here's a great article by peter bodo........he is expressing the same thing which i have been saying since the us open final, nadal comments and what one could infer from them.......read on.......The Implacable
By Pete Bodo
It's been pretty easy to feel for Rafael Nadal
since the spring of this year, mainly because of the unexpected and savage way Novak Djokovic
shattered the duopoly in men's tennis and, skipping steps that very few people might have deemed dispensable, ripped the world No. 1 ranking out of Rafa's hands.
You can almost envision Nadal standing hunched over in the midst of a howling windstorm, red clay-dust sanding his features and swirling madly all about him, blinking and asking, "What just happened?
That's how quickly Djokovic established dominion over men's tennis.
But if you take the longer view, you could almost rationalize the course of the past 12 months as a fair example of the workings of fate, or karma. Truth be told, the arc of Nadal's career was a bit too smooth—a bit too nicely tilted in his favor and set-up for success. There's a simple reason for that—the difference in age between Nadal and his original rival, Roger Federer
. It's almost exactly five years—just enough to keep them more-or-less within the same generation, but not enough to really put the men on equal career footing. In any number of ways, the Nadal vs. Federer rivalry is/was a straightforward saga of the hunter (Nadal) versus the hunted (Federer), or of the ambitious usurper plotting, scheming, and ultimately dethroning the aging king.
The inevitable—for wasn't the outcome of this "rivalry" just that?—came to pass in an orderly and even predictable way, partly because Nadal's expertise on clay gave him such a firm psychological foundation from which to pursue his intentions. I've always had to smile when contemplating the Federer/Nadal bromance—these two spent a lot of time working very familiar territory, variations of which include the good-cop/bad-cop routine (see the entire series of, what, 34 Lethal Weapon
movies) and, to pick a good example from closer home, the Chris Evert
and Martina Navratilova
One interesting element in this equation is that each party in these partnerships (or rivalries) needed the other in order to make the whole add up to more than a sum of the parts. Rafa and Roger were lucky to have each other, and underneath it all they knew and appreciated it. They even acknowledged it. This kind of rivalry inevitably becomes a kind of orchestrated dance, and therefore can appear a bit studied, ever-so-slightly less satisfying than a more explosive and less predictable show. The moves of each man or woman in these pairings brings out the best in the other. Thus, Federer's light touch and artistic instincts only made Nadal's earthy labors and combative spirit that much more striking—and vice versa. At some point, you may begin to hunger for something different. . . less logical.
The difference in Federer and Nadal's ages also suggested, however subliminally, that somehow Federer begat Nadal. Surely The Mightly Fed would falter one day, and it was convenient as well as fortuitous that when he finally did, we would be left with a net gain. Federer didn't just go away (and he still hasn't). He was replaced by something very different, but of more-or-less equal value in Nadal.
Cozy. That's the word I frequently thought of, contemplating those two.
But that's all different now, thanks to the pestilential explosion of Djokovic across an already cratered and smoldering tennis battlefield. We might have been prepared for this, but at the same time were not. And you could hardly blame us. For one thing, we were focused on the cozy rivalry. For another, Federer and Nadal comprised a whole and closed tennis universe, a yin and yang (what's the word y'all use, "Fedal?") which required nothing more, in fact into which any intrusion seemed something like a buzzkill, or an affront. How easy it was to ignore what was right in front of our noses, that the real, natural rivals really are Nadal and Djokovic.
The brilliance of Federer retarded the development of a Nadal-Djokovic rivalry, and in any event, Djokovic was slower to develop than Nadal (if anything, his evolution into a champion more closely parallels Federer's). It was easy to overlook the rivalry begging to happen, although it's hard to see how when you compare Nadal and Djokovic. They were born within a year of each other, and each was a precocious Grand Slam singles champ. The most telling detail is their head-to-head; they've met five more times than have Nadal and Federer (although six of their 29 meetings were just this year). If each man can play tour level tennis to age 30, they might end up with a H2H based on 60 or 70 meetings.
This might seem like bad news to Nadal fans at the moment, and it certainly will strike some people as cosmically unfair. Why couldn't Nadal, whose longest stint at No. 1 was just over a year, ending this year at Wimbledon, have just a little more time to sit back and smell the roses after having had to work for so many years to catch Federer? Well, because of this thing called karma, or fate. It's as if the tennis gods looked down on Rafa, sitting pleased as punch atop the tennis world, and said: Not so fast, buckaroo!
Or, welcome to Roger's world, Rafa—have you met Novak?
This raises the inevitable question, given the way Djokovic has been shellacking Nadal: will this be a rivalry at all? Or will Djokovic quickly become the third man in the span of fewer than five years whom we nominate and debate as perhaps the Greatest of All Time?
The U.S. Open was not especially encouraging for Rafa fans (nor for Federer loyalists, and for the same reason). I thought that the tennis Nadal played in the third set was the absolute best I ever saw from him, and it's hard to imagine him equaling, never mind surpassing that level. Yet he barely won that set. And it was sobering to see how poorly he finished in the fourth; it was reminiscent of the April day in Miami, when we all sat stunned by the degree to which Djokovic looked just plain fitter and stronger than Nadal. Whoever even thought such a thing was possible?
And when Nadal said in his post-U.S. Open final presser that he was leaving New York feeling better about his chances in the future against Djokovic than when left Wimbledon (where he also lost to Djokovic), I think I actually winced. How delusional
, I thought, sitting in that press room.
But. . .
You all saw the way Nadal played in the Davis Cup semifinals just last weekend, humiliating the French team almost single-handedly. That he was able to bounce back from that U.S. Open loss with such resolve (never mind such spring in his legs) told me something about Nadal (you can read the long version
of this epiphany over at my ESPN space). And you all saw how Djokovic and Serbia went down the tubes in the same competition, with Djokovic essentially collapsing on the court, unable even to complete the match that punched Argentina's ticket to the final.
Thinking about those disparate events, the word that kept popping up in my mind as I thought about Nadal was "implacable." My gut feeling right now is that Nadal wasn't rationalizing or deluding himself when he said he left New York feeling better. Whether or not he can justify those feelings with actions is another matter, but my major takeaway from the events of the past few weeks is that Nadal is not going away any time soon. Any while he hasn't said it (his pal Federer, though, has come danged close to saying it), I'll bet you dollars to donuts Nadal is thinking that this purple streak Djokovic is on simply cannot last. And Nadal plans to be there to punish him when it ends.
I wouldn't rule out Djokovic continuing to play at or near the level he hit this year. For one thing, the guy is a late bloomer, and if anything, the circumstances from which he sprang (as a native of Serbia) could only have held him back, development-wise if not desire-wise. But Djokovic has been somewhat complicated all along, and his towering status, especially at home in Serbia, incorporates plenty of distractions and other opportunities to lose the plot.
If and when he does, Nadal will be there, waiting. Of that, I'm fairly certain. One thing about Nadal, he's honest with himself. Another thing about Nadal, he has an almost unbounded appetite for work; in that sense, his original rivalry was good preparation for what was to come, which has now come.
Down deep, I think Nadal knows that the Federer perplex was not destined to be his outstanding career challenge. One day he may even appreciate that it wasn't.