Let me remind you of some history to see what happens with great players and match-ups:
A newly rediscovered hero of our game is my beloved Bjorn Borg. I felt for him what my son is feeling for Nadal. And I hated McEnroe when he came and destroyed Borg with his serve-and-volley game. McEnroe scared Borg so much that after (Borg) beat him at Wimbledon one year in a classic match (like Fed did to Nadal) he lost to him in the next (like Fed-Nadal again). He then lost to McEnroe and Connors (I believe) in 4 finals at the US Open (like Fed lost to Nadal at 5 French). And what do you think Borg did? He quit the game at his peak age of 25!! And he never touched a racquet again for 3 years!! Yes my friends, it is scary out there and very traumatic.
Then, came Ivan Lendl. Despite the fact that McEnroe beat and retired Borg and was ranked #1 for years, he could not beat Lendl, who beat him 12 matches in a row. The result? McEnroe went to see a psychiatrist and asked for advice from just about everyone he knew on how to beat Lendl!!
Then we have the story of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Chris was the beloved sweetheart of the court who won (I believe) some 120 straight matches on clay and 18 majors.Then came the muscular Navratilova who everybody hated because she destroyed Chris (with her intimidating serve-and-volley) and pushed her to retire because she was losing in every game. Navratilova did not have much competition until Steffi came on the scene; and Steffi was getting beaten up later very consistently by Monica Seles; Seles was so much hated by some Steffi fans, that one of them even stabbed her with a knife, which ended her illustrious career very prematurely (and allowed Steffi to win some more titles). The sad part of this story is that these types of players are warriors, and such cowardly acts by crazed fans destroy some of their athletic goals. The champs need to win to feel any satisfaction; In my opinion, nothing would ever make Rafa feel as good as beating Nole cleanly, by himself, on equal grounds.
Before I go on to the last example, let me tell you that tennis is not unique in such rivalries and mental battles, when it comes to individual sports. Jack Nicklaus is still hated (despite holding the record for most Grand Slams) because he dethroned America’s beloved golfer Arnold Palmer. And the most fearsome boxer, Mike Tyson, became a total loser after losing just one fight to the unknown Buster Douglas. Tyson NEVER recovered from that knockout!!
Let me finish with the Federer-Nadal rivalry, and the new rivalry one that is evolving. Fed is the most talented player ever. But when Nadal came about, Fed had trouble beating him, even very early, when Nadal’s serve was a liability. When Fed gets into the court with Rafa he becomes afraid. He starts well and then fear always prevails and he loses badly, despite the fact that if he were to play his true game, there would be no match-up. In their latest match at the French, which some said was a very close one (it was not), the reason Fed played a bit better is because he knew Nadal is beatable by Nole!! And he thought he could do the same. Alas,same result. By the way, I do not want to see Rafa and Federer play each other again. I know what the result will be, and I feel bad for Fed. He does not deserve the humiliation and it damages his image.
And here came Nole: with he game he has, he found the formula to beat Rafa consistently. In my opinion, his key to success is the solid ground strokes, and especially the backhand, BUT more importantly, his timing against Rafa’s game. He takes the ball very early, not letting Rafa settle into a rhythm; Rafa is always on the move, playing offensively and eventually making mistakes. Could you ever imagine somebody winning long rallies against the most consistent player ever?? And here builds the fear and the doubt. The guy whom everybody fears and usually dismantles everybody with his thoughtful game (Rafa), fears defeat by just one other player (Nole).
What is the antidote for Rafa? Well,he is mentally very strong and if he persists and manages to beat Nole a couple of times in a row he may recover. Otherwise,he will do what Fed has done. Federer now goes to tournaments with the hope that somebody else(Soderling??) will beat Rafa so that he can then prevail. The big danger is if Rafa loses a few more matches against Nole.
As of now, nobody can predict anything. One thing is for sure.The next “prince” of the game will be somebody (Bernard Tomic??) who can beat Nole clean and consistently. Maybe captain Milos with his rocket serve??
Until then, let us get think about the meaning of one Greek word:
“one from whom there is no escape”
Borg to McEnroe
McEnroe to Lendl
Lendl to Connors
Evert to Navratilova
Graf to Seles
Federer to Rafa
Rafa to Nole? not yet sure; too early to call
Nole to…we will see
and some not so famous (Rusedski to Philippoussis!! Or Isner to Mahut; hahahahahahahaha…………….epic battles for…………….nothing)
For us tennis is just a game. Let us use it for entertainment and exercise.