Not Tire, Not Retire

Over a decade now, Nadal and Roger Federer continue to dominate on tennis court

By Adarsh Vinay

Roger Federer is 36 years old, Rafael Nadal is 31. They currently top the ATP rankings and are ahead of everyone else by a landslide: Nadal leads with 8770 points, Federer is second with 8670. The closest is Marin Cilic with 4985. Between them, Federer and Nadal have 36 Grand Slam titles. The others in the top 10 between them have just two (Cilic 1, Juan Martin del Potro 1). The only other major contender Novak Djokovic, with 12 slams, is reeling in 13th spot.

The stats may have changed, the other names on the list definitely have changed but it is not lost on anyone that Federer and Nadal continue to dominate the sport just like they have for the past 12 years.

10 years ago, it was a similar story. The two of them hadn’t won so many slams as yet but their dominance was just as unrivalled. A decade on, the story continues. Which brings us to the eternal question: how have these two continued to make the sport just about them? How do they fight off age and injuries to remain such serial winners?

Nadal had come into the 2017 season on the back of yet another injury-ridden campaign. He stole the show, winning 6 titles, including 2 Grand Slams and claiming the No. 1 ranking for the first time in 3 years. He didn’t have the best of starts to his season, reaching the finals of the Australian Open, the Acapulco Open and the Miami Open, and losing all three.

But he persisted as he always has throughout his career and turned his season around. He won the Monte Carlos Open, becoming the first person in the Open era to win a tournament 10 times and then followed the feat again at the Barcelona Open. He then won his fifth title at the Madrid Masters.

Despite not having won a Grand Slam title in 2015 or 2016, he went on to clinch his tenth French Open title and also surprised everyone by claiming the US Open. A persistent knee injury started hampering his season but not before he won the China Open, his sixth title of the season. He finished the season as numero uno in the ATP rankings. At 31, the Spaniard became the oldest player to end the year as the number one ranked player.

If Nadal’s season has been surprising, Federer’s has been a revelation. He started the year as World No. 16, his lowest rank in 15 years. But that didn’t stop him from winning the Australian Open, his 18th Grand Slam title and his first since 2012. He continued his comeback by winning titles at Indian Wells and Miami. He skipped the clay court tournaments but went on to win the Halle Open for the eighth time in his career.

He wasn’t done yet, winning Wimbledon for the 8th time and taking his Grand Slam tally to 18. The tournament saw vintage Federer at his best as he became just the second person in the Open era after Bjorn Borg to win the title without dropping a single set. A couple of upsets followed, including at the US Open but Federer held on to win the Shanghai Masters. He also won the Basel Open, his home tournament. This year has been no different with Federer already having pouched the Australian Open, his record 19th Grand Slam title. As of right now, he has won a whopping 97 ATP titles.

When 2017 had started, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were top of the rankings. But injuries to both of them coupled with Federer and Nadal’s resurgence saw them languish at 16th and 12th spots when the year ended.

A major attraction last season was the Laver Cup, tennis’ own version of the Ryder Cup. The best players from across the world took part in a team event with Team Europe taking on Team World. The first edition of the tournament saw Nadal and Federer on the same side of the court.

While it was scintillating to see the two legends teaming up, their on-field camaraderie  was noteworthy and a spectacle to behold indeed. Needless to say, Team Europe won the first edition held in Prague.

But while things are looking great at the moment, the end of the line is nearing for both of them. Nadal might be 5 years Federer’s junior and while he might have age on his side, fitness doesn’t seem to be. He has almost always struggled to finish his season injury-free. 2017 was no different as he ended up dropping out of the Paris Masters and the ATP World Tour Finals.

Federer meanwhile will be 37 in August this year. He already has set his sights on retirement and spoke to Swiss publication NZZ about his plans.

“I would like to go to certain places in Asia, Australia, South Africa, maybe South America – there are so many travel destinations. And I would like to take a road trip through Europe – via bus or car. Preferably with the kids. But of course they still have to go to school then.”

And he didn’t seem too disappointed that his days on the tennis court are numbered.  “I‘m not stressed about this though – my dreams have already come true.”

To be honest, we can’t say the same about ourselves. It indeed has felt like a to dream watch these two weave their magic on court, but not seeing them on the court anymore would be nothing short of a nightmare for us.