The 2017 Australian Open is reaping a renaissance with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The aging legends, arguably the greatest players of all time, battled through intermittent periods of injuries, disappointments and the recent Novak Djokovic dynasty.
Ages have come and passed, and memories of "Fedal" legends, esteemed now as mythical duels, are not forgotten. Their revival spins a wheel of time, a rebirth of their golden age of heroism, showing its timelessness.
Neither player was much of a factor in 2016 while Djokovic was polishing off a rare Grand Slam of four majors and Andy Murray made a furious charge to capture the year-end No. 1 ranking.
Instead, the Swiss Maestro and the King of Clay dressed up in suits to open the Spaniard's new tennis academy in October. The sporting world could see them as debonair ambassadors for life after their playing careers.
Tancredi Palmeri of CNN and La Gazzetta dello Sport tweeted out Federer's perspective:
But out of winter's dark offseason, Fedal emerged into the Australian summer, stronger, fitter, revitalized and weaving their magical talents with retro confidence and new-age attitudes. While the rest of the field was picked off, including early exits for Djokovic and Murray, they quietly picked up momentum, passed a few grueling tests and roared into the final weekend.
Suddenly, Fedal is front and center with brighter prospects for 2017. Federer-mania is written all over fan commentary sections with all the excitement of the Maestro's best chance to win his 18th major title. Rafaholics have come out of hibernation with bygone swagger after the Spaniard's dark age might have ended.
No matter who wins the Australian Open, Fedal looks like it will roar ahead with awesome prospects for 2017. Perhaps they will claim more majors and Masters 1000 titles. Maybe they will reach into the past and bring their epic rivalry into 2017. It's possible Fedal will be bigger than ever for a global audience that has missed their legendary exploits. There's time for more, right?
Not so fast.
It's unlikely that Fedal's revival will stretch from two weeks into lengthy seasons. Consider the following case while taking an extra reminder to savor what could be the last gift of Fedal from the tennis gods.
Superman and Batman
During their rivalry peak, from 2005-2010, Fedal happened in large part because both had distanced themselves far from the likes of Djokovic, Murray and other contenders. They were able to stalk each other from opposite corners of the bracket and across almost all surfaces and venues. They met 18 times for a title match.
In 2011, Djokovic intervened to form a triumvirate, Federer had a moderate decline and Nadal's injuries began to mount. From 2011-13, Nadal vs. Djokovic was the biggest rivalry in tennis, and Djokovic vs. Federer was dominant from late 2014-15. Murray had his moments as well, mostly against Djokovic in 2012-13 and 2016.
Nadal knocked aside Federer in the 2011 French Open, the last time they met in a major final, and they met for the Rome title in 2013 (Nadal victory) and Basel in 2015 (Federer victory). That's it. Three meetings in a final during six years, an average of once every two years rather than three times a year in the first six years of the rivalry. It was six times more likely they would meet during the glory years of the Fedal rivalry.
There are several reasons why Fedal matches will likely be rare in 2017 and why another major title meeting would face astronomical odds.
They are both coming off long rests and are fresh to push their bodies through two grinding weeks in Australia. Federer could soon be fighting loaded brackets in Dubai and Rotterdam while Nadal spends February sliding on clay courts in South America. In March's Masters 1000 tournaments in the southern United States, they will probably feel the effects of fatigue.
By spring, Nadal's clay-court priorities will be in high gear to go after a French Open title while Federer could be pacing himself for Wimbledon. Then Federer is a strong bet to contend in London and Nadal could be recovering from the grind of clay. His body is six years past his peak of youthful recovery after torturous clay-court regimens.
They are less contrasts in style but more tennis priorities. Federer does his work by day, gliding into fast courts like Superman, Nadal rarely in sight. Nadal comes out at night, the Dark Knight who imposes his nasty left-handed topspin on clay, with Federer usually absent.
And don't expect them to meet at the U.S. Open. They never have, not once in any round. The last time both players were healthy contenders at the U.S. Open was 2011. It's more likely that one or both of them could be nursing an injury or facing some kind of setback.
Rivals will Revive
Somewhere, Djokovic and Murray will be watching the Australian Open final wondering what happened. They were heavy favorites to win the title, and there is nothing more maddening and motivating than to see their more elderly rivals sharing the spotlight as supreme heroes once again.
If there was anything to get Djokovic to rediscover his Spartan-like motivation, perhaps the social media love for Fedal will be all he needs. And he's got to believe that he has a lot more major-winning tennis left in his wiry body, more than Fedal. He's probably not going into a two-and-a-half year funk.
Murray might be more furious. He won nine titles from May but only one major title with Wimbledon. The No. 1 ranking might not feel as fulfilling after getting dumped in the fourth round by journeyman Mischa Zverev. Wasn't this supposed to be the time for the Scot to dominate? Then along comes Fedal once again to steal his thunder.
Don't bet on Djokovic and Murray falling down together in the first week of the three remaining majors in 2017. They will present more direct opposition to both players next time around.
Likewise, the lost generation of Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and David Goffin has not been better. They will never explode like their legendary predecessors, but their baby steps as major contenders are maturing. They have more belief, better professionalism and training.
Nishikori might win the French Open, Raonic could win Wimbledon and Dimitrov showed that he is ready for big-time tennis.
There are also next-generation prospects like Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, the latter who battled Nadal to five thrilling sets in the third round.
It all makes it extremely unlikely that Fedal will get another act on the Grand Slam stage, opposing each other with a major at stake. It's more likely that their more pedestrian seeding will see them play in the quarterfinals or semifinals, if at all.
But that doesn't mean that individually they won't be big winners in 2017. Nadal is looking stronger and more confident, perhaps already galvanized by new coaching addition Carlos Moya. He might be the favorite for the French Open if he stays healthy and Djokovic can't find his old equipment bag.
Federer should win more titles on fast courts, but probably not across the net from Nadal.
All of which should help tennis fans appreciate Australia. It's a thrill because it's 2017, a turning of the wheel of time back to 2009, when their Australian Open final might have been every bit as equal as their Wimbledon trilogy.
It's neither a beginning nor an ending because they are linked forever. They will never be gone as long as they are remembered, and the 2017 Australian Open has blessedly added this reminder.