Some Things We Learned From the 2011 French Open Men’s Final

1. As great as Roger Federer is, he’s also an absolute fucking head case.

As it stands right now, I’d argue vehemently that Federer is the greatest player of all time, despite his record against Nadal — he has 16 Grand Slams, including at least one of each major title, and a whole slew of records based on both longevity and brilliance. Maybe in a couple of years, Nadal will have a convincing case. Not yet. But for all his success and glory, Federer remains self-doubting and insecure at heart, particularly when he faces Nadal. He has a touch of Greg Norman to him.

From the opening toss yesterday, Federer came out playing spectacular tennis, winning points with both aggressive tactics and the kind of shot-making that is unique to the Swiss star. Nadal came out flat. The first set was Federer’s to lose, as he opened up a 5-2 lead. But after Federer gave away a set point on Nadal’s serve with a drop shot that missed the line by less than inch, you could see the physical manifestation of the doubt entering his mind. His body language changed. His face darkened. His confidence turned to fear. Federer suddenly remembered that he just doesn’t get to beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. That’s not in the script.

Federer lost the match during the time between that botched set point and midway through the second set when he fell behind a break. He lost focus, sulking his way through unforced errors and losing the aggressive edge he employed so well earlier. Then, once Nadal built a comfortable lead, Federer loosened up and began to play well again — he knew deep inside that he wasn’t going to beat Nadal in a five-set match on clay; so in a sense, he then had nothing to lose.

2. Conversely, Nadal is as mentally strong as he is physically gifted.

Most players, down 5-2 and a break/set point, would have folded in that first set. Nadal knew he didn’t need that set to win the whole thing. Even if he lost it, he’d still probably be the favorite to take the match and the championship. But when Federer missed that drop shot, Nadal saw an opening and bulled this way through it.

Nadal may struggle with his serve at times, or lose accuracy on his groundstrokes for a game or two at a time, but he never loses focus. If you’re going to beat Nadal, you have to fucking beat him outright — he’s not going to choke. And that’s why his record against Federer is what it is.

3. It’s irritating whenever Nadal does this:

Seriously, man: you’re 25 years old. That’s not cute or endearing anymore. It makes me think you’re into infantilization or something.

4. John McEnroe is the best television analyst in any sport.

He’s insightful, he’s funny, and he’s respectful of the moment. Most impressively, and most shockingly given what passes for analysis in the four major sports these days, McEnroe actually points out strategies and intricacies that even well-schooled viewers may not pick up on. The man’s a treasure.

5. French people love giant umbrellas.

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Filed under Sports Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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