We have perhaps seen the greatest in sports in these past few years; the caliber of Sachin Tendulkar, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt, graced our lives in the highest of sporting events with their seemingly, otherworldly powers. With their names being said, I am sure that I am missing a lot more.
Amongst them, have emerged Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. A conversation on tennis is incomplete nay, blasphemous without the mention of both. They will go down as two of the greatest tennis players and some of the most illustrious sporting legends the world has ever seen. Combined, they have won 32 Grand Slam titles (Federer won the 32nd, when he beat Nadal in the 2017 Australian Open Final, taking his personal tally to 18, the highest in men). 32 titles mean that if you took them as back-to-back tournaments, Federer and Nadal would be winning all 4 Grand Slams per year for 8-years in a row. It is hard to think of more examples, of such domination.
A rivalry so intense is sometimes hard to imagine between two individuals, even in the sporting era we have lived in. Perhaps more than two decades ago, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras ruled the roost, but even they had *only* 22 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
Federer and Nadal have been in fact so dominant in their sport that they overshadowed everyone on the ATP World Tour. Even someone with the most basic of tennis knowledge will know of the rivalry both possess, but would yet not have known other players who played when this duo were at their prime.
While we talk about their rivalry, it’s easy to get duped into thinking that they think of each other as mortal enemies. Reality however, has it otherwise. YouTube a few videos of both of them in lighter moments with each other. Both have actively been a part of each other’s charities, with the ‘Match for Africa’ 2-match series in 2010 that aimed for helping people in Africa via the Rafael Nadal Foundation and the Roger Federer Foundation.
While the contrast in their playing style is evident, one cannot help but notice how composed they keep themselves on court. On a ‘bad’ day, when things aren’t going their way, they have hardly ever reacted negatively. However, even on days when they are feeling dominant, will they not needlessly annoy their opponent through ostentatious displays of emotion. It is only when they are truly feeling under the gun, and when they reach from a position where defeat looms ominously to where they turn the match around, do they really celebrate.
Many sports critics and tennis fans alike signaled a soon end to their careers. Points such as Federer’s age and Nadal’s aggressive playing-style were shown as markers that they would not be able to compete with new players on the Tour. This Australian Open however, proved otherwise, and judging by the reaction of the tennis and sporting world at their meeting in the final, was for the better.
Both have surprised us through their toughness –physically, mentally and emotionally- whenever they have played. If one were to retire, tennis would sadly not be the same. Their rivalry has been one which the sporting world can only sit back and enjoy, and perhaps only hope, that in the future they see one even remotely as sublime as this one, ever again.