Was Nadal's 'match-up' advantage over Federer really just a racquet advantage?

WhiskeyEE

G.O.A.T.
Head to Head
Old Pro Staff 90 vs. Aero Pro Drive - 10-22
New Pro Staff RF97 vs. Aero Pro Drive - 4-1

The only match Nadal won against Federer with his new racquet was at AO 2014, immediately after he switched and before he got used to it.

Federer played most of his career with ancient technology. He played almost every match against Nadal with a technological handicap. It was never a fair fight. And still isn't with the age gap, but Fed wins anyway.

The first stroke of Federer's to improve with the new stick was his serve. So he played S&V/all court with Edberg. Now his ground strokes have caught up.
 
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Deleted member 716271

Guest
I don't think Federer would have had as good results against the rest of the field thruout his career with the 97. At this point, it's best for him

But I also do think it helps against Nadal.
 

WhiskeyEE

G.O.A.T.
No doubt it played a slight part, but Fed's results with the 90inch were perfectly fine (putting it mildly indeed) against the rest of the field, so it'd be terribly reductive to explain this match-up only in terms of a few square inches of racquet head.
To put things into perspective. Even Pete Sampras switched to a 98 sq. in. Babolat after retiring and said he should've switched while he was still touring. It would've lengthened his career as his Pro Staff 6.0 was no longer competitive.

Players who started with older racquets were at a big disadvantage starting in the early 2000s since it takes a couple years to get used to a new one.
 

WhiskeyEE

G.O.A.T.
No ATG changes things like equipment until there is a problem. Fed did not see a problem, so he hesitated to change.

Just like Nadal did not change his serve until he started to lose...
I'm sure he saw the problem. He just would've had to take a step backward for a long time before he got to take 2 steps forward.

It was the same with Pete. His backhand only became a weakness after everyone else started hitting with Babolat's.
 

Roddick85

Hall of Fame
I don't think the racquet change has much to do with it, Fed just adapted his game, plays with confidence and Nadal has also been more vulnerable over the last couple of years. The whole Fed racquet change subject is something I consider quite overrated.
 

mightyjeditribble

Hall of Fame
Head to Head
Old Pro Staff 90 vs. Aero Pro Drive - 10-22
New Pro Staff RF97 vs. Aero Pro Drive - 4-1

The only match Nadal won against Federer with his new racquet was at AO 2014, immediately after he switched and before he got used to it.

Federer played most of his career with ancient technology. He played almost every match against Nadal with a technological handicap. It was never a fair fight. And still isn't with the age gap, but Fed wins anyway.

The first stroke of Federer's to improve with the new stick was his serve. So he played S&V/all court with Edberg. Now his ground strokes have caught up.
It is a reasonable question. It is generally accepted that Nadal is/was a bad matchup for Federer. By this I mean that Nadal found it easier to beat Federer than their rankings / results against other players would suggest. (Of course, there were times when Nadal also beat everyone else easier than Federer did; I am not speaking about absolute quality in any sense.)

The generally accepted reason for this was Nadal's top-spin against Federer's one-handed backhand. When Nadal managed to hit this shot well, Federer never really had an answer for it, except on some occasions on fast courts when he was really in the zone. (I am essentially going to completely ignore clay, where the match-up was secondary to the fact that Nadal was simply better.)

So, in the earlier part of this year, Fed's topspin backhand seemed to work pretty well against Nadal. Does that mean he has "solved" the match-up problem? (Even if so, it wouldn't mean that he would not lose against Nadal.) I think it is too early to say. It could be that the courts were lower-bouncing, and Nadal's spin worked less well, or that Nadal wasn't getting as much spin on the ball as he did when they played before. Also, we are talking about three matches played over a fairly short period of time.

Does it mean he should have switched sooner? Hard to say. He was still winning at least one slam every year until 2012 with the exception of 2011, and when things weren't going well in 2013, Fed did make the switch. If he had made the switch before, maybe it would have helped with the match-up against Nadal, but the adjustment could have cost him more matches against other players. As others have said, it's easy to see why he didn't.

