Federer and Nadal inspire with grace
10 June 2009
Chia Han Keong
THIS decade is still a year and a half short of being completed.
But let’s just go ahead and declare tennis aces Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal the sportsmen of the decade.
And, yes, they have to go hand in hand to be considered as the premier athletes from 2000 till now.
For only together could they have created a transcendent rivalry, be spurred to great sporting heights and, most vitally, be humbled by each other’s greatness.
Last Sunday saw Federer weep in joy after winning the French Open, the elusive Grand Slam that Nadal had stopped him from winning in the last three Roland Garros finals.
“Now I can play in peace at last,” the Swiss said, and no one can rob him of this emotional triumph, which came after he had persevered through a virus infection and poor form in the past two years.
Yet, without Nadal playing a role, perhaps he would never have experienced such a magical moment.
He might have just won the French Open on a trot in any given year of this decade, and not placed much value on the title. But the way Nadal has tormented him since 2006 made Federer’s victory one that he would savour forever.
Yet, Nadal should not be perceived as a villain to Federer’s artistry. Indeed, he is every bit as heroic as the Swiss.
Yes, their styles are polar opposites. Federer’s fluent and fluid shot-making can be likened to jazz music – intricate, improvisational and impressive.
Nadal, on the other hand, plays more akin to rock music – bludgeoning strokes retrieved from depths of the court never reached before, and returned equally improbably in the form of jaw-dropping winners.
It is wrong for fans to love one and hate the other. They are missing the crucial point of an enduring rivalry which pushes the limits of tennis.
Now, to beat either player, other professionals have to elevate their craft, ensuring pinpoint accuracy for every shot.
Yet, it is the gracious manner in which both Federer and Nadal accepted those rare losses that elevates them above the petulant footballers (think Cristiano Ronaldo) or the moody basketballers (Kobe Bryant).
Like what Nadal said after his shock fourth-round French Open loss two weeks ago: “Sometimes you need a defeat to give the value to your victories.”
Wise words from a mere 23-year-old. Indeed, it is time that sports fans say that they have had enough of drug cheats, ill-tempered outbursts, nasty feuds and sheer petulance among top athletes this decade.
For Federer and Nadal have shown how respect and humility make better sportsmen.