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PARTAB RAMCHAND | 30 JUNE, 2017

Vintage Federer!

PARTAB RAMCHAND


So Roger Federer won the Australian Open for his 18th Grand Slam title and Rafael Nadal won the French Open for his 15th Grand Slam title. Some things never change in the world of tennis.

And to think that at the start of the year based on what we had seen in 2016 the stage seemed set for the new generation to take over. Both Federer and Nadal had displayed erratic form besides having to endure injury problems. And while the two remaining members of the ``Big Four’’ Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were very much at the top of the game a whole bunch of younger players headed by Kei Nishikori, Dominic Theim, Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev were making rapid progress giving the distinct impression that the reign of the ``Big Four’’ might well end this year.

However with half the season over the latest ATP rankings still have the ``Big Four’’ occupying four of the top five spots with Stan Wawrinka who has also been around for quite a while in third spot. Federer and Nadal who were ranked 16thand ninth at the start of the year are now ranked fifth and second. That’s quite a turnaround for players who seemed to be fading out.

Instead now with one of them in his early thirties and the other in his mid thirties they seem to have found a new lease of life. Federer and Nadal have turned back the clock and getting the better of younger players and those ranked above them. In a highly competitive field this is a tremendous feat and underlines the fact that one can never really write off a truly great player. They somehow summon up the energy reserves and seem to find new ways of fine tuning their game to stay ahead of the competition. That is the reason why they are legends.

With Wimbledon just a few days away both Federer and Nadal seem to be peaking emphasized by the former’s title triumph at Halle a few days ago. This is why one cannot rule out yet another Grand Slam for either of them at the Big W. Gone are the days when the French Open champion had no chance at Wimbledon or vice versa given the vastly different playing surface. Several all time greats including the likes of Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg never won the French Open though between them they have 17 Wimbledon singles titles. Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier are among those who won the French Open more than once but never won Wimbledon.

All that is past history. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have all completed a career Grand Slam – the winning all the four majors though not in the same calendar year, a feat last achieved by the peerless Rod Laver in 1969. Murray has won Wimbledon and the US Open and has made it to the final at Roland Garros. So any one of the ``Big Four’’ has a realistic chance to win at Wimbledon this year too given the resurgence of Federer and Nadal and also given the fact that Dj0kovic and Murray have had a rather indifferent year only by their lofty standards. The really great players are able to lift their game when it comes to the big stage and that is what one has come to expect from the ``Big Four’’.

An astonishing fact is that for 14 years the four players between themselves have virtually got joint ownership rights at the hallowed Centre Court. Between them they have won every single title from 2003 to 2016 with Federer wining seven, Djokovic three and Murray and Nadal two each. It would require a brave man to predict that they will not extend their lease for at least another year even if Djokovic and Murray have joined Federer and Nadal in the ``30 club’’ as far as their age is concerned. For that matter three time Grand Slam winner Wawrinka is 32 so it is a tribute to the fitness levels of all five of them that they have been able to ward off the challenge from the younger brigade and stay at the top of their game for so long.

Yes, it is always a sublime experience to watch an old master exhibit his playing skills and the presence of the quintet will no doubt make for another enthralling Wimbledon this time around with their duels with the young challengers adding spice to the flavor.

(A CNN Photograph)

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