Two final thoughts:
a) Isn't it still a match-up problem? The match-up has to do with the way players play, which is impacted by the equipment they use. Nadal used to have a match-up problem against players like Blake, before he managed to solve it by adjusting his playing style. So even if the problem was influenced by the smaller racquet, isn't it still a match-up problem?
b) Even if Fed had been using a larger racquet all along, there is no guarantee that the H2H would look different. Nadal is a great player, and would have tried to adjust his game plan ... as he may very well do now as well. These hypothetical discussions are great, but one should be careful not to take away from other players' achievements.
 

CR7

New User
Federer has always struggled with Nadal on any surface because of his BH relative weakness that Nadal could expose.

Federer occasionally has periods like earlier this year where he zones on BH as he has schooled Rafa before on all surfaces. But it never lasts.

This tournament Federer BH looks very vulerable again. Nadal has other players more likely to beat him if he were to meet them at some point which i would say are Cilic, Zverev, and Djokovic and Dimitrov potentially.

Also Federer is not serving that big his second serves are slower than Nadal and Djokovic. Never ever been the case before.

Racket has nothing to do with it.
 

Rago

Hall of Fame
No; it was the problem of having a rival who was not good enough to meet him more often on courts where he would have been at a disadvantage.

0 meetings at USO from 2004-09, 0 meetings at Halle, 1 meeting at Cincy when Federer was losing to every man and his dog, 6 meetings on indoor hard where Fed leads 5-1 and Nadal has a measly 1 title.

Nadal was just too damn good on clay and slow hard court in his best years. The defense, mental strength and angles were just insane.

People seem to forget that the only losses Nadal suffered from 2005-2011 on the dirt were 2x Novak, 2x Federer, 1x Ferrero and 1x Soderling. Roger broke his dirt streaks twice. I thought he played the bull well in Rome'06, RG'06/07/11 and Hamburg'08 even though he was at a disadvantage and ended up losing them.

Sampras did the same thing with Agassi and didn't face him as often on the slower surf
aces.

It's been discussed over and over. /thread
 

CR7

New User
It is a reasonable question. It is generally accepted that Nadal is/was a bad matchup for Federer. By this I mean that Nadal found it easier to beat Federer than their rankings / results against other players would suggest. (Of course, there were times when Nadal also beat everyone else easier than Federer did; I am not speaking about absolute quality in any sense.)

The generally accepted reason for this was Nadal's top-spin against Federer's one-handed backhand. When Nadal managed to hit this shot well, Federer never really had an answer for it, except on some occasions on fast courts when he was really in the zone. (I am essentially going to completely ignore clay, where the match-up was secondary to the fact that Nadal was simply better.)

So, in the earlier part of this year, Fed's topspin backhand seemed to work pretty well against Nadal. Does that mean he has "solved" the match-up problem? (Even if so, it wouldn't mean that he would not lose against Nadal.) I think it is too early to say. It could be that the courts were lower-bouncing, and Nadal's spin worked less well, or that Nadal wasn't getting as much spin on the ball as he did when they played before. Also, we are talking about three matches played over a fairly short period of time.

Does it mean he should have switched sooner? Hard to say. He was still winning at least one slam every year until 2012 with the exception of 2011, and when things weren't going well in 2013, Fed did make the switch. If he had made the switch before, maybe it would have helped with the match-up against Nadal, but the adjustment could have cost him more matches against other players. As others have said, it's easy to see why he didn't.

Two final thoughts:
a) Isn't it still a match-up problem? The match-up has to do with the way players play, which is impacted by the equipment they use. Nadal used to have a match-up problem against players like Blake, before he managed to solve it by adjusting his playing style. So even if the problem was influenced by the smaller racquet, isn't it still a match-up problem?
b) Even if Fed had been using a larger racquet all along, there is no guarantee that the H2H would look different. Nadal is a great player, and would have tried to adjust his game plan ... as he may very well do now as well. These hypothetical discussions are great, but one should be careful not to take away from other players' achievements.
Australia the court was very low bouncing according to all players hence three of 4 sfinalists were one handed backhanders.

