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Better than Rafa-Roger masterpiece

india Updated: Jan 31, 2009 23:26 IST

It was a gut-wrenching, mentally and physically exhausting, yet exhilarating experience. Watching Rafael Nadal's intimidating athletic powers, which would be hard to accept even in fiction, being almost tamed by another superman was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Tennis may have seen more skillful players, epic contests and edge-of-the-seat thrillers but the sheer speed, intensity and energy that the Nadal-Verdasco match produced would be impossible to recreate even in our imagination. In the end, no one was sure who was more drained, the players, the spectators, the commentators, or those who for more than five hours sat spellbound in front of their TV screens.

It has been such a sport-defining experience that there is no energy left to look forward with nervous expectation at the Nadal-Federer duel which till now was redefining tennis rivalries.

Indians may rejoice at having three of their players in Grand Slam finals, even if they are in side-show events, and hope that one day the winner of the junior title, Yuki Bhambri, becomes a real champion, but after watching these almost "inhuman" athletes defy the law of gravity, do we ever stand a chance?

At 23 years of age, Somdev Devvarman is India's first counter-puncher, a term used for Nadal who at 20 made the world realise that he could outrun even a panther, let alone a speeding tennis ball. And just imagine, at 25 years of age Verdasco can scamper, run, chase, twist and turn in one rally numerous times and yet be left with the energy to not only unleash a ripping forehand but also grunt and scream to convey that he is thirsting for more. He did what the world till now thought was impossible — become another Nadal, or one day perhaps even better.

It is an unbelievable world of athletic progression out there - a whirlwind which even the classical, smooth flowing, pleasing-to-eye strokeplay of Federer, perhaps the best player ever, finds hard to challenge. When the two clash on Sunday, it will be one more contest between the "beauty" and the "beast".

Nadal is only 22 and when he first surfaced, everyone thought a human being can't survive for too long with the kind of physical effort and energy he expended on the court. It was almost painfully mesmeric to watch him run from one side of the court to another, chasing balls and then producing winners from impossible angles. The world applauded in disbelief but thought it to be an aberration, mutated genes which would end up in physical breakdown very soon. It has not happened so far and there is no player in the world that does not get crushed under the combined weight of Nadal's killer forehand topspin, his supersonic speed and monkish control.

Rallying with Nadal, as former player Brad Gilbert put it, is an "education in pain." Can Federer's breezy movements and sublime skills help him endure the pain and still emerge winner? The answer my friends is a few hours away.