Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Dreams of an Indian Wells' Cocktail

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Dreams of an Indian Wells' Cocktail
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

We wait.

We anticipate.

We hope.

For Roger and Rafa.

It’s been just 10 months, but it seems like an eternity.

Twenty matches since 2004, and now the longest gap between matches since 2004.

Will Indian Wells, this Californian oasis, quench the thirst? Will the top and the bottom of the draw refine itself into the perfectly mixed cocktail?

The heady combination of Roger and Rafa?

For Indian Wells 2010, Roger has turned to the colors of the earth: the red of molten rock and the deep grey of charcoal; hot and dry like the desert.

Rafa has chosen the tropical hues of the oasis itself: from shorts like a brown trellis, he bursts brilliant white, like a flamboyant hibiscus tinged with hot pink.

One belongs to the desert, one to the garden: Indian Wells made flesh.

Rafa and Roger: a visual counterpoint.

But like a complex symphony, their counterpoints are many-layered.

Roger’s look is stripped back to its elements. Plain polo, crisp shorts, tailored with minimal seams and trim. Not an inch of excess fabric nor an inch too little. Fitted closely enough to set off his sleek frame, free enough to skim over muscle from shoulder to knee.

He sweats, but it barely shows. The flame bandanna darkens to carmine, but seems pinned to its precise circumference. Every stitch, head to toe, is co-ordinated to within an inch of its life.

The image of cool.  

Rafa discarded the youthful piratical look in favor of standard tee, but in vain has he shed the rough-and-tumble verve of the Spanish gypsy. Plain bands of day-glo tints around the chest exaggerate rather than play down his generous muscle. Long shorts, loose at the knee, remain just too snug through the hips.

What spare fabric he is allowed soon clings helplessly to every square inch of his ample torso. His bandanna, drenched in moments, loosens its grip on raggle-taggle locks that fight free beneath its edge.

A hot geyser ready to burst.

Fire and ice: a temperamental counterpoint.

Roger’s physical presence is as stripped down as his clothing. The body language calm, economical, relaxed. The only facial expression is a tug of lower lip between teeth. In most, a sign of anxiety: in Roger it seems to draw his focus inwards. He expends not an ounce of superfluous effort, yet moves across the surface like lightening.

Rafa wears his heart on his sleeve, face contorted into passion with each whip of his racket, the effort written on his furrowed brow. His forearm seems to expand to twice its size, shoulders explode, fingers flail into a splayed star. Effort and energy personified.

Drink in the contrasting flavors as these men play tennis.

Roger’s face is like a closed book. His body language has a poise and restraint that makes him impossible to read. But his racket is a pen flourished across the book’s pages, out-arguing his opponent with a language all his own.

A glance from his pharaoh-slanting eyes reveals, in a brief moment, the cobra about to unleash its venom. Swift, beautiful, and deadly.

Rafa demands attention as does a rampant bull that bears down on some unfortunate who dares to encroach upon his territory.

His shoulders swagger, the legs and hips twitch in preparation. Clothing is adjusted, ball bounced slowly, intimidating glower aimed at target.

The sweat flies like sparks from a Catherine wheel as his racket circles around his head like a broadsword.

When a game is won, Roger flexes a fist, ambles to his chair, relaxes back, and takes in his surroundings. He gives nothing away.

Rafa jumps and pumps, exudes dominance in his spring-mounted walk from baseline to chair to baseline again.

Mix these contrasting flavors together, and the Roger and Rafa rivalry hits the bloodstream like the best cocktail.

The tang, the sparkle, the vibrancy of a Buck’s Fizz.

The sharpness, the sophistication, the instant high of a gin martini—shaken not stirred, of course.

Attack and counterpunch: right-hander versus lefty; single-handed backhand against double-fisted.

The gliding ice-skater and the burst-from-the-blocks sprinter.

The tactics of a chess master attempting to out-manoeuvre the never-say-die retriever.

They are cool Swiss and hot Spanish, pole and equator. Yet where their paths cross—even across the net in loss or victory—there is common ground, mutual respect.

The earnest intensity of matchplay gives way to laughter-lines as they shake hands. In the merry-go-round of tournament obligations, they lean towards one another as though sharing confidences.

But if their tennis, their characters, and their head-turning looks do not win fans over, the vivid nature of the rivalry does.

As a painter loves the impact of complementary colors, so tennis drinks deep from the complementaries that are Roger and Rafa.

Oppose red with green, or blue with orange, and each color makes the other seem more intense. Place them alongside one another, and they shimmer.

Roger is red to Rafa’s green, is blue to Rafa’s orange. Together they shimmer.
 
Roger is champagne to Rafa’s freshly squeezed orange, his vermouth and lemon zest to Rafa’s vodka.

Will Indian Wells be the cocktail shaker that blends them for the first time in 2010?

Yes please.

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