Splendor on the Grass: Federer Leads the Field Again...
Throughout the wide vista of sporting events, there exists nothing quite as resplendent as Wimbledon draped in a quiet dignity as it opens its gates for the annual fortnight of tennis competition.
The serenity of the grounds contrasts mightily with the sheer aggressive athleticism of its participants. Even grunting and groaning seem out of place on the hallowed green lawns.
The Wimbledon Championships, sponsored by the All England Club, have been held since 1877. It remains the only Grand Slam tournament left that offers players a taste of grass—a step back into the game’s storied past.
Roger Federer serves as Wimbledon’s standard bearer with his all-court game and his delicate movement across the grass.
As part of its rich tradition, the organizers have given the No. 1 seed to Federer, who has played on Centre Court during the finals on Championship Sunday for the past seven consecutive years.
The top-ranked player in the world, Rafael Nadal, was demoted to the No. 2 seed this year at Wimbledon. For those of you who don't think Nadal will use this as motivation, you do not know the Majorcan very well.
Over the years we have seen many champions rage against the dying of the light on Centre Court as they dueled during the final, often fiery fifth set. To name a select few—John McEnroe versus Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors versus McEnroe, Stefan Edberg versus Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic versus Patrick Rafter, and none more remarkably than Federer versus Nadal in 2008.
Last year we thrilled during the compelling match between Federer and American Andy Roddick. The action extended into extra innings, ending with that conflicting sentiment that neither player deserved to lose such a well-fought, equal contest. But in tennis there is always a winner and a loser—no draws allowed.
As action gets under way at Wimbledon 2010, history may find itself rewritten forever for Federer who stands poised on the brink of tennis immortality. A step down for the defending champion may signal the beginning of a new era.
Glory in the Power: Nadal Returns to Triumph...
Nadal is back, ready to bolster his unfettered triumph at the French Open. After bludgeoning his way through the clay-court season, the Majorcan left no doubt as to who is No. 1 for the first half of the season—even with Federer recapturing the 2010 Australian Open Championship.
Nadal was tossed off his throne after failing to defend his Wimbledon Championship in 2009, leaving the courts wide open for Federer to advance and reclaim his No. 1 ranking, as well as both the French Open and Wimbledon Championships.
Struggling with bad knees and an over-aggressive style of play, Nadal bided his time waiting for his body to catch up to his will—his determination to claw his way back to the top again.
Clay revitalized Nadal’s timing, speed, and power. He molded these tools into a game that he feels will give him the best chance to dominate on all surfaces—not just clay.
The time has come for Nadal to hold his place atop the men’s game with an iron fist every bit as tightly as Federer held it for 285 weeks. If Nadal supplants Federer as the next immutable champion, it must be in 2010 as Federer continues to fade—starting with the Wimbledon Championship, here and now.
At this point in history, Nadal must assume the position at the top, learning how to deal with all the challengers nipping at his heels and trying to pull him off his perch. He had a brief taste of it across 2008 and '09 for 46 weeks.
Now is the time Nadal needs to settle in for his long haul. It remained far easier when Nadal, held back in the No. 2 slot, found ways to attack and overcome Federer, riding high out in front for all the world to see.
One is the loneliest number, as the lyrics go, and for a good reason—you stand in the headlights with a big neon bull's-eye on your back, vulnerable not only to your opponents but to the media and the critics who are quick to point out your missteps.
Nadal has met the Swiss Master face-to-face 21 times, winning 14 of those matches since they first met in Miami in 2004. The Majorcan has, in fact, won six of their last seven contests, including the last time they met on clay in the finals at Madrid.
But the two top-ranked players have not played each other in a major final since the Australian Open of 2009, when Federer lost after outplaying Nadal and seemingly doing everything better except winning the match. The 2009 Australian Open provided the only hard-court major final between Federer and Nadal, giving Nadal his only Slam victory on the artificial surface.
Of the Major trophies lining Nadal’s mantle, five of them were won on the clay at Stade Roland Garros, with one won on the grass at Wimbledon in 2008 and one on the Aussie hard courts in 2009. If Nadal is going to dominate, he can only do so if he wins Majors on grass and on hard courts going forward from Wimbledon 2010.
At age 24, Nadal is primed to exert his dominance for the next few years just as Federer did from 2004 to 2007. Nadal, with seven Grand Slam trophies, remains nine behind Federer. To catch the Swiss, Nadal must triumph consistently in Slam finals during the next four years.
Federer is no longer playing to win. He appears now to be playing not to lose, and that makes all the difference in the level and scope of his aggression and in the degree of his confidence. With his playing mortality on the line, the shift to Nadal is about to take place and will inevitably if Nadal wins this Wimbledon Championship—especially if the Majorcan defeats the Swiss in the process.
Just as Borg surrendered his ranking to McEnroe, just as Frazier gave way to Ali, just as Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth—so too will Nadal surpass Federer in 2010 on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, where the Swiss Champion began his storied reign at the top of men's tennis, winning the Championship for the first time in 2003.