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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: View from the Top

Posted on August 06, 2009 by JA Allen
A year ago Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in a classic Wimbledon final. Now that he is back for the U.S. Open, will Nadal be able to regain the top perch from Federer.

A year ago Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in a classic Wimbledon final. Now that he is back for the U.S. Open, will Nadal be able to regain the top perch from Federer.

A year ago at this time, we were all squirming in uneasy anticipation waiting to see how Roger Federer would answer the challenge put forth by Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard scorched the green lawns of Wimbledon and exacerbated excruciating pain on the red clay of Roland Garros.

Make no mistake about it—Nadal intended to take over the No. 1 ranking in men’s tennis before summer’s end.

Nadal figuratively kicked red clay in the eyes of the No. 1 player in the world. His annihilation of Roger Federer in straight sets 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 at Stade Roland Garros in 2008 was a testament to Nadal’s intent.

We gaped as Federer stood stunned, seemingly shot with a poisoned dart, staring in blank bewilderment at the coolly calculated game his opponent delivered.

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. And this was the beat down of a cold-hearted assassin.

But clay, we rationalized, was Nadal’s milieu—and grass was Federer’s. We breathed a little easier after our moment of clarity.

The combatants picked up their weapons and headed north, where Nadal won the grass warm-up tournament at the Queen’s Club and Federer won at Halle. Both moved on with climbing confidence to the pristine lawns of Wimbledon.

Federer has claimed the last two majors while nadal has struggled with injuries. Can Federer earn his third major of the year if Nadal is back at top form?

Federer has claimed the last two majors while nadal has struggled with injuries. Can Federer earn his third major of the year if Nadal is back at top form?

They skirted through to the finals, where Federer hoped to capture his sixth consecutive Wimbledon championship, and Nadal hoped to seize his first grand slam title not on clay.

This was where the irresistible force would meet the immoveable object. Something big was in the offering.

The match, as they say, was one for the ages.

Federer lost the first two sets with a frustrating inability to capitalize on his opportunities—he was not playing like the Federer of yore. The weather was not cooperating. There were constant rain delays.

Nadal, as usual, was unrelenting.

Then, Federer came back with a gut check to take the third set. He then won the fourth set in thrilling fashion. On to the fifth set, as darkness threatened. Rain and clouds and darkness descended.

It was like the conclusion of Lord of the Rings—neither man seemed able to win nor willing to lose.

Finally and prophetically, with pervading darkness enveloping the court, Federer folded 9-7 in the fifth.

The aftermath skittered between triumph and regret.

Some watching felt betrayed, bereft, and bayoneted. Some observers felt joy, justification, and jubilation.

Nadal simply notched his belt, chucked Roger on the chin, and moved ahead to the American hard courts and to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Shanghai.

Nadal will be looking to regain his championship swagger at the U.S. Open.

Nadal will be looking to regain his championship swagger at the U.S. Open.

By the time the ATP Masters Series rolled into Toronto for the Rogers Cup, the world was recovering from the stunning upset at Wimbledon, readying itself for Federer to reclaim his rightful place.

All he had to do was show up Nadal on hard courts that traditionally favored world No. 1 Federer.

This might have worked, except that after a first round bye, Federer met and was defeated by a hot, up-and-coming Gilles Simon.

Federer was out, and Nadal went on to win the championship and close the point gap.

The No. 1 mantle would belong to the Spaniard—no one doubted it now.

Federer needed to win in Cincinnati to stave off losing his crown. However, he lost in the third round to Ivo Karlovic 6-7, 6-4, 6-7 without dropping his serve.

It was inevitable. Nadal lost to Djokovic in the semi-finals, but the damage was done.

On Aug. 18, 2008, Rafael Nadal would become the No. 1 player in the world and Roger Federer would be No. 2—seeded No. 2 at the U.S. Open.

To add insult to injury, Nadal won the Gold Medal in Beijing for Men’s Singles in Tennis, although Federer, teamed with fellow countryman, Stanislav Wawrinka, won the Gold Medal for Doubles.

When the draw came out for the U.S. Open, Federer was listed at the bottom in the No. 2 spot, while Nadal took over Federer’s place at the top.

There was a new captain on the deck.

As we ready ourselves for the premier ATP events in Montreal (the Rogers Cup) and in Cincinnati (the Western & Southern Financial), we wonder how Federer and Nadal will return to the courts in 2009, both after long layoffs.

Nadal has been recuperating since the 2009 French Open after losing to Robin Soderling in the fourth round. He has not played since, unable to even defend his crown at Wimbledon this year.

According to Uncle Toni, Rafa returns to Canada with modest expectations. Right. He is once again No. 2—just as he was a year ago.

But there is a huge difference.

This year, it was Federer who won the French Open and Wimbledon with barely a peep out of the boisterous Majorcan tamed by his knees and ensconced in peach-colored sleeves. This year it was Federer who claimed back the mighty mantle he lost in such devastating fashion a year ago.

Nadal is no longer the proud hunter prowling, pacing, and snarling. He is tamed and suitably attired in proper tennis garb. His demeanor has softened, and his aggression reeled in.

This Nadal will have problems imposing his will on the hungry field awaiting him. His knees will no longer allow him to be the beast of prey he was before—apparently.

Federer, on the other hand, has spent his time since capturing his sixth Wimbledon championship in splendid isolation, becoming a father of twin daughters and the darling of the media once again.

One also must question the appetite of the Swiss maestro now that he has conquered his demons, winning the French Open at long last and his 15th major.

How hungry is he now? Does familiarity breed contempt as well as children?

Will someone rise from the ranks to break the iron lock Federer and Nadal have on the top spots?

What about the young Scot? He is thin enough to be hungry.

Et tu, Andy?

JA Allen is a regular contributor for Sports Then and Now.


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