Federer: A Legacy Tarnished Before It’s Complete

It happened again. This time in straight sets, 7-6/6-3/6-3.

For the 400th time in 23 meetings Rafael Nadal easily disposed of Roger Federer. Upping his domination over Federer in Grand Slams to a humbling 9-2. It’s been said that if Roger is Superman, Rafa is his kryptonite. I think it’s far worse than that.

Nadal is the personification of old age and a sport that has evolved to already render its greatest champion a relic.

Roger Federer doesn’t deserve this. Tennis shouldn’t celebrate this. Yet here we are, questioning, how great is Federer if he can never beat Nadal?

Tennis used to be a sport that demanded the pursuit of mastery in technique, intelligence, geometry, and endurance. It was a beautiful blend of chess & checkers played out over enough steps to complete a half marathon. Roger Federer masterfully constructed his mind and body to encapsulate the epitome of these combined attributes. He transcended the fundamentals of the sport and became an artist.

There had always been more fit athletes with more powerful serves and better top-end speed. But the game of tennis saw to it that the most ardent qualities of the game were never sacrificed if one was to achieve success at its highest levels.

And once you stepped onto the court with Roger Federer it was only a matter of time until he tied strings around your wrists and ankles and had you at the mercy of his racquet. You became a puppet, fully looking the part of a fit, strong, capable adult male athlete yet powerless to avoid playing a predictable part in the orchestration of Federer’s symphony. You played along, contributed to the harmony, and in the end were left as the only spectator who didn’t enjoy it. That’s tennis. That’s mastery. That’s art.

Enter Nadal. A bull in a China shop with the dexterity to avoid shattering anything outside of his knees. An athletic marvel whose birth synced perfectly with the influx of technology, joining forces to twist tennis into a game of physical dominance.

The perfect storm of a superior athlete like Nadal and the revolution in technological advancements has already altered the not yet completed legacy of Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal uses an extreme grip and wicked arm swing to generate the topspin necessary to get the ball over the net and quickly back down from nearly any spot on the court. The combination of grip, racquet design, and material that make this possible didn’t exist 10 years ago.

Federer plays his same plays against Nadal, hitting his same masterful shots – they just don’t work. The angles are correct, technique flawless, and the reading of the play spot on. Yet Nadal absorbs it, sets fire to it, and engulfs it like a flame with biceps. Nadal wins solely on athleticism and power. You can hear this evidenced in the sounds of their play. Federer is quiet. The only sounds are the in-tune strikes between ball and racquet, highlighted by the ooh’s and ahh’s of a delighted audience. Nadal sounds like he’s trying to dig a hole to the other side of Earth before sundown. What Federer makes look effortless and classy, Nadal portrays as exhausting and dutiful.

Tennis is no longer a thinking sport, it’s a grunt sport. Whereas Federer’s technique and plays belong on a canvas in a museum, Rafa’s are ready made Gatorade commercials.

I keep waiting for good to prevail and the universe to correct itself but this, this seems to be something I just have to get used to. Televisions now weigh less than babies, engines start with the press of a button, Dennis Rodman is an ambassador, and tennis is damn near a contact sport.

Anyone have a rocking chair they’re not using?


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