Friday 31 January 2014

Marathon Man vs Raging Bull - Federer vs Nadal at the Majors

Rafael Nadal lost in the final hurdle of Australian Open 2014 to a Swiss tennis player. It was not Roger Federer for once! Stainslas Wawrinka was the underdog going into the final men's singles match and at the end of it his achievements echoed the feelings of "Yo, Adrian, I did it". This was no Hollywood and Wawrinka's celebrations was nowhere close to the exuberance 'Rocky Balboa'  exhibited on-screen in Rocky II.

Important question - If Nadal were to be 100% fit, would Wawrinka be a threat to Nadal and his power play? Make no mistake the end result did appear as an upset and even with Wawrinka's confidence brimming sky high, it would have been a herculean effort to win against the quality player like Nadal. In fact age-wise, Nadal is a year younger to the reigning Australian Open champion; so there is no question of young legs over powering the might. In Wawrinka's defence, he is probably playing the best tennis of his life at the moment and his win must not be treated as a total surprise.

I rest the case of Wawrinka here and introduce another champion, his compatriot Roger Federer. It is interesting to note that, Federer this year was playing in his 57th Grand Slam event since Australian Open 2000. He is currently in his 15th year of playing non-stop at the premier events of tennis. That's in the level of a iron man if not a marathon man.

Top stuff! considering the number of events conducted around the four major tournaments and throw in few national tournaments in between, you are looking at a very packed and physically demanding schedule. He will be 33 years by the time he would be playing his first match at the US Open and honestly going by the past record, only few players have managed to win singles title at that age. His peak years are behind him and all he has with him are the years of experience and the inner desire to play tennis. He loves playing tennis - a fact pretty evident as he does not seem to be bogged down with legacy and terms like 'retiring on a high'.

Now coming to the pocket dynamo, the enigmatic Nadal and his performances at the Grand Slams. He turns 28 this June and he already has 13 titles to his credit - including French Open a record 8 times (Whoa, that's out of this world stuff!!!). In spite of all his muscles, his penchant for baseline tennis and what not (ask the ladies), I have a problem with him when it comes to consistency.

It is not that Nadal is extraordinary, even Federer had 15 titles to his credit when he was 28 years of age. And going by the trend in tennis, it is a lot difficult to win as age advances. This is one sport where there is no replacement for physical demands. Experience and skills can guide you in crunch moments - if one is not fit to run around and constantly play the strokes with ease and precise, you are asking for trouble.

Since the time Nadal has made his Grand Slam debut - forty three Grand Slam tournaments have taken place and he has missed six tournaments during this period. He has managed to play a meagre 13 major tournaments in a row. 

On the court Nadal exerts himself to such a degree that he is prone to injuries - a technical flaw in my opinion. Probably the number would have been much less than 13 if he had taken a more steady approach. It's his natural game! 

Talking about steadiness - it is interesting to note that Nadal is a natural baseline player who loves and prefers to drain out his opponents engaging in a series of long rallies. Federer is quite the opposite; he loves to play serve and volley. Though well adapted to playing long rallies, he is always short of answers when it comes to playing on slow surfaces against the top three. Off late he is struggling practically in every surface and he is relying on his skills and all the knowledge accumulated over the years to reach the top four or top eight.

Federer remains a disciplined student of the game like a school student who refuses to skip even a single lecture till his schooling days are over. On the other hand, Nadal epitomises the 'cool' college going student who is smart, pumped up and restless like a raging bull - prone to accidents now and then, only to make a comeback with a bang. The mixed fortune cycle of pain and glory repeats at regular intervals. How long can he sustain such a professional lifestyle? One, two, three, four years or more.... Luckily, age is on his side.

As to Roger Federer - the 'aura' of  awesomeness is missing from the past 3-4 years. Yet, he marches on year after year participating in many of the elite tournaments worldwide, travelling constantly with his young family, fighting to remain in the top five with a hope of one last victory at a Grand Slam. It's been a while he shed those tears of joy and kiss the winner's trophy - a ritual which he and a lot of his fans were so accustomed to. 

"Legend remains victorious in spite of history" - Sarah Bernhardt 

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