That will be the headline all over the world. If you believe that headline, you either did not see the match, or you have never played tennis.
Go back with me to the second game of the second set. The score is 6-1, 0-1, 40-Love - Federer. When Federer wins the next point, he will be on serve and still rolling. His serve is brilliant, and it takes Nadal by surprise. Nadal hits back a stab return - it's a deep floater, a great defensive return. The ball lands somewhere near the baseline. The back line judge calls it out, giving Federer the game. Federer looks at the mark, and has the point taken back off the scoreboard. The ball did touch the back of the baseline, and Federer has the point replayed. It was not clear to me whether Federer initiated the overrule, or whether he merely graciously conceded it, but he was at the baseline ready to serve again immediately. No argument.
He lost the next 5 points, lost the game, and lost the match.
How did that happen, you ask?
A mind is a funny, fragile thing, even Roger's. At 40-Love (do over) he shanked a backhand or some such. At 40-15, he tossed in a brilliant serve, followed it to the net, and netted a gimme volley from 5 feet away. I said it, and then MacEnroe said it. Lacadaisical, lazy, loose. Federer was playing the game as if it were already over, and waiting for Nadal to hand it to him. That is always a huge mistake, but against Nadal it is - and was - fatal.
So, he got a little frustrated with himself.
He hit a forehand long.
Suddenly, Nadal smelled blood, and Federer watched him hit a true winner. The game ended on a Federer error. I may be wrong about details regarding everything except the volley at 40-15. He was playing a game that he had already won once, and waiting for it to fall into his lap. He never expected the first set to be so easy, and the second set seemed well in hand. He got complacent.
Suddenly, (I keep saying that word, because that's how it is, and that's how it was) Federer had more unforced errors than winners, and then suddenly he had twice as many unforced winners as errors.
Suddenly, his backhand was gone.
The whole left side of his game came undone. For the next two sets, everything hit to his backhand was either hit safely down the middle of the court, or it missed. The man has hit millions of backhands. This is not an issue of training or skill. In the first set (of which I only saw the last game) Federer was punishing Nadal with that backhand. It was the center of his strategy. In the second set, after giving that point back, his backhand was unreliable.
And a word to MacEnroe here. "Shut up you moron!"
OK. That's overstated. But MacEnroe seemed to have no idea that Federer was really doing exactly what he should be doing. Mac wanted Federer to start slicing his backhand (a safer shot) and playing closer to the baseline. Yeah. No duh. If his hands were still connected to his brain, Federer could do that very thing. But when his mind has checked out, he needs to actually play the points. Federer's strategy was a winning one. Changing it to a losing strategy was not really the right answer. Slicing the ball back worked on Nalbandian, because Nalbandian is not Nadal. Nadal drools when he sees spins that would mess up Nalbandian's timing. Federer did eventually start doing the Johnny Mac thing, and it didn't help a bit. I did not see the end of the match, but I hope John repented of his bad advice. (Speaking of which, I did not hear the final summaries of the action from any of the announcers. If anyone did, let me know what they thought of the match. If they don't agree with me, they are wrong, but it would be interesting. :-)
I will now resume loving Johnny Mac again. He usually gives a great commentary, and at least he offers real opinions.
When the throttle has closed inside your throat, and you are deep in a full-blown choke, your hands do things that they should never do. On one particular point last week, I had single-handedly hit three brilliant shots that ended up lining my opponents up on their left side of their court. Out of desparation, they hit the ball straight at me, but my ball was low and slow, so they could not do enough with it. I had a sitter in my wheelhouse, and about 300 square feet of open court to hit. I 8 inches wide. 8 inches. My hand was just disconnected from my brain. The signals were getting messed up somewhere along the way. My form was good. My strategy was good. My reflexes were good. My contact point was good. But my hand aimed 8 inches wide, instead of 5 feet in.
And that is why I love tennis.
There is no other sport that appeals to me like tennis. It is the perfect blend of physical, mental, and emotional. There were 230 points in today's match, so maybe each player struck the ball 800 times over the course of about 3 hours. 800 times you must react to your opponent's shot, control your emotions, choose a strategy in a split second, alter it to account for your current level of fear, then execute it with as much precision as you dare. And any one swing of the racket can turn the match either way. The pressure is astounding. It plays into every strength and weakness of my personality, and I love everything about it.
They said today that Federer could successfully play ping-pong ball before he could see over the table. When a man like that can make the same mistakes I make, it makes it easier for me to forgive myself.
So, thank you, Roger. If you can come back from this, and storm Wimbledon, you will give us all hope.
This is not the first match Roger Federer has ever lost. He knows what went wrong, and he will train against it for another year. He will take Nadal at the French next year.