In your mind’s eye, you still picture those moments when Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors would battle it out on tennis courts across the world. The world would watch mostly in awed silence, except of course when McEnroe was playing. Each rally, each moment carved with brilliance, the kind of which we never thought we would see again.
The wooden racquets; the famed rivalries, the varied playing styles – it all came together in one powerful explosion that simply blew everyone away. And while it lasted it was the best thing to happen to sport.
Now, it seems to be happening all over again. Only this time, it’s even better.
Just look at the players involved – Roger Federer, winner of 16 Grand Slams and a bonafide contender for the title of ‘Greatest Player Ever,’ Rafael Nadal, clay phenomenon and winner of 10 Grand Slams already, and Novak Djokovic, owner of a 64-2 record this season, winner of four Grand Slams already and he is just getting started.
All this and we aren’t even considering the likes of Andy Murray, Juan Del Potro, Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling. That’s some crazy potential there; potential for small battles and even larger wars, the kind that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are engaged in.
Right now, it might seem like Djokovic is ahead but the gap between him and Federer and Nadal is negligible.
After the US Open victory over Rafael Nadal, McEnroe said: “He (Djokovic) has had the greatest year in the history of our sport.” We are inclined to believe that. But the thing that is really working for tennis is that the rivalry tends to boost the competitiveness of each player to such a degree that the level of play just gets higher-and-higher and the peak isn’t even in sight.
For a while, in Federer’s hey-day we wondered where his next challenge would come from. Then Nadal arrived on the scene. Djokovic joined them soon. But for a while, the Swiss more than held his own but now he hasn’t won a Grand Slam since the Australian Open in 2010. Still, he is the only player to beat Djokovic in a Grand Slam and the only player to stretch the Serbian to five sets this year.
In essence, the new trio (Federer-Nadal-Djokovic) is a bit like the old trio (Connors-Borg-McEnroe).
Federer is a bit like Connors -- the old war dog whose throne was usurped by Borg. He’s having a bit of a dry run akin to Connors, who once went without reaching even a final in a dozen Grand Slam events running. But then came back to win again in 1982.
Nadal is strong and at 25; he’s five years younger than Federer. He has time on his hand and come the clay court season, he still remains the man to beat. He will always have that to fall back on just as Borg.
And then you have Djokovic, with a season that is rivalling McEnroe’s greatest year. Getting stronger and stronger. The fact that he has been able to dominate Federer and Nadal and the world of tennis shows just how good he has been.
But with still more tennis left to be played in the season, none of these players can afford to rest on their laurels or suffer a lackadaisical loss, either. More than the game they play on the court, it is the mental edge that is producing the results now; one slip and the balance will be disturbed.
But that’s what makes watching these guys slug it out on the court so exciting. You never quite know who’ll come out on top. It was Djokovic last night but it could very well have been Federer or even Nadal. There are no certainties when these guys clash.