AO2012 Post-final thoughts: All in the head. (by PJ)


And thus ends the first Grand Slam of the year. The guy with the trophy is Novak Djokovic and the guy with the plate is Rafael Nadal. And as we sit back and watch, the tennis media/world explodes with excitement at the new GOAT…

(I just want to interject here and say that I’ve never really believed in the GOAT debate. GOATS, to me, are these. Other than that, I feel that the eras/surfaces/players/competition – all too vastly different to arrive at one single absolute conclusion. But I disgress.)

Anyway, some post final thoughts to wrap up the dizzying explosion of tennis, tears, dramas, sweat and sunburn…

AO2012 final – a replay of the AO2009 final. Replace Federer with Nadal, and replace Nadal with Djokovic. The one who came off a gruelling semi-final defied the odds of physicality and fitness to win. The one supposedly more well-rested, the one with the supposed advantage…lost – not because of a lack of skill or talent, but to that mental demon floating around the head.

Rafa had all the chances and the momentum. Crawled back from a 0-40 hole in the 4th set, dug deep to win the tiebreaker, was up a break to lead 4-2 in the fifth. But then when Djokovic found that extra something, Rafa lost that extra something. When Djokovic broke back in the 5th, that was when the doubt crept into Rafa’s head. And mentally, that was that one hurdle, a magnanimous one, that gave Djokovic the ultimate advantage. The same advantage that Rafa had over Federer in the 2009 final (and in all their finals/meetings, I may add).

Rafa’s post-match conference spoke a lot of positivity, as did Murray’s post-match conference. These two guys have lost absolute heartbreakers, but to arguably the best player of the moment right now. Murray will move on – I have no doubt – and I feel that he will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. He’s at a good place, despite the loss.

Rafa? There is a lot of discussion and debate surrounding his mental state with this 7th-straight loss. As a Federer fan, who has watched Federer suffer and struggle at the hands of Rafa, believe me when I say that I know how Rafa fans feel. It’s frustrating and annoying to see your guy lose to that one other guy on a constant basis, and no matter what Rafa (and Federer) may have to say about it, we just know that it’s mental. Of course it’s not 100% mental but can we really deny that the block in both their brains against their respective conquerors had to do with the losses sustained over and over again?

No matter how mentally strong one may be – even to a toughie like Rafa – it has got to hurt. It has got to raise questions. And it has got to affect the confidence.

But where does Rafa go from here? For that fact, where does Federer go from here?

I’m not entirely sure that Federer will ever solve the Rafa riddle. As LJ had noted in one of her tweets, tennis is a game of match-ups sometimes, and the match-up between the Federer-Nadal game gives Rafa the bigger edge, not to mention that mental advantage. Of course, the old man may still find a way now and then – I won’t ever count him out – but I’m pretty sure he’ll end his career with that deficit H2H to Rafa.

And hey, I’m okay with it.

As for Rafa…he finds himself on the undesirable end of this rivalry with Djokovic. What had hurt Federer – game wise – will not hurt Djokovic. It will be back to the drawing board for him, and he will have to figure out Djokovic in a way that he never needed to figure out anyone else. It will be a challenge for him, but I’m sure that he will rise to the occasion. I’m not ready to write him off as the eternal loser in this rivalry. Because we all know that isn’t set in stone, not yet.

Roland Garros will be very interesting, especially if Rafa and Djokovic happens to meet again. As the best clay courter the tennis world has ever seen, Rafa will have the edge. And beating Djokovic on his beloved Parisian clay may be what Rafa needs to boost his confidence once again. Although if I can be selfish, I am, of course, rooting for a certain pair of Grandpa Pants to spoil the potential of a Rafa/Djokovic final.

I think I’m approaching that zen point of Federer’s defeats – to Rafa, or otherwise. Yes, the losses still hurt. Yes, they still make me feel like crap. But I think the time it takes for me to get over it has lessened gradually. At the end of it, I’m just glad I still get to see him play.  I’m glad that he’s still around. After all, I’m not a Federer fan because he wins (in fact I kinda loathed him when he was all dominant and winning everything circa 2004-2006). I’m a Federer fan because he embodies what I admire in a sportsperson – the determination, the spirit, the passion he has for the game. Because he plays a friggin’ beautiful game of tennis, and because his pants are friggin’ hot. Everyone loves a winner, but strangely enough, I became a bigger Federer fan than I was when he was at the losing end (Wimbledon 2008) because then you see what kind of stuff that he’s truly made of.

