Boyfriend weighs in on the AO final:
There were plenty of cracks about Roger Federer's meltdown. ("Where's the Dutchess of Kent when you really need her?" "Rod Laver, human onion." Richard Hinds quipped that Federer's real rivalry isn't with Rafael Nadal but with Victoria Falls. But most fans also realize that Sunday's final was momentous in its significance, a real "plot point" in the men's tennis narrative. Nadal has now beaten Federer on clay, grass and the democratic hard courts. There's no mono alibi, no darkness in the waning games. There's clearly a new a king.
Here are five points, trying to incorporate as many of your thoughts as possible:
1) There is crying in tennis. Federer's breakdown was shocking but I thought it was a poignant reminder that a) the guy is human and b) he really wants to win. In no way did I perceive this as unsportsmanlike or selfish or "shamefully wimpy," as a surprising number of you wrote. Maybe an expert can help us but I suspect there's a bio-chemical thing going on here, too. You're done playing, you're done exercising, your adrenaline high is wearing off and all the stress hormones are fluctuating. As Federer noted, in any other round (or any other sport) you'd be taking a cold shower in the locker room, calming down. Here, you're "decompressing" in front of the world.
2) Federer needs to "staff up." We've spoken before about his need for a full-time coach. He's famously stubborn and, let's be honest, at 27, he's not about to retool his game. But an extra voice -- specifically savvy to countering Nadal -- is needed. Beyond that, Federer clearly needs to consult a sports psychologist. We're past the point where visiting a sports shrink carries a stigma. If the match itself and the drama afterwards proved anything, it's that Nadal not only resides in Federer's head, but has squatter's rights. Time to figure out how to "treat the Nadal complex," as Mats Wilander puts it.
3) What of the GOAT debate? Losing so consistently to your rival, cuts against your candidacy. But it doesn't eliminate Federer from consideration any more than, say, the ritual failures on clay eliminate Pete Sampras. Let's take a step back: Federer was going for his 14th Major, playing in his 19th straight semifinal. And let's remember, too, that the 6-13 record against Nadal, while troubling, is misleading. Before last week Nadal had never even been in the final of a hardcourt Major.
4) On to Nadal...as I wrote in Sports Illustrated this week, I think we need to readjust our perspective and now look at him as potential GOAT. If he's not yet on the threshold of history, his trajectory suggests he will be. Barring upset, on his 23rd birthday he'll have won his seventh Major. He's won all surfaces. And, time and again, he's proven that he is without peer in the mental toughness department.
5) If Nadal didn't distinguish himself enough with his courageous tennis, his response to the postmatch dramatics was pitch perfect. Honestly, could you have scripted a more gracious reaction? This was a total improv job, too. Not as though an athlete has a canned response for what he'll say in the event that his rival sobs uncontrollably on the trophy platform. And what an extraordinary ability to compartmentalize: one minute you're fighting to the death; the minute the match ends, you're a compassionate human being. We've talked plenty about how Nadal has proven to be Federer's equal (and then some?) on the court. But he's a rival in the mensch department too. If his title was rendered a tad bittersweet -- "I can't enjoy 100 percent the victory, because I saw him cry," he told reporters -- he ultimately benefited from the opportunity to show such grace and empathy.
In the aftermath of the final there's been a lot of complaining and wailing by some Rafa fans about how the media is totally focused on Fed and made the Fed the story as opposed to recognizing Rafa's historic triumph (first win on hard courts, first player to simultaneously hold three Slams on three surfaces, beat a non-mono Fed in a hard court final, has 6 Slams at age 22, could get the career Slam, let alone a calendar Slam, etc.)
Whatever, the story was Fed not so much Rafa. Rafa did what he always does, fought, hit to Fed's backhand, and just outgutted him in the end. But you know what I love? That the end of the day, what Rafa will be remembered for with this title is the grace and sportsmanship he displayed in the trophy ceremony. That's what everyone is writing about. And as a Rafa fan, I will take that any day of the week and twice on Sunday.