It is rare in sports that you can legitimately root for two competitors in the same game at the same time. Usually there is a favorite team or competitor involved, a hated team or competitor or little interest in either. I have gotten to do this twice so far and both were in epic and classic tennis matches (yes tennis) between Rafael Nedal and Roger Federer.Early Sunday morning thousands of miles away on another continent was yet another epic match between these two rivals. It seems this is going to be only the second chapter to probably the greatest rivalry in sports today. Red Sox vs Yankees at its peak may not have even hit these heights. Sure there is less hatred between these two participants and seems to be nothing but respect between one another as shown when Nedal, while addressing the crowd said "Roger, sorry for today. I really know how you feel right now," Nadal said. "Remember, you're a great champion, you're one of the best in history. You're going to improve on the 14 of Sampras." Nedal is clearly a gracious winner but don’t think for one second that there is not a real fire when these two meet up.
A Grand Slam final without these two is like a golf tournament without Tiger Woods in contention on a final Sunday.It was last year at Wimbledon that I watched at the time the most compelling match I have ever seen, and figured that I would ever see.
Maybe it was maybe it wasn’t, but this years Australian Open certainly was at the very least a close runner up. The circumstances were similar both Major Tournaments, both ones that Federer has excelled at in the past and now both won by Nadal.
There was just one small difference this time, Federer, at Wimbledon seemed to be congratulatory to Nadal and genuinely happy for him...as much as losing in a major can be tollerated by a highly competitive champion and world class competitor. No, this time was different. Federer seemed to, I don’t want to say fold but seemed to secumb to the pressure in the 5th and final set. Perhaps it was physical, as the match was a gruelling 4hour 23 minute affair but after what happened at the trophy ceremony it looked like it was more mental as the usually very strong and unemotional (some would say boring) Federer broke down during his address to the fans after receiving the second place platter. Is Nadal inside Federer’s head? I guess we will find out in Paris at the French Open or Wimbledon where Federer will yet again try to tie Pete Samperas with 14 career Grand Slams.
On the other side of the net is Rafael Nedal, the World #1 and currently the best player in the world and only time will tell if he will become one of the best ever. Health and determination will decide how far he will go, but at his young age it is well within reach.Nedal's win at this tournament are what legends are made of. Even if he hadn’t done what he did last year, this years tourney solidifies him as a true champion. Nadal managed to come back after a semi-final match only a day before that lasted over 5 hours, then he turned around and played a 4 hour 23 minute championship match agents a 13 time Grand Slam champion. If that wasn’t enough in the 5th and final set he came out and seemed to be the fresher player and more focused. A true credit to both his physical stamina and his incredibly focused mental makeup.
I look forward to the next installment of this battle and Federer’s quest to tie and surpass Pete Sampras for career Grand Slams.