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Rafa, Roger blockbuster still a blast

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer dominated men's tennis again in 2010, their epic rivalry cranked up to new heights and making fools of those who had unwisely written off the two men as spent forces.

sports Updated: Dec 15, 2010 09:47 IST

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer dominated men's tennis again in 2010, their epic rivalry cranked up to new heights and making fools of those who had unwisely written off the two men as spent forces.

In a sporting year which had more than a hint of Spanish fiesta about it, Nadal reeled off the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open to become only the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam.

At 24, he was also the youngest.

He captured a cleansweep of the three spring-time claycourt Masters events on his way to a fifth Roland Garros title.

Nadal finished the year as world number one, but the start of 2010 saw the popular Spaniard in the depths of despair.

He relinquished his Australian Open title when he was forced to retire injured against Andy Murray in the quarter-finals and the alarm bells began to ring.

Nadal was about to slip to three in the world, but it was his injury-ravaged knees which were causing more concern.

The Spaniard retreated to Mallorca for two months, returning for the back-to-back US hardcourt Masters events at Indian Wells and Miami where he made the semi-finals.

Nadal wasn't going to leave with a whimper and the ensuing European claycourt season saw the Spanish whirlwind blow away his rivals, winning in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid before breezing through the French Open without dropping a set.

By the end of 2010, Nadal had a 71-10 winning record, with his Grand Slam count up to nine.

"I think it was a very emotional season," said Nadal.

"I am very happy for everything and just want to say thank you very much to all the people that supported me when I had the difficult moments and when I was winning."

Federer, five years older than his great Spanish rival, took his career Grand Slam total to 16 with victory in Australia, but then saw Nadal inherit his Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles.

The great Swiss endured a slump after Melbourne, going without a title until Cincinnati in August, suffering a shock quarter-final defeat to Tomas Berdych in the Wimbledon quarter-finals along the way.

But a fifth World Tour Finals trophy in London in November gave Federer renewed hope for 2011, a confidence boosted by having defeated Nadal in the final.

He had lost his previous six meetings with Nadal, and he remains on the wrong end of an 8-14 career record against the Spaniard.

"I have no plans at all about stopping, quitting, whatever you want to call it," said the rejuvenated, 29-year-old Federer, who now has 66 career titles.

"I hope I can play for many more years to come. I enjoy it and take pleasure out of travelling the world, playing against the best and challenging myself."

Nadal predicts his great rivalry with Federer will continue, as will the mutual respect.

"Our relationship hasn't changed a lot since the beginning because all the time we have been very respectful. So I think it is not a rivalry. We never had any problems in all of our careers," he said.

However, their dominance proves to be a problem for the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, permanently knocking on the door and hoping to get both feet across the threshold.

Djokovic defeated Federer in a marathon US Open semi-final and then had the consolation of leading Serbia to an historic first Davis Cup triumph.

Murray was brushed aside by Federer at the Australian Open, departed in the cold and gloom of Roland Garros in the fourth round before being swept off Wimbledon centre court by Nadal in a one-sided semi-final.

A third round loss to Stanislaw Wawrinka at the US Open did nothing to further his Grand Slam credentials.

Despite the domination of Nadal and Federer, neither was involved in the year's lengthiest struggle.

That honour went to America's John Isner and France's Nicolas Mahut who played out the longest tennis match on record.

Their Wimbledon first round clash lasted an exhausting 11 hours and five minutes over three days with Isner eventually claiming a 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (7/3), 70-68 win.

"The guy's an absolute warrior," said Isner of Mahut. "It stinks someone had to lose."

First Published: Dec 15, 2010 09:43 IST