Did Federer Underestimate His Rival?

Mahesh S BharadvajContributor IMarch 12, 2009

It’s not long ago that Federer was striding like a colossus in the Tennis World. Fed continues to dominate, though his grip on the tennis world has somewhat loosened in recent years.

Nadal—young and upcoming in the years behind, was going through a frustrating phase when he shadowed No.1 for a record 160+ weeks. Nadal had said that any other time in history, given  his ATP points he would have been No. 1.

Nadal’s stars have been shining bright since mid-2008 than they have ever been. It should have come as no surprise to Fed that his nemesis, who was breathing down his neck for most part will eventually usurp his position one day.
Come to think of it, Nadal’s rise over the years has been unrelenting and steady. Fed obviously knows that it’s law of nature that old order gives way to new and it’s nearly inevitable in any sphere in life.

Before it’s too long, someone starts appearing in the scene and starts questioning your dominance. It was just a matter of time.

Perhaps, the timing was still a surprise to Federer.

Fed had possibly hoped to continue his dominance for some more time to come and didn’t expect it to happen the way it did. I think, Fed’s continued domination on non-clay courts led him to some kind of complacency.

In hindsight, Federer possibly underestimated the rise of Nadal. He rather had to reconcile to it over the weeks and months since he conceded the top position to his nemesis. 

It’s ironical in some ways. The two players have not only very contrasting style, they have also different strengths. Yet, Nadal is able to challenge Fed brick for brick and move for move.

Avid tennis fans know the two lead players tennis style and I am not going to fill pages comparing the two. I think there are enough of comparisons floating around and that’s not the purpose of this article.

On the one hand, Federer was going through an unimaginable winning streak. The ride had been especially at its peak in 2006-07.

Federer had become a brand and reached the pinnacle of glory through years of dominance. He possibly spent good bit of his energy in brand management, meeting celebrities, playing exhibition matches and what not.

All this while, Nadal had been singularly concentrating on improving his game and plugging the holes with such unwavering focus that has come to define him as the firebrand that he is.

One should not lose sight that Nadal was well backed-up by his dedicated coach, who has presumably and diligently been giving subtle inputs without needing a formal contract to support his nephew.

Federer's game has not deteriorated ostensibly, which is why Fed is still the player to beat in non-clay Slams and seems somewhat safe in his current position.  It's Nadal's game that has risen as he seems to have cracked the Fed code and playing the best tennis in his life.

As we move farther and look back at what was (and possibly continues to be) a glorious period of rivalry in tennis history, we get to view it more dispassionately.

I'd like to ask whether Federer could have delayed the arrival of the Nadal Bullet Train on No.1 platform had he been able to anticipate its speed and track more accurately.

Is it right to say that Fed could have been better prepared for a stiff competition in anticipation of what was in store.

Fed would have possibly fared a shade better...