The Rivalry of Heartbreak!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Sports  |  House: Booksie Classic
On my emotions and the rivarly between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Submitted: February 12, 2017

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Submitted: February 12, 2017

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Rafael Nadal, being under the cosh, unsurprisingly chose to serve to Roger Federer's left, for that's where lay his escape route. At least, that's what history informs. It was a gentle, loopy serve which Federer met with a single-handed backhand drive, whose elegant look couldn't mask the forceful intent it was imbued with. The ball flew past the net and zipped onto Nadal's baseline corner. For a fraction of a second,  Rafa Nadal  halted his movement  to allow a tiny air of space to open up between his heavy frame and the little ball . Next moment, using the space to generate thrust, Rafa Nadal whipped his racket around the ball to send it racing past the net, down the line, just tangentially out of reach of the outstretched racket of Roger Federer. It was a point for Nadal.  

Given where the final of the Australian Open, featuring the two, was poised at that instant,  the forehand winner amounted to scant significance. Nadal was still trailing 3- 4 in the deciding set and ,even after that winner, was down 15-40 in his own serve and was facing the daunting challenge of saving 2 more break points to prevent conceding a match-defining service break to Federer. What was more ominous for him was the mystifying level to which Federer had ascended in the last ten minutes or so . If ever the popular opinion that Federer's tennis is divine stuff needs a performing manifestation, serving the cause would be the last few minutes, a span in which Federer won 9 points on the trot, in the process, turning the match on its head! Forehands, backhands, aces, volleys, passes -- Federer was hitting them all and hitting them with sublime prowess and surreal accuracy! Rafa Nadal, as the saying goes, was staring down the barrel ! The Fed Express, the unstoppable train that he had derailed so many times in the past, was, at long last, threatening to cross over Rafa Nadal, crushing him under its wheels.

One forehand winner, in this context,  didn't mean much.  Yet, it did! What transpired in the next few moments, yes, not the next few minutes, I am speaking of the next few moments,  it meant a lot -- for me!

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I started watching tennis because of Pete Sampras. To my juvenile eyes, his rain of aces,leaping smashes and jaw droppingly gorgeous volleys were seductive in their brilliance. Beside that,stuck in my conscience were the look of innocence that always stuck to his gaping mouth, the absorbing look on his face as he wiped the sweat from it , the absent minded adjustment of the top left part of his shirt with his left hand and, of course, that forward-leaning style of walking of his. it was as easy to imitate him as it was to love him. Barring Sachin, i have never loved a sportsman more.

But, by the turn of the new millennium,  Sampras had reduced himself to being just a 2-tournaments-in-a-year player ( Wimbledon & US open). In sync with the diminishing exploits of Pistol Pete, my interest in the sport of tennis started to evaporate and by the end of 2002, the last year Sampras wielded his racket, I had cleansed my soul off the tennis-bug. I couldn't relate to a Samprass-less tennis world. I found nil excitement in tennis.

Then , destiny bestowed Roger Federer upon tennis. Talks floated into my ears of Federer being successor to Sampras' throne and that this succession wasn't just a matter of passing of the torch , but it also brought about qualitative improvement and aesthetic elevation.  In other words, Federer wasn't just the new King but he was also a better king than the last one! His tennis , they said,  was about infinite possibilities, innovative inventions, soul-refreshing elegance and unimaginable perfection!  I felt enraged! Plus ,  pundits even claimed that Federer surpassing Sampras' record 14 slams is not something that they expect, rather they know its going to happen! I felt traumatised! This disregard that the tennis world started heaping upon My Sampras , just because they were too much in awe of his successor, naturally, inflamed the Sampras supporter that i was and ,in quick time , i found myself immersed in rampaging torrents of hatred directed at Federer, the enemy of My Sampras.

The danger of Sampras being eclipsed made me switch back to observing tennis . But, true to my feelings,  I didn't observe Federer. In stead I scavenged upon the rest of the tennis world to locate his challenger. Who is it that can stop Federer and save my Sampras? The winner of this hunt and the biggest beneficiary of my blatant Anti-Federerism was a certain Andy Roddick.  

And then I happened to watch the 2005 Wimbledon Men's Singles Final between my beloved Andy Roddick and my hated Roger Federer.  Excluding an hour long mid-match intervention by rain, the match lasted for about 2 hours. When it ended, Roger Federer had become my favourite tennis player! Now that's, some mutation!

