Age does not always ride shotgun with ambition ask Federer,32,who finished 2013 without winning a single ATP Masters title. Neither does the body always stand up to the burden of sustained aspiration,as Nadal has often found out. Nadals successful return from an injury that most fans saw as career-threatening last season was nothing short of spectacular,but it was a jaded Nadal that limped across the line by the end of the year.
The dominant rivalry of the last decade is perhaps on its last legs,but the mathematics allows for the duel to proceed despite the potential absence of one or the struggles of both protagonists. Federers tally of 17 Majors seemed untouchable,but Nadal has crept up. With the French Open and the US Open titles in 2013,the World No. 1 is just four behind.
Ever since he won the French Open for the first time as a 19-year old in 2005,Nadal hasnt gone through a season without winning a Major. Nadal will turn 28 half-way through the 2014 season and the ground he eats up this year will be critical in settling the greatest-of-all-time debate,at least for some. To see how crucial the coming year is for Nadal,one only has to see that Federer himself has won just two Slams after turning 28,despite never having to contend with serious injuries.
Any discussion on Nadals Major chances cannot go without the mention of Djokovic no two players have met more often in the Open Era. Not too many people thought Djokovic will repeat his three-Slam year of 2011,but he has come close every season since. Murray had to shake off history and his own nerves,while Nadal had to make a comeback bordering on the miraculous,to stop the Serbian.
Federer may not be comfortable being forced to watch,rather than influence,how things unfold this season,but the fan sure will be.
Raakesh is a principal correspondent based in New Delhi.