Rafael Nadal mopped up the season’s last Grand Slam and made it a glorious 2017 for tennis fans, splitting the year’s majors with the reverse-ageing Roger Federer. The golden age isn’t nearing an end, as we marvel at the Swiss’ improved backhand and chiseled volley, and the Spaniard’s refined second serve and born-again backhand.
The two mighty players have put all the rest to shade this year — and three generations of hard-nosed tryers, from pretenders like Denis Shapovalov, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev to perfectionists Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, have watched glory pass them by, blown by the “Fedal” resurgence. Federer, 36, looked insurmountable on the Wimbledon grass winning the title without losing a set.
On the French clay, Nadal, 31, was a shade better. None of his matches went to the fourth set, nor did he play a single tie-breaker. These days, Grand Slams drift into the unknown only when the two living legends exit. It didn’t happen in 2017, and so the year was spent talking about tennis’ most “talked about” rivalry.
Tennis was busy with the never-ending GOAT — Greatest Of All Time — debate of 16 & 19 Grand Slams, and those discussions are expected to continue for the next few years, given the way the Big Two are playing.
Status quo has its dangers — not immediately visible to the starstruck. This Fedal structure of domination has also coincided with challengers literally limping out, felled by repetitive stress injuries that greatly weakened the field at US Open. Sure, we are witnessing greatness and its prolonged run, but no-one save del Potro really livened up Flushing Meadows in the men’s singles — when he beat Federer and lost to Nadal.
A packed calendar and the bruising style of play — slow courts, increased mileage, strained muscles — may make heroes out of the aging stars’ whose miraculous recovery skills will be the stuff of legends. But the two tall shadows also signal the darkening dusk of failed promises all around.