It's hard to express, solely through words, what was on display in those 3 sets that Federer played on the most famous tennis court in the planet. Andy Roddick had a bomb of a serve , the most lethal weapon grass court allows a player to possess ,yet, Federer toyed with it. When it was his own turn to serve , he showcased a vintage truth in tennis that great serving isn't about "boom-boom" rather about placement, accuracy and variety. On occasions when Roddick chanced his luck by approaching the net, Federer's shots passed by him like raging river currents pass by , being completely unmindful of the curious onlookers standing on the shore! And what to say of those rewarding moments when this blessed wielder of a tennis racket approached the net himself! It was art! Forget that day, even today, I am at a loss in figuring out how does he pull off those mesmeric volleys with so little movement of the racket! When others volley, one can distinctly figure out the arc created by the racket's movement but in Federer's case, the racket seems to have so little apparent movement! You just see Federer lunge forward, then hear a sound and next, see the ball drop slowly on the other side of the net! Does he really possess an unique technique of volleying? Or is it that he volleys just like others do, but so graceful is his motion that the naked eye can't decipher the effort he puts into moving his racket! Nevertheless,  on that transformative day in SW19, Roddick did dare to engage Federer even in rallies. But, like with his other darings on the day,  here too he tasted defeat. One after another, silky backhand drives and harmonic forehand hits sped past a hapless, placeless, witless Roddick.  After adding to this enchanting mix of strokes, a few awesome smashes, tantalising slices and playful drop shots that Federer hit, what i had on my plate was the most perfect tennis performance imaginable! I dare say, Andy Roddick didn't play a competitive  match that day, he didn't even exist as a tennis player that day, he , I thought,  had bought the most prized ticket in an intoxicatingly enchanting magic show. He was, it seemed, content to be a prop for Federer's performance. Such was the hypnotic charm of the spectacle that Federer put on for the world to see.

Sampras was my hero. There was no question of quitting him, yet, I found myself completely at ease with the increasingly more acceptable idea, the one against which I had rebelled at the outset,  that Roger Federer was better than Pete Sampras. It now seemed like a natural truth and, more importantly, an honourable truth, an admirable truth. In fact, i realised, so high had Sampras , My Sampras, raised the bar that to eclipse him one had to be a miracle himself, a condition which only and only Roger Federer, now My Roger Federer, fulfilled!

Every sport has an essence at its core . At its core, cricket is about the duel between bat and bowl, football is about purposeful bonding between the feet and the ball . Tennis, at its core, is about what a racket can impart to a tennis ball. I had seen Sampras win 4 Wimbledon crowns from 1997 to 2000 but never could he establish this essence of the sport as affirmatively , as sublimely, with as much finesse as Federer did in those mere 2 hours.  In those mere 2 hours,  Roger Federer gave back to me the sport of tennis, that too in a more uplifting form than ever!

Now that my loyalties had shifted , the obsessed fan in me sought unprecedented success for my new favourite. If, in my eyes, Roger had displaced Sampras , then that displacement ought to earn it's legitimacy.  The only possible ,and relevant, validation was Federer surpassing Sampras' record tally of winning 14 slams. That became the desired objective going forward.

In the grand slams that ensued,  I fervently prayed for Federer Championships. For a considerable stretch of time , it seemed that even tennis divinity had accorded his approval of anointing Federer as the greatest ever. One after the other, Federer won the US open, on his way he beat the most hated object of any Sampras fan, an object named Andre Agassi,  then reigned so supreme in Australia that nobody could snatch even a set away from him! What was in vogue in the tennis world those days was a series of once-in-a-lifetime spectacles depicting the captivating prowess of an unstoppable genius whose regal style and razor sharp efficiency combined to create a mystifying dominance which appeased the sports loving soul to an extent never experienced before. It was tough not to be a Federer fan. It was difficult not to.be swept aside by the monstrous waves of awe emanating from the stirred depths of my heart. Being uninitiated into the world of art , rooting for Federer became my means of paying tribute to the Leonardo Da Vincis , Picassos and Beethovens.  

