London: When Rafael Nadal was invited by a tennis writer to pick out the defining moments of his 2010 season on Sunday his answer stretched on for several minutes.
The remarkably humble 24-year-old Spaniard could be excused some self-indulgence, however, because it has been quite a year.
Three grand slam titles, an unbeaten stretch on claycourts, and an iron-like grip on the world number one spot were definitely worth talking about.
Roger Federer, who beat Nadal to claim the ATP World Tour Finals for the fifth time with a show of force, described Nadal’s season as one any player “could only dream of”.
High praise indeed for a player with 16 grand slam titles and a suitcase full of tennis records.
The good news, then, is that as one year ends and the pair snatch a couple of weeks of relaxation, arguably the two best players to stride a tennis court are both relishing the continuation of their rivalry next year after meeting just twice in the past 12 months.
Federer has ended the season like an express train and, at 29, his passion for the game he turns into art remains undimmed.
Nadal knows that, and just as in the days when John McEnroe fed off his rivalry with Bjorn Borg, the Mallorcan appears pleased that the man he respectfully calls the “best ever” is ready to battle him for the major honours.
While Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will continue to strive to close the gap, men’s tennis needs Federer and Nadal firing on all cylinders in 2011.
“I think tennis, the men’s game, is at an absolute high right now,” Federer, who trails Nadal 14-9 overall, told reporters. “There are lots of exciting matches and lots of respect.
“Also I think having had me and Rafa both make the career grand slam already at a young age I think is great for the game. We’re obviously playing not only for ourselves and beating the other guys, but also for history.”
The Swiss added: “I think there’s a lot at stake always in all our matches we play in the future. I think that’s wonderful.
“With Rafa having won three grand slams in a row it seems like not many can stop him...(and) when I’m on, (stopping me) is a hard thing to do.”
While Nadal clearly looked in need of a rest after losing 6-3 3-6 6-1 on Sunday to the rampant Swiss, it seemed Federer would be happy to carry on straight into next season.
“I’m very excited starting in Abu Dhabi and Qatar and gearing up for the new season,” Federer, who will be defending the Australian Open in January, said.
“I’m sure I’m going to play well. That never guarantees success. But I’m sure that the confidence I took away from this tournament could help down the stretch.
“Beating fellow top 10 players could always have some mental play at some stage of the season.”
Nadal, the youngest player to achieve a career grand slam, is a remarkably straightforward individual and, while appreciating what he has achieved, said he would get back to work in January and start all over again.
“I won’t be thinking about defending 100,000 points or if I have to defend 1,000 points,” he said, when asked if he felt that he would be the prey rather than the hunter next season.
“I start the season, I have zero points. For me, every day and every season starts new, and I’m gonna’ work to be ready and be competitive to try to be in the top positions and to compete to keep winning titles.
“The pressure for me is the same. The goal is the same, try to play well, try to compete against everybody, and try to be in the final rounds.”