It’s been roughly a week since the summer of tennis finished up for the year and looking back it’s been one of the better ones. Below is a quick recap followed by some reflections on Rafa vs Roger.
Not sure why but I did tune into a fair bit of it, starting with the Federer crazed Hopman Cup in Perth, following Nadal through the Brisbane International and Fast 4 (despite the ICC’s lopsided camera angles) , skipping the APIA Sydney International and then re-engaging for the Australian Open. Along the way I learnt some new names like Dominic Thiem, Mischa Zverev, Coco Vandeweghe and Lucic-Baroni (thanks for the advice to F… the haters). But for all of the fairy tales, ups and downs, my own attempts to play tennis, I’d have to say the highlight was seeing to old timers return to the big stage.
Why? I think it’s the level of public engagement that these two players have generated through their rivalry, opposing styles and their personalities. When these two are playing there’s always a conversation to be had and a debate to be settled. Who is the better player, personality and even person?
For the Fed fan boys he’s the humble G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), universally adored for making a racquet appear like a wand and defying the laws of thermodynamics and not sweat in the process. For team Rafa he’s capybara looking warrior who you would want alongside you in the trenches, universally known for his wedgies, profuse sweat, precise placement of water bottles and rapid fire lispy sentences that usually ends with No?.
In my opinion the who is better debate is pretty one-sided. Just look at the head-to-head 35 matches 23 to Nadal and 12 to Federer. Nadal has won 2 out of every 3 games. That’s not luck, plus he does this playing with his left-hand despite being naturally right-handed. By extension, and to quote a mate of mine, how can Federer be the greatest of all time when he’s not even the greatest in his generation?
To talk about who is better though to some extent misses the point. I say this because neither would have reached the heights they have reached without the other. This isn’t specific to these two either, it’s a general observation. It’s plain and simple the importance of competition. Rafa vs Roger, Apple vs IBM, USA vs Russia – sport, business, culture and geo-politics it happens everywhere.
I think the difference with the Rafa and Fed example is that while yes the rules of the game are very well defined, importantly both adhere to them. And I think this is why there’s so much admiration for both players. Regardless of who you prefer you can accept that neither crosses the line, which is not something you can not always say about business or politics, despite all the procedures, manuals and agreements that look to control and cajole.
Why? It could be Rafa and Roger are just really good blokes. That would be the culture argument and I think this has some merit. But I also think that sport has something that the business and political world does not have to the same extent and that is transparency.
Thanks Rafa and Roger your open rivalry is a lesson for us all!