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Wanted: A Duellist August 6, 2006

Posted by ramanand in Ramanand, Tennis.
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In the days before Indian cricket team selectors could toss aside last year’s medium-pacers like they would banana peel, the constant refrain used to be: “Can’t a nation of close to a billion produce at least one medium/fast bowler?”. The crop of Munaf and VRV may have pushed the focus to different problems, but we can borrow the lament and apply it thus: “Can’t a globe that has tens of thousands of tennis players produce a player who can challenge Roger Federer?”

Almost everyone I know who follows tennis stopped back and stayed by a television screen because two players were engaged in elegant battle; not just in a single tournament, but over many seasons. Tennis has never needed any better advertisement (especially before smartly attired young Russians whose names ended in “-ova” started to appear on billboards). For my generation, the recent legends of Borg and McEnroe were replayed in the battles of Lendl-Becker, Becker-Edberg and then ultimately Sampras-Agassi. Since these also featured a stellar support cast of Connors, Wilander, Ivanisevic, Rafter, and Courier, tennis was not a collection of ‘breadsticks’ and ‘doughnuts’ as it threatened to be in the last couple of years of “The Rogera”.

Roger Federer, out of nowhere, has installed himself (and with poise) as the definitive player of his eneration – a fact that no one even wants to start disputing. Such unanimity amongst both watchers and critics is as rare as Federer getting beaten on grass. So much so, that despite our affection for the Swiss, we will grasp at any straws, even if they come from a clay-filled, grass-less surface.

Rafael Nadal has provided it to us in the last 14 months. The attachment of the suffix “-ever” to some glorious epithets before Federer’s name awaits victory at Roland Garros, preferably with Nadal to greet him from the other end. But with Nadal’s astonishing ascent to the finals of Wimbledon (which even the kindest of critics will point to his easy draw, earned by his ranking from the clay-court spoils), we are in danger of getting too excited about this “rivalry”.

Perhaps the US Open will give us a good idea as to where Nadal stands. Those hands that rubbed in glee anticipating a long run of Roddick-Federer clashes have been thrust deep into pockets. Does Nadal really promise to be the only spell, mental or physical, against a man who would probably have been burnt for being a warlock in less englightened times? This time we’ll wait and watch.

Update:

Rajk points me to this unbelievable Federer moment. You may not believe it even after you see it. Andy Roddick didn’t seem to.

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Comments»

1. Tadatmya - August 17, 2006

Moving on from grass to hardcourts, Federer himself has seemed to struggle. In winning his latest title, he lost a set for four consecutive best-of-3-sets matches. He struggled a bit in the first round of the Cincinnati Masters. Finally, Andy Murray beat him in the second round in straight sets, breaking his serve as many as 7 times.

2. Ramanand - August 17, 2006

Yes, Tadatmya, good point. I haven’t been able to see Federer post-Wimbledon, so the Murray loss came as a bit of a surprise to me. OTOH, it might just be the right sort of trip-up before the US Open

3. BVHK - August 23, 2006

A time has come that ‘winning’ four consecutive 3 setter matches is considered a struggle!!! That’s what Federer has done to the definitions of greatness.
All those who consider Nadal’s ascent in the world rankings to be a Muster/Moya/Bruguera like phenomenon need to look at his game again. Thankfully, Federer knows that he does NOT have the wood over Nadal and I’m afraid it is actually the other way round and Federer loses to Nadal in the mind rather than on court.

4. BVHK - August 23, 2006

And – wait before you write off Roddick – his game might not have it all but he has the spirit and Jimbo in his corner.

5. Dunbar - August 27, 2006

I’m waiting for FedEx to win at Roland Garros, so that I can say to your grand-kids that I lived in Roger Federer’s time.

6. Rajk - November 27, 2006

Hi there,

Revisited this post after a long time.

I think the bigget testament to Federer’s greatness is that he lost just 5 times this year. Look a bit deeper, and it’s even more impressive.

Three were to Nadal on clay.

One was a very tired Federer losing to Murray.

The only “surprising” loss was to Nadal at Dubai.

We all know how good Federer has been for Tennis. Imagine how good Nadal is. If people think Fed’s dominance is boring, well, without Nadal, he’d almost have a 100% winning record. That’s how crucial Nadal is for the game!

We are lucky to have such a genius, quite possibly already among the top 5 Tennis players of all time, playing at the same time as a fighter of a kid who somehow seems to trouble even him, to touch the invisible, so to say! Great times for Tennis.

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