Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic: History Repeats Itself

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic: History Repeats Itself
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Roger Federer stated a remarkable comment in his press conference after losing to Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open.

"I did all the right things in so many tournaments. But sometimes, in sports, it just goes the other way, you know? Maybe you've already won so much that it evens it out a bit sometimes. I don't know."

It wasn't so much that it was out of character—Federer is typically the realist—as that it somehow was intimating a truth in tennis, sports and life in general: You get what you give.

Maybe it was just a way of soothing the pain of that five-set loss, but it is true that the way he did lose that match seemed so terribly fated. Nonetheless, the significance of Federer's words can only now be more fully appreciated, with Djokovic having defeated Nadal in the final.

In beating the Spaniard, and World No. 2, Djokovic has not only comprehensively crowned himself tennis' new king, he has also set the date for a new era. Quite eerily, Djokovic's year has resembled the 2008 season of his latest victim, Rafael Nadal.

Three years ago, Nadal ended the seemingly unstoppable reign of Roger Federer over a series of four highly anticipated, and as it turned out, pivotal encounters, at Monte Carlo, Hamburg, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. The last was the decisive blow. With his 9-7 win in the fifth set, Nadal ended the era of Roger Federer.

As if it wasn't enough, Nadal then proceeded some six months later to break his rival's heart again in five sets at the 2009 Australian Open. That time, the emotions were bared for all to see.

Nadal had gotten to Federer's head and his heart. Those in the past believed the spirit of a man to dwell in the head and heart; they would have agreed that the Spaniard had certainly broken Federer's.

Almost by a miraculous twist of fate, Nadal now faces the very sort of conundrum he once posed so flamboyantly to Federer. Losing in the U.S, Open final to Novak Djokovic sealed his sixth straight loss to the Serbian. The previous longest winning streak against Nadal had been four (Davydenko), and three (Del Potro), while Federer only managed two straight at best. Djokovic has announced a new epoch in the career of Rafael Nadal.

What's more, all six wins have come in finals, thrice on clay and grass, thrice on hard courts. Has there been a better cross-section of the tennis season than the 2011 Nadal-Djokovic rivalry? Not even Federer-Nadal in 2008 could match this.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that Djokovic has now firmly superseded Nadal, in a manner perhaps even more brutal than Nadal's own takeover campaign over Federer in 2008.

It is unfathomably mysterious that Nadal should have suffered a fate so alike to his rival Federer. The latter's fans ought to feel a bitter sense of revenge; soured though the U.S. Open may have been by Djokovic's victory over Federer, it is this very Serb who has, in his stead, beaten Nadal in all the ways Federer would have loved to.

He peppered the Nadal backhand, he stretched him out wide and he pushed him to the limit. He forced him to play to perfection and win points only by flawless execution. He read his serve, and returned it for the game eleven times over four sets. He made him scramble, he made him lunge. He made him think, and he made him doubt. But most of all, he made him feel like nothing was going to work—he made him despair.

Its a familiar story, of course, but a scenario many thought inconceivable. The Spaniard was unbeatable in so many ways, it is simply incredible that, before one man, he has become so beatable.

Hopefully the drama and paradoxes heighten in time to come. It is still another eight or so months before Nadal returns to clay, but should things progress as they have been, and culminate at Roland Garros, we could all be treated to a scene only too memorable from Wimbledon in 2008. Nadal-Djokovic, in the French Open final 2012?

As many have so correctly observed, you only get what you give.

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