At this propitious juncture in tennis history, as things stood , standing atop the everest of his universal conquests , Roger Federer, the magical knight, stalked the final frontier, the crossing of which would guarantee him immortality.  He had made grass courts and hard courts his playground, only clay court awaited exhibition of his mastery. He had bewitched England , USA and Australia into bowing their heads before him, only France awaited to coronate him. He had not only beaten , destroyed and demolished the Roddicks,  the Hewitts and the Safins,  he had smothered their souls and doused even the faintest spark of hope left in them. Now, only one soul was left to be claimed -- the soul of Rafael Nadal.

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No sooner did the chair umpire pronounce the point in his favour, Rafa Nadal turned back and customarily advanced to collect his towel from the ball boy. Suddenly,  in stark contrast to the seemingly dispassionate way in which he strode around the court till then, the bulky Spaniard burst into ferocious double fist pumping and an animated shaking of the head. That singular moment, when the competitive spirit of the greatest fighter in tennis history was perhaps flowing in his veins at the fullest intensity possible, that moment -- it led my mind astray . My curiosity won over my interest in the match and I found myself , armed with an uncanny fondness of deciphering meaning out of triviality , trying to discover on what grounds did Rafa Nadal CHOSE to act peppy, if it indeed was a choice in the first place.

Better readers of body language or more experienced decipherers of the human heart may say that me terming Nadal's actions as a CHOICE is a case of over-reading the whole thing and that Nadal's spirited reaction was strictly , or the ruder ones would say STRICTLY!,  spontaneous, the result of visible effects of gushing adrenaline following the magnificent  pulling off of a risky winner under sky-high pressure. Better students of the sport of tennis would point out that the fist pumping and head-shaking were expressions of relief on Nadal's part on account of saving a break point against his serve in the deciding set and , more appropriately, on putting an end to Federer's game-changing run of winning 9 straight points in the business end of a grand slam final. Having halted Federer's rhythm, Nadal now sought to begin afresh, thats what their contention will be.

While stressing on my approval of the presence of logic in the above strands of thought, I would like to assert that the only thing which ought to have been focused upon in that instant was neither the brilliance of strokemaking nor the perilous situation in which the man found himself but his mind -- the mind of Rafael Nadal. It's that mind of the 14-time grand slam champion whose designs were on display in that singular moment when Nadal, for a change, revealed his passionate side.  It's that mind which had realised by then that unlike other times the escape route didn't lay in Roger Federer's left side. Roger Federer's backhand appeared determined not to repeat it's past follies. That day it, while retaining its exquisite charm,  appeared sturdy , immune to any collapse. Given that , Nadal's mind understood that the escape route lay in a more abstract realm, the realm of the past. Therefore, it was necessary to bring back the past and let it's shadow loom over the present. The fist pumps, the vigorous shaking of the head, weren't spontaneous reactions but dictations of the mind, they were an invocation of history!  

The history of the Roger Federer - Rafael Nadal rivalry , the only bit of history pertinent to the topic under discussion,  has been a history of heartbreak for Federer. The last unclaimed soul, Nadal, had flipped the circumstantial contexts of their meetings on their heads. He conquered the conqueror in his own abode SW19 , he bested the best that Federer threw at him in Australia in 2009 and he hunted down the hunter before making a roast meal of him everytime they met on clay.

The natural human urge to locate causes of confounding anomalies has led many to analyse the reason why Nadal and only Nadal could beat the unbeatable Federer . Again the results of analysis varied as per the perspectives.The drab reciters of technical tokenisms pointed out that the unique heavy topspin that Nadal mixed in his forehand made that shot the ultimate devourer of Federer's single handed backhand. In support of their unexciting thesis they called our attention to the unignorable fact that it's not only Federer but all the other single handed backhanders, for eg Wawrinka, Dimitrov, Gasquet and their ilk,  who while roaming mostly untamed in the jungle of tennis , had habitually fallen prey to the top spinning forehand of Nadal.

Here too , my take differs and differs for good. Roger Federer was too capable and too complete a player to not being able to get past a mere technical handicap. The real reason why Nadal habitually bested Federer is psychological. Yes, Nadal succeeded where everybody else failed because he, and only he, changed the contours of their confrontation.

