Rafael Nadal is doing to Roger Federer what the Williams sisters did to Martina Hingis or Ivan Lendl did to John McEnroe. He is just too physical for him. Federer has the skill, the craftiness. But Nadal’s weight of shot and running capacity, not to mention his mental strength, outrun and outhit everything.
A point in the second game of the fourth set illustrated this. Federer held serve in the first game. A break now would have brought him back into the match to some extent, trailing as he was by two sets to one.
Federer did well to reach breakpoint, his 17th of the match. He did well to start a good, long rally. But Nadal won the point with a forehand down the line winner from well behind the baseline. The shot was Nadal’s way of saying — I have the power to finish the point, irrespective of how much I’ve run or where I am on the court.
As a lot of people said before the match, the only way Federer could have won was by playing at his best. He didn’t. That must have disappointed him the most. He could not have done anything about Nadal’s biceps or his legs. That’s not in his control. But he could have kept the ball in court more than he did. More importantly, he could have fertilised at least some of the 17 breakpoints that he got. He did it only once.
Federer started well. Sending high, topspun strokes to Nadal’s backhand, he pushed the Spaniard to 15-40 in the fourth and sixth games of the opening set. Game six saw six deuces. But Federer didn’t get the break. In the next game he lost serve at love. He won the next set but you could see that the loss of the first set had killed him. You could see it in his body language.
The television commentators were puzzled as to why Federer did not play his natural attacking game and did not come to the net more. But considering the opportunities he squandered, the amount of errors that he made, the force of Nadal’s game and the slowness of the surface, one wonders if it would have made a big difference.