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The Peak

September 14, 2010

Tennis fans have been spoilt. It was only last year that Roger Federer claimed his Grand Slam and now Rafael Nadal has done the same. In a scintillating match, Nadal beat 2007 runner-up Novak Djokovic in four tough sets.

Whilst the talk for the greatest-of-all-time title is gathering steam, the focus must stay on the accomplishments of Nadal and Djokovic over the past fortnight. Djokovic came in underrated and was considered a write-off for the tournament. Yet he showed how much he has matured over the years by hanging in tough when looking down the barrel of defeat. He won five setters against Victor Troicki and Federer, the latter of which can only fill him with much-needed confidence. His serve is still a work in progress but he was double-faulting far less than he was in the first half of the year. His groundstrokes have sting and power, he moves well and is barely ever injured. By improving his serve and fitness, Djokvoic’s future is looking bright. At 23, Djokovic is likely to hit is peak at the classic age of 24. He will use this win as a springboard for 2011, where he will be hoping to win his second Slam.

As for Nadal, he took full advantage of a weak draw and came into the final fresh. This enabled him to run down ball after ball as well as dictate rallies with power and accuracy. This US Open certainly was Nadal’s best chance for the career Slam with Juan Martin del Potro out and Andy Murray struggling for form. With the others lagging behind, Nadal stepped up, flattened his serve, and played aggressive hard-court tennis. Playing the tennis of his life, Nadal has won the last three Slams and will look to make it four in a row in January. At 24, Nadal is at the peak of his career, there couldn’t have been a better time to win the one Slam that had eluded him.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action against Mardy Fish of U.S. at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York on Monday.

Although tennis had hoped for a Federer-Nadal final, they can’t be disappointed with the quality they got. Both men showed amazing tennis, sportsmanship, and passion for the game. With Federer at 29, the years ahead are likely to be dominated by the likes of Nadal and Djokovic. With del Potro making a return to the tour soon, Murray searching for a new coach, and Federer far from down and out, the tennis world looks to be set on fire in 2011.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. passingshot permalink
    September 14, 2010 2:56 pm

    To remind myself of exactly what Nadal accomplished at this USO I went back to recordings of his match against Djokovic at the Tour Finals in London in December last year.

    I had to rub my eyes to persuade myself that I was seeing right. Nadal in London was in every sense a fraction of the player we saw destroy the field at the US Open the last couple of weeks. He was so stripped of muscle that he looked like he was his own little brother – even a little fragile. His serve was a mere pop-gun by comparison with the artillery he has lately acquired, and his desperate looping groundstrokes – then, clearly the weakest of any top ten player – begged to be put away at the first opportunity, which even an exhausted Djoko obligingly did. I almost felt sorry for Nadal as he was hopelessly outclassed by a bigger-hitting opponent. Commenters despaired that he would ever really be able to compete at the top on hard-courts.

    That was a mere 9 months ago. So how did he do it, or rather how could anyone do it, in such an incredibly brief passage of time? I really don’t know but I suggest you look back at the London matches, and ask yourself what is it that Nadal and Uncle Tony, the ITF, the ATP, ESPN, McEnroe/Carillo et al, and the worshipping fans are asking you to accept.

    • September 15, 2010 4:10 am

      Oh come on. Yes he was thinner bt weight gain is hardly a case for drug abuse. He’s not as muscly as he used to be cos he was getting injured too much. At his biggest he wasn’t that gud on hard courts and has only found success at the ao and us after losing weight. He’s no mre muscly than delpo and ill kill u if u tell me delpo is on steroids!! Nadals fitness is remarkable but his second to his mentality, which cnt be achieved by drug abuse. If anything, he wud be closer to korolev in demenour than his current calm unflappability.
      Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on 3

  2. passingshot permalink
    September 15, 2010 3:09 pm

    1. At his “biggest”, as you put it, he won the Australian Open in January 2009.
    2.As he lost size – an estimated 15lbs last year (Philippoussis) – he lost more matches. He went 11 months without a title. For 8 months he couldn’t take a set off any other top 10 player! To remind yourself what he was like at that time, take another look at the footage of the London champs. His groundstrokes at the end of year champs had lost nearly 10 mph compared with the beginning of the year, according to Hawkeye. It was speculated that he lost muscle bulk to protect his knees.
    3. This year it has been widely observed that he has regained muscle bulk . (So his knees no longer needed protecting?) At the French, McEnroe said Nadal looked bigger than he had ever seen him, and was certainly bigger than he was towards the end of last year. More than any other player in the history of the game, muscle with Nadal equates with power – and tournament wins. His power this year has once again been enormous – according to Rusedski and others, his shots are now even bigger than at his previous peak in 2008.
    4. Nadal’s fitness is not “remarkable” – it is out-of-this world. Many longtime observers of the game have never seen anything like it: a player with the most demanding style of game ever, who never ever tires. He is like Usain Bolt running a marathon (Bhupathi).
    5. It was widely commented on at the US Open just passed that his serve had increased enormously in power from even a few weeks previously – up to 10 mph on average, and 15 mph bigger than in 2009 (average Ist serve). It was Sampras-like and this from a player whose serve had been a relative weakness. None of the experts could explain it from a technical perspective.
    6. On hard-courts, after 3 consecutive losses to Djokovic you could say he was his “pigeon”. Yet he destroyed Djoko in the US final. To win the tournament with the loss of only one set has not been accomplished since the misty distance of the 1960’s ( Neale Fraser). Yet hard-courts are Nadal’s weakest surface. It’s as though fast-court specialists like McEnroe or Sampras, had, in their day, annihilated the French Open fields en route to taking the title. Frankly, that’s inconceivable.

