Don't, however, expect Federer or Nadal to join the discussion. And here's where their rivalry is different from most: There's not a trace of animosity in it. Each man is relentlessly deferential toward the other, dispensing more props than a Broadway stagehand. Says Nadal, "To me he is the best player." Says Federer, "Trust me. I know how good Rafa is."
Classic rivals Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova became fast friends. Once, before they met in a Grand Slam final, one of them had her period, and together they scoured the locker room for a tampon. While Federer and Nadal aren't quite at that point yet (and not simply because neither menstruates), unmistakable warmth passes between them. When they crossed paths last week in the locker room of the Cincinnati event, they casually slapped five. It might as well have beena secret handshake. They are acutely aware that they're members of an exclusive club, that each benefits from having the other around. "He pushes me to be better," says Nadal. "I think every [athlete] needs that."
we are all looking forward to the day they reach that point...
Secret handshake... Hmmm... Is that what they call it these days?
In May, Federer ventured to Nadal's home island of Mallorca to play an exhibition on a court that was half grass and half clay. Federer noted that Nadal had played in his hometown, Basel, before. "Now," he said, "I have the opportunity to play at his place." Earlier this month, after the Rogers Cup, Nadal was unable to get a flight out to the next tour stop, in Cincinnati, so Federer invited him to ride in his private plane.
It all makes for strange times for tennis fans. Rivalries tend to cleave public opinion. Who in his right mind roots for North Carolina and Duke, for the Yankees and the Red Sox, for Hillary and Rudy? These deep divisions give the matchups emotional texture. Yet in the case of Federer-Nadal, it seems entirely reasonable to cheer for both. In fact, for most of us, it feels forced to summon dislike for either.
This is the day Claybuster has been waiting for