Hunger games never end for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
It was an interesting week for tennis fans around the world, mainly for those that swear by a certain Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The great duo dealt with a mounting heap of questions in their own emphatic style, albeit in different corners of the globe. And in doing so, they have added a much needed layer of interest to another very promising and intriguing season of tennis.
Emerging from behind the clouds
Federer was derailed in Australia, soon after he made a winning start in Brisbane. A fine three-set victory over Milos Raonic landed him some silver, but the sheen was quickly lost.
The Swiss star suffered an unexpected loss at the hands of Andreas Seppi in the third round at Melbourne. Soon, a plethora of analysts were busy wondering aloud if Federer was losing his ability to sustain a good run.
The 17-time Slam champion may also have been dealing with a similar line of inquiry every time he faced a mirror. But after a few weeks of rest and reinforcement, Federer acquitted himself with conviction in the Dubai desert.
An old dog can still bite
A straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic ought to be impressive, but it was Federer’s gait and game plan that drew attention.
Sample this – Federer imposed himself over his top-ranked opponent not once, not twice but an incredible three times after lying on the mat at 15-40 on his serve. He saved each of the seven break points he faced, while taking the two that came his way to edge past Djokovic for the 20th time in 37 encounters.
The secret to his success lay in a well-stitched game plan, which included a solid serve, controlled aggression, managing the forecourt and culling points quickly. Each ingredient had a role to play, and together they spelled doom for Djokovic.
Federer needed inch-perfect tennis to get past the World No. 1, and the point that underlined that perfection was at 15-40, down 4-5 in the second set. The Swiss struck a forehand volley which skimmed the baseline before turning into a winner.
Given that Federer’s march to the final paled as a test in comparison to his final, it was a heartening performance from which the Swiss can draw confidence for the American swing.
Nadal’s battle with his own mind
The Spaniard has been less than impressive this season, to put it mildly. A loss to Michael Berrer in Doha was his rather disappointing opening statement, and his loss to Tomas Berdych in the quarters of the Australian Open must have hurt deeply too.
There was plenty of talk about his bruised body, just as there were murmurs about a muddled mind. Playing the golden swing in South America, Nadal suffered a rare insult on clay when he was bundled out by Fabio Fognini in the semifinals of Rio de Janeiro.
Nadal went to Buenos Aires to heal his hurting soul. And the Spaniard did find solace in the Argentine capital, where he beat four local players to lay his hands on a trophy for the first time since Roland Garros last year.
It is a victory that could spur Nadal into reviving his flagging fortunes, just as we prepare for the clay season that follows the American swing. He has been aching to regain his winning touch, and Buenos Aires may have offered the relief he has been seeking.
Stacking up the honours
The two serial winners seemingly do not tire of winning silverware. Federer and Nadal have just made space for their 84th and 65th career titles respectively in their overflowing trophy cabinets. The latter is now fifth on the list of titles won, moving clear of the 64 won by Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg.
The next few months will be an interesting passage in the narrative of tennis. While Nadal looks to embellish his legend with a 10th title in Paris, Federer is searching for an honour that is turning increasingly elusive in the autumn of his glorious career.
The Swiss has not won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2012, and he will be hoping that he can claim one again this year.
Federer’s template of aggressive tennis has been effective in the three set format. However, it remains to be seen if he can sustain the high level of accuracy needed to allow him space and control at the net over five long sets.
Meanwhile, Nadal may be building up just in time for another memorable season on the red dirt that he so relishes.