Miami always bounces fairly low due to the humidity making balls heavy.

The notable win was Indian Wells. That is well suited to Nadal as high bouncing and that was definitely a win against the head. Did Nadal play his badly or was he reduced to mediocrity is something we wont ever know.
 

CR7

New User
No; it was the problem of having a rival who was not good enough to meet him more often on courts where he would have been at a disadvantage.

0 meetings at USO from 2004-09, 0 meetings at Halle, 1 meeting at Cincy when Federer was losing to every man and his dog, 6 meetings on indoor hard where Fed leads 5-1 and Nadal has a measly 1 title.

Nadal was just too damn good on clay and slow hard court in his best years. The defense, mental strength and angles were just insane.

People seem to forget that the only losses Nadal suffered from 2005-2011 on the dirt were 2x Novak, 2x Federer, 1x Ferrero and 1x Soderling. Roger broke his dirt streaks twice. I thought he played the bull well in Rome'06, RG'06/07/11 and Hamburg'08 even though he was at a disadvantage and ended up losing them.

Sampras did the same thing with Agassi and didn't face him as often on the slower surf
aces.

It's been discussed over and over. /thread
At USO where was Federer after 2009? Or wimbledon 2010?
 

mightyjeditribble

Hall of Fame
No; it was the problem of having a rival who was not good enough to meet him more often on courts where he would have been at a disadvantage.

0 meetings at USO from 2004-09, 0 meetings at Halle, 1 meeting at Cincy when Federer was losing to every man and his dog, 6 meetings on indoor hard where Fed leads 5-1 and Nadal has a measly 1 title.

Nadal was just too damn good on clay and slow hard court in his best years. The defense, mental strength and angles were just insane.

People seem to forget that the only losses Nadal suffered from 2005-2011 on the dirt were 2x Novak, 2x Federer, 1x Ferrero and 1x Soderling. Roger broke his dirt streaks twice. I thought he played the bull well in Rome'06, RG'06/07/11 and Hamburg'08 even though he was at a disadvantage and ended up losing them.

Sampras did the same thing with Agassi and didn't face him as often on the slower surf
aces.

It's been discussed over and over. /thread
I think you're confusing discussion over H2H with discussion concerning match-ups.

There can be very little doubt that Nadal's topspin FH to Fed's one-hander used to cause him serious problems on any surface, except probably fast indoor HC (but even there Nadal beat him easily in their last match at he O2, IIRC). And it's not as though Nadal needed a big clever strategy for that, even when Fed was still beating almost everyone else, and giving those he didn't tough matches more often that not - it was just "hit to the backhand". That's not to say Nadal couldn't have won otherwise, but he didn't have to - his high-bouncing spin to Fed's backhand was Roger's Achilles heel.

That being said, I do think that talk of the problem being solved by the bigger racquet (or at all) feels a little bit premature and makes me nervous ...
 

Rago

Hall of Fame
Can't have it all regarding the head to head breakdowns and match ups. If Sampras played Krajicek more often at Wimbledon, he probably doesn't end up winning 7 titles.
 

TippyTap

New User
Answer is NO. Federer 97 square inch was shanking backhands in the 2014 , 2015 wimbledon and 2016 US Open finals against Novak. He went to Roger backhand time and time again and it worked nicely. I think its more mental freedom vs Rafa. Also i think Rafa doesnt play high topspin no more. He hits it cross court into the strike zone as he hits a flatter forehand away from clay. Before he would go high to Rogers BH on all surfaces
 

BeatlesFan

Bionic Poster
Miami always bounces fairly low due to the humidity making balls heavy.

The notable win was Indian Wells. That is well suited to Nadal as high bouncing... Did Nadal play his badly or was he reduced to mediocrity is something we wont ever know.
1. Miami is the slowest HC on the tour by far and Nadal had every single advantage in that match surface-wise. You're also mistaken about the effects of humidity on the ball. Humidity tends to make the ball slower because of increased moisture, and it also makes the ball feel heavier on the string bed.

