Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have created one of the greatest rivalries in not just tennis but all of sport, having clashed 40 times in their illustrious careers. With their contrasting styles of play, the two legends have helped popularize tennis like never before.
However, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal transcend the term "rivals". They are good friends off the court despite their fierce battles on it, and have come to redefine the spirit of the game with their matchless sportsmanship.
Many of their peers have looked up to them over the years, as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have jointly driven the sport forward. This quality of fellowship has become the model for all players on the tour to follow.
But that kind of camaraderie and mutual respect haven't always been the norm in men's tennis. And Yannick Noah, who recently appeared on "The Tennis Podcast" with David Law, talked about his peers from the 80s and how they were the exact opposite of the current crop of players.
The 1983 French Open champion played in the same era as legends like Bjorn Bog, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. Noah stressed how the 80s were full of unpredictable characters, with the rivalries being way edgier and the outbursts more violent and animated.
Tennis players back then had full freedom to show their anger, before rules like the ATP Code of Conduct were created. Noah recalled possibly the first time that the code of conduct was applied in a match, which pitted "Superbrat" John McEnroe against Sweden's Mikael Pernfors back in 1983.
"I was in Melbourne, and I am at Pat Cash's place. McEnroe is playing Pernfors. He is probably gonna win and come and join us for the barbecue. So we watching the game, and the code of conduct was starting. It was actually made for John, mostly," Noah said.
"All of a sudden there is a problem, and I'm playing Pernfors. John was disqualified, out of the Australian Open. He came to the barbecue and was upset," Noah added.
The Australian Open crowd were left stunned, and so was McEnroe, when the seven-time Major champion was defaulted for repeated racquet abuse and swearing on live TV. That was, interestingly, the first ever disqualification in the Open Era.
Roger Federer and Co learned to play the game with the current rules of conduct: Yannick Noah
Bemoaning the lack of characters in tennis right now compared to the McEnroe era, Noah believes that the ATP Code of Conduct has taken some spice out of the tour.
But it is debatable whether the days of confrontational on-court behavior will ever return, with or without the Code of Conduct. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have set the precedent for all future players to be disciplined on the court in order to progress in their careers.
The Frenchman himself pointed out how Roger Federer became successful only after he learned to control his emotions.
"Even Roger Federer as a junior was a little brat, as a junior he was a little spoilt brat breaking racquets. Roger Federer was always cursing. Then he became this Zen Master, it is beautiful. But these guys learned the game with these rules," Noah said.Published 29 Jul 2020, 16:26 IST