Heck no, we aren’t ready to bid Roger goodbye
IT had to be Rafa. Fate had meant it to be so. That each of Roger Federer’s and Rafael Nadal’s second-coming odysseys intertwined in the first Grand Slam of the year, culminating in one of the finest matches tennis has witnessed, was a stroke of other-worldly genius.
Of course, there is another match considered one of the best ever played… It came at Wimbledon in 2008, a five-set final won by Nadal. It was when Federer would taste defeat so bitter he was reduced to tears before the harsh glare of the Queen’s court, an agony no amount of strawberries and cream could soothe.
Federer’s odyssey had only just begun. He had already surpassed the great Pete Sampras. But Sampras was on the gentle slope to pasture. Federer’s credentials, already entrenched in the tennis annals, were yet to be tested.
Enter the Spaniard. Nadal, who was riding to his zenith, fearless and violent, had sounded the gong that would announce the Swiss maestro was not invincible.
The resumption of this rivalry on Sunday was fraught with danger as it always is in a rekindled intimacy that, in this case, carries the baggage of 13years. There was a sense that, if Federer would take his greatness to the next dimension he would have to confront, once and for all, a black horned beast growling in the shadows and waving a Spanish flag.
The trauma of battles lost to the Spaniard threatened to overpower Federer as Nadal began to hit his straps in the second, taking the bit between his teeth to lead 4-0. Old wounds of French Open domination and defeat in that Wimbledon final ominously bloomed for Federer. He stemmed the bleeding to gain a game, to save face in a set he would lose 6-3, but with his resolve intact. Just.
Nadal was tamed in the third as the poetry began to flow, Federer’s belief in his artistry soaring to a 6-1 set win, but it would only see the Spaniard’s rage flare. Nadal was up 5-2 then 6-2.
For a clash of this magnitude only a five-setter would do, but this was dangerous territory for Federer, who can be accused of lacking the mongrel when faced with a street fight.
With Nadal’s ire rising and the Swiss’s countenance haggard, it was thriller time. Ghosts swirled around the Swiss as he was denied one after the other breakpoint opportunity. He was in the wilderness as Nadal, unrelenting, charged and hit where it counted, as he always had in previous ties.
Another ding-dong on Nadal’s serve, and Federer looked another break-point in the mouth. The Spaniard gave him nothing and it was 3-1. But somehow, the Spaniard faltered. Federer led 4-3. And then the Swiss had won his 18th Grand Slam title. More importantly, Federer had exorcised the demon at last.
It was the journey he had to complete, to fulfil his true destiny, a destiny that was always going to be locked with Nadal’s. They are the greats because of each other. Fate would have it so.
The romance of it leaves a heady after-glow. In the quiet that follows, we can only hope we shall see its like again. Maybe another Wimbledon? We dare not contemplate it. Are we ready to say goodbye to Roger? After Sunday, heck no!