A rivalry’s epitaphhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-rivalrys-epitaph/

A rivalry’s epitaph

Defending champ Roger Federer's second round defeat at his favourite Grand Slam,to a player ranked 116,was his earliest at a Major since 2003

Defending champ Roger Federer’s second round defeat at his favourite Grand Slam,to a player ranked 116,was his earliest at a Major since 2003. It also ended his astonishing streak of 36 consecutive Slam quarterfinal appearances.

Coming as it did on the back of Rafael Nadal’s first-round loss to a Steve Darcis (ranked 132),the result begs the question: has the great rivalry of our age (arguably the greatest of all time) faded into the past?

With Nadal seeded No.5,the duo were expected to meet at the quarters here in what would have been their earliest encounter at a Slam. The expected duel,therefore,would have lacked a marquee status that many past meeting between the two enjoyed. Given the dip in their form — due to age and injuries — there will likely be a further loss of appeal as draw sheets will put them on a collision course before the business end of tournaments.

Certainly at the US Open in two months,unless Federer rips the form book and Nadal gets back to full fitness.

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Federer is perhaps undergoing the worst season of his career,not factoring in the early years. This year,he has won only one title — that too at Halle to end a 10-month title drought.

Nadal,playing with a troublesome knee,looked uncomfortable while moving on grass.

A similar injury had resulted in a seven-month off after a second round loss to Lucas Rosol at Wimbledon last year. It remains to be seen if he can maintain his 2013 win-loss record of 43-2.

The last time these two met in a major was nearly 18 months ago in the semifinals of the Australian Open,a match the younger Spaniard won in four sets. Their two recent meetings this year didn’t live up to the hype of old,with Nadal winning in two sets in both the ATP Masters events,on hard court (Indian Wells) and clay (Rome Masters).

Looking further back,it has been advantage Nadal at majors with the Spaniard winning their last five encounters at Grand Slams (the Spaniard leads 20-10 across tournaments).

The quarterfinal date at Wimbledon was to be a platform to access the amount of life remaining in this rivalry.

Nihal is a senior assistant editor based in Delhi

nihal.koshie@expressindia.com