Roger Federer won his 94th career title by schooling Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-3, at the Shanghai Masters final on Sunday.
Nadal’s defensive court positioning was exploited by Federer
The beat down was worse than the score suggests because Nadal was not provided a single break-point opportunity in the match whereas Federer broke Nadal three times to win in 72 minutes. Roger’s serve was working well, and in one of his service games, he even delivered four consecutive aces! The short angles that Roger generated from his backhand, ruthlessly exploited Nadal’s defensive court positioning.
No doubt that Nadal is talented
There is no doubt that Nadal is talented. If converting to a left-handed player from being a right, and then dominating not only the professional circuit but also the widely recognized greatest tennis player of all times for ten years doesn’t qualify as talent then what does? However, the stark truth so blatantly exposed at the Shanghai finals is that Nadal’s talent lies in his exceptional athleticism, and his ability to generate that wicked topspin on his forehand.
Talent versus exceptional talent
Exceptional talent is about being able to re-invent and mold one’s game according to the opponent and conditions, age and court speed being some of those. Rafael Nadal has turned his game quite aggressive in 2017, but his mentality is still of a defensive player. Therefore, against a quality player or a truly aggressive tennis player, Nadal reverts to the pre-2017 Rafa, and parks himself about ten feet behind the baseline. In the 2017 Shanghai Masters final, the court positioning of Nadal was exploited ruthlessly by Roger Federer, and Nadal had the same attack-the-backhand response to Federer’s aggression from both wings.
How to beat Roger Federer 101 – By Greg Rusedski?
Nadal may still lead their head-to-head record, but Roger has fully cracked the Nadal code, and even Greg Rusedski believes Federer now has the secret to churn out wins. “If you’re going to beat Roger Federer at the moment, you have to be able to make a hole through him. We saw yesterday the big serve and forehand from Del Potro pushed Roger around, but Roger found a way. With Rafa, tactically he doesn’t know what to do. He had a set game-plan that worked for a decade, but it doesn’t work anymore,” Rusedski said.
Roger’s talent, which was halted by his stubbornness to accept a larger racket head until very recently, has allowed him to make the adjustments required to overcome even his nemesis at the ripe old age of 37.
Why Nadal is more talented than Djokovic?
Novak Djokovic was never an issue for Roger until Roger turned 31, and started losing the 5 setters to him. Now with the return of confidence and a way superior game than Djokovic’s, he should find handling Novak a little easier than beating Nadal.
Even with the many shortcomings in Nadal’s game, one would still admit that Nadal is more talented than Djokovic because Novak does not possess a single point ending shot in the game. Whereas Nadal has a much-feared forehand, which according to many experts is as good as Roger’s.
Why Djokovic’s return of serve is great, but not a weapon?
Djokovic’s fans will point to his return of serve, and backhand as weapons. However, they must understand that the return of serve depends mostly, if not entirely, on the server, and the role of the returner is similar to a goalkeeper’s in a soccer penalty shootout. The goalkeeper, in a penalty shootout, merely guesses the side on which the ball will be struck and then dives in that direction. If he is lucky enough, he finds himself in the way of the ball and is thereby able to block that penalty shot.
Why Djokovic’s backhand is excellent, but not a weapon?
Djokovic has an excellent backhand, but it is short of a weapon. Novak’s backhand lacks the firepower of Wawrinka’s or the exceptionally early ball-strike ability of Roger’s. Backhand derives its power from the non-dominant foot which makes it the weaker wing for most player. It lacks the power of a forehand, which relies on the dominant foot instead.
There are two ways to make that backhand a point ending shot. The first one requires an exceptionally early point of contact, either inside or at the baseline, to take time away from the opponent. The other demands an unbridled whack on the ball by someone with as strong an upper body as Wawrinka’s. Djokovic has neither the exceptionally early ball striking ability nor the strength to hit through the ball as hard as Wawrinka.
Djokovic – A complete player, and therefore a champion
However, Djokovic is excellent in every aspect of the game but exceptional at nothing except grinding even Nadal into making an error, and grinding is yet to be classified a weapon. Yet Djokovic is a champion because of the complete game and lack of weakness that he brings to the table.
What’s changed with Roger in 2017?
Federer’s assessment of how he’s beaten Nadal five times in a row was. “Not playing so much on clay! That’s helpful, to avoid the entire clay-court season. With the bigger racket head sizes, I’m not slicing as much. I’m staying on the baseline, dictating points. My heads screwed on the right way as I haven’t had to get it round any losses on clay too.”
Rogers’s retooled backhand, devastating serve, point-ending forehand, aggressive mentality to end points early, and soaring confidence levels will render it very difficult, if not impossible, for grinders and those who prolong points, like Djokovic and Nadal, to beat Roger Federer.
Only the power hitters and big servers might stand a chance against the 2017 version of Roger Federer.