    There is a lot more that could be said about the extraordinary nature of Nadal’s game, that raises more questions about how is it possible to play the way that he does – and some of it has come from professional players and coaches. I can’t help but agree with them that I have never seen anything like it in a natural athlete, in my 4 decades of following top-level sport and tennis. In my view, the scale of his recent “improvements” defies belief. It’s as though 2009 never happened. However, there really isn’t the space to go into it in detail here. There are websites that debate these issues and provide interesting information on the drugs-in-sport issue, which I could point you to if you were interested.

  3. passingshot permalink
    September 15, 2010 10:50 pm

    This comment, questioning whether Nadal is doping, is from a tennis coach who runs a blog. The link is provided.

    “I can’t help but ask the question. I like the guy and his desire is unquestionable. His will to win is almost paralleled in his sport (perhaps Federer in a more quiet way matches him) or any other. But, isn’t that what everyone always said about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? I don’t know the answer and I’m not here to disparage the man’s name. He makes tennis exciting and we all know that tennis needs all the excitement possible to maintain interest in the sport. Without Nadal and Federer, the sport would be in trouble. That being said, I honestly can’t explain how a man can increase his serve speed 20% in a matter of months. How a man can run in a defensive manner for hours on end and still look ready for hours more. How a man can muscle balls into winners from awkward and bio-mechanically unsound positions. You tell me.”

  4. Rikyu permalink
    September 16, 2010 1:21 am

    I wish someone would explain how Nadal keeps bouncing back from all his injuries…I don’t understand how he runs everything down and how he has avoided surgery. Most athletes would never be the same after one injury. Yet Nadal claims to have chronic problems, but you would not know it to watch him play.

    A short history of Rafa’s injuries:

    Rising tennis star Rafael Nadal of Spain broke his left foot and will miss the French Open, Wimbledon and the Athens Olympics.

    End 2005/Start 2006
    Foot injury delays Rafael Nadal’s comeback

    Nadal plays down foot injury fear

    Knee injury forces Nadal to retire in Paris

    “I have been playing with pain on my knees for some months now and I simply can’t go on like this.”

    2010: Part 1
    Nadal retires with a right-knee injury against Murray at the Aussie Open

    2010: Part 2
    Nadal announces knee treatments to follow Wimbledon

  5. passingshot permalink
    September 16, 2010 2:07 am

    Nadal has claimed knee injuries since 2005, when he first started wearing bandages when he played. As you correctly observe, his injuries have rarely if ever impeded his performance as a multiple grand slam winner and his twice having reached No.1 in the world. Has ever a chronically injured player had such a distinguished career?

    His latest knee injuries, which he says occurred in the clay-court season and troubled him at Wimbledon, were apparently “cured” after a few blood platelet plasma (BPP) treatments by a Dr Mikel Sanchez, a Spanish doctor. The treatments are apparently a means of trying to restimulate tendon growth, and remain somewhat controversial. The available medical literature says there is little evidence so far to support that BPP is any more effective than conventional treatments. James Blake has had similar treatment but without the same results as Nadal.

    It is now widely speculated that taking breaks for “injuries” is a way of undergoing cycling of performance enhancing drugs at the same time. That may explain the frequency of injuries, the almost miraculous recoveries, and greatly improved performance coming off injury. Contrast the experiences of Del Potro, Davydenko and Simon, who have all had sustained periods off the tour recently with injury and are struggling to regain any kind of form (even to play again in Del Potro’s case). This is much what you would expect in the case of genuine injury. But not so Nadal. He has played continuously through his injuries (Wimbledon last year the significant exception), his movement unabated, with only the shortest break off court, and after 5 years, when his tendons should be like shredded rubber, he is miraculously cured by a Spanish doctor’s intervention, just in time to claim a his career slam. Wonders we will never cease to behold.

