No Rafa Slam, Federer Out Too

22:25 Thu 27 Jan 2011
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Rafael Nadal lost to David Ferrer, playing injured against possibly the worst opponent to face when injured—Ferrer is a fantastic retriever and is in ridiculously good shape, and if possible will wear opponents down by stretching points out. That straight-sets loss meant a sad end to Nadal’s attempt to make history by becoming the first man since 1969 to hold all four titles at once. He was clearly injured but refused to quit, and his post-match interview shows that he was very respectful of Ferrer and trying not to take anything away from Ferrer’s achievement.

That left the other “big story” on the men’s side, whether or not Federer could defend his title. I thought he would, and was surprised to see him go down in straight sets to Djokovic. Djokovic played very well, and had what seemed an excellent game plan, but Federer also faded at the wrong moments, especially on his own serve. In the second set, he was up 5–2 and still lost it, unable to hold serve at the critical time. In the third set, he gave up the break and a lot of momentum to Djokovic in the third game; worst of all, after breaking Djokovic at 4–3 to even the set and apparently reclaiming all the momentum, he then dug himself into a 0–40 hole, which Djokovic didn’t let him climb out of. Djokovic took the break, and then promptly held serve to take the match. He stepped up at all the key moments, while Federer did not.

This means that after the final, Federer will not be in possession of any of the Grand Slam titles—a first since Wimbledon 2003. Sunday’s final will feature neither Nadal nor Federer, the first time this has happened since the 2008 Australian Open (which Djokovic won) and only the second time since the 2005 Australian Open (won by Safin). (Federer was asked in his presser whether this heralded a changing of the guard, and told the questioner to check back in six months.)

The men’s final will be between Djokovic, who I consider the favorite, and either Ferrer or Murray, so the major story remaining will be either a first-time Grand Slam winner (and possibly Britain’s first Grand Slam men’s title in a rather long time) or Djokovic’s second title.

A significantly larger story, perhaps, is the possibility that Li Na could win a Grand Slam title for China; she’s the first Chinese (and first Asian) woman to reach a final. Clijsters is the favorite, but I don’t think Li Na is a pushover by any means, and if gets hot for long enough definitely has the firepower to win it.

No Federer and no Nadal on the final day; it seems strange, but it’s not. Their dominance of the sport—and hence their meeting in finals—is a huge historical aberration, and, if its time has truly come to a close, is something we’re not likely to see repeated for a long stretch of years.

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