a puzzling stance for a grown-ass champion.

  4. Anjali says :

    Terrific connection here– I was also thinking that the Djoker reminds me of how impervious Fed was to loss in 2006-07. Though, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the next person to beat Djoker will NOT be Nadal but Federer himself. What am I smoking, you may ask? But think about it—defensive/tenacious baseliners are fodder for the Djoker machine right now. What he needs is someone who volleys, slices and throws shanked backhands at him?? Who else but our ROGER???

    • dootsiez says :

      I would enjoy the poetic justice in Roger being the last person to beat Djokovic in 2010 and first to beat him in 2011.

      Bring it on.

  5. marcoiac says :

    One can look at the incredible year Nole is having from many different viewpoints. Dootsiez viewpoint here is to look at the effect is having on Rafa (and its similarity with Fed 2008 season). Makes sense. To me, though, the most salient thing is that Nole’s irresistible rise reminds us how difficult it is to stay on top for many years, because there can always be some other player who finally finds the motivation to be ‘on a mission’ or gets his game blossoming unexpectedly or whatever, and that player will take the number 1 spot away from you, will beat in finals, and that’s the nature of the game. Players collide. This is why it is SO amazing what Sampras and Fed have done, to stay on top for 6 and 5 years. Who saw this coming? Frankly, we Fed fan had hoped he would dominate in 2011, after his wonderful 2010 ending. But I bet that, if asked who would have dominated the season, if not Fed, we would have all said Rafa. Which brings me to the next point: being on top is so tough, no matter how dominant a player is, never take his domination for granted. It can end at any time. Just enjoy it. Savor it. You never know when it can end. Maybe tomorrow.

    • flo says :

      A top tennis player I think really only has 3 (or in rare cases four) physical peak years, so to be able to stay on top requires some combination of circumstances and experience/mental edge making up for physical decline. Problem for Rafa is I feel his peak began 2008 and then he had injuries in between so I don’t know if those count toward that peak. This might be 20/20 hindsight but I never felt like Rafa had as much advantage on the field as Roger; Roger 2004-2007 technique-wise had upped the game and his B game was better than the A of almost everyone.Rafa’s margin was smaller and now (perhaps) it’s gone.

  6. ines says :

    After playing a brutal 3 setter against Murray the night before the final will not in the least influence their stamina.This from a guy who couldn´t put up more than one decent set in the USO final less than a year ago
    after beating Roger in a five setter? Ah the miracles of a” gluten free diet”.

  7. flo says :

    Yeah, I think the guy who wins 5 of the last 6 of any slam goes in as the favourite. But Djokovic is now a legitimate 2:1 or slightly hotter second favourite. It will no longer be a big upset if it were to happen. Just want to note that some people think Nadal needs to flatten his shots and mix it up more against Djokovic and obviously in the best case scenario the ultimate player can change styles and adapt his/her game to any opponent. But the thing is Nadal’s bread and butter (so far as strokes are concerned) is the toppy fh and for him to change his style means he may be more vulnerable to other players. So while it sounds so reasonable to change up it’s never that easy and it’s the same problem Federer ran into. Nadal is still a buzzsaw against everyone else and also I don’t know that Djokovic minds Nadal playing flatter either (as evidenced by Djokovic handling Soderling or even Federer).

  8. lapinroyal says :

    It seem to have more and more “O” in your “NO”… It ‘s is scary tennis and definitively, scary moment for Rafans… Good luck to them and may some more training (and some losses) will help them cope with the feeling… 😉 :mrgreen:

  9. Jack says :

    Its crazy to think that Rafa hasn’t managed to take a set off Novak on clay yet Ferrer, Bellucci and Murray have!

    Plus, Murray came very close to beating Novak in the semifinals.

    I just find that really strange.

  10. A_Gallivant says :

    Maybe Djoko has redlined his game specifically for Nadal, which is why Nadal hasn’t been able to take a set off him? Logic would suggest that Djoko shouldn’t be able to make a dent at the French given his brand of tennis and the human thing called exhaustion.I am very eager to see how he holds up for RG and whether folks finally decide to spill their guts against Nadal as they seem to do against Fed of late. I for one would like Djoko’s new doctor to explain how gluten-free has transformed Djoko and possibly suggest the same diet to Tsonga.

  11. pban says :

    gluten free my ass you can never change so drastically….this is the same guy who would forfeit matches bcause it was too hot

    • Matt Zemek says :


      It’s not just the gluten. It’s 1/3 diet, but also 1/3 confidence gained from the win over Roger at the US Open, where Fed had beaten him 3 straight years in the semis or final.

      The final third of the pie flows from the first two: Nutrition and confidence have banished the physical fitness issues and made Djokovic a mental rock of the first order.

    • dootsiez says :

      Pban, it’s hard to just accept it when someone wins as much as Djoko has, but these are groundless allegations after all. More inclined to agree with Matt. Fair’s fair until proven otherwise.

  12. pban says :

    I agree Matt but being in the medical line I know that there are some issues pretty difficult to overcome, if I remember right djoko’s camp once circulated the fact that he is asthmatic. Besides he plays a pretty physical game…confidence is a stimulant but only upto a point. And I did not need any reminder of that US Open SF it is a very painful reminder of an emotionally taxing year.

  13. Lady B Good. says :

    The body language in this photo says a lot, Nadal looks down and out, but Novak has that inner satisfaction and peace spread right across his face, almost Zen like, the look says I CANT LOSE! I am so happy in my own skin, but having said that, you ask is Rafa the Roger of 2008? Its too early to tell, as Roger only won
    one slam that year at the US Open against Murray, in straight sets, its best to answer that question fully
    towards the end of the year!
    In the meantime good luck to our Roger at Roland Garros, COME ON ROGER, lets get it ON, and get to some serious trophy winning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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