2. Nadal himself said after IW he was "playing very well" going into the match. Federer simply annihilated him on that day - I saw that match live and it was a beat down from first to last. Nadal's done that plenty of times to Roger in the past.
 
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Deleted member 716271

Guest
1. Miami is the slowest HC on the tour by far and Nadal had every single advantage in that match surface-wise. You're also mistaken about the effects of humidity on the ball. Humidity tends to make the ball slower because of increased moisture, and it also makes the ball feel heavier on the string bed.

2. Nadal himself said after IW he was "playing very well" going into the match. Federer simply annihilated him on that day - I saw that match live and it was a beat down from first to last. Nadal's done that plenty of times to Roger in the past.
Miami is indeed the slowest HC, but Rafa has not fared well there historically. He has never won there. He seems to actually do better on faster HC's, or at the very least we can say the bounce height is the most important factor for Nadal, not the speed per se. The IW win was the most out of character for the history of the matchup therefore imo. He did lose once before to Roger in IW in 2012 in an odd rainy, windy match though.
 

WhiskeyEE

G.O.A.T.
Miami is indeed the slowest HC, but Rafa has not fared well there historically. He has never won there. He seems to actually do better on faster HC's, or at the very least we can say the bounce height is the most important factor for Nadal, not the speed per se. The IW win was the most out of character for the history of the matchup therefore imo. He did lose once before to Roger in IW in 2012 in an odd rainy, windy match though.
Federer lost to Nadal in Miami in 2004. Then almost did again in 2005. He strongly prefers IW to Miami and even skips Miami usually. His serve is more effective and he can hit through the court better.

Nadal is better on slow hard courts. It's just that Novak isn't as good on decoturf and that's why Nadal has 2 USOs. Nadal's worst win % (masters/slams) is in Cincinnati.
 
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Deleted member 77403

Guest
Miami is indeed the slowest HC, but Rafa has not fared well there historically. He has never won there. He seems to actually do better on faster HC's, or at the very least we can say the bounce height is the most important factor for Nadal, not the speed per se. The IW win was the most out of character for the history of the matchup therefore imo. He did lose once before to Roger in IW in 2012 in an odd rainy, windy match though.
Nadal may not have done well historically in Miami in regards to winning the title, but he certainly did well against Federer there historically. Straight setted him in 2004 and 2011, and Federer escaped a loss in 2005 by the skin of his teeth, he was about to lose that one also in straights. So this loss in straights in Miami 2017 was completely out of the norm.
 
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Deleted member 716271

Guest
Nadal may not have done well historically in Miami in regards to winning the title, but he certainly did well against Federer there historically. Straight setted him in 2004 and 2011, and Federer escaped a loss in 2005 by the skin of his teeth, he was about to lose that one also in straights. So this loss in straights in Miami 2017 was completely out of the norm.
Nadal's beaten Federer on fast court in Dubai as well. The history of their matchup has often had a lot to do with form and when they met in addition to surface. The low bouncing court of WTF is what does not suit him the most of any HC, despite the (very) slow speed.

I don't think it can be argued that Nadal hasn't been more effective historically at IW vs Miami
 

metsman

G.O.A.T.
Peak Fed with a 90 would be destroying 2017 Nadal all the same. 2017 Federer with a 90? Probably not because he's lost the footwork and timing necessary to play at a high level with a 90. Basically, peak/prime Nadal vs Federer on slow courts, Nadal has a mathcup advantage. However, for declined Nadal, that matchup advantage goes away because his ball lands shorter and he isn't as fast. Hence the 2017 results. The bigger racket makes declined Fed more consistent sure, but his top level was always better with the 90.

To summarize, the biggest change in the matchup dynamic has been Nadal's decline and to a lesser extent Federer's more aggressive backhand mindset.
 
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Deleted member 716271

Guest
Federer lost to Nadal in Miami in 2004. Then almost did again in 2005. He strongly prefers IW to Miami and even skips Miami usually. His serve is more effective and he can hit through the court better.

