Sunday, February 1, 2009

Federer - Nadal

To put it simply: if you follow tennis then you must respect Roger Federer. It is an earned respect. He is jaw-dropping impressive on the court, humble and gracious off. Thirteen grand slam wins, and a record four and half years as world number 1. He is a flawless winning machine with that precious quality every athlete wants – to elevate under pressure. When a three hour contest is suddenly tied just seconds before it ends he does not flinch, worry, or make a mistake.

But in 2006 a fiery new Spanish kid named Rafael Nadal smoked Federer on clay in the French open final. Then in 2007 he did it again. And in 2008, he did it in just 108 minutes, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. In 06 and 07 Federer replied by comfortably schooling Nadal in Wimbleton finals. I think at this point many fans were starting to realize something special was happening. In 2008 they played the longest Wimbleton final in history, twelve minutes short of a full five hours, and Nadal won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7. I didn’t see this match but I imagine it is one that an eye witness will have trouble forgetting. It has been called by many the greatest tennis match ever played.

Last night Federer (now 27 years old) and Nadal (23) met in Melbourne for the final of the Australian Open.

On Thursday night Federer had smoked Andy Roddick 3-0 in his semi-final and retired into air-conditioned comfort to wait for Nadal. On Friday night the story was different. Nadal fought to earn his spot in the final by winning the longest match in Aussie Open history - 5 hours and 12 minutes - against another young Spaniard. The temperature in Melbourne has been in the 40’s for the entire two weeks of the tournament. The mid-day court surface could fry an egg. Seriously. Nadal played FIVE HOURS of superb tennis - in the heat – and finished with less than two days to prepare for a final against a human winning machine. Five hours! After leaving centre court Nadal attended to his interview commitments, then some therapy, massage, cold tub (hopefully some good anti-inflamatories) and he did not get to sleep until after 4 am. He then slept all day Saturday, probably waking up briefly for food and physio. And last night he stepped onto centre court and beat Roger Federer. It required 4 hours and 23 minutes and five more sets of sprinting in the heat. Who is this kid?

All tennis fans know that Federer needs just one more grand slam title to tie the Sampras record of 14. Already, many people, myself included consider him to be the best player to ever play the sport. But it is no longer lonely up there for Roger. Nadal now has six grand slam wins at an age at which Federer had just two.

The reason I write is because I would like to share my appreciation for this: Nadal and Federer are both much better than anyone else. If you compare them to the rest of the 'crowd' they both hit far too many winners relative to their errors. They are too fast, too strong and too accurate. It’s not right. It's not really fair. So how lucky are we to have two of them!?
I can’t wait until the next final. Those bandwagon jumpers who are convinced that Federer can no longer beat Nadal are dreaming!

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