Widely regarded as the greatest golfer to have played the game, the ‘Golden Bear’ as #JackNicklaus is fondly called, won a staggering 18 career majors. On Sunday night Swiss tennis legend #RogerFederer belied his years to do a Houdini of sorts and win his eighteenth Grand Slam at Australia. Against seemingly insurmountable odds. There were at least three other players who were all playing as good or better than him – The Serbian #NovakDjokovic (currently world no 1) the British Andy Murray (No 2 in world rankings) and of course his bete noire, the indefatigable Spanish #RafaelNadal. The Big Four of world tennis. But unlike the others, the last time Roger won a Grand Slam was five years back at the Wimbledon. An year ago Federer lost a fierce battle with Djokovic in the semifinals at the same Rod Laver arena. And worse Roger tore his knee during the defeat for which he had to undergo surgery afterwards. Surely this was the end of the road.
The trouble had started much earlier. A shocking fourth round exit at the US Open in 2013 to an unheralded Spanish player was the precursor. That year was the first in over a decade when Federer did not enter any of the Grand Slam finals. And before long he had dropped to a career low of seven in rankings. The ‘Djoker’ with a dozen Grand Slams was snapping at his heels and more pertinently had age on his side too. If it was any consolation, the man nearest to Federer with 14 (Grand Slam titles won) Nadal last won in 2014. And no prizes for guessing where. So when the two greatest players of our times went head to head this Sunday it was for the first time in five years with Nadal having a distinct 6-2 edge in previous Grand Slam finals. At stake was more than just the Australian Open. Much more
For the purists there was the #GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) debate. For some of the old timers it is Rod Laver the Aussie legend was the only man in the open era to win all the four Slams in one single year. Federer could only muster a career Slam what with Nadal thwarting him repeatedly at the French Open. For some it is the mercurial American Jimmy Connors who had snared a 109 career titles by the time he hung up his boots at the ripe age of 44. What about the other American great, Pete Sampras whose quiet unassuming demeanor was in stark contrast to his brutal serve? He never could conquer the clay courts of Roland Garros. For the #Czech great Ivan Lendl who is one of only three players to win over 1000 tennis matches (the other two are Federer and Connors) the ‘Achilles Heel’ was the Wimbledon.
Yet if one were to go purely by stats, Federer wins the GOAT debate hands down. An appearance in 28 Grand Slam finals, 23 Grand Slam semifinal appearances and consecutive at that, only player to win the US and the Wimbledon both five times each, over 300 weeks at top of world rankings. One can go on. The only hitch – How can one be considered the greatest in the game when you were not even the best in your era? That is right. Nadal and Federer have met 35 times in their career with Nadal winning 23 times. Federer supporters may argue that almost a half (15 to be precise) of these contests have been on clay where Nadal owns Federer with 13 wins. But admirers of the Spaniard will quickly point out the 2008 Wimbledon finals, regarded as the greatest match in tennis history, where #Nadal shut out the Fed Express. Something #Federer could never do on Nadal’s favored turf. A loss on Sunday would have perhaps ended this debate once and for all. But clearly fate and Federer had other ideas.