Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wimbledon and the Nadal-Federer Debate

With another Wimbledon in the books, one can't help but notice the state of the Men's game. It's incredible!

2014's Wimbledon had everything. You had your upsets, the departure of every American man before week two that you can often count on, and a chase at history and legacy at the expense of a classic final.

First, let's start with the enormous upset, when 19-year-old no-namer Nick Krygios took out Rafael Nadal in the 4th round. Sure, Nadal has had a rough go of it in England for the past three years, but few tennis fans have even heard of Kyrgios!

This feat reminded me of 2001, when 19-year-old Roger Federer emerged on the scene and beat 29-year-old tennis legend Pete Sampras in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Not only was the round and venue the same as Nadal-Kyrgios, but Federer was also the same age as Kyrgios when he took down one of the game's giants, while Nadal was a year younger than Sampras.

The major difference is that Nadal is still in his prime, while Sampras was fading. Can Kyrgios emerge on the scene and be a superstar like Federer? I have a hard time believing that, but nothing is impossible. Kyrgios has a big serve and good shot-making, and of course, has tons of time for improvement, coaching, sponsorships and more. But, the evolving of the game does limit his ceiling for his biggest weapon: the serve. When Federer and Sampras squared off in 2001, the serve-volley era was in its final stage, where both guys rushed the net every chance they could get. Nowadays, you can't win a Wimbledon, like Goran Ivanisevic did, on serving alone. There are just too many great returners, solid players, and evolving surfaces and technology.

The American men fiasco at majors continues. There isn't much to report on here, but I would like to congratulate Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil for defeating the Bryan brothers in the Wimbledon Final. Sock was deemed by some to be the next American to break through in singles, but with that looking bleak, it's nice to see that he and his partner could take down the best doubles team in history. Granted, the Bryan brothers are American, so that doesn't really help the American tennis scene, but it is nice to see an upset and someone else win for once in doubles.

Now, moving on to legacy and the historic final. Federer was going for his 18th major, while Novak Djokovic was going for his 7th. What a match it was! Federer played at such high quality and showed such resiliency (breaking three times in the fourth set to force a 5th set) that you have to believe he isn't washed up. For Djokovic, it was about conquering the demons of choking in past finals. He is just 7-7 in major finals, but he showed just how far he came by bouncing back after blowing the first set tiebreak, and even worse, blowing a 5-2 4th set lead. Also, it was nice to see his maturity after winning, compared to other finals he took down. Dedicating the win to his soon-to-be wife and baby on the way, Djokovic handled himself with more class than ever before, and it was a fitting stage to do so.

Nadal-Federer Debate

This is one of the best debates in sports, up there with Woods-Nicklaus and eventually James-Jordan (or LeBron-Magic). Who's the greatest tennis player of all-time? It comes down to these two guys. I will admit that Federer is my favorite athlete of all-time so I am probably inherently biased, but I will go with him. However, I have no issue with anyone choosing Nadal.

Let's first start with Nadal. Taking head-to-head into account, he blasts Federer. I will warn you though that Federer still beat Nadal twice in grand slam finals, Nadal is four years younger and Federer has been out of his prime for five years or so (although, he is still very good). I won't go into too many stats, but I will leave you with this one. Nine of Nadal's 14 majors have come at the French Open. He owns Roland Garros. He won two Wimbledons, which was a huge notch in his belt, but he has really struggled there the last three years. His knees don't hold up well, and he can't slide into his shots. However, he has the career grand slam on his resume, and it's hard to fathom that he won't surpass Federer's current majors total. He will need to win some more on the other surfaces outside of clay for me to acknowledge that he is the greatest of all-time (And, I still might choose Federer!).

Now to Federer. He has the all-time record of 17 majors. One thing worth noting is that he is also a career grand slam winner, which didn't look like it would happen for some time. Much like Nadal on grass, the French Open title eluded Federer for years. He took it in 2009, coincidentally the only time Nadal lost at the French, when he fell to Federer's finals opponent Robin Soderling. Notable players to never win a French title include Sampras, Connors, McEnroe, Edberg, Becker and Djokovic. For Federer to get one was big.

Federer does have several things going against him in the debate. Beyond the head-to-head record with Nadal, Federer won many of his majors during a weaker tennis era. Beating guys like Hewitt, Baghdatis, Roddick, Safin, Agassi out of his prime and Phillippousis just don't add up to today's players in Nadal's era.

One thing about this great debate is that, unlike Woods-Nicklaus and LeBron-MJ, both guys are still playing. While Nadal obviously has a ton of time left (barring injury), Federer proved at this Wimbledon that he will not go quietly. His game is still strong enough to contend at majors. If he can add another major or two, he could really put the pressure on Nadal to surpass him for most majors won in history.

Let's sit back and enjoy this great game and see how these two legends finish their careers!