Sunday, 26 January 2014

Some thoughts after today's final

After Friday's semifinal match, most people had already handed over the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup to Rafa Nadal. With reason. His supreme command against Roger Federer was astonishing and only an entrenched fool could not give some credit to the devastating, utterly unremitting Spanish bull that he is on these occasions. Federer may be a player way beyond his peak (and 32) but even his best would have had many issues in dealing with Nadal's form that night.

The final was a significant match, in hindsight. A win at the 2014 Australian Open would have brought Nadal at 14 Grand Slams, matching Pete Sampras1 but crucially also giving the Spaniard at least two wins at every Major in the circuit. The French Open would have been next and it would take a brave man, even now, to bet against him. It's not a wild assumption that most journalists would already have begun a long, winding account of the greatness of Nadal and the way he was surely on his way to becoming the undisputed greatest of all time much before the match began.

Except none of this materialized.

Stanislas Wawrinka played the match of his life. For one hour or so, he was bludgeoning balls and had completely outplayed and outmatched Nadal. The back injury, when it came, was a factor only later. Wawrinka earned the title. Improbably he becomes the first man in over twenty years to beat the top two seeds en route to winning the Australian Open. And lest we forget, today he beat a man against whom he had never won a single set in all their previous 12 meetings.

You would still tip Nadal to win many more Majors. But the match brings many more facts into perspective. To remain injury free is just as important as playing on an incredibly high level. As much as we may generate sympathy for Rafa, his constant inability to remain fit will become as important a factor as anything else when the final verdict on him is given. Injuries cannot be slotted in the category of mere bad luck - they are as much the responsibility of a tennis player as his/her backhand. The way Nadal plays is nothing short of astounding and it's true there are very few people who can beat him when he plays his best (the only exception must be handed over to Djokovic who beat Nadal very convincingly in his magical 2011 season which stretched next year to a very close 2012 French Open semi-final between the two).

The question in my mind really goes like this: How much longer will Rafa play his attritional gruelling brand of tennis? And how much more will his body take before we see his decline?

The decline will come. Of that we can be sure. Rafa Nadal is soon to be 28 years of age. He has two years by my guess to win his Slams. His body will crumble before his game does.

If I'm wrong, then I'll have no qualms about calling him the GOAT.

1: I think's that's why he was called to present the trophy tonight in anticipation of Nadal's feat. This is exactly what happened when Federer won his 14th in the 2009 Wimbledon.

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