There is a lot written these days about Nadal being able to catch Federer’s grand slam record (currently at 16) or not. Nadal currently has 8 Grand Slams to his name and he needs to double that amount just to catch up if Federer doesn’t win any more slams (which, considering Fed has already won one in 2010 and still is one of the favorites for the upcoming US Open, seems highly unlikely).
I think we have two great legends on our hands and whoever might win the most grand slams of all time is not that important. We should instead stay thankful to be living in a golden age of two great tennis champions who both love their game as much, or more, than their own mothers and have tennis skills that we all thought was beyond human capacity. It is a treat to watch these two giants fight it out on the tennis court. Two players who have great mutual respect and admiration both on and off the court, but love nothing higher than beating the other.
It is a shame that we had so few Federer vs Nadal Grand Slam finals of late (“Fedal’s”) because those are truly moments where history is carved in stone, not only written on a paper or blogs. This is a moment where the Rafa-fans and the Fedophiles desperately want to watch every second, but hardly can because it is too nerve-wrecking, too exciting and sometimes too much to bear.
When Federer and Nadal put their shoes and rackets on the shelf tennis will have a huge space to fill and it will likely take a long time before we see anything remotely like these two players and their brilliant rivalry.
What is it besides their exceptional tennis skills that make Federer and Nadal stir up so much emotion? I think the secrets lie in their different personalities, looks, and playing styles.
Federer comes out on the court as a Zen-master, ready to show his great precision and skill. His racket is an instrument, done to his exact specifications and with a sweet spot much like the wooden rackets of the 70-80s (he is truly old-school). He dresses elegantly, rarely shows emotion on the court and hardly seems to sweat. He flicks his hair to the side with his finger and silently walks back to the baseline after a point. The biggest celebration you will see is a closed fist and when he misses a shot he shakes his head slightly in disappointment. On court he is a man of small gestures and big shots. He lets his play speak for him instead. His movement is silent like a ninja; he never grunts or makes any superfluous noise. Sometimes he seems to levitate in the air and float from one perfectly balanced shot to the other. That is why he is such a joy to watch, it is like watching something not quiet human, a being with an extremely strong aura and presence. Not only an athlete, but an artist.
Federer is comfortable in the media light. He carries himself excellently in interviews, always speaks carefully and thoughtfully, but wouldn’t shy away from criticizing something if that was needed.
Nadal is a gladiator, packed with muscle, a determined look and runs out on the court like a bull ready to run for hours. He brings a club not an instrument and would probably play as well with a frying pan as he does with his Babolat Aero pro. He also carries an unquenchable thirst to do battle. He knows his abilities and he knows he can win, always, no matter how much pain he is in or how long the opponent will fight him. His strokes are big and using great power he gets almost twice the top spin on his shots as any other player on tour, making his shots land well within the court and bounce up to shoulder level. He is extremely athletic and runs everything down. This makes one of the most uncomfortable players to play, it seems like no matter what you do the ball will come back and haunt you time after time until you finally give up, go for the impossible winner and lose the point.
Nadal is a quiet man. He loves the simple things in life and was taught strong values of modesty and gratitude early in life. He thinks the media presence on the tennis tour is a necessary evil, he is not really comfortable speaking in English, and his answers are very often matter of fact. If someone asks him why he lost, he will say something like “My opponent did play better than me, no?” stating a fact like a retorical question.
Who would not like this setup; scripted almost like a Hollywood movie. The elegant, old-school, no-sweat shot maker against the muscled long-haired warrior. Precision versus Power. Both players with fantastic determination to win, great athletic abilities to perform on the tennis court, and a huge respect and love for the game and each other. No wonder the whole world stops when they play, no wonder why so much is written about them, no wonder that they both have huge dedicated fan bases, no wonder at all really because we are witnessing the biggest wonder in the history of tennis.