Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have dominated men’s tennis since the beginning of 2004 and the rivalry has captivated the world with their contrasts in styles. Who will ever forget that Wimbledon final in 2008, with Federer’s backhand passing shot at match point down and Nadal’s running forehand in the fourth set tie break? But with Novak Djokovic winning five of the last nine grand slams and Andy Murray finally breaking his duck at the US Open at the end of 2012, many believe they will now be the dominant force over the coming years in the Grand Slams.
Rafael Nadal could win the French Open for years to come. If Federer, Djokovic or Murray beat him on his beloved surface, they will see it as their greatest victory in their careers because Nadal has been beaten here only once by Robin Soderling back in 2009. But with his ailing knees only able to manage movement on the soft clay, he will no longer be a contender for either hard court events in Australia or America. He also seems reluctant to play in any hard court events, as he was considering skipping both Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami, coming up this month. They are considered the biggest events out of the majors but perhaps he was under too much pressure from his sponsors for his continuous no shows over the past ten months. It could be an intriguing month as we wait to see whether his body can handle the hard surface.
However many people would not be surprised if Nadal was to retire from the sport, particularly if his body cannot get him through this beloved clay court season.
Unsurprisingly Roger Federer is appearing less motivated in tournaments outside the grand slams but with only three victories over top 5 players in the past nine months, is he beginning to doubt himself in the bigger moments? After a five set defeat at the Australian Open to Andy Murray and losing against the unpredictable Thomas Berdych last week in Dubai after having two match points, questions are certainly being asked. We are seeing more and more opponents dig holes into the Federer backhand corner by hitting hard and fast or slow and deep and as the length of his shot begins to get shorter, opponents are able to take advantage of the half a step slower that he now is, as well as the bigger open space on the forehand side.
With cracks starting to appear in both Nadal’s body and Federer’s mind, many tennis pundits believe a big change is on the cards, with Djokovic and Murray battling it out for the major prizes. The main reason for this is that both players are improving mentally, physically and technically while Nadal and Federer have not added anything to their game. So what are the key differences now?
- Murray and Djokovic are on a different planet when it comes to movement (apart from, perhaps, Nadal on a clay court)
- They both have more penetrating backhands that go through the court
- They are mentally so much stronger than they were a few years back
- They rarely get injured
- They both have the belief
With three grand slams left in 2013, many wouldn’t be surprised if Djokovic and Murray were contesting every final. Let’s hope that Nadal’s body holds up and that Federer can find the belief again…Words by Tom Inskip