Federer v Nadal

It's odd that in the end there are only two men left standing - the Manacor Minotaur and the Sublime Swiss.

Of course, Nadal needs to attend to the minor paperwork of writing off his fellow Spaniard - Verdasco. So, unless Nadal slips on the bathroom floor and breaks both (yes! both) his legs, or Verdasco grows an extra heart to keep up with the running he needs to do to face the ball-machine, we are up for another epic final.

Verdasco played brilliantly to knock Murray and Tsonga, and Roddick did well to force Djokovic out and make it to the semis. But, the finals have been reserved for the Big 2.

Nadal seems to be getting better and better each time I see him play. His serve and backhand have improved tremendously, and he is capable of not only returning but pounding even the best return. This is obvious. But, what seems to be most impressive is that he makes such few errors.

Federer once remarked that early in his career he did poorly because he could not make up his mind on what shot to make, as he had so many options. Now late in his career, he seems to have trouble deciding, should I play like a human, or a God? A very human Federer played against Berdych, and then the next two matches it has been 'The Federer'.

It seems that everything till the final is just practice for these two guys. A lengthy two-week prelude with the guys playing 'good' cop and 'bad' cop. Good cop - R. Nadal gets to work immediately and bulldozes opponents as quickly as possible; in contrast, Bad Cop R. Federer has been more of the tease, a trapeze artist, whetting everyone's appetite for the final showdown.

My generation has been honored to witness these two duke it out on the courts, year after year, slam after slam. So who will win? Does it even matter? To quote a Danish prince, the play's the thing.

Grab a seat and watch the drama unfold.

Commentators at the Aus Open

Last night while Nadal was clinically demolishing Fernando Gonzalez, on the other court Murray was playing Verdasco. The first set was rather routine with Verdasco losing 6-2 which prompted the commentators to talk about Murray's further progress, as if his win was a given. Verdasco came back to win the second, and finally upset Murray by winning the match in five sets. In the featured match, Gonzalez was given somewhat of a chance against Nadal. But, Nadal prevailed in straight sets, not looking troubled at all. Nadal is a monster and shows no signs of any weakness. He is simply a ball-fetching machine on defense, and devastating on the offense. Earlier, Victoria Azarenka wasn't given much of a chance against Serena, but she won the first set and then retired in tears because she felt dizzy due to a virus.

I really wonder if anyone really analyzes the commentators pronouncements and predictions. I think they are just as clueless as the average viewer regarding who will win. The only advantage they have over an average viewer is that they know how to watch a player, and they have deeper knowledge of the history and stats. However, I don't think they are any better at predicting a winner, and even when the score looks lopsided.

There isn't much separating a player in the single digits from someone tens of places below. All it takes is a couple of erratic shots, or a double fault or two, and the player could be a break down and lose the set, and then the match. This is highly unpredictable, so I doubt that even immediate performance in the previous game is any indicator if the player is going to over-hit the ball, or double fault.

I am curious to see if people would be able to identify the better player in a blind study (i.e. the faces of the players were obscured) just by watching a couple of games. I am sure that commentators would be better at identifying, but at predicting who will win - I am not so sure.

On Shoulders of Giants

When I should have been doing something else, I spent last evening reading Keith Devlin's book and the exchange of letter between Blaise Pascal and Pierre De Fermat.
In a series of letters Pascal and Fermat developed the theory of probability, or more accurately a priori or objective probability.

The problem that concerns the letter is the Problem of Points which Fermat solved rather easily using his more elegant and shorter 'method of combinations', and which Pascal solved correctly, but without the intuition, using his more complicated recursive formula.

Two things were striking - people had been gambling for centuries before anyone took the challenge in the early 17th century to find a mathematical method to predict the odds.

Also, what took the greatest minds in Europe a better part of a century to solve, took me only about few minutes to solve the 'Problem of Points'. Upon reading Pascal's source of confusion, I realized how simple it is to apply a method, but how very subtle it is the really understand the problem. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern