By James A. Crabtree
Before, it was Laver and Rosewall, McEnroe and Borg, Agassi and Sampras.
For the past year it’s been more about Djokovic and Murray.
One hundred years from now the beginning of this millennium will be remembered for clashes shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The biggest headline in tennis once again took centre stage at Indian Wells in the men’s quarterfinal.
Federer will undoubtedly be remembered as the greatest player of all time. What will perhaps be forgotten is that Federer has been consistently owned by the man who chased him in the rankings for so long, Rafael Nadal. Nadal leads the Federer/Nadal conflicts with 19 wins to 10, and significantly by 8 wins to 2 in grand slams.
The most recent encounter between these two at Indian Wells had the build-up.
Federer has not won a title since August last year and in many ways is playing a match in a more timid style than that of which we are accustomed to seeing.
Nadal, as we all know, is back after a very lengthy absence and has a point to prove on hard courts and in a tournament in which he lost to Federer last year.
When Federer beat Nadal in the Indian Wells 2012 semi-final it was his first victory against the Spaniard on an outside hard court since Miami in 2005. The 2013 display went back to the script of old whilst Federer and his army of fans searched for answers with no more imaginative excuses than his age and injury.
Nadal’s display of aggression after a lengthy layoff from injury was significant although Federer’s lack of hostility on court, faltering serve and inconsistency was disheartening. Federer’s main hard court weapons, the flatter forehand and faster serve have all but eluded him so far this year.
These players know each other’s games inside and out and new strategy is almost impossible. Like a childhood sibling fight all tactics have been used before, only a heightened level of spite could prove a difference.
A spite that was missing for Federer resulting in the 28th encounter being an epic anticlimax.
Nadal’s biography ‘RAFA’ is as much about Federer as it is about Nadal, with detailed schemes of how the Spaniard would overcome the Swiss inundating the text. More than simply a great matchup Nadal treats the issue with obsession, a mountain he must climb. In contrast for Federer to play Nadal seems like an exhausting chore and whether he admits it or not, one he would rather avoid.
Indeed, in their most recent battle, Federer seemed more fatigued by an opponent that has always troubled him. For some reason Nadal always thinks of himself as the underdog. And these may have been the prevailing issues rather than any of the subplots leading up. Federer struggles against Nadal, always has, and perhaps, always will.
This rivalry has been going on a long bloody time, nine years to be exact. They have met 29 times, have played seven exhibitions of which Nadal has won five, will meet a few more times before they retire and then will undoubtedly play each other a further absurd amount of times more on the Champions tour.
If the current game plan remains the same, it would be hard to imagine a reversal of fortune for the greatest player of all time.