Nadal vs Federer: The rivalry that has made tennis great again
The rivalry that compels attention...
I was just 16 when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer locked horns in the final of the 2008 Wimbledon. I was never really much of a tennis viewer, but somehow always found myself stuck to the sofa whenever Federer and Nadal played against each other.
There is a different aura to this encounter. In cricket, we have the Ashes and, obviously, India-Pakistan, while El Clasico, the North London Derby, the Manchester Derby and others adorn the rivalries in football. However, in a way, Nadal-Federer is superior to all of them.
Actually no, not ‘in a way’; the Nadal-Federer is definitely superior to all the other rival clashes.
The unique superiority...
You won’t see the two arguing against each other over anything. You won’t see the two insulting each other at press conferences. You won’t see the two creating peevish cacophonies to define each other’s greatness.
Heck, you won’t even see their fans abusing each other for their idols. This is class. This is a proper rivalry. This is Nadal-Federer.
The bond that these two share is a point of reference for every sportsperson on the globe. Fierce competitiveness on the court, great friends off it – this is the ideal that every sporting entity should follow.
But somehow, it can only be seen among these two.
The match that nobody expected
So here it was. Nobody expected these two living legends to ever again be on the same court for a championship match in a Grand Slam, but they had defied all the odds to face-off against each other in the final of the Australian Open.
And here I was again; glued to the television with hopes that the next few hours would gift my eyes with a transcendental display of majestic racquet swings while also making satisfying thuds as the ball made contact.
And boy, oh boy, I was more than just sated. It was an ameliorating experience, one that evoked memories from the iconic Wimbledon final.
There were times when it seemed like the Swiss legend was schooling the Spaniard, making the latter dance to his will. The helplessness in Nadal’s movements during those periods is as esoteric a sight as it gets.
But the 14-time Grand Slam winner had his moments, too. In fact, up until the final 30 minutes of the game, he had more to show for his efforts. His sheer will and positional awareness made the jaws of many viewers go south.
When it comes to stamina, Nadal has plenty of it. Federer made him work, and work he did. Every time the ball looked out of Nadal’s reach, his racquet somehow, quite miraculously, appeared and smacked the ball across towards the other half of the divide.
It felt like we would be seeing a repeat of the Wimbledon final, but Roger had something else in his mind.
The first thing he did was focus. Federer was making way too many unforced errors. With Nadal leading the 5th set 3-1, the Kraken in Federer awoke and destroyed everything in front of him – Nadal, in this case – with his composed wrath.
The last five games were a display of sheer mental strength by the Swiss master. He had an answer to every question that Nadal put forth. In the end, the championship wasn’t decided on playing skills – which both, dare I say it, have in the same amount. It was Federer’s mental strength that got him his 18th Grand Slam.
What makes this feat so extraordinary is that he is 35 years old and started the tournament ranked 17th. This win puts him in the 10th spot in the rankings now. Not bad for someone in the final phase of his career, eh?
Nadal is 30 and has 14 Grand Slams to his name. Djokovic, 29, has 12. With age on their hands, they might as well go on to overtake the Swiss’ final tally. However, whether they can do what Federer did in this Australian Open, aged 35, is something I am sceptical about.
They say that time and tide wait for no one. However, when Federer and Nadal lock horns against each other, even time hits the pause button to witness the way they make tennis look like an aesthetic endeavour that oozes nothing but divinity.
Only time will tell whether we will be bestowed with the serendipity of seeing these two legends in the final of a Grand Slam once again. But what can be said for certain is that if it happens, I will be there in front of the television…watching the magical tapestry being weaved by two mystic threads.