The Tennis world wrote them off last year. Federer and Nadal proved one more time, if needed, that they are the biggest tennis players in the Open Era or maybe in the history. Tennis gods. Let me explain why.
Through out the history we had great players, amazing rivalries. Just in the Open Era we had Connors-McEnroe, Connors-Lendl, Borg-McEnroe, Becker-Edberg, Agassi-Sampras and the most recent ones, Federer and Nadal against Djokovic and Murray. What made these rivalries interesting was and is the fact that these players are so different: in terms of style, philosophy of play and personality.
Now, what makes this rivalry more special than the others? People from different generations maybe would stick with their favorites from their time out of loyalty or nostalgia. But let’s look at the facts, both in the game and to the events that surrounds the phenomenon. Even a legend like Rod Laver admitted that they probably are the best that ever played the game. Sampras, one of Federer’s idols growing up, praised them as well.
Speaking of Sampras, let’s remember his rivalry with Agassi and how they couldn’t and can’t stand each other. Sampras was a shy person with great dedication for the sport, while Agassi was an extrovert, charismatic person and a loose canon, being known a lot for his unorthodox lifestyle. Where am I going with this? Bare with me.
All the rivalries made the players better and the phenomenon grow. So much that it reached inhumanly levels. Maybe that’s why so many top players are getting injured so often. But I digress. Both Federer and Nadal became huge tennis ambassadors, due to their fair play, passion, healthy lifestyle, hunger for results and respect for their peers and former players. Their rivalry goes as far as the match goes. When the game is done, they are great friends and always speak highly of each other.
The rivalry difference in between Federer-Nadal and Agassi-Sampras was underlined when the four champions played together in a charitable match, back in 2010. Being an exhibition match, the players had microphones. From one joke to another, Agassi started an argument with Sampras, which turned out to be a heated moment, very inappropriate for such an event. Sampras made a joke about Agassi’s pigeon-toad walk before serving and the second replied with a joke about Sampras being a poor tipper. Federer tried to calm them down joking, as he organised the match, but couldn’t do much to stop it. Nadal was so embarrassed that being asked after the match about his take on their heated moment, he smartly replied: “Everybody told me after the match what’s happened, but during the match, you know how fast Americans speak, and I am Spanish. I didn’t understand nothing.”
The FEDAL saga is so powerful not only because of the amazing matches played together. When the artistry of Federer meets the explosiveness of Nadal, like water and fire. When the chess master meets the El Toro. Their rivalry will go as the greatest ever because of their dominance, their power to adapt, their contribution to the phenomenon outside the game and their friendship.
It’s interesting to see that after all the records that they broke and established, they are still as hungry as ever. Still willing to work hard and make sacrifices. Still humble and polite. I remember that a few years back Nadal forgot his water for one of his training. Tony, Nadal’s coach, told him straight away that if he is not organised, he will train without water. And Rafa did it without saying anything.
Maybe Djokovic is really close to their legacy. But for the moment, it seems that they battle to settle the eternal discussion: who is the GOAT – Roger or Rafa? All four Grand Slams split between them two this year. Unbelievable!
But who really can foresee what comes next? Last year everybody thought this year it would be a walk in the park for Nole and Andy. Who expected this vintage times, with FEDAL still in power? The youngsters are starting to improve and get stronger, but still not enough to push them out to retirement. This year was great for the two tennis gods.
But how long can this go on? Time doesn’t forgive anyone. Who cares? Just enjoy these moments, tennis geeks!