Rivalry between Federer-Nadal ends in doubles partnership

Follow live updates from Roger Federer doubles doubles with Rafael Nadal in the Laver Cup.

The rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal has been a staple of the 21st century.

Right versus left. Panic versus sweating. Zen vs Vamos.

Back in the day, it was the establishment versus the avant-garde too, but that distinction has blurred over the decades, just as the edge has thinned. Many of the New Age fans that Federer and Nadal have drawn to the game may need to be reminded that Federer is nearly five years older than his distinguished opponent from Mallorca.

This large age gap helps explain why Federer was the first golden age bandit to retire from professional tennis (even if Andy Murray had closed in tears a few years ago before delving into an artificial hip). Federer turned 41 last month and will play what he insists will be his last competitive game on Friday night at the Laver Cup team event in London.

“Sit here, it’s good to go guys first; Federer said at a press conference on Thursday, flanked by Murray, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, all his teammates for this weekend’s farewell at the O2 Arena.

They were once one of the Big Four, with Murray working as Ringo Starr, but they became the Big Three long ago. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic won 20 or more Grand Slam titles and won several majors in their 30s, often at each other’s expense.

All of their careers are inextricably intertwined, and Nadal and Djokovic have played each other significantly more on the tour than Nadal and Federer.

But Fedal was the original Golden Age rivalry, and if “Fedal” still seems a bit heavy, it’s best to consider alternatives. “rare”? La Gracias.

Federer and Nadal first played singles in March 2004 in a night match in the third round of the Miami Open, where the 17-year-old Nadal ambushed the top-ranked Federer in just over an hour. The final score was 6-3, 6-3.

But their first game was actually the previous week, when Nadal and fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo beat Federer and Swiss compatriot Yves Allegro 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in the round of 16 in Indian Wells, California.

For those like me who love their symmetry, it seems rather neat and tidy for Vidal to end up once again in the doubles court, as they share together, ready knees, Friday night for Team Europe against Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World. .

“A different kind of pressure,” Nadal said of the occasion. “After all the amazing things we shared together on and off the field, being a part of this historic moment would be an amazing, unforgettable thing for me. Super excited. I hope to have a good chance to play at a decent level and hopefully together we can create a good moment and maybe win.” In the match. So let’s see.”

Victory is hardly guaranteed. Sock, who has a faster spinning forehand than Nadal or Federer, is one of the best doubles players in the world, and fellow American Tiafoe is still at his peak after making a huge lead in the semi-finals of this US Open month in odds. .

“Tomorrow night is clearly going to be an unprecedented evening,” Sock said Thursday. “I’m just excited to be a part of it with my friend Foy next to me. We’ll go out and enjoy the moment, but we won’t get in the way of anything. Sorry Roger. You don’t want to spoil the night.”

Perhaps Sock needs a reminder that Federer is the co-owner of the event, which was launched in 2017 to create a tennis version of the Ryder Cup golf and create a more solid bridge between generations, with Captains John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg on opposite seats and namesake Rod Laver. .

But Federer, who wants the Laver Cup to be taken seriously even though it doesn’t award any rating points, will certainly have no contention with Sock and Tiafoe who will be completely hacked. And it’s frankly hard to imagine anything spoiling the night other than Federer limping around the O2, unable to cover his own half.

Nobody is ready for that, even if Federer is cleverly trying to manage expectations.

When asked about his team on Thursday, Borg, the captain of Europe’s silver man, was: “Everyone is healthy. They are ready to play.”

Federer quickly enters: “Health average.”

Unwilling to play another singles match due to his knees after surgery, Federer chose doubles as a safer option, but this would still be his first competitive match in over 14 months.

There will be rust, and then there will be emotions, his emotions and the general public, and as thousands of fans made clear at Thursday’s open practice session, there will be noise.

Ivan Ljubicic, one of Federer’s long-time coaches, took everything on the field and started tearing up, not even playing.

“I’m not sure if I can handle everything,” Federer said. “I’ve had some tough moments also in the past, you know, I was terribly nervous all these years at times before games. This is definitely a completely different feeling.”

It’s partly different because his two assistants, Nadal and Djokovic, are teammates this time around.

“I’m so excited to have them in our squad and my team and not have to play against them in my last game,” Federer said.

It definitely lightened the mood up front.

On Thursday, Djokovic was asked which of his past fights with Federer first came to mind.

Djokovic started bravely with the 2007 US Open final against Federer.

Djokovic: “I lost that match.”

Federer: “He’s cute now. Thank you, Novak.”

Djokovic: “I’m not done yet.”

There was laughter, and he quickly went to mention the 2019 Wimbledon final, where Federer took two match points on serve in the fifth set but was unable to finish it. (Djokovic didn’t bravely go into these details either.)

“what happened?” Federer asked. “I blocked him.”

There was more laughter, which was certainly not the norm among men’s tennis competitors over the past two decades. Many major titles were often at stake as they pushed each other on the match court, and in moments of calm, on the training field.

They are all getting better because of the daily pressure, and Federer and Nadal have long concluded that they had more access as a pair than on their own.

Vidal’s best singles matches were some of the best content of the new century: the 2006 Italian Open final won by Nadal, the 2007 Wimbledon final won by Federer, the 2008 Wimbledon final won by Nadal, the Australian in 2017. Federer won the final Open after both returned from a long absence due to injury.

The back roster is also strong, even if they’ve never played in the US Open, which is frustrating for us. And though Nadal will lead the series forever 24-16, Federer could be sliding into the sunset (and toward their future exhibition matches) with his powerful chin high after winning six of his last seven matches.

“Over time, we’ve left behind a little bit of that intense rivalry on the court for a competition that we both appreciate and understand has been part of something special in the world of sport,” Nadal once told me. “And I think we also understand that we both benefited from it, and we have to take care of it.”

On a Friday night, on the same side of the net at the end of an era, they can take care of each other.

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