Monday, July 07, 2008

Nadal vs Federer: men's tennis reaches tipping point

By John Cheeran
When John McEnroe says the 2008 Wimbledon men's singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is the best match he has ever watched, then it must be true. Nadal triumphed 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.
I too watched the epic match when Federer, the senior pro, clawed back into the game, and almost won the match against his aggressive challenger in the gloam that enveloped the Centre Court. It was not the longevity of the match that mattered in the end, but the sheer brilliance of shot making and the spirit of fight back.
Certainly 2008 Wimbledon final and Nadal's triumph marks a tipping point in contemporary tennis. Though Federer played and regained some of his touch and composure towards the final stages of the clash, there was something about the Swiss ace that he has lost that X factor that made him the argubaly the finest tennis player the game has seen.
Strictly from the tennis context, Federer lost the final and the chance to overcome Bjorn Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon singles title thanks to his poor net play. His other strengths are intact and especially the ability to fire aces at critical juncture (Federer sent down 26 aces in the final compared to seven of Nadal).
It is not that Federer has lost the Wimbledon final that is significant. The fact is that since 1980, for the first time a men's singles player has won French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. It's a feat last achieved by the incomparable Borg. Since then the vast difference between the French clay and Wimbledon grass courts have been viewed as such a challenge that both championships are considered different versions of tennis. It was a challenge which the great Ivan Lendl, who had a terrific record in French Open, bowed to. Boris Becker never won the French Open.
So Nadal has bridged the chasm. He has proved that he has a complete game suitable for any surface. This indeed is the tipping point in modern tennis and we should appreciate the magic of the moment.
Now onus will be on Federer to conquer the clay at Rolland Garros. Though Federer was not defeated in the normal sense of the word at the centre court on Sunday, and emerged as a winner for fighting in the inimitable way he did, and won more ovation than the champion Nadal himself, a return to glory will be a hard act to follow.
But I will wait as much as the rest of the world and will live in hope.

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