While the rest of the ATP tour , in spite of their earnest efforts, couldn't prevent their mind from bothering with the dizzying range of weaponry that King Roger could employ as and when he desired, Rafa Nadal chose to concentrate on his own side of the court, thereby earning a beneficial immunity from getting bedazzled by Federer's mind-boggling prowess. For Nadal , the equation was very simple,  whatever Federer sends to his side of the court just chase it down and send it back! Once the rest focused on Federer , it was natural for them to give up because upon doing so they ran the risk of suspending their belief in reality and come under the spell of an illusion that their opponent wasn't a human of flesh and blood named Roger Federer but some sort of a divine incarnation whose favourite pastime is to play tennis. Once they allowed themselves to elevate their opponent to such a grandiose stature , it was difficult for them to harbour the necessary self-belief that they could defeat him. It's this exalted status that Nadal refused to grant Federer in his own mind . It's this refusal that proved to be the decisive change Rafa Nadal brought into the dynamics when up against the closest thing to divinity that tennis had seen , Roger Federer.

Upon facing the determined Spaniard , Emperor Roger found himself swimming in untested waters. He employed the same arsenal that he did against others only to find that most of his weapons got blunted by the left hander's resilience. He hit the same shots that he hit against others and hit them as magnificently as ever but, for a change, discovered that they were being chased down in a heroic fashion  and returned back , presenting fresh challenges for him ! On not having his way , an absolutely unique case for him, the King of Kings felt frustrated and ,as a result, faltered, only to discover to his utter horror that the strong-willed defender in Nadal possessed sufficient flexibility to exploit his faults!

The master reader of the game that Federer is, it wasn't too long before he realised that ,in tussles with Nadal, there isn't any red carpet spread out for him to march over in royal fashion , rather what awaited him was a dog fight. It's this change, brought about by Nadal's fierce determination that he will play as per his own rules and not Federer's, which Federer could never take in his stride. The royal Swiss, the personification of elegance, who was so accustomed to conduct his tennis exhibitions from an exalted podium, found himself in distinct discomfiture when Nadal's fighting spirit smashed the podium into pieces thereby forcing Federer to descend down to the same level as his opponent,  meet his stare , scramble for rewards and having to earn a victory! Once it became a battle between two mortals, there could be only one winner -- the Spanish warrior, who had always believed that he was facing not divinity but a human of flesh and blood named Roger Federer.

Given that his battles with Nadal were seldom only about winning grand slams but also involved heavy-gravity issues like becoming the greatest ever, completing career grand slam, mastering all surfaces, Winning record no of slams and other issues of similar weight, it wasn't possible for Federer to escape his defeats remaining psychologically unscathed. Beside the stakes being always too high, the defeats were mostly too predictable , enough to hurt the ego of a champion of his stature and the bruises were delivered too frequently for him to treat them clean. The pain piled up and after Wimbledon 2008 , when he got dethroned in his home away from home,  the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer saw his own psychological devastation . The full extent of the psychological dominance that Nadal exercised over Federer got exposed in front of the world's eyes 6 months later,early in 2009, when the Swiss genius locked horns with his Spanish nemesis in Australia for the Australian Open title.

8 years ago , in that titanic tussle, played in the same court and for the same trophy as the current spectacle which was on display,
the world witnessed , in my opinion, the climax of the Federer - Nadal rivalry. When Federer suffered a horrendous psychological wilt in the deciding set , which manifested itself in the form of incredibly wayward shot making from him, the greatest shotmaker that has ever existed, it was plain enough for all to realise that what the scoreboard was deciding was  just a follow up to what the mind of Federer had already feared that he can't win against Rafael Nadal. But that wasnt all that the world witnessed on that fateful evening. In one of the most iconic moments in sporting history, Roger Federer , a legitimate contender for the title of being the greatest sportsman of all time , couldn't hold back his tears when he collected the trophy that's presented to the defeated -- the runners-up trophy . Those tears were a watershed , there was no going back to the point of origin after that. Unintentionally, Federer had revealed his darkest secret that Rafael Nadal not only beat him but he hurt him  . For him , his rivalry against Nadal had become an agony, a trauma , a pain. If ever there was a knock out punch that achieved the purpose of decimation, it seemed Nadal had delivered it upon Federer.
 
