Just one week after Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both dropped out of the top four in the world rankings for the first time since 2003, the legendary duo reminded us why they are so precious and why the world adores them so much. Lack of form for Nadal and fitness issues for Federer have been responsible for the slide in their rankings, but their mutual respect and admiration remain absolutely unchanged, just like in their heydays.
The two great rivals and friends reunited on Wednesday at the inauguration ceremony of the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in the Spaniard’s hometown of Manacor. The event was also attended by the ITF president Dave Haggerty among others.
The state-of-the-art academy boasts of 26 claycourts, 10 paddle tennis courts, two swimming pools as well as a fitness centre, and is the place where the 14-time Grand Slam winner intends to turn his attention to post-retirement.
“I really don’t imagine myself living anywhere other than Majorca. I’ll be here every day. This is part of my future”, said Nadal.
Rafa, you have inspired me the most: Federer
But the cynosure of all eyes was the amazing camaraderie and banter between the two tennis icons, popularly called ‘Fedal’ together, who share a staggering 31 Grand Slam singles titles. The 17-time Major winner Federer, who had to call time on his 2016 season due to a knee injury, was effusive in his praise for his nemesis. Calling him the one who inspired him the most, the Swiss maestro admitted that he had to re-invent his game thanks to the Spaniard.
“Rafa, you’ve been the one that influenced and inspired me the most. I had to reinvent many things in my game thanks to you.”
The father of four children, Federer also added that this will be the destination for his kids to hone their skills in the sport if they ever wish to pursue tennis.
“I’m super happy to be here. I know where I’ll send my kids if they want to learn how to play tennis.”
I want to make a comeback like Rafa: Federer
Federer, whose fitness had so far been one of his biggest assets, saw most of his 2016 season being plagued by a knee injury that required surgery. He did come back after the operation in April, but had to cut his season short after playing Wimbledon; he is now in the midst of his rehab, aiming for a full-fledged return next year.
And who better for Federer to look up to than Nadal, whose career has been ravaged by numerous injuries and yet he has managed to make a return to the top echelons of the sport each time. The 35-year-old confessed that he wants to make a comeback like Rafa when he resumes playing competitive tennis at the Hopman Cup in January.
“You’ve done it a million times, so I can be inspired by the way you made it look so easy when you came back,” he told Nadal. “You came back to the world’s top 10, top five, even world No. 1. That’s something that I’m going to be thinking about when I come back to the tour in January.”
‘Roger, you represent the values at the academy’
Nadal too reciprocated the same appreciation for his formidable rival during his speech. With the entire Nadal family in attendance, the World No. 6 thanked the Swiss for coming and underlined how important it was for all the kids to have him there.
“It’s very important for all of us to have you here. You represent the values and example for kids at our Academy. Thank you, Roger, from the bottom of my heart to be here. For me it means everything.”
The priceless Fedal photo collage
Nadal’s tribute to Federer continued with a unique photo collage of the moments from the 34 times that they have crossed swords on the tour. The rivalry, which Nadal leads 23-11, has produced some epic matches to be treasured by fans forever, and it was only fitting that those matches got framed. Not only that, Nadal even added a personal ‘thank you’ note in his own handwriting to make it more special.
The note read: “Dear Roger, thank you very much for your support at the official opening of my academy. Today is an unforgettable day for me, my family and my team. You cannot imagine how special it is to have you here with us. Roger, this reflects all the moments we had on the court. Looking back at them I see all the great memories we shared in our careers… To be continued…”
Rafa yet to announce his 2016 plans
The Spaniard, who has struggled since coming back after a wrist injury this year, was ousted in the second round of the most recent tournament that he played – the Shanghai Masters. That loss also prompted him to contemplate wrapping up his season without playing at the Swiss Indoors in Basel and the Paris Masters.
A pull-out from these two events could also effectively end his chances of qualifying for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals, in the race for which he is currently seventh.
Nadal has still not announced what he intends to do. There was speculation that his plans would be made public at this event, but he refused to divulge them. He is expected to make an announcement in the next couple of days.
Retirement not in sight
With the 30-year-old failing to add to his impressive collection of 14 Slams since winning the French Open in 2014, there has been a lot of buzz over his impending retirement.
But Rafa refuted all those talks and made it clear that he has no intentions of hanging up his racquet anytime soon. To the relief of his large legion of fans, the former World No. 1 declared that he is still fully motivated and committed to his sport.
“If you start to think about when you’re going to retire then your work is not 100 per cent focused on what you want to do, so I can’t say and I can’t think about it now. I’m not worried about it at all. When it happens, it happens. When that day arrives I am sure I will know it. It’s not a day for which I have to prepare. That day will come when I’m not motivated and not ready to carry on, but today I feel ready to carry on.”
Predictably, Twitter went into melt-down mode at all the Fedal bromance
Some of the best tweets in response to the feel-good display put up by Federer and Nadal:
rafa literally gave roger a fedal poster probably so he could hang it up in his room and cry about it just like the rest of us https://t.co/efU9KjT7aj— neha (@madridnadal) October 19, 2016
The schmoopiness is off the charts. Damn how I've missed peak Fedal love. https://t.co/itZp91FZGt— Tennis Inside Out (@TennisInsideOut) October 20, 2016