And then he fell on to the court, winning the final set 9-7. The stands erupted in a wave of applause. Applauding the two for delivering one of the greatest games ever-a four and a half hour magnum opus battling rain, darkness, and of course, each other. But maybe, they were also sub-consciously applauding the end of an era, the accession of an equal, the revelation of the other side of the coin.
This win siganls the end of Federer’s dominance. Players like Roddick have, in the past, come close to matching him, but none have dominated him so thoroughly on a particular court, or stormed his backyard so violently, the way Nadal has. And, that is why, tennis lovers the owrld over are rejoicing.
In the past half-decade or so, tennis had slipped into the same monotony that plagued the Schumi era of F1, or which still plagues cricket. The monotony where the championships were played more as formalities, with everyone knowing who’ll get gold. Where the champions sleep walked through their matches but still drubbed the opposition. In the odd match, these world beater would be challenged, but they would dip into their pool of excellence and conjure another win. The monotony which arose from the lack of symmetry, the lack of a true equal.
Greatness doesn’t lie in trampling minnows-it lies in conquering equals. And, that is why, tennis lovers will remember this match with the same fondness with which cricket pundits remember the Ashes of ’05. But, unlike that particular Ashes, I don’t think this match is a false start. I think the calm elegance of Federer has finally found its match in the brash, butt-scratching brute force of Nadal. Clubbed with his dominance on clay, this win is a signal that Nadal, the player, has grown, and Nadal, the equal, has emerged. Provided Fed doesn’t hang up his boots any time soon, and Rafa doesn’t break down, this rivalry could be remembered as the Ali-Frazier of tennis, or the Sampras-Agassi of this generation. And for that, tennis should stand up, and applaud the two.