It's this history, which had latter episodes all of which reaffirmed the narrative already woven , which Nadal , I thought, in a shrewd move chose to invoke through his animated gesture. The fist pumping , head-shaking were props for what in content was a subtle mind game. In matters of appearance it may have been a " I am Back" sort of proclamation, but in terms of intention it was a reminder of who this " I" was ! It was a direct, one-to-one  message that Nadal wanted to send across to his opponent .

The sports romantic in me isn't being able to resist the urge of putting into  words, as accurately as possible, what Rafa Nadal wanted to say to Roger Federer.

So, here it is ! While finding himself in the back foot in the  climatic stage of a tennis match which in the eyes of the world would determine who exactly is the greatest ever tennis player, through suggestive body gestures, the message, being short and swift, that Rafa Nadal gave to Roger Federer --

" Come on, Roger Federer! Lets do it! Our moment, 12 years in the making, has arrived! Come!

But, remember a fact -- I am Rafa Nadal! -- And i have your back!"


This clarion call to battle stirred me up ! I felt reenergised! I felt secured on knowing that, at last, Nadal is ready to put on table the ace up his sleeve -- the two's shared history. This history has been a history of heartbreaks for me. I didnt want another heartbreak. While watching Federer inch coser to victory, it meant a lot to me to see the real Rafa Nadal, the nemesis of Roger Federer, the peerless competitor, show up.

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There ain't anything more tantalising in the sport of tennis than a deuce situation in the defining stages of the final set of a grand slam final. Thats exactly where the match under focus found itself after the next two points too went in Nadal's favour. After losing 9 points in a row, here he was , putting in sequence three consecutive winners and saving three consecutive break points! Again the tide seemed to turn and this time in Nadal's favour, similar to how it had always turned in the past. Order seemed to have been restored. After briefly threatening to break the norm during Federer's outrageous streak of winning 9 straight points,  the  match seemed content to stick to script , that after all the winners and errors, aces and returns, volleys and rallies, slices and smashes, service breaks and service holds, tight tiebreakers and easily won sets, when push would come to shove, Roger Federer will give in to Rafa Nadal .

Novak Djokovic -- yes, he had to be here. The lack of mention of him would have left a blot on this write up -- is deservedly given credit for accomplishing a whole variety of things. But there is one particular accomplishment of his, upon which light is seldom shone.  Experts , for some inexplicable reason, dither from highlighting that Djokovic could do what nobody, let alone Roger Federer, could do, ie,  consistently beat a 100% fit Rafa Nadal. Yes, yes, I admit , here " consistently"  means consistently for a short stretch of time,  a year and a couple of months, whole of 2011 and early 2012 to be accurate, but still he did achieve victories over a fit Nadal, victories that were peerless. In those victories , what Djokovic produced , in spite of being shorn of the ethereal grace that Federer's tennis characterises, stretched the human understanding of the dizzying heights, a carefully crafted combination of fitness, stamina , grit and determination, can propel athletic performances to. Upon facing Nadal,  Djokovic paid him back in his own coin. Whatever Nadal did, he did too and did it better ! Djokovic took Nadal's template and elevated it by a couple of notches.

By the time Djokovic got the better of Nadal in Australia in 2012 , for the third straight time in a grand slam final in as many battles, the tennis world trembled in fear while attempting to speculate upon the degree of dominance that Novak Djokovic could exert over the tennis world in future. That he could habitually beat Nadal, that Nadal who could habitually beat the guy who was unbeatable,  Federer, made many apprehend that, barring any unlikely drop in his level, the second decade of the new millennium will be a witness to the unchallenged expansion of the Djoker-Empire.

But events on the tennis court occured to the contrary. Over the next 3 years, the super Serb had a here-gained-here-lost kinda hold over the crown of world tennis. In these 3 years , he traded victories and losses in nearly equal measure with 2 of his greatest foes,  Andy Murray and Roger Federer. But, with his other great foe, Nadal, yes, yes, Nadal again, he  had to taste habitual defeats. Be it France or America , Nadal and only Nadal made Djokovic bite the dust repeatedly. Again, in a fascinating repeat of history, Rafa Nadal remained the solitary puzzle that the very best in the business couldn't crack. Yet again, the soul of Rafael Nadal lay unclaimed.

