Keep playing Rafa, Roger needs you

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‘@Jaideep_18 Nadal is unfortunately going to wrap this up in the next 20 minutes.’ – Read the tweet with Roger Federer 2-0 down in the fifth set.

The game was wrapped up in the next 20 minutes but it was the Swiss maestro who reigned supreme at the Rod Laver Arena.

Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal isn’t a rivalry. It’s a ritual; hence every face-off is a classic. Surface doesn’t matter. Form doesn’t matter. This Australian Open, even age didn’t matter.

As soon as Grigor Dimitrov was conquered in the semis, the hype hit the roof. Nostalgia was at all time high but there was always a doubt lurking – can they turn the clock back to script another classic?

On Sunday till the fourth set, they couldn’t.

There were flashes of genius. Federer flew off the blocks in the first. Nadal put him in place in the second. Federer stomped back in the third, only to be humbled in the fourth.

The match tipped towards the other whenever one made a mistake. But the two ‘ageing’ megastars dug their heels in. They knew at this point of their career, skills won’t be enough. So, they added some old-fashioned grit to it. Federer’s forehand deserted him but the backhand kept him going. Whenever his intensity dropped, ‘Vamos‘ – sprang back Rafa. They spurred with caution. They maintained safe distance. They kept coiling their springs to last the distance, gathering all the potential energy for that one final thrust.

The fifth set finally unleashed the beasts.

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Rafael Nadal rode the momentum and charged in like a bull, swinging his forehand like a rapier. He gained his second wind, found new legs and the Rod Laver Arena looked set to hand him his 15th Grand Slam.

The next three games weren’t tennis anymore. It was knife fight between two seasoned assassins.

They knew the rules. There were no rules.

As the swishing forehands of Nadal met with the screaming backhands of Federer, the surface scorched. It begged for mercy as the two old pros matched each other’s intensity, shot for shot. Even the net cord wasn’t spared.

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The game ended with Federer lifting his 18th Slam but the 2017 Australian Open final will not go down in the history of tennis as one of ‘the’ #Fedal finals. It lacked the drama. It was nowhere near the 2008 ‘twilight’ Wimbledon final. It lacked quality. It wasn’t as pristine as the 2009 Melbourne final as both Federer and Nadal made mistakes. Glaring mistakes.

This final wasn’t even on the cards. They weren’t even supposed to be there. They were making comebacks from serious injuries. They were there to be fodder for the Sir and the Djoker.

But then, they were there and the 2017 Australian Open final will go down in the history of tennis as one of ‘the’ #Fedal finals. It etched itself amongst the classics because both Federer and Nadal were there protecting their legacies. They were there satisfying their hunger. They were there fighting a dodgy knee and an uncomfortable wrist. They were there healing their bruised egos.

They were there because being there is the best thing that they ever did.

The hawk-eye handed the match to Federer. He went down on his knees with tears in his eyes. Five years is a long wait. It’s longer when you are an ailing champion. The world looks at you with pity. The body gives in even if the mind refuses to. The spirit never wanes but the powers do.

Nadal was no different.

This #Fedal Final wasn’t about ‘Bel18ve’ or ‘H15tory’. It was about showcasing the undying spirit of two champions. It was about meeting your age-old foe at the highest stage for one more time, for one more round.

“Keep playing Rafa, please. Tennis needs you” – Federer lied. Rafa needs to keep playing because more than tennis, Roger needs him to. Roger needs Rafa to keep playing because he’s his greatest asset. He needs him to keep playing because at the end of the day, beating your greatest rival is what sport is all about.