Have you seen “The Office”? Probably one of the best comedy series of all time, and one that featured so many memorable quotes. When I think of it, one line of dialogue that stands out is when Andy, portrayed by Ed Helms, talks about “the good old days.” He says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.”
That quote connects to us in some way or another. Whether it is reminiscing about your first crush, or about the time you goofed around with your friends, I guess everyone does look at the past with some sense of nostalgia. I, for one, am victim to this very human act, though not too often. Most of the time, it’s a fleeting memory of a random incident, with most of it being centered around friends or family.
Saturday night, however, it was different. Saturday night, for lack of a better expression, I went into a full-blown flashback. And there was a very strong reason for it: the Australian Open final.
The Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry is probably the greatest we’ve seen in sport. I mean yes, one could argue that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, the El Clasico, or even the Manchester Derby have more history and thus qualify to be perched higher up on the list of great rivalries. But for me, there’s nothing bigger than Roger-Rafa. And this comes from an Indian national, for whom missing an India-Pakistan cricket match is the gravest sin of life.
Put Roger and Rafa next to each other and we’re talking 32 Grand Slams. 32. A trio of Pete Sampras, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray haven’t won as many titles as the Swiss and the Spaniard have. But I digress. I’m not here to talk about the greatness of this rivalry. I’m here to talk about why it is so special to me.
The match last night was the pair’s first meeting in a major final after the 2011 French Open final. Hell, I was in 11th grade at that time, and now I’m a graduating senior. Time does fly like a Concorde. Roger and Rafa faced each other in eight grand slam finals from 2006-2011. That’s a bloody impressive number. For me, a lifelong tennis fan, it was everything. I clearly remember the excitement this tie used to bring. I’d watch every final with my dad, comfortably perched on the divan in our living room, waiting for magic to happen.
With all due respect to Federer, and I mean all the respect, I was and will always be a Rafa fan. Rafael Nadal is my idol. I have quite literally worshipped the man and his breathtaking tennis prowess. I remember I wore sleeveless tops and capris to the clay courts of Cawnpore Club, and even collected Nike bandanas in order to look like my hero. I tried to hit my forehand with as much top-spin as I could, just so I could be like the Mallorcan. A decade ago, there was nothing more I wanted than to be like Rafael Nadal.
And the matchups between this legendary pair never disappointed me. Whether it was the French Open, where the Spaniard’s physical play was too much for Federer’s grace, or the grass courts of the All-England Club, where Federer’s penchant for serve and volley was the kryptonite for Rafa, every match was a classic. I’ll never forget Wimbledon 2008, regarded by many as the best tennis match ever played, where my idol had the best game of his life to win his first title at the hallowed grass court. 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 in favor of Rafa. I’ll never forget that scoreline. It’s etched into my memory forever. The unbridled joy I had on seeing Federer’s forehand go to the net to give Nadal his first Wimbledon title. I’ll never forget it.
This finale at the Rod Laver Arena, therefore, was a sort of trip back down memory lane. Both Roger and Rafa have regressed as players. Age seems to have caught up with the Swiss. Nadal has been the victim of his own relentless style, as his body has slowly but surely started breaking down. But all of this was secondary last night. The pair put on a show in the thrilling final. I would have been disappointed if it did not go into five sets. Although Federer won the contest, I was too elated to see both of them contesting in a final again to really care about the result that much.
In an ideal world, this final was not supposed to happen. Call it chance or coincidence that both Djokovic and Murray messed up early in the tournament, allowing the Swiss and the Spaniard to be there. But I’m not complaining. Last night was a great trip down memory lane. I still don’t know if I’m in them or not, but the match yesterday did make me think of a time which I could term as “the good old days.”
Thank you Roger Federer nnd Rafael Nadal. Thank you for everything.