The second coming of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
Part 2, ladies and gentlemen, of the Federer - Nadal Saga is almost upon us! This is the unexpected chapter we could not have asked for!
Lord Alfred Tennyson, in his poem – The Brook, said, “For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever”.
Tennis lovers across the world would be thinking just the same about the legend that is Roger Federer because he is not a man; He is a Super-man! The Swiss maestro, at the age of 35, has reached his 28th Grand Slam Final proving that age is just a number.
The Australian Open Final on Sunday though, is a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object because teeing up against Federer is a person who embodies the spirit of the sport, a person who refuses to know when he is beaten!
Rafael Nadal, playing in his 21st grand slam final, is by no means a lesser player than Federer. Having already pocketed 14 Grand Slam titles, Nadal will be rearing to inch closer to Federer’s record of 17.
The tireless Spaniard had for long spells during Federer’s peak seemed like the only player in the world who could give the Swiss a run for his money. Nadal even boasts a 23-11 head-to-head record against Roger Federer although the figure falls down to a relatively more even 9-7 on hard courts.
While the whole world thought that Novak Djokovic or (Sir) Andy Murray will be vying for individual honours at the Australian Open, the two stalwarts have silently yet confidently made their way to the finals through a competitive field, having both overcome gruelling five setters in the semi-finals to set up what has been dubbed the “people’s final”.
There have been great rivalries that tennis has stood witness to – Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi to name. But growing up as a tennis fan at the turn of the millennium, the Federer – Nadal rivalry has been the one that really caught my eye - the class of the Swiss against the determination of the Spaniard.
If Federer is like a sleek Mercedes purring along then Nadal is like a tireless Gladiator wielding his sword, refusing to succumb. Yet, the two are not very different from each other. Both Rafa and Federer are coming off injury curtailed seasons in 2016 – Nadal having a spell out with a wrist injury and Federer having to cut short his season after Wimbledon with a knee injury.
Both have taken their time finding their rhythm. Both are now in the Australian Open finals and irrespective of what happens in that match both are champions of the game!
This is the ninth time the two modern day sporting greats will be facing each other in a grand slam final and arguably both have never been hungrier for success. The Australian Open, in many ways, marks the second coming of the Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal rivalry.
This is the first time in more than five years that the two legends will be facing each other in a Grand Slam final. Roger Federer has not won a Grand Slam since his victory at Wimbledon in 2012 and Rafa has not been beyond the quarter-finals since the French Open 2014, having won at least one grand slam in each of his 10 previous years.
This then, provides a chance to prove that there is still fire in the heart and strength in the legs to once again be the best in the business!
There is a lot of mutual admiration and respect for each other with Nadal stating after his semi-final victory against Grigor Dimitrov that it is a “privilege and a very special thing” to be playing against Federer. Federer likewise has called Nadal “extraordinary” and that he “thinks the world of Rafa and his game”.
On Sunday, 15,000 spectators at the Rod Laver Arena will be lucky enough to witness, arguably, two of the sport’s greatest players go toe-to-toe with each other. Millions, no doubt, will be glued to their TV sets and computer screens to catch every moment of this epic matchup.
If it is anything like Nadal’s 2008 Wimbledon victory against Federer, then an adoption of Ravi Shastri’s now famous (and repetitive!) words will be justified – “In the end, tennis is the real winner”
This is an unexpected chapter added to the Federer – Nadal epic rivalry making it such a lip-smacking fixture. Time then to hold your breath and wait until the two great men descend on the Rod Laver Arena to trade blows one final time this year.
Waiting in anticipation for the clock to strike 2 pm (IST) on Sunday to witness, what I hope is the start of the Roger – Rafa rivalry v2.0!