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Roger Federer’s season ends with a loss to Rafael Nadal at the ATP Finals

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Roger Federer's inconsistent season is over after a loss to Rafael Nadal. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Roger Federer’s inconsistent season is over after a loss to the red-hot Rafael Nadal. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

LONDON — Roger Federer’s disappointing season ended with a 7-5, 6-3 loss to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday.

The match was a microcosm of Federer’s season. There were flashes of brilliance and vintage shotmaking that made you think maybe he might finally get the big win he needs to turn the corner. But unforced errors abruptly ended many surges and, in a familiar pattern, he failed to close out points when he was ahead in the rally.

“I very rarely go through matches where I had no chance and no opportunities,” Federer said. “This game is a game of making or missing your opportunities. Today was a little bit more of that, again. But I thought the margins were more on his side. He was playing more consistent. He was playing more solid. He plays the way he always plays. I just couldn’t come up with the shots when I needed them, forehand or serve, moving forward.”

Over the last four years, Federer’s legendary rivalry with Nadal has fizzled. In their four meetings this year, Federer won only one set. The matchup hasn’t been the same since Nadal’s epic five-set victory on Federer’s best surface, at the Wimbledon final in 2008.  That meeting, perhaps the greatest match ever played, was a watershed moment in both their careers, propelling Nadal into an all-court player while signaling that the Federer era of dominance was beginning to end.

Since that match, Nadal is 10-4 against Federer with five of those wins coming on hard courts, where Federer had traditionally held the edge. Nadal entered Sunday’s match with an 0-4 record against Federer indoors, but now he’s closed that gap as well.

Federer was once again the underdog, and while he tried to play relaxed and free with his shots, his consistency failed him. On a key break point at 2-3 in the first set, Federer had a forehand down the line all lined up for a winner and early lead. He fired it long by a yard. Though Federer fought back to break Nadal when he served for the set at 5-4, he continued to struggle off the ground. Federer finished with 17 winners to 32 unforced errors, while Nadal had 15 winners to 14 unforced errors.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have [gone for it], but I did,” he said. “No regrets there, I guess. I just struggled to stay consistent enough throughout the match, and that’s why he deserved to win.”

Nadal’s first indoor win over Federer was as much about the Spaniard’s improvement on the surface and his confidence after an incredible year of tennis, as it was about Federer’s own struggles. Even in his prime, Federer had little success against Nadal’s brand of topspin and defense — Nadal now leads their head-to-head 22-10 — and the Swiss admitted he’s never felt settled when facing Nadal’s lefty game.

“If you compare yesterday’s match and today’s match, it’s like I have to play two different ways,” said Federer, who beat Juan Martin del Potro on Saturday. “So for me it’s much more of a change.  It’s not an excuse. But I definitely have to play totally different. He can play pretty much the same like he plays against [Tomas] Berdych and Stan [Wawrinka], so forth.  It’s definitely more up to me to getting used to the lefty spin quicker.  Coming over the return very often instead of chipping it, which I’ve been doing it all week.”

“There’s always going to be a bit of an up and down from that standpoint. But I thought it was OK at times. But just my court positioning, getting used to knowing exactly the dimension, how things are going to work out is sometimes a bit tricky. That’s why I either chose the wrong side or I can’t get the read I usually get like you get with del Potro, [Richard] Gasquet or [Novak] Djokovic for that matter.”

Reflecting on his 2013 season, Federer said he’s most pleased about his ability to finish it by playing three back-to-back tournaments without any major physical issues. He finished 4-10 against top-10 players, but three of those wins came in the last two weeks, a small nugget of positivity he can carry forward.

“I’m happy that I have that option, that I know I can play three weeks in a row because I remember [Andre] Agassi didn’t do that at all any more toward the end of his career,” he said. “He used to play one, maybe two, he would always pull out the third week if there was something planned. I was happy I was able to play Basel, Paris, here in London, through extremely tough conditions with a lot of running, tennis, traveling, so forth.”

Federer has always been optimistic. Even after bad losses, he’s been defiantly positive, a mindset has catapulted him to prolonged success. But it’s a tour of winners, and Federer didn’t win that much this year. He collected only one title, an ATP 250 in Halle, Germany, and he will close the season ranked outside the top five for the first time since 2002.

“If you look at the points difference from the points I’ll make during this tournament and what the winner’s going to make, it’s like I never even played this tournament almost, which is fine,” he said. “The winner deserves it all. It’s very extreme. That’s why when you don’t win tournaments, you’re not at the very, very top consistently, your ranking definitely starts slipping.”

With that in mind, Federer says his goal next year isn’t necessarily to win his 18th Grand Slam title or engage in a battle for the No. 1 ranking. He simply wants to win.

“Winning five titles or something [next year], something exciting, leaving the tournaments as winner,” he said. “That’s what keeps things exciting.”

Federer won’t expand or contract his schedule for next season, though the details are still being decided. But the fact that he’s committing to what he calls “a full schedule” is a positive reflection on his outlook. Reporters didn’t bring up retirement after his last match of the year, but Federer addressed the topic himself.