    • September 16, 2010 2:10 am

      Delpo will play again. He tweeted yesterday that he is very close to playing again. He started practise in july.
      Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on 3

  6. Katie permalink
    September 16, 2010 11:34 pm

    I really don’t get how anyone can say Nadal is on steroids. If you’ve ever seen anyone on roids, you’d know they’re hugely more musclebound than Rafa is. As someone who watches a hell of a lot of wrestling, I know a roided up body when I see one, and really Rafa isn’t very muscly at all, not to mention the fact that he has one arm bigger than the other. This is a classic example of roid use:

    Quite apart from the fact that he doesn’t resemble anyone using roids to build up their body, the argument that they’re what helps him play 5 set matches is completely ridiculous. Steroids increase muscle mass, they don’t increase lung capacity and overall fitness. If anything, they make the body THINK it can perform feats it isn’t actually capable of, which is why the only professional athletes using steroids are people like sprint athletes, ie people who don’t need to test their fitness over long periods. You don’t get footballers or tennis players using steroids because they wouldn’t add anything to their ability to last a match or perform well whatsoever. If anything, they are known to actually DAMAGE the heart, so I’m pretty sure Rafa would have dropped dead by now if he was using. The only thing steroids can do is help build body mass quickly.

    • Rikyu permalink
      September 17, 2010 1:02 am

      Who said anything about steroids? Steroids are not the only performance enhancing drugs a tennis player (or any athlete) can take. Have you not followed cycling or cross-country skiing? There are many PEDs out there which improve stamina, other improve concentration. Tennis players would most definitely benefit from these.

      Just look, for example, at what going on in baseball now:

      If you still doubt PED use in tennis, just see what some tennis player say:

      “The tennis players themselves have brought it (anti-doping rules) upon themselves. A lot of players have been cheating. The players have to cooperate to weed out instances of cheating from sports.” Mahesh Bhupathi

      • September 17, 2010 1:39 am

        Oh puh-lease. Much of the above arguments centred on Nadal’s build, his weight loss and gain, and his, *ahem*, apparently baldness. So now your telling me that steroids are not that problem but instead some other performance enhancing drug that enables him to run for long peroids of time, train harder, all without having side effects and which the ITF can’t pick up in their drug tests. Or is it a massive conspiricy where everyone knows about it but no one tells us. Much like the moon landings? As for Nadal’s fitness, yes it’s amazing, but so is Federer’s. I’ve seen him come through many five setters (FO 09) and I have never thought Federer appears tired. Oh but let me guess, this is because of his aggressive game? Even though Nadal won the US Open playing aggressive hard-court tennis and has clearly changed his game in order to suit the quicker surface? Or is Federer on steroids too? Oh I’m sorry, performance enhancing drugs. Hell, I read an interview last year from the player who played Federer in his first round at the US Open. He was a big nobody and he said he trained 8 hours a day to try and get off the challenger circuit. Let me guess, he’s on drugs as well.

        I’m getting sick of having to defend Nadal against drug use and I’m sure Katie won’t want to get into a back and forth argument where neither is going to change their mind.

        I don’t believe there is any evidence or reason for me to believe that Nadal, who I do not normally support in tennis, is on performance enhancing drugs. End of story, I’m not going to waste my time on my blog arguing about this any more. I understand your opinion. Let’s leave it at that.

  7. passingshot permalink
    September 17, 2010 1:48 am

    Mahesh Bhupathi again. From twitter September 13, during the USO final.

    @Maheshbhupathi This is ridiculous tennis.Rafa is sprinting like Bolt from side to side and hitting winners!Novak is smashing groundies yet has no chance.

    (By the way, in response to Katie’s point about steroids and big muscles, the cyclists who were exposed as having used PED’s over the years in professional cycling are not bulging biceps types; although interestingly, by tennis player standards, Nadal is. As Rikyu points out, there are many different kinds of PED’s. Take your pick – “More stamina? We got it. More speed? More strength? We got that, too.” There are PED’s for virtually every kind of sport.)

  8. passingshot permalink
    September 17, 2010 3:09 am

    Kait, I guess you aren’t going to get into a back and forth argument about drugs in sport because you have already made up your mind. Have you actually researched the subject, so that you really know something about it, or is it that you just don’t want to believe it’s a problem?

    I didn’t believe it could be a problem in tennis until recently, when the weight of evidence for it became an issue I couldn’t ignore – and I am not about to become a loony conspiracy theorist. I do remember drugs scandals in every kind of sport as far back as the 1960’s; I have become aware that drugs have been regularly used in many sports since the 1970’s. Why do you think tennis should be exempt, if it has been a problem in all major professional sports since then? I don’t think you can resssure yourself that testing ensures the cheats will be caught – Marion Jones, who was tested over 100 times, never failed a drugs test – but she was proven to be a cheater; so with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in baseball. Now Lance Armstrong is the subject of offical investigation in the US. This is no fake moon-landing stuff.

    I suggest you inquire a little more deeply into the subject before you confidently proclaim that Nadal or any other player cannot be using PED’s – it’s not a simple or easy topic. But a lot of concern is now being expressed about Nadal and other top tennis players; it is unprecedented in my experience for a top tennis player to have been the subject of such intense conjecture and suspicion over the years as has Nadal, and if you inquire into it you will see that a lot of these views are held by well-informed followers of the game. You say that you have followed the game since 2007? In all humility, you might want to give yourself a little more time before you claim to be an authority.

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