Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal - A night of implications
It’s a rivalry for the ages, living up to its expectations time after time. It may be mostly one-sided, but it still raises goose-pimples each time the two players face off against each other. The Federer-Nadal chapter of tennis continues to enthrall, excite and entertain, as it first did when it all began in 2004.
It was the combination of all of these factors that led to the widespread anticipation about the potential men’s singles quarterfinal between them at Indian Wells. And it was a quarterfinal made even more important by the circumstances surrounding both players. One is on the much-discussed comeback road still testing his endurance and strength, while for the other, twilight seems to be creeping in on his glory, as if determined to obscure and confine it to the past.
Now that the quarterfinal is over, we are left to ponder over what all of it meant. The score-line of the match, 6-4, 6-2 in favor of Nadal, doesn’t say much beyond the fact that the Spaniard was far more convincing than Federer. And to some of those Roger Federer loyalists who were eager to raise the issue about his ‘tweaked’ back, his comments at the end of the match should be convincing enough to say that his back wasn’t a big enough problem to stop him from playing against his rival. Of course, it might have caused enough problems to prevent him from playing his natural game, but to be fair, Federer’s injury doesn’t take away anything at all from the Spaniard’s performance. It was a straight-forward victory, as acknowledged by both parties, and for Federer, an earlier start to his two-month long hiatus from tennis.
The fact that Federer hasn’t won – rather hasn’t defended – any of the titles he won last season remains a cause of concern, but it still isn’t the be-all and end-all for the Swiss. His ranking might be under threat from a certain Scotsman but rankings alone don’t determine a player’s chances in a tournament. Especially if a player is of Federer’s stature. And even if he does lose his ranking, he still has a lot of chances to recover and recoup between now and the next couple of months. Also, with three Grand Slam tournaments yet to come in the year, it would be well-justified for Federer to takes a backseat now and focus his attention on them alone. That, of course, would be perfectly in line with his desire to prolong the horizon of his tennis career, something that he has been doing fruitfully the past few years.
As for Rafa, this one hardcourt victory doesn’t signify the culmination of his comeback efforts just yet. His road to recovery has just started, as he tests one surface after another: starting with clay, then onwards to the hardcourts before he moves on to clay again, to defend his array of titles. It’s the last prospect that makes it a dicey situation for him to be in; the span of the next 2-3 months forms the base on which his ranking and reputation stands aloft. And knowing Rafa’s fervor to shrug aside any physical discomfort and compete with abandon, it’s important that he doesn’t over-exert himself now, in order to ensure that he isn’t let down by his body all over again, and at the most inconvenient of times.
Each year as Rafa continues to dominate on the clay courts, there are talks about his physical frailties and the innumerable rigors he seems to put his body through. And as convincing as his performances look, there’s always a pessimistic bleakness that lingers, like a dark shadow behind the clouds. His long injury-forced lay-off triggered widespread speculation all over again, as Rafa kept postponing his comeback. However, once he marked his return, the comeback was like the proverbial silver lining amid the shadowed clouds. It looked like he had never left the sport in the first place.
29 matches on, different trajectories seem imminent for the future tennis pathways of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. While both will indeed step forward in their careers, the upcoming time will surely be a test of their perseverance and endurance and their ability to channelize their focus to face any and all of the challenges that the sport springs their way.