This blockbuster match at the O2 arena had many surprises in store for fans: namely, the lopsided scoreline, Federer’s insanely high level of play, and Nadal’s lower level of play. Fed hit 28 winners in the match, compared to the 27 points (4 winners) that Nadal won.
It’d be disingenuous of me not to mention Rafa was obviously in some discomfort during the match. His face was pale, he didn’t seem to be sweating, and he made pre-match comments that his shoulder might be bothering him.
To dismiss the final result on account of Rafa’s illness, however, would be disingenuous as well. The odds favored Fed going in, given his previous 3-0 indoor record against Rafa. Fed displayed a high level of tennis that was well-above the level he’d shown throughout 2011. Even if you tire easily of the numerous odes written to Fed’s tennis (and there have been many), you’d still be impressed by what he brought to the match. With little exaggeration, his forehands and timing were impeccable. Nadal’s slower movement created opportunities for Fed to hit backhand winners, a term not usually associated with Fedal matches. This was an hour-long masterclass, not unlike Nadal’s drubbing of Fed at the 2008 RG final, only this time with the roles reversed.
Perhaps Fed peaked specifically for this match, but for now, he stands atop Group B and qualifies for the SFs. Whether he’ll sustain this level of play is the million-dollar question (he most likely won’t).
The post-match pressers highlighted Rafa and Fed’s class and respect for each other. Rafa bravely weathered the questions about his form and refused to attribute the loss to his illness/injury. He gave credit where credit was due to Roger’s high level of play. Fed, for his part, freely acknowledged that Rafa was not 100% during the match. Outside of the Fedal pairing, I’m not sure such respect exists on this level among top athletes.
In the context of this rivalry (which has popularized the sport many times over), Fed’s Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award and his 9th consecutive Fan Favorite award are so fitting. While Novak and Muzz fans will bridle at this, the fact remains that Fed has the best on-court manners and an appeal that transcends his legendary results. To discount the Sportsmanship Award on account of Fed winning it for the 7th time is to miss the point.
Bring up a discussion about sportsmanship in tennis, and you’ll be faced with gamesmanship/time-wasting accusations that are just as “bad” as a couple of Fed’s interviews. There’s no clear-cut winner for sportsmanship among the top 4 players. The award is partly a popularity-based contest, but among the top 4, Fed is certainly no worse than any of the others when it comes to sportsmanship. His latest conduct in his match with Nadal only reinforces that. That the fans and players vote for these awards should once and for all end the inanity of the bitter sniping that is aimed at Fed. For Muzz and Novak fans, why not wait for the day your respective players win these awards, rather than cutting down the player who has deserved most of his accolades?
I remember Jon Wertheim took offence at Federer’s blazer and white cashmere cardigan at Wimbledon. How do you like him now? He’s wearing BLACK VELVET. Another year, another texture and fabric. I’m personally waiting for the day he shows up to Wimbledon in a faux white fur coat. And a faux ivory walking cane (because he’s old).