Roger’s legacy now firmly in Rafa’s sights
When they pack away the strawberries, calm the parched grass and close up this marvellous old institution for another year, Rafael Nadal is closing in on Roger Federer for the unofficial and hotly contested title of best player in the history of the game.Updated: Jul 05, 2010 00:42 IST
When they pack away the strawberries, calm the parched grass and close up this marvellous old institution for another year, Rafael Nadal is closing in on Roger Federer for the unofficial and hotly contested title of best player in the history of the game.
If that has the sting of blasphemy about it — and Nadal thinks it does — there are reasons to at least wonder if he could unseat the Swiss, winner of six Wimbledons among his 16 Grand Slam titles, a whopping eight in front of Nadal.
As Federer maintained after an imperfect exit from these championships at the quarter-final stage, he is still hungry to resume his trophy chasing. He does not accept there is even a hint of a decline in his game, and it would indeed be a brave bookmaker who offered a price on his not winning more major titles, maybe even another handful, which would probably put him out of sight of the rest of the field, and certainly he remains the prime threat on grass.
However, Federer, naturally enough, can only see the picture from his side; less involved observers detect that there is slippage. He has been so good for so long it is difficult to watch him struggle even a little.
Nadal said after winning his fifth title in Roland Garros (and fourth of the year) that it was ridiculous to suggest he could ever match Federer's records. Such humility stems, most probably, from his own doubts about his tendinitis, which he manages but will never be rid of.
He turned 24 a month ago, giving him a few miles on the clock over Federer, who is 29 next month and who admitted for the first time when discussing the injuries he blamed for his loss to Berdych that he had had back trouble "for many years". If that is so, he is even more of a superman in collecting so many accolades and titles and reigning for such a long time as the undisputed No1 player in the world. That loss sends him tumbling to No3 in the world, which seemed beyond improbable even a week ago, as he has not been out of the top two places since November 2003.
One player here who is in little doubt about who is the best player in the world at the moment is Murray. He was unequivocal in his praise of his friend and rival on Friday night. "He's the best player in the world," Murray said. "He hasn't lost here [at Wimbledon 2010]. I've said it for a few years, I love watching him play."
Probably, he prefers the view from the stands. Looking across the net at that wrinkled brow and rippling forearms must be one of the most intimidating experiences in tennis, or all of sport. He really does look as if he would be at home in a bullring, snorting and pawing just 20 or so yards away and waiting to grind his opponent into the dust.
His iron wrists give Nadal the power to humiliate from distance, wrapping that racket around forehands that bring gasps of disbelief from the crowd and groans of agony from the person on the business end of them. Today he got down to the business of destroying Berdych with the cold heart of a runaway bull. This time, the bull wins.