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Fed and Rafa

Roger and Rafa

By Sylvia Power.

Is the unique rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal about to spiral into a steady decline? I explore the fascinating history between the two players and predict that the men’s game is set to undergo a momentous change.

Frequently called “The greatest tennis rivalry of all time”, this description is by no means an overstatement. When the two men first met in March 2004 in the third round of the Miami Masters, tennis fans around the globe had no inkling that this was the start of arguably the most enthralling rivalry in tennis history. Over the next six years, Federer and Nadal were to face each other twenty-four more times, Nineteen of their matches being in tournament finals and an incredible eight of which were in Grand Slam finals. Federer and Nadal were to have a tight hold over every prestigious tournament, indeed, it was either Federer or Nadal that won every Grand Slam from 2005 to 2010 with the except of the Australian Open in 2008 and U.S. open in that same year.

But what made this rivalry so captivating that it attracted global media attention before every Federer-Nadal match-up? Some viewers would state that it was the high-quality tennis that would surely be delivered by both men. Some people are of the opinion that Federer and Nadal are the greatest tennis players in history, this is made all the more exciting by the fact that they both happen to be playing competitive tennis at the same time.

Witnessing two outstanding champions playing within the same time frame is every tennis lovers dream, it takes us back to those glory days of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, or Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg.

Others relish the vast contrast between the two men’s different styles of playing. Rafael Nadal is the very essence of the word “athlete”. His strong, aggressive groundstrokes make it extremely difficult for his opponent to gain a foothold in the rally. Nadal also employs the tactic of returning every single ball, until the opposition withers. Nadal plays the game in a very physically demanding way, using brute force to destroy his opponents.
Labelled “King Roger” by adoring fans, Roger Federer couldn’t make playing tennis look any easier. At nearly thirty years old, the Swiss is still one of the fastest players on tour. He glides around the court, his footwork balletic. Federer prefers to play with precision over power, using his natural talent at the net to breeze past his opponents.

So how could the reign of these two majestic men be crumbling before our very eyes? Over the last decade, men’s tennis has witnessed a revolution in the way the game is played. Gone are the days of seventy mile-an-hour first serves and careers lasting well over a decade. It’s now believed that men will be at the tail end of their career from ages twenty-eight to thirty-one. The reason for this change is the increased focus on athleticism in tennis. Men in their late twenties are not as physically fit as younger players in their early twenties, just like Roger Federer losing to younger rival Jo-Wilfred Tonga in the quarter finals of Wimbledon 2011. This revolution has escaped those men who are known as “late bloomers”. These men take longer to develop their tennis skills than others. However, while this may sound negative, it guarantees that those men can continue to play long after younger men have burned themselves out.  One victim of this plight is Rafael Nadal. Renowned for his gruelling on-court play, Raga has been troubled with tendonitis in both knees. Suffering from tendonitis at only twenty-five is an ominous signal for Nadal’s future.

Men’s tennis is heading for another massive change. If Roger Federer cannot match the physical fitness of the younger players and if Rafael Nadal’s knees begin to trouble him more, as they surely will if the Spaniard continues to play gruelling and physically exhausting tennis, perhaps the golden door to Grand Slam glory will be blown wide open? The last two years have revealed that there are more than a few young, up-and-coming, talented tennis players who wish to take over the Federer-Nadal throne. New world number one Novak Djokovic and Scot Andy Murray have been knocking at the door of Federer and Nadal in nearly all the Grand Slams since 2007 and the former has recently won his third major title by winning at Wimbledon, effectively knocking down the stone wall between himself and further Grand Slam glory. Young Australian Bernard Tomic exceeded all expectation by reaching the quarter finals at Wimbledon and proved he is one to be wary of in the future. Juan Martin Del Potro has found a resurgence of form following an injury and is certain to prove dangerous during the hard-court season. Many others, including Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Gael Monfils and Feliciano Lopez are waiting in the wings for their chance at victory. Indeed, the change that will take place will be that the men’s game will become very similar to the women’s game. The situation in women’s tournaments now is that virtually anyone can capture the title, whether the victor is thirty year old outsider Francesca Schiavone or long-shot Petra Kvitova. Without the domination of Federer, many young players should now have the self belief  needed to guide them to Grand Slam glory. And while Nadal is supposedly at the peak of his career, he may notice the increasing number of confident youngsters and even “late bloomers” ready to step up and challenge him.


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