Four of the first five ATP Masters titles and the first two Grand Slams of the year have been won by a 31-year-old and 35-year-old tennis player. After Roger Federer dominated till the end of March, Rafael Nadal took over in claycourt season and did what many expected him to do on basis of his early 2017 form. He won five titles out of six – only lost at Rome – including his TENTH Roland Garros title, Monte Carlo title and Barcelona title. Nadal won a Slam after three long years, just like Federer won after four and a half years in January.
The numbers are extraordinary, with Nadal clear of Pete Sampras in second place on 15 Slams now, with Federer leading on 18 Slams. The difference is back down to three. And Nadal is back to No. 2, displacing Novak Djokovic (down to 4) after mauling Stan Wawrinka in the final (the Swiss’s first defeat in four Grand Slam finals). He didn’t lose a single set in the 35 games on his way to the French Open title – the lowest ever in Open era men’s tennis. He also became the only player with Bjorn Borg to win a Grand Slam thrice without losing a single set. Frighteningly for opponents, Nadal has never looked more dominant. If not for Federer, he would have won the Australian Open as well as Miami, too.
He heads to the grass-court season more confident than he has been for years, hoping to challenge a well-rested Federer – who took the clay season off in an inspired decision – in his own den. Nadal’s 10 French Opens is arguably a greater achievement than Federer’s 7 Wimbledons – the last of which came back in 2012 against Andy Murray. Just like in 2005, though, when Nadal won his first French Open title, the tennis world is back to the only rivalry that makes fans giddy with anticipation: The Fedal rivalry!
Here’s a phone conversation we assume they had after Nadal’s record win on Sunday:
Rafa: Hello? Roger, I’m back!
Roger: Oh, I know. Congratulations! Back from Paris so soon?
Rafa: Back on your tail. Now it’s 18-15. Sounds a lot better than 17-14, no?
Roger: Definitely. And there’s more symmetry to these numbers, too.
Rafa: How so?
Roger: Novak has 12, you have 15 and I have 18. Sounds like the best era of tennis ever to me, doesn’t it?
Rafa: For sure, no? Never thought we would be here, owners of the first two Slams of 2017. This younger generation is little disappointing.
Roger: Very disappointing. Except maybe Thiem and Zverev, who was incidentally born the year I made my ATP debut. And what about Andy as World No. 1? He hasn’t won a thing this year. Expected better from him, though I was quite surprised he reached the semifinal and almost beat Stan.
Rafa: You were following French Open from Swiss Alps, eh?
Roger: Watched your final in Stuttgart, actually. Practicing.
Rafa: You’re already on grass? You didn’t even wait for me!
Roger: Oh, come on. I haven’t played tennis in almost two months. I deserve a head-start. I’m going to turn 36 in August, you know?
Rafa: But play like one, no?
Roger: Not a chance at Wimbledon, my old friend. You come to my turf now.
Rafa: You didn’t even come onto my turf in Paris, Roger. No fair.
Roger: All’s fair in 30s and 2017.
Rafa: That makes no sense. But I’m glad you’re rested. You will have no excuses to lose in the final to me then.
Roger: I’m quite sure we could face each other in the semifinals actually. The courts will be quick, Rafa. You don’t stand a chance.
Rafa: I will play at Queens first to get practice. It’s slower, like green clay. Makes me feel happy and comfortable.
Roger: Then I will play at Halle after Stuttgart. We don’t want to clash before Wimbledon, do we?
Rafa: Do you realize I’ve now won 10 Slams at a single venue? That’s more than Djokovic’s new coach has won in his entire career!
Roger: You’ll probably win 11 next year. Which means I must win my eighth Wimbledon title this year. Or you might just catch up with me. Can’t allow that.
Rafa: I’m on a roll. It helps that Murray is out of sorts, and Djokovic is having some kind of career meltdown. Surprised young Dominic Thiem beat him so easily, no? I found Thiem quite easy in the semifinals.
Roger: You find everyone easy in this mood. But I’m 3-0 against you this year.
Rafa: It’d have been 3-4 if you had bothered to play on clay, Roger.
Roger: I’m smart. Can’t dent my confidence now. I’m going to make it 4-0 in July.
Rafa: Amazing, no? How we can speak this way in our thirteenth year of rivalry. Thought we would be meeting at Ski resorts drinking hot chocolate by this stage when we were injured last year.
Roger: Tennis is amazing. And we are timeless in tennis. Cheers to that, Rafa. Don’t get injured now, okay?
Rafa: You don’t run any baths for your kids. Hire a helper now! See you in London.