Heck no, we aren’t ready to bid Roger good­bye

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

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!

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