When Roger Federer said after his ATP Finals loss that it’s the quality of rivalry that still keeps him going, it may not have been just the usual smooth talk from the Swiss master. If one is asked to identify one feature that stood out in the 2012 men’s tennis season, it has to be the rivalry among the Fab Four.
Yes, the year witnessed tremendous displays of character, with Novak Djokovic earning back his number one spot and Andy Murray’s coming of age, but nothing could really override the intensity of the four-pronged attack for the men’s throne. Each of them won a Grand Slam title apiece and here is a sequence of how it went: Djokovic beat Nadal in five sets to win the Australian Open, Nadal paid back the Serb in four sets in Paris, Federer beat Murray in four in Wimbledon and finally Murray prevailed over Djokovic in five to win his first-ever Slam in the US Open.
This is the first time in nearly a decade that the Slams were equally split, begging the question if this is turning out to be the biggest rivalry in the Open era of men’s tennis. One can already see a few sniggering at such a thought, wondering if I may have spoken too soon, but the fact remains never was there so little to choose from in terms of quality of the first four players.
Some of the biggest rivalries in men’s tennis were essentially a two-way street, be it between Bjorg and McEnroe between the late 1970s and early 80s, Edberg and Becker in the 1980s and then of course the all-American affair between Sampras and Agassi.
The finest chapter of the new age rivalry was certainly scripted by Federer and Nadal (yes, there will be very few parallels to the epic 2008 Wimbledon final), but first Djokovic and now Murray have taken the men’s game to a new high altogether. The last two had to play the nearly men for years, with Djoko’s wait for a second Slam since 2008 being a long one, while Murray’s jinx had been simply agonising.
The big question mark, however, on their supremacy is posed by Nadal’s fitness woes. The Spanish hero, who has 11 Grand Slams at 26, has been out of competitive tennis since a first round exit from the Big W and it would really be a marvel if Rafa’s famous retrievals can continue to be the same with a dodgy knee when he comes back early next year.
It will be sad if he is no longer the same player. Federer, already 31, is on a trip where he is enjoying it as long as it lasts. But the good news is, Djoko and Murray will still be around for some more time to keep the fire burning!