New Delhi: It is FEDAL-ism all together again! With Rafael Nadal's astounding straight set victories over Kevin Anderson in the US Open 2017 final in the Flushing Meadows, tennis witnessed the return of the two tennis players...two greatest of all time...after a long gap of seven years.
Not many had guessed their return. Coming back from the brink of lost hope and prolonged injury to winning a Grand Slam title? Even the wildest of all desires failed to take a picture grab of that moment. But they did it. Just on mere self-belief and relentless struggle they proved the pundits wrong and amazed their fans while the rest of the tennis fraternity waited and watched and all they could say were few congratulatory words or tweet a few revealing absolute astonishment.
Roger Federer kick started the year with an astounding 18th Grand Slam victory lifting the Australian Open at Melbourne Park for the fifth time in his career. Did anyone guess that? – No. Not even the Swiss Maestro himself would have expected such a return. After losing in the thrilling five-setter against Milos Raonic in the semi-final round of Wimbledon 2016, Federer had announced his withdrawal from tennis action for the remainder of the season.
Not many had anticipated a dominant comeback to tennis action. Prolonged rest reduces a sportsperson's ability to comeback with the same momentum. The level of competitiveness reduces and so does the ability to catch up the pace. But Federer proved them wrong. After easing past Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori, the Swiss international crumbled down Stan Wawrinka in the semis to book a date with old nemesis Rafael Nadal. A pulsating five-setter ended with Federer clinching his 18th Grand Slam title. Adding to it, it was for the first time since 2007 Wimbledon final that Federer ahd defeated Nadal in the finals of a Grand Slam event. Ergo, he moved into the top 10 of the ATP Rankings.
After grabbing the Indian Wells title and then Miami Masters, Federer posted on his own website – 'Roger to skip Roland Garros'. "I've been working really hard, both on and off the court, during the last month,'' Federer wrote, "but in order to try and play on the ATP World Tour for many years to come, I feel it's best to skip the clay court season this year.''
He came back to win an unprecedented and record eighth Wimbledon title at SW19 completing a career Grand Slam of 19 titles. Adding to his praise, he also became the second tennis player in the history of Open Era to win Wimbledon without dropping a single set, the first was Bjorn Borg in 1976. Even at then 35, winning his 19th Major looked so easy for Federer – for sure age is just a number for living legends like him. Now can he make it 20, but Federer laughed it off as a 'joke' and he did fail to when the tall Argentinian tennis ace Juan Martin del Potro rewrote their 2009 US Open final in the years's semi-final round to stun the second-seeded.
Now coming to Nadal. Prior to his US Open final against South Africa's Kevin Anderson, his achievements in 2017 was overshadowed by Federer's #Bel18ve and 'unprecedented and record eighth Wimbledon title'- tag. But you can't surely just erase off the Mallorcan bull, can you?
From facing his only second defeat on the clay courts of Roland Garros when he went down to Novak Djokovic in 2015 French Open quarter-final round to his shock departure from 2015 Wimbledon at the hands of qualifier Dustin Brown to third-round defeat to Fabio Fignini in the US Open the same year – it was the worst of all times for Rafael Nadal. The year to follow brought up his wrist injury. He missed French Open and then the grass-court season.
Then came 2017. "You never know what is going to happen this year...I believe I'm gonna come back," Nadal had said prior to his Australian Open season. And sure did he. He struggled to reach his first Grand Slam final since 2014 French Open. Despite the defeat, the Spaniard's astonishing comeback to tennis action has even stunned legend Andre Agassi. "Nadal persevered through so much adversity and with people writing him off'," Agassi told The Guardian. "I didn’t believe that with the amount of physicality he’s put into his career he’d ever get his game back to that level."
A few months later, he bagged his 10th Monte Carlo Masters title and scripted a record in being the first tennis player ever to win 50 titles on clay court. Then came Nadal's 10th Barcelona title and then defeated Dominic Thiem in the finals of the Madrid Open to win his 5th title and ergo, inked his name beside Djokovic in the all-time list of Masters record with 30 titles.
But the highlight of the year remained his French Open victory 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 over Wawrinka in the finals. His first in the last three years thus completing a record 'La Decima' at Roland Garros, the only player in the Open Era to achieve the feat. “It’s a feeling that’s impossible to describe,” Nadal said. “For me the nerves and the adrenaline I feel when I play on this court is impossible to compare to another court. It is the most important event in my career, to win again here is impossible to describe.”
Thereafter it has been a bit of struggle. A five-setter defeat to Giles Mueller in the Wimbledon round of 16, then another round four defeat at the hands of Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov in the Rogers Cup and finally Nick Krygios shutting down the Spaniard in the quarter-final round of Cinacinnati Masters 6-2, 7-5. But by then he had accumuluated ample ATP points to have overtaken Andy Murray for the World No. 1 spot. And with the Brit's withdrawal from Cincinnati, he was rest assured of the crown after a long gap of three years. With this, it was also for the first time that the Spaniard was named as a first seed in a Grand Slam event (US Open 2017) since June 2014.
Amid an anticipated FEDAL for the first time in the history of Flushing Meadows, Federer was stopped by del Potro in the quarters. But Nadal toppled down the Argentine's hope of a similar treatment to finally crush down Kevin Anderson in the finals of the US Open in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 16 Grand Slam title, his third in accounting his career. Ad thus marked the return of FEDAL-ism after seven years.
Last time the two has swept all four Grand Slams in a year was 2010 when Federer has won the Australian Open and Nadal had clinched the French Open, Wimbledon and then US Open. In total there have been four such instances – the two others being 2007 when the Swiss international had clinched all three Majors other than French Open which was bagged by the Spaniard; the first ever was in 2006 – an exact 2007.
In fact, going by numbers, since 2003 Wimbledon, 58 Grand Slams have been played. Federer bagged 19 while Nadal has 16 to his name – total standing to 35, which is almost 60 per cent of the total – such has been their dominance. Novak stands next on the list with 12 Majors and Murray and Wawrinka having three each to their name.
On asked about his arch-rival Federer right after his third US Open title, Nadal said, "Two things that we share: that is passion for tennis, & competition and the spirit of improvement all the time.”
A repeat of such a glorifying sight may still hold a huge question mark after it, but all one can now do is relish the moment that the two have created and their dominance with the racquet have scripted. Truly inspiring! Truly worth savouring!