Nadal and Djokovic on Course for the Greatest Tennis Rivalry Ever Known
In recent years, fans of men's tennis speal earnestly about the domination that the top four players hold over the four tennis Grand Slams. However, more recently, that "top four" has been whittled down to three with most dropping the name of Andy Murray from their lists of potential winners ahead of a Grand Slam event. Even more recently, the name of the great Roger Federer has also been sidelined, with the general belief being that the 16 time Grand Slam winner has probably won his last one. This leaves just the top two, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, as the two current superstars of the sport, who are probably in the process of making their rivalry the greatest and most intense ever known in the sport.
Before his great year of 2011, Djokovic had been regarded as a young player with huge potential, marginally better than Andy Murray. A player however, that would have to wait for Federer to retire before he could possibly be regarded as a contender to be the number one in the world.
In 2010, Nadal had won three of the four Grand Slam titles, including a first time win at the US Open, where he beat Djokovic in four sets in the final. Most believed that he would have won all four that year but was not fully recovered from injuries sustained in 2009 to contest the Australian Open with his usual intensity at the beginning of the year. In the event, he lost in the Quarter Final in Melbourne to Murray who went on to make the final only to lose in straight sets to Federer.
In fact that was the last time Federer actually won a Grand Slam title, more importantly, apart from losing out in the quarter finals again in Australia the following year, due to a severe hamstring injury, it was also the last time that Nadal failed to make a Grand Slam final.
Nadalís hamstring injury at the 2011 Australian Open seemed to trigger the rise of Djokovic who went on to win the tournament defeating Murray in the final in emphatic style. The manner of his victory appeared to have taken Djokovic to new heights, setting a standard in that match that quite simply overwhelmed the normally resilient Murray. It was his second victory at the Tournament with the first coming very much as a surprise in 2008.
However, from his 2011 victory, the Serb has not looked back and despite losing to Federer in the Semi Final in the 2011 French Open, Djokovic has gone on to make the next four finals, winning three of them at 2011 Wimbledon (1st win) 2011 US Open (1st win) and 2012 Australian Open(3rd win) and finishing runner up to Nadal last week in the 2012 French Open.
This latest win was vitally important for the Spaniard as he stopped rot, and deprived Djokovic of becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time. Nadal also proved in the process that at least on clay that he was still the king. It was Nadalís seventh success in the tournament in eight years bettering the record of six wins he held jointly with Bjorn Borg.
It was also Nadalís 11th Grand Slam victory, which puts him level in the all time Grand Slam winning list with Borg, he is now only 3 behind, Pete Sampras in second place on 14 wins and 5 behind the man still regarded by most as the greatest champion of them all, Federer, who has 16. Djokovic of course now has 5 Grand Slamís to his name and is the favourite to regain his Wimbledon title which gets underway in less than a fortnightís time.
In terms of age, Nadal has only just turned 26 while Djokovic is a year younger at 25, meaning that the two have at least three more years at the very top where their rivalry will undoubtedly intensify. The two are reasonably friendly towards each other off court but they are totally professional on it, they know that between them they have the world at their feet but will fight tooth and nail to reign supreme over the other. Neither will give anything away and both fully expect to meet other in the final at Wimbledon on 8th July Ė so does the entire tennis world who are already licking their lips at the prospect.