Federer and Nadal: Memento Mori

For quite a while Federer the Master lived atop a high, inaccessible peak. A life of ease. He lived even above Superlatives, above everyone who stepped on a tennis court, bathed in glorious Apollonian light. He was the supreme artist. Opponents did not quake in fear when they faced him, they just stood and let the Master do his thing. The guy was Perfection personified.

Then like in a Greek myth came along Rafa, the lion tamer from a magical island in Spain. This was a hulk whose topspin was like human dynamite. Only he dared to scale those Olympian heights. He showed that at least on the red clay he was the master of the Master. Finally, at Wimbledon in the Master's own backyard green he shattered the myth of invincibility. Youth triumphed over experience, muscle over elegance, and will over tradition. It was an old prophecy that since Federer was right-handed and dextrous, his vanquisher would be left-handed and sinister. Rafa, showed that Federer was no God, a King nevertheless, but still a mortal. The mountain was illusory; it was just a high pedestal. Rafa proved that again in the far-away Land of Oz.

Then they said that Rafa was the new King. He was born of a human mother but fathered by a God. Since then there have been two kingdoms - Federerland and Rafaistan ruled by two mighty warriors, both demi-gods. No one dared disturb the two Titans when they clashed on red, blue or green.

Since Wimbledon 2004, if you are not named 'Federer' or 'Nadal', you are not going to win any major tennis championship (They won 18 out of the last 20 Slams). With the odd exceptions during the Australian Open in 2005(Safin) and 2008(Djokovic), the Big Two have strangled everyone else.

For the last four years the French Open has been open to all players, but not for winning. You are welcome only if you are content to get the participation certificate. Of course a certain Swiss wasn't too happy to sit back and get the runner's up medal year after year. So this year, with the exit of Nadal the French Open became very interesting. Gone was the aura of Nadal's invincibility on clay. The crown rests rather lightly.

On one hand we had the rising stars and then old King, so to speak. Federer has still been a dominant force despite his losses to Nadal. But, this is a different Fed. There have been fewer and fewer easy matches, as opponents have dared to take a slug at the Master. King Federer is not that poetic master any more. His mental makeup seems more fragile (human, did anyone say)

The Murrays, Djokovics and Del Potros have been genuine contenders, Princes-in-Waiting for the final act of regicide. Then suddenly out of nowhere comes Robin Soderling, who in comparison to the new princes is like the street urchin who crashes the party and finds himself at the banquet table. I have great respect for his game and current form. This Swedish gunslinger simply unloaded on biggest baddie ever to step on the clay court. So earth-shaking was this event that the other princes in waiting got killed in their own gunfight. He later showed that this was no mere flash in the pan.

So what should King Fed do? Reward him for his giant-killing skills? or slaughter him as a proxy for his nemesis? As King Federer has looked less and less regal in recent tournaments, even Robin Soderling can fancy his chances. From the Soderling-Gonzalez game yesterday, Federer cannot be tentative. He has to step on the court like a champion. Soderling is no long distance runner. He managed to get it done, but blew a 2-0 lead and was 4-1 down in the final set in the semi. Federer is perhaps the best closer the game has seen. The only way to get Fed these days is to win the first set and then try to stay ahead. Monfils almost succeeded in his QF by keeping it tight, but then he lost it mentally and let go of the rest of the match. Soderling seems have veins that have ice in them.

The key to the game tomorrow is going to be the first set. If Federer wins the first set then I guess Soderling can bank on a also-ran, 'I did my best' refrain. However, if the Robin of Spring does win the first set, we are in for a thriller.

On a side note: When we talk of legends, we also have the soothsayers--That silvered-haired Bjorn Borg does have a black tongue. Last time he predicted quite confidently that Nadal would win both the French and the Wimbledon. This time he predicts that compatriot Soderling will go all the way. The commentators said that he sent Nadal a thank-you note to ensure that his 5-straight record was kept intact. I guess this time, Robin got a thank-you note for keeping is his 4-straight record at Rolland Garros intact.


Javed said...

I was very disappointed with the final. Soderling i felt just couldn't get over his 0-9 record against Federer. A one-sided match, that's my conclusion.

Hirak said...

Yeah, I guess from the perspective of tennis it was a pretty lame final. Somehow I am in that camp of Federere sentimentalists who feel that the French Open final was not a one act play, it was the sweet fairytale ending to a very long epic.

Of course, it this was drama than the obvious script would be to have Fed and Rafa battle it out, and have Fed win in a five-setter to obliterate last year's Wimbledon.

But, i think we have a lot more tennis from these two to come in the next 2-3 years and I am sure we are set for at least a couple more exciting final Slam matches between the two.

Paddy said...

Very Nice!

Paddy said...

May be you already read this but I subscribe to this view (circa 2006):


Hirak said...

@Paddy Thanks for the link. I had not seen that article. He perfectly describes my fascination with Federer - the dancing around and fluid execution.

It's pretty interesting to know that the article was written by David Foster Wallace, a rising literary star who killed himself last year.

I knew that DFW was a pretty good tennis player, but I did not know that he wrote on tennis. Among the few writers who are both literary and tennis-fixated - Martin Amis is another. Any others?

anand s said...

There's a certain writer in India called Gulzar who plays the game.
Also, can anyone check if DFW watched Djokovic before deciding to end it all ?

Hirak said...

Really Sampooran Singh is whacking forehands down the line!

and re: At least if DFW had watched Djokovic doing impersonations of tennis players then the outcome might have been different.