Faith Restored: Roger Federer Working with a Shrink?

H. Jason GreenCorrespondent IMay 18, 2009

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 17:  Roger Federer of Switzerland serves against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the Madrid Open Men's Final at the Caja Magica on May 17, 2009 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

World No. 2 and 13 time grand slam Champion, Roger Federer has done the impossible—twice. In straight sets  no less and without dropping serve, Federer put a cork in World No. 1, Rafa Nadal’s 33 match winning streak on clay. This makes Federer the only player to beat Nadal in a clay court final, now for the second time.

The Swiss, a legend in his own time, has by my accounts put an end to all the mumblers of late who’ve been jawing about how Federer’s reign is over.  To the uninitiated, so quick to write off one of the greatest players the men’s game has ever seen, I say HA!

Lest we forget that Sampras went two years without winning a title before reaching the mountain top and clinching his legendary 14 slam.

Federer, in his smooth style dismantled the ever charging King of Clay. And he did it in the face of a tumultuous, world class, five-match losing streak. The question is how?

Well, if we look to the mumblers, they’re already saying how it wasn’t a true Nadal matchup—poor guy tired from the Djokovic marathon only a day earlier. “If Nadal was rested Federer wouldn’t have stood a chance...” they say. Well guess what, not even Nadal agrees with you.

Nadal: “I never tend to use an excuse and if I’m tired it’s because I played longer than I should have yesterday…” Kudos! What a stand-up guy, humble no matter defeated or victorious.

But isn’t he just being honest?  Nadal understands that winning a tournament, at any level, is not just about winning the match on finals Sunday. It’s about managing your draw, knowing how to beat each opponent without wearing yourself down.

If you’re exhausted from an earlier match then you just didn’t manage it as well as you should have.

The final is not the only test of a tournament. We tend to lose sight of that because 99 percent of us don’t play tournaments, we play matches. Bottom line, if Nadal lost because he was tired from the day before, then all the more evidence Federer dealt with the Tournament better and proved it in straight sets.

For the mumblers who still aren’t convinced, let’s break it down. Generally speaking, every final we’ve seen between the Swiss and the Spaniard are remarkably similar.  

Nadal serves to the Swiss backhand, Fed responds, Nadal fires at the backhand again, Fed responds, Nadal pins Federer in the corner, Fed tries to slug it out. The rally goes on, Nadal hit’s an unbelievable winner. Game-Set-Match.

Today, instead of slugging it out with his backhand against the guy who never seems to miss, Federer took control-and he did it right from the word “play!” The Swiss maestro did a masterful job of keeping the points short and fast. Any Nadal connoisseur can tell you, the longer the rally the higher his odds are of winning.

Federer finally got it.  Point after point he would Serve out wide and quickly close in for the kill. At long last Federer took notice that Nadal stands 15 feet behind the baseline, what a candidate for the drop shot winner-and those he executed as if he were cutting with a scalpel rather than a KSix-One. 

Make no mistake, Nadal did fight back, hitting passing shots with the precision required of threading a needle. Coming up with a timely ace or two, firing top spin forehands that shot off the court.

It’s not like the home town boy and heavy favorite was asleep on Manolo Santana, he just couldn’t get into his game-and before he could say “VAMOSSS!!” it was all over.

Even with the crowd cheering him on, he couldn’t rip open his shirt to display the superman “S” we’ve all seen when he’s faced with certain defeat. Today, it was Roger Federer with the kryptonite strings, and deservedly so.

Most importantly, Federer not only managed the Spaniard, he managed himself.  As loved a champion as Federer is, it wasn’t him for whom the crowd was cheering, it was Nadal.  As incredible an athlete as Federer is, he’s not the one in the head to head with a winning record, it’s Nadal. 

And for all he has accomplished in the game of tennis, he’s not the one “on top of his game,” again it’s Nadal.  None of those facts, even combined with the emotional blood lettings we’ve all witnessed in the last five meetings could knock the “Fed Express” off his tracks. 

He did something we haven’t seen him do in a long time, no matter which stalwart coach he was working with-he kept his cool. 

No, I don’t think he’s working with a shrink, but if he is, that fact wouldn’t and couldn’t detract one iota from the paramount get of beating clearly, the greatest clay courter ever, in his home country, on his favored turf-any more than Nadal being a bit stretched from the previous day’s match could.

The only thing missing was Federer bending down to grab a handful of dirt and stuff it in his pocket. It was a solid victory and evidence enough that we have not seen the final chapter of Roger Federer.