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You don’t have to be a tennis fan to have been stirred by the sigh of relief that travelled around the world...

You don’t have to be a tennis fan to have been stirred by the sigh of relief that travelled around the world on Sunday when Roger Federer fought back Czech Tomas Berdych from two sets down to stay alive in the Australian Open. Tennis is a sport never lacking for viewership. But as happens in every other sport,there are times when fans know that they are living through one of tennis’s great ages.

Federer has been one of the men validating that claim for his sport. It is not often that the contention is made of a man,at 27,still in the thick of his playing years that he is his sport’s greatest ever. And it is certainly not often that he is caught in what can be termed his sport’s greatest rivalry,that too with a man — Rafael Nadal still just 22 but already world number one — who is changing his game to strengthen his staying power to win predictions that it may just be he who will in the end claim the highest number of titles that count.

It is not just that the two have for more than three years kept the top two world rankings amongst themselves,since July 2005 when Nadal became number two and even after August 2008 when Federer slipped to that second spot. The foundation of the rivalry is more magical. They are men whose games are often the antithesis of the other’s; Nadal has been a lively rival to Federer not because he tries to do what Federer does better; it is because he does it differently. So,the Australian Open and the rest of the year will be fascinating. Federer will play to win,and not just win because he’s playing. And Nadal? His mentor recently said that he’s got to get better,because Federer still has the better game.