At the Australian Open, new face-offs, and old battles being fought anew.
Not that men’s tennis, with Messrs Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic in its ranks, needed further embellishment. But something in the maelstrom of this incredible sporting talent swirling on tennis courts over the last few years had begun to seem jaded. Just as well, then, that the likes of Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker fetched up in the players’ boxes, who alongside Uncle Toni, don the coaching cloak for the tennis quadrant at the Australian Open.
Lendl and Edberg, who are overseeing Murray and Federer respectively, carried forward their rivalry of contrasting styles from the ’80s, even as the contemporary greats went head to head in Wednesday’s quarterfinal. Suddenly, Federer was rushing to the net and summoning volleyed winners, reminiscent of Edberg’s glide to the net to clip a rally from three decades ago. In fact, it was exactly 30 years ago that Stefan Edberg first ran into Ivan Lendl at Rotterdam to kickstart a rivalry that displayed how tennis could be both delightful and dogged. On Wednesday, Murray was defiant, saving two match-points in Lendl-esque fashion only for Federer to outclass him, a la Edberg, in four sets.\
Like wands finding wizards, pupils have found their teachers in this narrative. Federer needed someone ice-cool and suitably hands-off, but more importantly, the 32-year old sought his prototype to help him sharpen those volleys, cutting down potential slug-fests. Murray, meantime, had sought the mind, thought and work ethic of Lendl, who, like the Scott, had an extended barren run in majors before turning his fortunes around. Murray overcame the mental block of losing three straight slam finals, winning his first major (US Open) in 2012 and subsequently the 2013 Wimbledon, with Lendl providing the required mental edge.
With Becker lining up behind Djokovic, those battles from the past will be re-fought. What this promises is rebooted retrospectives of Edberg vs Becker and Lendl vs Edberg in, the quality of the battle enhanced with the chief protagonists bringing their own ambition to play.