Psychological Scars

Feb 2, 2009

There are so many interesting things to come out of last nights match that I don’t really know where to start. Rather than talk about the match – there are plenty of plenty of places to read about that – I thought I’d talk a little about the mental aspects, both going in to the match, and as they now stand at the end.

All fortnight the focus had been on Federer’s march to fourteen titles. History beckoned and with Federer having such a knowledge of the history of the game, and where he’d like to be remembered as part of that history, he was placing a huge amount of pressure on himself right from the outset.

Then Nadal went and played that 5 hour, 5 set semi, and wisely used his fatigue to play down his chances in the final. Every interview after that match he talked about how it would be tough for him to come back and perform, but he would go out and give it his best shot.

This had the effect of placing Federer in a position where he has absolutely everything to lose. Everyone agrees Nadal should not be able to beat Federer…he’ll be too exhausted, his legs won’t go the distance. You could see in that opening set how tight Federer was, how cautious his shots. He was scared to lose and was timid, rather than focusing soley on what he had to do to win. He was hoping in this first set to get confirmation that Nadal was going to be a step slower than normal. He wasn’t, and Federer should have known better.

Before Federer knew it he had lost the first set, Nadal’s adrenalin kicked in and covered any fatigue he may have been feeling. You got the sense throughout the whole match that if Federer could just get his nose in front, he would have been able to bring it home. He would have opened up on his groundstrokes with more confidence, and the momentum of the match would have been different. But that was not to be.

So Nadal wins the match and Federer is a shattered man, breaking down into tears on stage multiple times. Nadal now holds a 5-2 record over him in Grand Slam finals and Federer know his place in history is compromised – how can you be regarded as the greatest ever, if you can’t even be the greatest currently playing.

For all the talk of Federer taking Sampras’s record, you have to be realistic and look forward a few years, no doubt as Federer has done himself. If he does manage to get to 15 majors, will Nadal strip that record from him immediately? Nadal has now done what Federer has not – won Grand Slam titles on grass, clay and hard court. An injury free season for Nadal sets up the possibility of a Grand Slam. All these thoughts and many, many others would have been racing through Roger’s mind, stirring up emotions too strong to contain.

And what now for Federer, how does he come back from this? There must be such a feeling of despair for him. He just can’t find a way to get through Nadal. Nadal’s tactics last night were impecable, his execution flawless. He attacked the Federer backhand, asking questions with his heavy topspin and minimising the penetration Federer couldget off that side with his single handed stroke.

Such a pretty looking shot, it is his achilles heel against Nadal and must be addressed as part of a tactical overhaul to counter the Spaniard. Whether he takes more risks and runs around it, or hits from further back in the court than he normally would…something must change.

For all the talk of this being one of sport’s great rivalries, it is becoming fairly one sided. I’ll tell you what I’d like to see now, if this rivalry is to truely reach magnificent heights – a resurgence from Federer. Proof that mentally he is stronger then he is currently given credit for.

Federer has roughly 5 months until back to back majors in Paris and London. He must use that time to address his weaknesses against Nadal (and to a lesser extent Murray). Specific shots must be developed to counter the strengths of Nadal. An overhaul of his tactical approach is needed and he must back himself 100% in his implementation of this plan.

And his mindset must change. He must forget about the history books and be willing to risk defeat. He needs to start looking at himself as the underdog against Nadal and play as if he has nothing to lose. In an ironic way, by positioning himself this way in his own mind, we could see him secure the place in history he so strongly desires.

Or we could see Nadal’s dominance continue as he takes his own place in history – only time will tell.

Written by: Crooksy

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