Nadal is better on slow hard courts. It's just that Novak isn't as good on decoturf and that's why Nadal has 2 USOs. Nadal's worst win % (masters/slams) is in Cincinnati.
Well Nadal's 2013 run on fast hc Canada/Cincy/USO was better than any AO/IW/Miami run I've seen. Slow HCourts probably do suit him more as slower courts ddo in general, but bounce height and how well the court takes his spin seems to play a more important role. And many of the faster courts seem to be more lively as well. As compared to the slow, dead courts that Novak loves (AO/Miami particularly). That is why Nadal is so poor at the slow, but low bouncing WTF.

And the same thing applies to clay. The MC 13 final vs Novak was one of the slowest courts ever played on because it rained right before the match and was very cool. That made the court even slower than usual but also kept the bounce down. ND steamrolled him in the 1st set until the sun came out and then barely won the 2nd 7-6.
 

Tommy Haas

Hall of Fame
Fed wouldn't have been Fed without his 90. That's what allowed him to hit with such precision. Think of all the sudden death situations that he got himself out of with a shot that just clipped the outside of the line. Using new his 97 would have resulted in them going out. Nadal would probably be the GOAT because whatever he uses, he's going to hit it with mega spin and have a higher margin for errors.
 
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Tommy Haas

Hall of Fame
To summarize, the biggest change in the matchup dynamic has been Nadal's decline and to a lesser extent Federer's more aggressive backhand mindset.
This pretty much sums it up. Fed's game was always better suited for longevity and we knew Nadal's balls to the walls style of play would eventually catch up to him.
 

TennisATP

Professional
If I remember correctly Nadal during his prime had a winning record against the whole top 30 and only had a losing record (a mere 5-6) to Davydenko in the top 100. So it has nothing to do with match-up or rackets and everything to do with Nadal's excellence. It wasn't only Federer who was having problems with Nadal, everyone did.
 

hoodjem

G.O.A.T.
Head to Head
Old Pro Staff 90 vs. Aero Pro Drive - 10-22
New Pro Staff RF97 vs. Aero Pro Drive - 4-1

The only match Nadal won against Federer with his new racquet was at AO 2014, immediately after he switched and before he got used to it.

Federer played most of his career with ancient technology. He played almost every match against Nadal with a technological handicap. It was never a fair fight. And still isn't with the age gap, but Fed wins anyway.

The first stroke of Federer's to improve with the new stick was his serve. So he played S&V/all court with Edberg. Now his ground strokes have caught up.
Boo-hoo. The tears are staining my screen. (Too poor to buy a larger racquet or forced by those evil Wilson lawyers to play with a tiny racquet against his will.)

Poor Federer: so old, too poor, swinging an Egyptian obelisk made of flawed granite.

How could he have ever won anything--so handicapped?
 
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WhiskeyEE

G.O.A.T.
If I remember correctly Nadal during his prime had a winning record against the whole top 30 and only had a losing record (a mere 5-6) to Davydenko in the top 100. So it has nothing to do with match-up or rackets and everything to do with Nadal's excellence. It wasn't only Federer who was having problems with Nadal, everyone did.
That's because he played so many more matches on clay due to making the finals of every clay event and playing clay 250s. Almost all his H2Hs were clay skewed.
 
Fedfanboys & Rafatardos said:
Fed's '90' racquest didn't have any backhands in it.
So what? . Rafa's Babolat didn't have any serves in it either, so it's a wash..
1) Federer is using X racquet,
2) No Federer is using Y racquet,
3) No Federer is using Z racquet, I know a guy who knows a guy and it is definitely a Z racquet.
4) No it is an X, and you're an idiot.
5) No it's a Y, an you're the idiot
6) No, it's an older version of Q, you're both idiots.
7) No it's an experimental version of K, I talked to a stringer that knows someone who almost held one of his frames once.
8.) No it's a P. I know because I talked to the Wilson rep in Wichita and he assured me it is a P.
And so on.......A giant clearing house of partisan misinformation....​
 

Tommy Haas

Hall of Fame
If I remember correctly Nadal during his prime had a winning record against the whole top 30 and only had a losing record (a mere 5-6) to Davydenko in the top 100. So it has nothing to do with match-up or rackets and everything to do with Nadal's excellence. It wasn't only Federer who was having problems with Nadal, everyone did.
Every great player has someone where they have a losing record to or at least trouble with. Fed and Nadal, Nadal and Davydenko, Agassi and Sampras, Sampras and Ferreira, McEnroe and Lendl.
 

