Who says time machines were imaginary? If this tennis season is anything to go by, then two of the greatest champions in men's tennis are marching towards breaking that notion. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are not just taking us all on a trip down memory lane, they are rewriting the history books in ways unfathomable three months back. After the first quarter of the year (and a Grand Slam and two ATP Masters 1000 tournaments later), Federer and Nadal sit atop this year’s singles Race to London with 4045 and 2235 points respectively.
While they may sit at 4th and 5th positions respectively in the ATP rankings, their performances and those of their closest nemeses, the trio of Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic-Stan Wawrinka, point in one specific direction, the majestic duo is all set to reclaim their thrones in the tennis universe. With Federer winning the lone Grand Slam and the only two Masters 1000 tournaments played so far this year (his best start since 2006), this season is going to be one for the ages.
The Miami Open showdown was the third meeting between the pair this year (already). This marks the first time since the 2013 season that Federer and Nadal have faced-off in a single season three or more times. More importantly, this is the first time since 2010 that the two have met in the finals of more than one tournament.
For people who thought that the Australian Open Final was going to be a one-off title showdown and that the remainder of the year was going to be dominated by recent years’ powerhouses, it’s probably time to rethink their position. Not only are these two all-time greats dominating the season so far, they have emerged the fitter and the hungrier of the Big Five (yes, Wawrinka deserves a place there).
Federer last won a Grand Slam and multiple Masters 1000 titles in the same year back in 2012, and the only other time when he won the Australian Open and completed the Sunshine Double (winning at Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back) was way back in 2006. Nadal last reached the finals of a Grand Slam and a hardcourt Masters 1000 tournament last in 2014. Both Nadal and Federer have faced their share of injuries and disappointments, but they look poised to being back to their best.
Federer leading the rivalry
Nadal leads the head-to-head and leads it handsomely at 23-14, but that is now common knowledge. Of all the years when they have played more than a single match, Federer has never owned the annual head-to-head between the pair since 2007; this year so far, he leads the rivalry 3-0. Federer has won the last four matches between the pair, his only such streak, and last lost to Nadal in the semi-finals of the Australian Open back in 2014.
Federer currently leads the singles Race to London with Nadal in second place. While much of the year is still left, but if trends continue to follow, and the pair finishes the year ranked first and second respectively, it would be the first time that would happen since 2009. Federer and Nadal also have the added benefit of not defending ranking points from most of the later half of last year owing to their injuries and that could be a major boost to their end-of-year ranking aspirations.
Nadal picking up form at the right time
As we enter the clay season, Nadal has two things going for him just right, his form and his fitness. Plagued by injuries through a large part of the last few years and with constant dips in form, especially against lower-ranked opponents, Nadal has turned the corner just fine this year. With solid displays against both top-20 and players outside the top 20, Nadal has managed to reach three tournament finals already this year, and sits comfortably ahead of Wawrinka (1500) in the Race to London with 2235 points.
As Federer continues to get bulk of the attention between these two, Nadal has continued to dominate his opposition in usual Nadal fashion. Despite dropping a bagel (6-0 set) to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Miami, Nadal bounced back thunderously to take the next two 6-2, 6-3. These were the kind of matches where he just wasn't getting it done in the previous few campaigns. He may have been on the wrong end of the result in all three finals he’s played in this year, but as the clay season looms, count on Nadal being in the business end of tournaments more often than not.
What about Djokovic and Murray?
It would be foolish to discount Murray and Djokovic from any conversation to do with the best of men’s tennis. Having dominated the circuit for the lion’s share of this decade, the Serb has not been his usual self since parting ways with his former coach Boris Becker. Whether it’s his ongoing search for inner peace and harmony, or it’s his perils outside the court that are keeping him distracted, Djokovic is one big win away from launching a fiery comeback.
As for Murray, the current World No 1 (and only back-to-back singles Olympic gold medalist at the Games), he has done a Nadal so far; peaked at the right time only to fall to extra-motivated lower-ranked players and injuries. He also won the Dubai Open in between these events, and still remains the man to beat on the circuit. Nadal and Federer could have been lucky so far when it comes to meeting, or not meeting these two big guns in their tournaments this year, and that could have potentially made the path to winning so much easier, but let’s not expect that to happen all through the year. Murray is the World No 1 for a reason, and that is 12 months of stellar display on the court.
Most tennis fans across the world would be rejoicing at the resurgence and changes in fortunes of these two gentlemen off the court. It’s still early days in the season and a lot could change, but while it doesn’t, let us sit back, relax and enjoy the Federer-Nadal experience.
Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 17:19 PM