There comes a time when sporting immortals take centerstage and elevate the game’s stature beyond the realms of our imagination. These personalities are admired not just for their on field antics but their activities off the field and consistent work for the game’s upliftment generates a fan following that transcends that sport. And when it comes to Men’s Tennis, two of its biggest stars come to my mind .i.e. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
I remember the first tennis match i saw on tube quite clearly. It was the French Open quarterfinals in 2003.
Andre Agassi was playing against Guillermo Coria of Argentina under overcast conditions and my mother being a staunch supporter of Andre Agassi was confident that he’ll make it to the semi finals. Unfortunately, he could not make it but for me, it was the beginning of an association that would grow stronger with each passing year. A bond that reached staggering heights with the arrival of the Swiss Maestro.
The lawns of London are a perfect sight for any Tennis lover. The amalgamation of greens with whites paints a serene picture. And in 2003, SW19 witnessed the birth of its greatest superstar till date. As a kid who was getting to terms with the technicalities of the sport, here came a player whose game was pleasing to the eye and had almost every shot in the book. And he was able to decimate his opponents with utmost grace and sportsmanship.
I had heard immensely about the likes of Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras from my mother and how great they played in their prime but Roger Federer was something else. It took him time initially to find his grove but when he did, he just dominated like none other.
His mastery over the all the surfaces be it grass, hard court or even the red dirt was unparalled. Never before, there was a player who could play as consistent as he was on all surfaces through out the year. Tennis found a new superstar and my love for the game knew no bounds.
And as the world was marvelling at Federer and his exploits, a new teenager was rising up the ranks in 2005. The Spanish left hander was dishing out some spectacular performances on the clay courts and the world of tennis witnessed his arrival on the big stage when he lifted the French Championships that year, defeating Roger in Semi finals along the way. An epitome of grit and endurance, Rafael Nadal heralded a new style of play altogether. Brutal groundstokes, relentless hitting & long rallies came to the fore. And tennis was never same after that. From a clay court specialist, Nadal’s meteroic rise as a master of all surfaces was nothing short of awe.
And these two superstars had some of the most iconic battles of the last decade. If Federer exuded grace and effortless, Nadal was physical and excruciating. Both were driven by their immsense passion and love for the sport and tennis fans were witness to contrasting yet competitive style of play at once.
Their matches were legendary and both pushed each other to the limits. The Wimbledon final of 2008 is still regarded by many as the greatest match tennis has ever witnessed. By 2010, both had completed their carrer grand slams and tennis lovers could not have asked for more. In all, they have amassed a staggering 31 grand slam single titles amongst themselves.
But legends are mortals and age and injury does catch up. If the last decade was all about Roger and Rafa, the current one has been taken over by Novak Djokovic and to some extent by Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. Federer, who has had a truncated season this year due to knee problmes is 35 already.
And Nadal isnt the same potent force anymore. His forehands have lost the zip and he is extremely low on confidence, his early exit from the ongoing Shanghai Masters was not a surprise for him even by his own admission. And thus, for the first time since 2003, we do not have Federer or Nadal in the top 4.
And all of a sudden, the tennis lovers are transported back in time to ponder how tennis was without these two champions.
Tennis was extremely different then and since their arrival , it has only gained in stature and magnitude. Being a stauch Fedal fan, i ll love to see them play at their prime once more. But the possiblity is bleak. And the future without these two mortals is tough to imagine.
Fans across the globe would find it hard to digest that future but tennis would definitely enter a new era once these two call it quits. An era that is highly competitive. more talented and tenacious and where sportsmanship would rule the roost.
Expecting to see a fully fit Roger and rejuvenated Nadal in 2017.
A tennis lover.