Rafa fans, you have a lot to be proud of when it comes to your man. Even if he doesn’t figure out the Djokovic riddle (but I doubt this), he’s never a loser. His willingness to fight, his never-giving up spirit, and the fact that he always leaves it all on the court, each and every time – that speaks volumes about him as a person.

I think the level of men’s tennis is at dizzying heights right now. The Top 4 is probably the strongest Top 4 we’ve seen in recent years. It will be interesting to see if any outsiders can wrestle their way into this circle. This sets up for a very intriguing 2012 season…even if I may encounter heartbreaks and heartaches along the way, I’m excited to see all of this unfolding.

As for the ladies’ side…they have a new #1 – Victoria Azarenka, who captured the spot by winning Australian Open and blasting Shrieky Sharapova off court with a bagel. Ladies’ tennis looks as exciting as the men’s and even less predictable. The last 4 Slams are all won by first time Slam winners – 2 young ‘uns (Kvitova and Azarenka) and 2 oldies (Li Na and Stosur). Will this trend continue throughout 2012? Not if Serena Williams has anything to say about it. Her Australian Open campaign is not successful according to her lofty standards, but she’s back, and back with a vengeance.

This year’s Australian Open has been good for me. I was a cover girl as a tennis tragic who visited online tennis forums. I got to cover an adidas event and see Tsonga, Woznicaki and Simon up-close. I’ve written a lot more about tennis than I ever had in the past. Most importantly, I saw a lot of great matches, saw a lot of 5-setters, saw the players grind it out, saw Federer playing some wonderfully fantastic and pretty tennis, saw the heart and soul and guts of Lleyton Hewitt. The results wasn’t what I wanted, but that isn’t something I’ll dwell on when I think about my experiences at the Happy Slam this year.

And thus this concludes my guest bloggage for Australian Open. I’ve been rambly and most of the time not making a lot of sense, but it’s been a LOT of fun, as usual. Thanks again to dear Dootsiez for letting me occupy this spot on the fence.

And now back to you!

– PJ

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About PJ

I'm a tennis nut. Loves watching and freaking out over tennis, and as of late, writing about tennis. As a player though, I'm terrible. My other interests includes reading (pretty much will give any genre a go), checking out films, crafting (making cards, scrapbooking etc), eating/food (specifically searching for the perfect chendol outside Malaysia). I'm also trying to find my own perfect corner in this world!

13 responses to “AO2012 Post-final thoughts: All in the head. (by PJ)”

  1. LJ says :

    Beautiful Post PJ, BRAVO. Wonderful sharing AO2012 with you and the other folks, onwards and upwards for the rest of the year…especially for a certain Wog McFed…

  2. Marco Iacoboni says :

    Lovely post, PJ. Not sure Rafa is favorite at RG against Nole. Last year Nole owned Rafa on clay too (2-0; Rome and Madrid). If anything, Paris clay high bounce should help Nole, he can lean even more on his BH and wack the ball. FH should be unaffected. So, unless Rafa comes up with something new (but what?) or Nole reduces his game/intensity/motivation, I’d say Nole is the heavy favorite against Rafa at RG. But he’ll have to beat first either Fed or Muzz, players that lately gave him more troubles than Rafa, on average.

    • zbrain says :

      It would give Rafa a heck of a lot of confidence, and a new lease on tennis life, if he somehow were able to beat Djokovic at the French. Conversely, if he were to lose there, it would be the fall of the last bastion that would signal the end of Rafael Nadal era, much like the Wimbledon ’08 defined the end of the Roger Federer era. Hopefully, Rafa would’ve have figured out a way to beat Novak before then.

  3. mattzemek says :

    PJ,

    You struck all the right notes. Marvelous summation of the tournament and its crowning moments, plus its overarching themes.

    I reiterate that for anyone to play tennis this well – in terms of the elegance of strokes and regularly making major semifinals (alongside competitors in the sweet spot of their careers, 24 to 25 years old – and Rafa will turn 26 during the French, Muzz and Djokovic 25 just before it starts…) – is one heckuva feat. Few men have played tennis as well or as consistently as Federer has at age 30. If he can keep giving himself a chance in semifinals, and a Tsonga or a Berdych picks off somebody ELSE in a quarterfinal, he can get to a final and perhaps find his moment. If Federer makes three more major semis this year, chances are he can make one final, and if that final is at Wimby or New York, he will have a legitimate shot even against Nadal. (Wouldn’t pick Fed for reasons you articulated here, but he’d have a real chance.)

    Onward! We are indeed so fortunate to be part of this era in men’s tennis. Thank you, PJ and LJ, for producing the content that enabled the Picket Fence to stay on top of the Australian Open!

    Meanwhile, Doots, time to be ACERER and PASSERER in Hercule Poirotville.

    • zbrain says :

      I still believe that Roger has the weapons and the variety (even though this attribute causes more problems against Nadal) to win at least one more grand slam.

      I’m not the first (neither will I be the last) to mention that Roger’s career eerily resembles the ebbs and flows of Pete Sampras’. If that similarity holds, this would be the year that Roger ends his GS title drought, wins the USO and walks away into the sunset. Here’s hoping that he wins, but hangs around to showcase some more of his magical skills a little while longer!

      Great job you guys here on the Fence for churning out interesting and insightful content 🙂

  4. Alex (@FedFanForever) says :

    Sorry but Djokovic has figured out Rafa and stolen his manhood. Rafa will never beat Djokovic again, on any surface.

  5. divinedevilxyz (Arun) says :

    Not much about the guy who won the marathon SF/Final matches after seeming down and out at some stages in both those matches? :-O

  6. A_Gallivant says :

    Good review of Oz Pj and I echo your sentiments about the Federer losses; they are much easier to take. When he suffered his back injury in Doha, I was reminded again that we may not get to see Federer for very much longer and I have resolved to enjoy him.

    I think it’s great that Nole is realizing his potential and Murray seems on the cusp of doing the same; time this generation showed their mettle. As for the French Open, I wish for a spoiler at that party and to see a new champion crowned. I’m looking forward to clay being an open season for a change.

  7. zbrain says :

    In one of the earlier comments (on a different post) I had mentioned that I would (as a Federer fan who has suffered) like to see meted out to Rafa and his Uncle Toni what they have meted out to Roger, but towards the end of that third set I could not help but feel horribly bad for Rafa and for what I had wished.

    You could see Rafa’s shoulders hunched, his head was down and his body language was of someone who was being beaten down, of someone hurting both physically and mentally, and it brought flashes of champions past eventually falling prey to time and competition. I realized that no matter if he was my favorite player, or a tormentor of your favorite player, these great champions don’t deserve a fate such as this.

    Sadly though that is exactly what happens in the circle of life as it related to tennis (and other sports). Every dominant player eventually meets his match… Borg met McEnroe, McEnroe met Lendl, Lendl met Becker, Becker met Sampras, Sampras met Roger, Roger met Rafa, Rafa met Novak…

    As incredibly dominant as Novak is right now, it’s inevitable that he will meet his match too. While the dominant years show great champions for their “superhuman” abilities, it’s the failures and their failings that make them uniquely human and endearing to our hearts! Good luck Rafa!!

    • mattzemek says :

      So well stated, Ramesh. This is the next drama, and the chain of nemeses you listed so beautifully illustrates your larger points.

      Gonna be fun times from late May through mid-September with three majors AND the Olympics in that span of time. Wow!

  8. steve says :

    This was an epochal match. Federer’s loss to Nadal at Wimbledon marked the end of the baseline era and inaugurated the Super Baseline era. Nadal’s loss to Djokovic announced that the Super Baseline era was here to stay.

    The unmistakable message was this: from now on, Grand Slam finals will be giant slugfests where inexhaustible, musclebound warriors hurl missiles at each other from twelve feet behind the baseline for six, seven, eight hours until one of them finally staggers half-dead across the finish line.

    Any five minutes of the final looked like any other five minutes of the final. It all just blurred together.

    Unless Federer can come up with something new, this is the future of tennis, for better or worse.

    His game, the most versatile in history, holds out the only possibility of foiling the completely physical game of these powerhouses. Otherwise victory will be decided purely by who hits the hardest and runs the fastest.

    He has the skills to beat these guys and make it look simple and beautiful. I know he can do it.

    • mattzemek says :

      It’s worth noting that he HAS done it; it’s just a big(ger) uphill climb with Wogie at 30 and Rafole at 24-25 years of age.

      It’s also worth noting that only in the past 3 years has Rafa become good enough to be extremely consistent on hardcourts. Pre-2009, he just wasn’t in the top echelon of year-in, year-out hardcourt players. Because of Djokovic’s prowess on hardcourts, Rafa has just two hardcourt major titles, only one in Australia and the United States. We still haven’t seen Fedal in New York, which is why I want that match to happen (and for Ashe Stadium to play FAST!). 🙂

  9. Freudo says :

    thank you pj, I’ve been well enough post diapppointment to read a number of wonderful articles, but yours has served a special function, besides admiration and agreement, I think it allows me to just move on. thanks again, I too, look forward to this years unfolding.

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