Rafael Nadal stands between Roger Federer and the history books. If he wins, the world will acknowledge him as the Greatest of All Time. Tomorrow morning, at 9:00 AM Eastern Time, Roger will try to move Rafa somehow. He should fail. I don't think he will.
Rafa could win tomorrow. Truth be told, he has the skills to win the next three slams. If that happens, Roger is not even the greatest of our time, much less all time. If that happens, Roger slips to the level of a Richard Gasquet, who is beautiful to watch but cannot get the job done. If that happens, I will plead for Roger to find just "one more gear," because I want to believe that classic form and using the whole court beats raw power and grim determination.
Here's my thing.
Deep in my heart, I believe that Roger is a high-strung, emotional player, while Nadal is more a force of will. I believe Federer's game swoops and swoons because that is who he is, and Nadal's game blasts unrelentingly because that is who he is.
I think they both play a very smart game, almost in the same way. Federer is smart about what game to use against you, and Nadal is smart about which of your weaknesses to hammer over and over and over. That's almost a moot difference, but Federer will show you something new until he finds the thing you don't like, and Nadal will hit all your defenses until he finds something he can break down. Federer changes tools and Nadal changes targets.
Red clay exposes Federer's weaknesses while damping his strengths. Grass allows Federer to mask his weaknesses, and amps his strengths. So everything says Nadal should find the chink in Federer's game on Sunday and eat him for brunch again.
But sometimes Federer swoops. Emotionality means that sometimes you don't just go into the zone, you blow right through it into some magic place. Federer can do that. He could do it Sunday. Everything is lined up as best it could possibly be. He has an opponent he fears, but his fear has finally been tempered by a first win. The taste of blood is still sweet on his lips. The dress rehearsal against Davydenko did not go well, so he won't be over-confident. He's gotten rid of the noise in his ear from his former coach, Tony Roche, so he can concentrate.
This could be the moment. This could be the time that the Matador plays above himself, lures the raging one to chase that fluttering red cape, and slips his Wilson sword into the Bull from Mallorca.
I want to see it.