Transcending sport: Federer-Nadal rivalry gives tennis a new life

Feb 01, 2017, 11:12 IST | Gaurav Natekar

Federer-Nadal rivalry has taken tennis to a different level and their exploits in Sunday’s Australian Open final have infused interest back in the game

Roger Federer of Switzerland accepts Spaniard Rafael Nadal’s appreciation after winning the Australian Open final at Melbourne Park on Sunday. pic/Getty Images

Reams of newsprint and many words have already been said and written about the Australian Open men’s final with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal putting on a display that matched its pre-match hype and left fans of both completely mesmerised.
For me, the highlight of that match and the tournament itself was the two showing their human and inhuman sides (yes, for a while a lot of us thought they were from another planet). Coming into 2017, both of them had much to prove to themselves. For Nadal, it was a place he had visited before. Injuries have always been a part and parcel of his game just like his unorthodox forehand.

He has come back from career-threatening injuries on more than one occasion in the past, but to do it again in such resounding fashion at age 30 clearly shows that he has changed the way he trains both on and off the court. For Federer, on the other hand, injury is something that is an alien concept and even the injury that waylaid him didn’t occur on the tennis court, but in his bathtub at home while playing with one of his kids.

Redefining their game
Both looked a lot leaner and got an extra coach to help them with their on court game, showing that they both realised they needed to redefine their game in order to get back to winning ways. The match itself lived up to all that and much more. Both displayed the usual grace, grit, dogged determination that only supreme champions are able to display at will and on the biggest stage. After all, for the past 10 years, Federer had never beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam. This though was different. Once it got to the fifth set, most Federer worshippers across the world (me included) resigned ourselves to yet another loss to Nadal in a Slam. Indeed, the body language of both at the start of the final set added to it. Federer lying on the floor getting treated for an injury and Nadal doing his signature short sprints while waiting for him.

It all seemed like deja vu. An early break in the fifth set seemed to confirm the inevitable and then suddenly it all changed. Federer did to Nadal all that he had done to the Swiss in all those earlier Slams.

Chasing down seemingly impossible shots, drawing out winners where none existed and a swagger that Nadal seemed to have a patent on for all these years.

Flourishing in adversity
Many mental trainers across the world would love to peak into the minds of both Nadal and Federer to see how their mind works in extremely tough mental and physical situations. Both have always raised their games while playing each other and both have admitted becoming better players due to their rivalry.

However, their single biggest contribution has been the fact that they have transcended the sport and seem to have brought the interest back into tennis. TV ratings for tennis have been showing a slow and steady decline over the past few years and this tournament and its final match could see the sport being revived, provided the governing council of tennis ensure they capitalise on this. So many of my friends whom I have known for many years and who didn’t really show an inkling to understand or follow tennis were all calling to ask me for my ‘expert opinion’ on the outcomes of both the finals. Many of them remained glued to their TV sets over the course of Sunday, most of them even foregoing their all-important Sunday afternoon nap!

With Federer showing no signs of retiring and Nadal looking fitter and hungrier, it looks like tennis will continue to see these two greats battle it out for a couple of more years at least. And to tennis aficionados, that is the best news to get so early in the year!

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