In terms of significance , Nadal's victories over Djokovic didn't reveal anything unknown. It just reestablished the truth that a fit Rafa Nadal has everybody's back.  But, these results did cause a change, a change highly localised and highly personal , a change within me!

When Nadal , returning in 2013 after a 9 month long injury layoff  , beat Djokovic, 1st in France , then in USA and finally again in France next year, I found myself introspecting without any conscious effort to do so. One question needled my conscience -- have I been wrong all along? Did I pass an incorrect judgement ? Was the belief in Federer's superiority misplaced?  Was being in Roger's camp a hint that all I cared for was style in the place of substance? Suddenly, it occured to me that when one picks Federer as his favourite or as the greatest ever , all he is doing is to pick one way of playing tennis as the ultimate way -- and nothing else . Yes, proclaiming Federer as the King was nothing but a reflection of our bias towards the beautiful. But if the decision as to who should be my favourite or who is the best player is to be judged by more tangible criteria , it was impossible to remain immune to Nadal' s claim to be the actual greatest ever. Here was a guy who had been plying his trade in front of my eyes for the whole of the last decade and yet, when fully fit, except for the year 2011 when Djokovic had his measure, he hardly suffered a beat! I may not have liked his style of play which was never easy on anybody's eyes but solely based on that I wasn't willing anymore to not favour someone, who won 14 grand slams, in each of which , yes in all of those 14 slams, he beat at least one among Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic,  the other 2 greatest players of his time or possibly all time ! Could there have been  an achievement greater in significance than this? I didn't think. Therefore,  I switched camps. Since then , my favourite tennis player has been Rafael Nadal!

Consequently,  on the last day of January 2017, while the world relished the chance to turn nostalgic as the two titans of tennis battled for supremacy , for me there could be no visit to the past. For the first time in my life, in a Federer Nadal combat, my heart yearned for a Nadal win. And as I saw a pumped up Nadal force his way back into the match by saving three straight break points and level his service game at deuce, I afforded myself a premature celebration being pregnant with a hope that Nadal will see through Federer yet again and my heart , my kind tender heart, for a change, shall remain intact with pride and glee at the end of the tussle.

The end of the tussle,  on earlier occasions, that is when I happened to be on the side of the sensational Swiss, were teary affairs. Like Federer, his fans too took severe psychological blows on coming up against the freak from Mallorca. The emotional roller coaster ride that i went through during those face offs is beyond what i can express through words.  From having to grudgingly accept the harsh truth that, on clay, Nadal was beyond Federer's reach , to being unable to hold back tears when Federer's forehand hit the net sending Nadal into a frenzy in the greatest match of all time, to scratching my head in bewilderment as to what struck Federer that he ended up making such a  shit of himself in Australia in 2009 , to feeling sorry for Federer as he wept tears of defeat on stage, to finally giving up the hope that Federer can ever triumph over Nadal , this matchup has been responsible for extracting some of the most desperate cries of anguish that i have ever uttered in my life. Heartbreak , despair, frustration, disappointment , trauma, agony, distress yes, yes , you are free to add any other synonym that you know of , it was to be found here, in my heart, once the curtains fell after a Fed-al show.

The drama got denser as the pair shared the next two points , the first of which was a magical 26 shot rally which ended when Federer hit an exquisite down-the-line forehand winner which excited the commentator so much that he volunteered to add a seal of immortality to the proceedings by announcing proudly that  this rally shall never be forgotten by him, while the second one constituted of Nadal's reply to Federer's winner -- an uncharacteristic ace. Now as Nadal tossed the ball up in the air for the next serve, I am pretty sure that for each and everyone who had invested their emotional capital in the two gladiators at some point of time or the other in their lives, their hearts ought to have been in their mouths.

Just how high the stakes were had been pronounced clearly by none other than Andy Roddick , my one time favourite. As per him,  if Rafa won, he would have come in striking range of Federer's record tally of 17 slams. But If Roger won , he would reach safe shore as far as his record of winning most no of slams was concerned. In other words,  how the history books of tennis shall have to be organised for future generations of fans to read, a question none less significant than it was to be answered as Nadal served to hold against Federer , the predator who sensed the taste of blood.

For so many, their whole childhood or adolescence or teenage , which they spent cheering for either of the two , may have been at stake.In truth, what the whole world desired was neither a Federer victory nor a Nadal victory, but their own personal vindication that they were , and are, correct in backing one among the two ,that one who is the winner, the greatest.

