Nadal and Federer, Federer and Nadal, can we mention one without naming the other?
Once upon a time, there was Roger Federer and the many dwarves. Then arrived Rafael Nadal like a light bulb whose incandescence just shone brighter and brighter. But not so much to eclipse a dwindling Federer but enough to illumine and bathe the ATP tennis courts – each taking turns at being sunbeam and moonbeam.
We have all heard talk about how graceful Federer is on the tennis court, how he is balletic , fluid of motion and a purist’s delight.
We have also lauded Rafa for his continually improving game, noted how his serve has become much more faster and accurate, and exclaimed how he keeps adding facets to his game.
But if you and I were to single out one defining characteristic of these two outstanding protagonists of the modern game, what would it be?
Quote of the day:
In great affairs men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small things they show themselves as they are. – Nicholas Chamfort
I would like to think of the two as being distinguished by their following unique attributes:
The Belief Of Federer
Federer , for his single-minded self-belief, a belief powered by the fact that at this stage of his career, he has been there, done that and believes that he can do it, again and again. The presumption may not have been on display earlier; he had a much more becoming humility then.
Yes, he may lose more often than ever; he also acknowledges that Nadal has been his master way too often but he never fails to reiterate that Nadal’s way on court is not his.
Not for him the defensive game plan that Nadal brings to the court. Nadal transforms defense into offense. Federer is more of the fencer – wielding his racquet like a rapier. You bleed from a thousand cuts.
It is Federer’s belief that he can always win – aesthetically. He is ever the artiste. He is never ugly.
Roger may take more chances , even adopt a more offensive game. Yes, he can slug it out from the baseline , if need be.
But his urge to climb on when other lesser players consider easing out is driven by his utter conviction that he is the best player in the world – bar none.
If there comes a point in his career that Federer feels that “Yes, this is it, I have gone so far and no further”, then he will shove his racquets into that shoulder bag and breeze off into the sunset, with not a backward glance in regret.
But until then, what you and I will see , on court, is the Federer whose resolute confidence brings out the shivers in the best of opponents. Shudder, I say, it is the Fedex Rolls Royce!
The Will of Nadal
Nadal, however, is defined by his dominant will. His determination to win is manifest - right from his reluctance to change his pre-match rituals for royalty and his burning desire to be the last man standing to propel the neon orb across the net.
He is the supreme retriever; he will get to every ball he can – shots that you and I may consider un-returnable, even unreachable but Nadal will be there, blocking, tensing and anticipating where the next ball will be.
You can count on an extra three shots to every rally when you meet a fit Rafa.
Nadal, were he not a tennis player, could very well have been a competitive sprinter. He has the physique of a champion athlete and his court coverage is fabulous.
Nadal brings to the arena an intensity that shouts out “I will burn , yes I will burn bright and maybe burn up, either myself or you or both of us!”
He wears a scowling countenance and there is just no give in him; just absolute concentration and focus. The only semblance of a smile is when he is about to serve; his eyes mock you saying “Here I come! Can you handle me?”
He imposes his will on the court, on the spectators, on his opponent; The sheer physicality and robustness of his game spells out the word “Dominance”.
Not for him the effortless posturing of a Federer or a Sampras. The strain of a strenuous and arduous path to glory is plain in the taped knees and bandaged feet.
He is a counter-puncher – punching through with the ferocity of a young Tyson. Federer is the Ali – floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee – but Nadal is the iron man combining speed , flexibility and power.
However, lest you think that he is unthinking brawn, study his service game to discover how a weakness was converted into a potent weapon.
Nadal is still vulnerable; he has to be at his best to prevail against opponents that Federer would brush aside. Federer could bring his B-game to the court against most opponents – play at 70% of his ability and yet walk away the victor.
Nadal thus exhibits a refreshing modesty – he is quite content with his eight Slams. He knows that Federer is Master Of The Tennis Universe.
Federer and Nadal – a rivalry for all times. They have sought out the best and brought out the best in each other. Tennis, as a sport, is blessed indeed!
Correction: There was a mistake in the earlier version of this article. It should have read "Nadal transforms defense into offense".