WhiskeyEE

G.O.A.T.
Fed wouldn't have been Fed without his 90. That's what allowed him to hit with such precision. Think of all the sudden death situations that he got himself out of with a shot that just clipped the outside of the line. Using new his 97 would have resulted in them going out. Nadal would probably be the GOAT because whatever he uses, he's going to hit it with mega spin and have a higher margin for errors.
Fed.error was first coined in 2007. His old stick wasn't that accurate. Especially on the backhand with all the shanks. He needed a more forgiving racquet.
 

Sentinel

Bionic Poster
We really should think about taking away some of Nadal's slams and other titles and handing them to Federer with sincere apologies.

;) o_O
 

Sport

G.O.A.T.
What will be next? Are Nadal's 15 Grand Slams only a product of his racquets? Does Federer lead Nadal on grass because of the racquets? Would Djokovic have 0 Slams if playing with other racquets? Stop trying to find excuses to the fact that Nadal leads the h2h over Federer. It's so fanatic as to try to find excuses to Federer's 18 GS record talking about the weak era.
 

mightyrick

Legend
Considering that he beat Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, Tanner with a T-2000 and 65 square inch racquet head... Jimmy Connors is laughing at any Federer fanboy who talks about a "racquet advantage".

Jeezus, if Connors had a 90 square inch racquet, I think he might have had more slams than Federer.
 

Tommy Haas

Hall of Fame
if Connors had a 90 square inch racquet, I think he might have had more slams than Federer.
If Connors had a bigger and more powerful racket back then he would have cleaned house, but if all the other players had modern rackets too then it would have been a wash.

Only argument I could think of is if certain players would have been better at taking advantage of modern frames than others. Players who were on tour during the wood to composite transition period are good examples to look at.
 
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Deleted member 3771

Guest
Fed has always had the tech advantage and his tech advantage is even bigger now than ever with project Bazooka.
 
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Deleted member 742196

Guest
No better frame for a finely tuned Eastern forehand than a traditional mid sized Pro Staff. For much of his career Federer's bread and butter was that forehand.

It's the backhand that easily breaks down when out of position with the smaller sweetspot. As Federer's learned/been forced to improve his backhand moving to a larger frame is an obvious choice for his one-hander.

I wouldn't say he had a technical disadvantage for much of his career, the choice in frame suited his style accordingly. As his mobility and explosiveness have diminished, courtcraft and experience have become primary weapons - where earlier the PS90 was the right frame for him, now the RF97 seems suited for his all court approach. Particularly that return. It's important at this point his return rally begins at minimum with a neutral ball.
 

metsman

G.O.A.T.
Fed.error was first coined in 2007. His old stick wasn't that accurate. Especially on the backhand with all the shanks. He needed a more forgiving racquet.
it lessened in accuracy when his footwork first started to decline a bit which was 2007 and Fed-error was born. But when his footwork was precise, nothing was better than the 90. That being said I think keeping the 90 was right, just that he still tried to play like he used to in his peak when he should have been more aggressive off the return and moving forward.
 

metsman

G.O.A.T.
If Connors had a bigger and more powerful racket back then he would have cleaned house, but if all the other players had modern rackets too then it would have been a wash.

Only argument I could think of is if certain players would have been better at taking advantage of modern frames than others. Players who were on tour during the wood to composite transition period are good examples to look at.
Borg played a modern game with a wooden racket. Just a genius. Would probably have been very close to Federer if he had grown up in the poly/slow court era. I have him #2 of the open era as is.
 
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