They should be both declared goats – Greatests of All Times. Why not? Instead of debating who between them is greater, just accept the truth that Rafa and Roger occupy a higher ionosphere in the tennis universe.
Here is a great article from The Guardian.
Rafael Nadal this week called Roger Federer “the greatest player in history”. No doubt he meant it. So, as he watched the Swiss’s final shot of the French Open final sail past him across the baseline to end another memorable battle between them, this most humble of great men will surely have allowed himself a brief moment of exultation.
In that sweet second records and titles are briefly irrelevant. As he looked across at the only player consistently to challenge his own genius, Nadal may have thought: “I am, right now, better than you.”
The Spaniard will never say such a thing out loud about Federer; perhaps he will never have to. At 25 he has time on his side to overhaul the other man’s records. But this was his day again, on his surface, at his favourite venue and, despite a wonderful challenge, there was nothing Federer could do about it at the finish.
Nadal won 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1 in three hours and 40 minutes. It was his fourth win over Federer here in a final. It was not one to compare with the three-set annihilation of 2008 but a victory he deserved despite its imperfections.
The win keeps Nadal at the top of the heap in men’s tennis, at least for a few more weeks. The world No2, Novak Djokovic, dumped out here in the semi-finals by a resurgent Federer, will come hard at them again at Wimbledon but there is much to come from two rivals who, for seven years, have held all pretenders at bay.
“What a hard tournament this is to win,” said the man who now owns six Coupe des Mousquetaires, drawing alongside Bjorn Borg in the record books with the prospect, surely, of more to come, “and what a special day it was. I want to congratulate Roger. I think we had a good match.”
Celebrations do not come more unaffected.
Both made mistakes. How could it be otherwise as they played the lines to the inch and stretched tired sinews to the limit? Federer caught Nadal cold in the first set and, like the crowd, he could hardly believe it when the champion netted the simplest of forehands from maybe 10 feet to drop serve. The whiff of an upset was in the warm Parisian air.
The Swiss continued to hurt the world No1, his first serve searingly accurate and his forehand returns from near the baseline pulling Nadal inside out. In that dramatic opening and at other key moments Federer’s subtle changes of angle and shot made for an intriguing final.
Federer had the first set in his pocket at 5-2 when a sliced backhand fell short and Nadal held serve. Federer served for the set at 5-3 but Nadal was energised and reeled off seven games in a row to swing the contest back his way; briefly it was Federer who looked gone.
He hung in the fight, though, and Nadal accommodated him when serving at 5-4 in the second. Having wasted his chance in the first set, Federer was under pressure to find something special to stay in contention and he broke for parity. But Nadal, livid with himself for his slip-up, got to the tie-break breathing fire and again snuffed out Federer’s revival 7-3, with some decent serving and a withering cross-court forehand, to go two sets up.
The third went with serve before Federer cracked again, going 4-2 down and, behind in the serving cycle, he was badly bruised. However, for all his bank clerk mien – Juan Ignacio Chela put it best earlier in the week when he said he needed to “get his socks dirty” – Federer has a fighter’s heart and he broke back to love.
Just short of three hours Federer hit his 11th ace to stay in the match at 5-5. He then lifted his game one more time and held three break points. He netted a forehand to waste the first but a charge at the net and a majestic chip to an empty court gave him the game and a glimmer of hope. He served out to take the set 7-5 and now it was Nadal who looked shattered.
Federer was gathering strength and confidence, punishing Nadal for staying deep with a series of exquisite drop shots. The next shift in the drama arrived in the fourth game of the fourth set, as Federer’s concentration let him down on his own serve and Nadal hurt him for two wayward ground strokes to go 3-1 up.
A close call against Federer left him frustrated but the ball was out and, after a few more flourishes, so was he.
He showed admirable restraint as Nadal shamelessly indulged in time-wasting on the Swiss’s serve at 1-4 but there was little he could do about his opponent’s brilliance. An outrageous forehand and a backhand volley drove him to the break, and Federer netted to drop serve.
When Federer hit long on the last shot, it was as if someone had let all the oxygen out of Paris, a deflating end to an enthralling contest. “I thought he was getting tired in the third and fourth sets but unfortunately I couldn’t take advantage of it,” Federer said. “At 0-0 in the fourth set you think we have a match again. We know what can happen in tennis. In the fifth set I would have felt very, very strong. But Rafa played well and he deserved to win today.”
Federer always adds “today” because he yearns for tomorrow. He is still dangerous.