Rafa – The other ‘greatest’!
Last 24 hours have been all about Federer, and they have been perfect for Federer. It does sound quite appropriate for the man who is considered to be the perfect tennis player. There have always been voices which have contested the notion that he is the greatest ever and each such voice had their reasons, some very valid and some quite emotional. But how can one take emotions out of the equation when the man himself shows his emotions in victories as well as defeats. Emotions can at times make you steer away from facts but no emotion emerges without any substance.
Rafael Nadal, the man who could only be the second best in yesterday’s final is considered to be Federer’s greatest rival. He has dominated Federer over last decade and a half when there is no other player that has even come close to giving Federer a run for his money, except for Djokovic, but that too a little late in Federer’s career.
Nadal’s dominance of Federer is not something ordinary.
Nadal’s dominance of Federer is not something ordinary. It is baffling. Federer purists who have always been in awe of their hero’s grace and perfection have never been able to understand how Nadal has always managed to counter everything that Federer does. Nadal has not only dominated Federer on clay but has been able to beat Federer on hard courts, finals of multiple majors, finals of 3 of the 4 grand slams. His defining victory has been the final of Wimbledon’08 in what is considered to be the greatest match of all times. Nadal defeated Federer on grass in his prime. Grass was never Nadal’s strength and yet he managed to play there in 3 consecutive finals.
Nadal most certainly is the king of clay. There has never been a player who has owned a theatre like he has owned Roland Garros but his life doesn’t end at clay courts, it begins there. A lot of ’experts’ call him the King of Clay to indirectly undermine his overall success. A player like Rafael Nadal doesn’t come every day. He is once in a lifetime phenomenon. He is the greatest fighter the world has ever seen, the man who thrives on adversity. There is never a winner which seemingly is out of Nadal’s reach. Nadal has played in 21 Grand Slam Finals and 24 Grand Slam Semi Finals (5 Australian Open, 9 French Open, 5 Wimbledon and 5 US Open). Nadal is the only player to have won grand slam titles on 3 different surfaces in a single year. No self-respecting tennis lover would ever undermine Nadal’s overall dominance in tennis in an era where he competed with the likes of Federer and Djokovic.
Nadal did not win the dream final that was played at the Rod Laver Arena. He was certainly the more fancied of the two at the beginning of the match. Federer probably knew that if he had to win that one last (or the second last) grand slam that has been so near yet so far for last few years, this is the last chance he has got. He rose to the occasion and played the match of his life. He had to, if he had to beat his biggest rival. He changed his game to minimize the impact of Nadal’s strengths. He took risks and they paid off. Federer at the end of the match said, that he would have been happy to lose as well. This is not the same Federer who would be gutted after losing to Nadal a decade back. This is probably the reason why Federer played with even more freedom. The love and respect for each other has increased tremendously over the years.
Nadal was the favourite to win the match at the beginning of the 5th set. Even though he played some of his best tennis on some of the crucial break points, it wasn’t enough. It was probably the dream ending that Federer deserved and he got it. But, Nadal didn’t deserve it any lesser. After a very bad year, no one expected Nadal to come back the way he did. I can’t help myself from thinking of the other possibility which wasn’t too far from realization before the tide turned. What if Nadal had won yesterday’s final? It is difficult to imagine the narrative if that had happened. Everything would have been different. Federer would still have been the hero, and people would have felt sad for him for not getting that perfect last grand slam (or the second last). Nadal would have added another feather to his cap, but this would have been a very special one. His tally of slams would have moved to 15, only 2 less than that of Federer. Also, another win at the Australian Open would have meant that Nadal had become the first man in 48 years to have won all the four grand slams twice in his career. That would have been another reason for him to be considered as a candidate for the greatest ever of this generation if not of all time. The kind of tennis that Nadal has played in this year’s Australian open, his best in at least 3 years, it suddenly isn’t impossible for him to win a couple more in next few years.
If one win could have made it so hard to distinguish between who the greatest tennis player of all time is, how can one lesser win make it easy for anybody to conclude that the other man is the undisputed greatest tennis player of all times.
..numbers certainly make Roger the greatest but they don’t make Nadal any less great.
There is no denying the fact that Roger Federer is the most successful tennis player of all time. He is the most graceful tennis player of all time. He has some of the most beautiful shots in his armory which makes him the most popular of the current lot. With all these factors on his side, it is completely understandable for a Federer fan to think that he is the undisputed king of tennis. These numbers certainly make Roger the greatest but they don’t make Nadal any less great.
Apart from numerous statistics which automatically put Nadal in the same sphere of greatness as that of Roger’s, Nadal’s greatness also lies in being the most difficult player for Federer to beat, a player who made even the best of Federer look the second best on most days in his career. Nadal’s greatness lies in his humility which hasn’t changed over years. Nadal’s greatness lies in the fact that he has never considered himself to be the best but has always shown on court that there is no question that he doesn’t have answer to. Nadal’s greatness lies in his limited abilities and his ability to extract them to a point that they begin to look unreal. Nadal’s greatness lies in his stubbornness, in his unwillingness to give up. Nadal’s self belief has always fought with his body and that is the reason he is still out there. Nadal greatness lies in the fact that he is going to fight till his last breath and is going to win anything and everything that he can in the years to come.