“It’s just something I enjoy doing,” Federer said, when asked about what keeps him coming back year after year. “The thing is that when you stop, you’re still so young that why stop so early? Why just walk away from it because, I have many other things to do in my life than play tennis, but because I can still choose, I pick to play. As long as I have this choice, I’ll keep on playing.”

  • Published On Nov 10, 2013
  • 12 comments
    GlamSpinTennis
    GlamSpinTennis

    Federer's game thankfully picked up towards the end of the season. The shanks, of which there were so many, over the course of several dispiriting losses seem to have decreased. Something just went wayward w/his forehand. 

    Federer's backhand also didn't have the precision that it once did. Over course, that backhand matched against Nadal's forehand has proven to be a disaster. But Federer's bread and butter shots seem have let him down. 

    Roger's net play was atrocious during the Nadal match. Not sure if Rafa was forcing errors, but the timing of Federer's run up to the net seemed suspect. It very much reminded me of Federer vs Roddick, when Fed would just consistently blast winners past Roddick's ill-conceived volleys. 

    Here's hoping for a happy, healthy and resurgent Roger in 2014. I'm sure gonna miss him when he retires. Hopefully he has another couple good years left!

    http://blogspot.glamspintennis.com

    cleopatra209
    cleopatra209

    rafa is the best. he plays tennis like his life is on the line, every point.  just love his fight. het a superb tennis player and athlete.


    kwantik
    kwantik

    Nadal definitely win my respect due to his extraordinary return from injury. However ,Federer is still the greatest tennis player when we look at playing style, ranking records and popularity. Nadal's power is due to his physical strength and practice. But it should also be attributed to technology advancement ,I.e. his tennis racket. It is unfair to compare a no.1 in 2013 with the one in 2003-2008 and say the former is better.

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    I don't think even Roger believes he can beat Rafa or Djoker anymore. Maybe against Djoker, but certainly not against Rafa. He just looks like there's an inevitability to the outcome.

    DamiánMartínez
    DamiánMartínez

    WOW so Nadal defeats Federer making their rivalry even more lopsided and reaching the final of the tournament and Courtney Nguyen gives us an article about the loser and his yada yada thoughts on how Nadal´s lefty condition is the key to his loss. Interesting.

    TrevorFitzGibbon
    TrevorFitzGibbon

    Fed is such a classy guy...but unfortunately he is fading right as Nadal is starting to surge. Will be interesting to see if Nadal surpasses him on the Grand Slam front.  Grass and hard have always been Fed's best surfaces while clay has always been Nadal's - good God, could you imagine how many Grand Slam's Nadal would have if there were 2 or 3 slams on HIS best surface like there are on Fed's!?  :)  Staggering thought...at any rate, this hasn't been much of a rivalry in quite a long time.  Still not convinced that Fed can be considered GOAT when he can't beat the top opponent of his generation.

    phwaap
    phwaap

    @kwantik Fed is the best for now based on titles.  Saying Rafa is all power is just nonsense.  Let's not forget how long it took him to be competitive at the highest levels on the faster, more power-oriented courts.  His strength is all in the forearm, i.e. spin, and unmatched hustle.  Fed didn't have the quality of competition Rafa has and will continue to face.

    mangstadt
    mangstadt

    @kwantik To sum it up, Fed plays pretty and Nadal plays like a brute force of nature--and the latter prevails thanks to technology.

    The things one has to read :))

    NoTrashGuy
    NoTrashGuy

    @TrevorFitzGibbon - Great point on how many Nadal would have won had there been more grand slam tournaments on Nadal's favorite surface. Also, I agree with you that Federer is fading right now but disagree with you that Nadal is "starting" to surge. Nadal has been on the rise even during Federer's prime - Nadal beat Federer during Federer's prime fair and square on pretty much every surface.

    Svaa
    Svaa

    @NoTrashGuy @TrevorFitzGibbon 

    Grass and Hard court can't just be grouped together, Federer's favourite surface is definitely grass, not hard, which is all but absent everywhere except its one famous slam. From that perspective they each have one slam available on their favourite surface So you could also frame that question, how would Federer's career record look if there was as much grass as clay in the Masters series? 

    And even the US Open and Australian open are not really the same kind of hard court (although they're probably a whole lot more similar to each other than they are to either of the other surfaces). 

    mahajan.anand
    mahajan.anand

    @Svaa @NoTrashGuy @TrevorFitzGibbon Plus they made the grass slower.. more like Green Clay!! The tennis balls gone slower too and the rackets are getting stronger.. All this does not go in favor of players who model their game on accuracy and shot making ability.. the whole things is just going in favor to top athletes in the game.. its sad to see 20-25 shot rallies on average.. rarely these folks come to the net.. look how Djoko struggles at the net.. Rafa's better than him at the net but not as cool as Fed.. great athletes these but not of the same class as Roger.. And had they all been of the same age (5 years is a big difference) then Roger wud have beaten these guys hands down on most of these matches he is losing lately.