Friday, October 21, 2016

Don't write off Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal just yet

IN July 2003, Beyonce topped the charts with Crazy in Love, Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea and a certain Roger Federer entered the top five for the first time after capturing his first major title at Wimbledon.

The era of the Swiss maestro had commenced and his unwavering attacking strategy earned him a hatful of Grand Slam titles and an army of adoring fans across the globe.

Federer and his unrivalled forehand appeared to be an unstoppable force but the emergence of a muscle-bound and unassuming teenager from Manacor soon dramatically changed the landscape.

Rafa Nadal was the antithesis of the Swiss. The Spaniard was defined by his remarkable court coverage and outstanding defensive capabilities, and his heavy top-spin forehand was perfectly constructed to break down Federer’s single-handed backhand.

The contrast in styles between the graceful Swiss and industrious Spaniard ensured that their rivalry transcended tennis and captured the imagination of the masses.

The head-to-head count is heavily-weighted in Nadal’s favour, and their unforgettable and highly-charged duels at Wimbledon and beyond are lasting memories which are unlikely to fade.

The updated ATP rankings on Monday made headlines due to Federer and Nadal both being absent from a top four position for the first time since 2003. At first glance it would appear that the ‘Fedal’ era has finally come to an end, but perhaps the pair, who have amassed 31 Grand Slam titles between them, have been written off too soon.

Nadal occupies fifth spot in the rankings and at some stage in the near future he will likely re-enter the top four. The Spaniard, by his own high standards, has had a disappointing season, having been hindered by inconsistent form and a wrist injury that put him out of action for three months.

For the second consecutive year, Nadal has struggled to perform at optimum level and his aura has been diminished. He appears vulnerable and susceptible to upset and his famed ability to produce under intense scrutiny has become a distant memory.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Nadal’s game has been the unpredictable and erraticnature of his performances. In Beijing last week he was flawless against Paolo Lorenzi in his opening match but he followed up with an error-strewn display against Grigor Dimitrov and exited the tournament with barely a whimper.

The 30 year-old appears bewildered by an inability to execute routine shots that he would have made in his pomp without a second thought, and his confidence has taken a battering as a consequence.

Nadal needs to emerge from the fringes and become a major contender once again. Attempting to achieve La Decima at his beloved Roland Garros will be his ultimate target. His chances in Paris will always be strong as there are very few players who have the capability to take down the ‘King of Clay’ in a five-set match on the vast Philippe-Chatrier Court.

Federer’s season was curtailed after Wimbledon due to a knee complaint but the consummate professional is grafting hard ahead of an eagerly-anticipated return in next year's Hopman Cup.

After such a lengthy lay-off, the odds are stacked against the 35 year-old reaching the top again but his supreme natural talent and flair will not have diminished in his short time away from match action.

It may take time for Federer to find his groove but if he remains healthy, a return to the top ten is almost certain.

Whether the Swiss can compete with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka in the twilight of his career remains to be seen but it would not be a surprise to see the majestic Swiss roll back the years and inflict serious damage with his Wilson wand at SW19 once again.

2017 promises to be an important year for Federer and Nadal as both will feel they have a point to prove. Doubters will question whether the two legends can still mix it with the current elite but such esteemed champions can never be counted out.

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