Tennis doesn’t have the following in America as it does around the world. This is for several reasons such as tennis not being a violent sport and there isn’t an American worth the top billing. I believe the main reason though is the lack of a true rivalry. Saturday night the world gets to watch Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal go for the Australian Open title. The last great tennis rivalry, watching those early matches between the two had all sports fans glued to tennis and we get to do it again this weekend. Reminder this article is being written in 2017 not 2007 or 2008 which gave us some of the greatest match ups tennis will ever see (below is worth the 10 minutes).
Let’s check the match up real quick, Federer is 35 years old, 35!! In tennis years that is literally like being 100. He should not be able to be playing a high level of tennis anymore but this is Roger Federer. He is the greatest tennis player to ever live and one of the most dominate male athletes of all time (Serena is right there too on the women’s side of the net, mention women tennis, check, point for Steve). He has 17 grand slam titles; 3 ahead of Pete Sampras (Americans loved tennis back in the day, they had Pete / Andre) and 3 ahead of his opponent Nadal. There was a time where Fed vs Rafa happened 3-4 times a year on the biggest stages, it was like they warmed up vs the other “players” then just went head to head of the final. Federer reached 23 consecutive grand slam semis, that is just about 6 years he was guaranteed into the final 4 and he won 17 of those. Banana land type stats. But Nadal was right there doing the same a few year later. 31 career titles better the 2 of them is unbelievable. Starting in 2005, these two men 17 of 20 titles, insane run for any sport. Surprisingly the H2H is controlled completely by Rafa 23-11, Nadal was always young gun trying to take down the possible future GOAT. A time machine would be great to see a young Fed vs a young Nadal. It kind of happen but they were a few years off. Give me a 23 year old Fed vs a 21 year old Nadal. I imagine an epic 5 set, 5 hour match up that Fed wins as long as it’s not at the Roland Garros.
I saw Federer play way back in 2006 (he already had 10 titles) at US Open and it was incredible, it felt like he was floating around the court, dismantling his opponent without breaking a sweat, I was already #TeamFed for life but seeing it live was something special. I never saw such dominance before. Nadal was the hip, cool, capris wearing kid trying to change the game of tennis. He wasn’t floating like Roger, he was pounding the pavement and screaming every shot. When they played it was must watch TV. The Traditionalist vs the New Age. Just amazing to watch every time. Sadly time catches up to everyone; Nadal’s style of play made injuries almost a given and his knees just aren’t the same along with his power. Federer’s floating started to sink and he was soon caught by the younger players. That should be the end to two amazing careers, tennis doenst give an unforgettable final act to its players but these two are normal tennis players.
The shelf time of a tennis player is 6 maybe 7 years, once he you 28/29 you are too old to keep up with the youngsters but here we have a 35 yr old vs a 30yr old for the first title in 2017. Nadal sits 9th in the world rankings now and Federer sits 17th. They both are hanging on to the sport they live by the smallest life line. Both needed some luck to get here. Top seeds Andy Murray and current king of tennis Novak Djokovic fell unexpectedly early (Joker just turn 29 so this is a key year for him as well, something to watch out for). As sports go you are only allowed to play the man across from you so while the missed the big guns, Fed and Nadal won some big matches and took care of business.
It will be a late night but it will be a night to remember and most likely it will be the last time we see these greats go at it for a title. Roger is the greatest of all time but I always imagine what we would think of Roger and Nadal if they didn’t play in the same era. Could the both be at 20 titles?! Easily for Roger and almost a given for Nadal too but as fans we are lucky enough to see them go against each other. It might not be a Johnny McEnroe vs Bjorn Bork type rivalry but this is the greatest rivalry in tennis and it is up there for one of the greatest in all of sports.
Set the DVR, stay up late and enjoy this while we can. “It’s a privilege,” Rafael Nadal said of playing Roger Federer. “It’s a very, very special thing.” But the true privilege is that we got to watch these two go at if for such a long time.
Also published on Medium.