July 8, 2008

Warrior Rafa Dethrones King Roger

July 08, 2008 Posted by Vijay No comments
An epic final which was like a blockbuster movie. And in the end, a deserving winner. That is what the Wimbledon 2008 final proved to be. It was show time again, with the World No. 1 Roger Federer, up against the ever improving Rafael Nadal on Centre Court. If last year's 5 set thriller between the same two champions was awe-inspiring, the final this time around was breath taking.

It had drama, suspense, excitement, brilliance, perseverance and emotions. Rafa led Roger 2 sets to love, and had taken the fifth set to a tie breaker after a rain delay. It seemed divine intervention as far as Roger was concerned. Rafa had 2 championship points in the 4th set tie break leading 5-2 and serving for the match. Federer incredibly managed to save them both and took the match to a final set decider. With the last set at 2-2 and deuce, rain again came down on Centre Court, and the players took another break. Would this be a divine intervention again for Federer or for Nadal, who got agonisingly close to winning the coveted crown ?

The time was ticking past 9:00 in the late evening at Wimbledon, but the 2 champions fought on, until Nadal broke Federer in the 15th game of the final set. Nadal, the champion that he is, closed out the match at 9-7 in the final set, dropping to the floor, emotions still running high. An unbelievable match, which is truly a tribute to the relentless shot making and ahtleticism of Nadal, against the grace and genius of Federer.

Rafa has been snapping at Federer's heels for more than a year now. Federer has had a moderate year so far in 2008, and the aura of invincibility seemed to be disappearing after a straight sets loss to World No. 3 Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open semi finals. Federer has only won 2 events this year. For someone who is used to winning 2 Grand Slams before the second half of a year, Federer is empty handed this year, with only the U.S. Open to play for. At 26 Federer is not getting any younger, and Nadal is ready to take the mantle of the best player from Federer.
Any gifted player would have felt proud to have played in an amazing 16 grand slam finals, which included all the 4 major slams. But with Federer, he is expected to win all of them, atleast the non-clay ones. That is what he had been doing, whenever he got to any of the Grand Slam Finals except for the Nadal owned Rolland Garros. Federer had never lost a Grand Slam final on any surface against any player other than French Open. With this loss at Wimbledon, Nadal certainly has dented that record. The funniest part is, Federer is so good, he would still make it to the finals of all the Grand Slams. But does he have the mental strength to overcome the relentless Rafa ?

There have been champions and Grand Slam winners who have hated the grass court tournaments and called them as good only for cows. Marcelo Rios, Ivan Lendl and lately Marat Safin. Though there was always a question mark as to whether a clay court specialist and winner (Nadal at Rolland Garros) can in a span of 2 weeks win a grass court title at Wimbledon, the spirit of the young 22 year old Nadal came through eventually. Never did Nadal complain of the grass court not being his favourite surface. In fact he always dreamt of winning the Wimbledon as a kid, and that kept him motivated to win the crown.

Rafa now leads Federer 12-6 (as on 7th June 2008) in their head to head and Federer has many others waiting to clip his wings, as he fights off opponents younger, more spirited than him. Alfred Tsonga, Djokovic and Nadal are definitely the select few in that club. With only 555 points separating Nadal from Federer for the No. 1 spot, things could change by the end of this year.

But Federer, the champion that he is, will always challenge the best, as long as he is fit. Nadal has done so much of running around courts, through sheer will and stamina, he may not be able to withstand this level of performance for very long. Compare this to the grace of Federer, who is elegance personified, and seems to hit winners off impossible angles, one would think Federer would last atleast 4 more years. Nadal doesn't have a great service which comes to his rescue in times of crisis in a match. Federer can hit aces, at times at will. But with Federer, there is always a susceptibility of losses in concentration, which never happens with Rafa. Especially when Rafa plays Federer, he is at the peak of his game, knowing fully well, that a blip in conecntration is the only chance that Rafa has in winning against Federer.

The great rivalry of the 2 champions, whose styles of play are poles apart can only create more tennis followers and inspire children to take up the game. It would be tough to emulate Roger Federer's game, for his is a game of sheer genius. But one can always emulate and be like Rafa, for the hard working, relentless athlete that he is. To conclude, all one can say is, to defeat a Federer one needs to be a Nadal. But to defeat Nadal, you need not be a Federer.