Another truth be told, I had a much lighter ambition! Yes! I was perfectly content to accept either of them as the greatest.As Nadal served, all that I sought was a feeling of satisfaction, of happiness. For too many occasions, this match had made a loser out of me. That day, all I wanted was to be in the winning team. I didn't want another heartbreak. I have had more than my share of them.Being mindful of history, I felt secured in the knowledge that I was, for a change, in Rafa Nadal' s team. All that i wanted then, was for history to repeat itself. Isn't that what history is supposed to do? To repeat itself? Everytime?

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Alas! Oh! Sorry! Very Sorry! I feel like crying out,  ALAS! History, fucker History,  seemed to be on a holiday that day! The only time I cheered for Nadal against Federer , became the only time that,against Nadal, Federer held firm control over his nerves. Sensing Nadal in disarray, he went for the kill and earned the break of serve. Next, while serving for the championship,  he brought out aces and high risk winners which shut Nadal out of the match. Yet again, my man lost.


History, upon which I banked so heavily and which Nadal CHOSE to invoke previously -- yes, I still back my reading -- that history played no part in deciding the fate of the battle ! Today i realise, it was never meant to be the deciding factor! The crucial fact wasn't the one that history favoured Nadal but this, that in the recent past, there was no history. Federer and Nadal hadn't met in a grand slam for the last 3 years.  In this time,  it was natural that Federer's scars , irrespective of their abundance and depth,  would be healed by that greatest of all antidotes,  time. Nadal may still have been a demon for him, but a demon of some distant times . Naturally then, with a cured and fresh Federer competing against Nadal, who , by contrast, had incurred frersh scars of his own, the outcome was much more uncertain and closer to call than I allowed myself to think.  

But, in the heat of the moment, reason always takes time to make itself felt. The moment Federer cried out in ecstacy upon discovering that his forehand on championship point fell within the line , I,  busy watching the match in my cellphone, felt infuriated and in rage, I smashed my mobile phone against the bed , kicked my chair out of my sight , jumped onto the bed and hid myself under my blanket,  seeking solitude. I knew, at hand lay a task with which I am familiar-- nurse a broken heart!

Maybe, history hadn't been on a holiday that day! It did do its job. It did repeat itself. Previously, upon supporting Federer, my heart broke. That day,upon supporting Nadal, there was no change -- my heart broke!

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Is the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal the greatest rivalry in all of global sporting history? Is this face-off even more enthralling than the famed Ali-Frazier bouts, even more charged than the El Classico of Spanish football , even more prestigious than Man Utd-Liverpool duels , even more competitive than Messi- Ronaldo goalscoring race, even more popular than Brazil -Argentina comparisons,  even more passion-inducing than a India-Pak cricket match , even graver than the Ashes? The answer to most of the above questions may be " No".


But please allow me to press F5 on my memory page. Let me see what's getting refreshed. There it is -- in the final stages of a 4th set tiebreaker in a match none less than the final of Wimbledon, a regal Federer hits an exquisite down-the-line forehand , which would have been a winner against anyone anywhere anytime,  but a ferocious Rafa runs after the ball as if his life would end if he didn't get it,and then, upon reaching it, he unleashes a forehand that races past an approaching Federer for a winner , sending Nadal fist-pumping into orbits of ecstacy and earning for himself a championship point for the Wimbledon crown while the whole of SW19 breaks into jubilant delirium !  Moments later, on championship point, Nadal serves to Federer's backhand, Federer returns a slice which drops in front of the net, a mindful Nadal hits a perfect narrow-angled followup shot, again to Federer's backhand , so good is it that for a moment all think that it's beyond Federer to return it back into play which ,in effect, means the Wimbledon crown is now Nadal's, just then , Federer finds the narrowest of angles to time a backhand pass beyond Nadal's reach thereby saving the championship point , in the process once again sending SW19 into a frenzy marked by disbelief in what they are witnessing.

Because of the moments, memories and emotions like these that this rivalry has been able to gift us , if you ask me, what epitomises competitive sport , my answer will be -- Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal!

ALAS!  As far as my own memories and emotions are concerned, heartbreak too means -- Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal!  

 

 

 


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