ROGER FEDERER: THE MAN WHO MADE RAFA NADAL CRY
Sport is a fascinating human concept. Some people have an innate need to play sports and compete, while others are content to spectate. Either way, sports are ingrained in our everyday life.
Sports fandom is sacred to us. Sports can provide instant bonds to other people. It is human nature to want to be part of something, and following a sport makes you part of its fan base.
Sports are exciting to play and watch because you never know what will happen or who will win. Big plays get the heart pumping a little faster, and a close match can have us sitting on the edge of our seats as the performance plays out.
In today's blog, I'll relay observations I gained while watching a new kind of performance play out during tennis's 2022 Laver Cup. My topics include:
- FAREWELL ROGER
- RIVALRY & RELATIONSHIP
- MEASURING GREATNESS
- WHAT IF?
- FILLING THE VOID
- A MOMENT IN TIME
As the tennis world knows, the 2022 Laver Cup in London marked Roger Federer's retirement from ATP Tennis. Sports fans knew his retirement was likely imminent, but we dreaded it. It brings an end to the career of one of the all-time greats of men's tennis. Tributes have been pouring in, and I want to add mine.
Roger's superlative career spanned nearly a quarter-century and included 20 Grand Slam titles and a statesman's role. With each passing year, he continued to compete; his fans have been entertained at the highest level in tennis.
Rogers' extraordinary artistry in this sport has left us spellbound for decades. He has demonstrated an evolving artistic style with his strokes. He has shown his brilliance tactically.
Roger has exhibited longevity through his dedication to discipline, training, proper nutrition, and the will to win. His passion for the sport shines, as does his desire to gratify his fans.
Roger has proved everything he needs to prove in the sport of tennis. He is still considered the most-skilled player we have seen over the age of 30 in the sport's history.
Coach's sidebar: I wanted to include a brief synopsis on the concept of the Laver Cup since Laver Cup 2022 has quickly turned into a globally recognized event. This tournament is an international indoor hard court men's team tennis competition between Team Europe and Team World, the latter of which is composed of players from all other continents except Europe. Starting in 2017, the tournament is intended to be the Ryder Cup of the tennis world.
There are 12 matches played over three days (nine singles and three doubles). Each match victory on day 1 is worth one point, on day 2, two points, and day 3, three points. The first team to claim 13 points wins the tournament. Therefore, the winning team can only be decided on day 3. Team World emerged victorious in 2022.
RIVALRY & RELATIONSHIP
There has been a palpable emotional connection between Federer and Nadal throughout their long-time rivalry. Theirs is considered one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history and has been a huge part of both men's careers.
The contrast in playing styles has been a constant source of debate for tennis enthusiasts. Yet these titans have demonstrated to the world how two champions can compete to elevate the other's game. Each player progressed due to the other's skills. The mere presence of the other player was a major reason for improvements in each of their games.
Roger's greatness is measured against the many legendary battles he had with Rafa. Rafa is a part of Roger's greatness. And vice versa. Without this level of competition, neither would have reached the level they did.
Roger and Rafa possess open-era records for consecutive wins on a single surface – but each of their streaks was broken by the other. Their rivalry matured over the years, and this maturation between competitors is a consummate display of how to age inside the sport with grace. It's a glowing example of what a high-level rivalry can produce.
Roger and Rafa upheld healthy respect for the sport, past champions, and tennis tradition. Both have a keen sense of responsibility to their fans. Their respect for each other created a will to do better, to be better. They brought us some of the all-time best matches ever played.
Journalists relish a good fan frenzy on debating GOATs. (Greatest Of All Time) Who is the current GOAT? And how are they crowned?
Is a GOAT determined by the number of titles or the highest winning percentage? Could it be determined by the most sportsmanship awards received? Or could a GOAT definition expand to include those sports figures who have grown the sport the most or filled the stands?
Should it be about which sports figures have inspired more young people to enter the sport? Is it about how one competes and comports themselves on the playing field?
Should it reflect the one who made the most money? Or is it more about who has left the brightest legacy?
It's an unending wrangle. In my opinion, a true GOAT should have accomplished all these and more. For today's blog, we'll pause the conundrum. But you can imagine the ballooning dialogue.
Roger and Rafa are so intertwined and interdependent that it's hard to imagine the career of one without the other.
But what if? What if Rafa Nadal hadn't chosen tennis? What if he was not a factor in Roger's career? Could Roger have won 30 Grand Slam events or maybe 40? He likely could have taken more French Open titles. I considered Roger to be the second-best clay court player of his generation. Would this uptick in titles mean Roger would be guaranteed to be the greatest of all time?
Suppose Rafa did not exist to push Roger (and vice versa). In that case, we can only conjecture if Roger would have continually been spurred to improve. Would his skill level have been tested like it was on the court with Rafa? We'll never know, but interesting to posit.
Any person's or team's greatness cannot solely be recognized by the number of championships they've won. An essential part of greatness must include a comparison of the field of competition endured and conquered. The second part of 'greatest meter' lies with how long they were able to endure and conquer.
Great champions like Roger and Rafa exemplify this concept. At the Laver Cup, we witnessed their inward acknowledgment that their greatness is partly from the other. They will miss their battles.
For Roger and Rafa, this ending, this milestone, was an upheaval. You could tell by their inability to restrain their emotions that they understood the poignancy of the moment.
Let's not forget about another clear example of becoming great. Novak Djokovic would not be the player he is today without struggling at the hands of Roger and Rafa. He had to endure them both to earn his heavyweight place among them.
From my perspective, Novak's competition with Roger and Rafa is how his greatness is measured. I find it interesting that Djokovic still seems to sit on the outside within this GOAT triumvirate. Sure, he's won Grand Slams and has a huge fan base (claiming his GOATness); however, his notoriety compared to the two titans is a bit off-putting. I will leave this thought stream for another blog.
FILLING THE VOID
I am concerned with how tennis will fill the void left by Roger Federer. I dedicated a good portion of my life to tennis and want the sport to thrive. As we all know, the vacuum will be filled one way or the other.
Based on recent and past deplorable behavior that some players have chosen to exhibit, I can only hope that the next generation will emulate Roger's sportsmanship. Every sport needs to strive for higher levels of grace and dignity.
I implore the incoming generation of athletes to recognize and understand their relevance as role models. Because our society is becoming increasingly combative, it is critical that a sport unites players and fans rather than divides them.
Sportsmanship must be taught. Misbehavior is not part of the game. There is no time to be unsportsmanlike – win or lose. Even though the antics of poor sportsmanship may fill the stands, it will not develop younger athletes into responsible adults.
A MOMENT IN TIME
Roger and Rafa have shared so much, and now they've shared the ultimate bittersweet moment. This bond, this rivalry, has been an incredible journey.
To end his illustrious career, Roger chose to play his last ATP match with his rival and friend, Rafa Nadal, as his playing partner. When the match (and his time in professional tennis) ended, Federer hugged Nadal. It felt like the end of a golden era. The realization hit them both. And this is how Roger Federer made Rafa Nadal cry.
I know Roger has more extraordinary accomplishments ahead of him. Federer has dedicated his time and resources to many charitable causes throughout his career. The Roger Federer Foundation has supported education in southern Africa and Switzerland for nearly 20 years. He is quoted on his foundation's website: "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice." This embodies the athlete and person Federer is. It will be exciting to see what else he will bring to the world!
Roger, on behalf of Team Bodyhelix and our readership, I offer our heartfelt appreciation for sharing part one of your fantastic journey with us! We were privileged to have lived during this golden era of tennis. Now, take your deserved place among the legends, and we eagerly await what else you have in store for us in the future.
Coach's sidebar: Here's how it began. In 2003, Roger won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, and in 2004 he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. It was also in 2004 that Federer became world number one in tennis – holding the position for 237 weeks until 2008. Rafa Nadal won the French Open on his first attempt as a 19-year-old in 2005 and went on to win four consecutive crowns from 2005 to 2008, defeating then-world-No. 1 Roger Federer in three successive finals from 2006 to 2008 and again in 2011 final.
Once these two players captured the tennis world's attention, their rivalry began. Their on-court competition spanned from 2004 at the Miami Open until the 2019 Wimbledon semi-final match. On many occasions, these GOATs have treated us to some of the greatest matches in the history of tennis. Here is the Wikipedia history of their rivalry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federer%E2%80%93Nadal_rivalry#2019:_French_Open,_Wimbledon
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