It would be an injustice to the world of tennis if we call 2017 – ‘the year of comebacks’ where maestros of the sport returned from injury and ruled the biggest stage as if there’s no tomorrow. Yes, we are talking about the arguably the two biggest stalwarts of the Open Era tennis – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who not only made a successful return to the tennis world but also dominated it just like the old times.
From their ardent supporters to their vocal critics who had written the duo long back due to their age, form and injury-related issues were forced to rethink about their judgment that too backed with some solid statistics. Federer (back) and Rafa Nadal (wrist) began the year coming off physical challenges, while the rest of the season saw the main actors Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos among others struggle with their bodies again raising the issue of five-set matches. The pace at which the transformation of tennis has taken place has also raised serious concerns about a sport which started as a lawn pastime and is now turned into a direct power sport.
Defying all the odds and worries regarding their form, both Federer and Nadal announced themselves after a long injury hiatus at the year's first slam - Australian Open. The two all-time greats not only just made it to finals of the men’s singles event but also produced such high level of tennis which completely stunned the capacity crowd at the iconic Rod Laver Arena. In the end, it was Federer who prevailed in the five-set epic but the result hardly made a difference to what people witnessed on the blue courts of Melbourne Park.
Every tennis aficionado wish was seemingly answered when the Swiss artist Roger Federer took on the tireless bull Rafael Nadal. There are several factors which create a great rivalry. Sometimes it's longevity. Other times it's contrasting styles or personalities. In many cases, it's the epic nature of their matches. Occasionally, an unusual component makes the rivalry distinctive or intriguing. Often all those factors are involved.
Federer vs Nadal is one such rivalry which is for the ‘ages’ – the more you debate about it, the more aspects you’ll explore about those two incredibly gifted and hardworking athletes. It is one of the most cherished rivalries in the history of Open Era tennis.
The wins and losses matter less than the fact that they are two of the best players in history while featuring contrasting styles. Nadal relies on the consistency of his groundstrokes and the toughness of his spirit, helping him complete the magical ‘La Decima’ of French Open titles among his tally of 16 majors. Meanwhile, Federer entertains with a fluid all-court game that has brought him astonishing 19 Grand Slam titles, including eight at the pristine grass-courts of Wimbledon.
‘Ageless wonder’ – Roger Federer
Federer entered the Australian Open with his lowest ranking in 15 years, he was placed 16th in the world. But, stats and rankings generally go out of the window when we speak or talk about the legend who has hardly put a foot wrong on the tennis court irrespective of its colour. The Swiss maestro went on to beat four top-10 ranked players — Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal — to win his 17th Grand Slam title, and his first since 2012 Wimbledon.
The 36-year old Federer played fewer tournaments in 2017 as compared to Nadal. He played only 12 events this year, winning seven titles and losing just five matches during the course. It includes his win at the Australian Open and record eighth title at the Wimbledon.
Once again, the master completed his Sunshine Double with his 90th and 91st career titles at Indian Wells and Miami. He chose to entire clay season to avoid any gruelling battles and to prepare well for his favourite grass season. The break certainly helped the Swiss ace as he cruised through the two weeks at the lawns of the All England Club, and lifted his 8th Wimbledon title. This was his 19th Grand Slam title overall. He also became only the second male player in the Open Era to win the Championships without dropping a set, after Bjorn Borg in 1976.
After winning his sixth title in Shanghai by beating Nadal again, Federer brought up title number seven at Basel and finished the year with a semi-final loss at the hands of David Goffin at the ATP Finals.
Rafael ‘La Decima’ Nadal
Whereas the Spaniard completed the season with 67-11 win-loss record, he clinched six titles in the 2017 season with an impressive winning percentage of 86. During his utterly dominant phase, Nadal achieved several landmarks – from becoming the first man in the Open era to win a single tournament 10 times (Monte-Carlo and Barcelona title), he added a fifth Madrid Open title to his illustrious haul.
However, Nadal’s real moment of reckoning comes on his beloved red dirt where he justified his tag as the ultimate ‘King of Clay’ by completing a La Decima — winning an elusive 10th Roland Garros title.
The raging bull as he’s fondly called by his fans didn’t stop there, Nadal surprised everyone with his near-perfect US Open campaign that was the other major highlight of his magnificent season. The 31-year old hadn’t made it into the second week of the tournament since winning it in 2013 and had often struggled physically at Flushing Meadows in the past. However, this time around it was altogether a different story as the Spaniard romped to his 16th Major title by lifting the title for the third time at the historic Corona Park.
Finally, the world number one capped off an astonishing year by capturing the China Open for his sixth title of 2017. Unfortunately, a knee injury towards the end bugged him once again as he withdraws from the year-ending ATP Finals but he did enough to became the oldest male player to finish the year on the numero uno spot.
Apart from the FEDAL, it American tennis legend Serena Williams gave birth to a baby girl and didn’t participate after winning her record 23rd Grand Slam title at Australian Open. Young and raw Jelena Ostapenko showed her skill at the French Open and stunned the who’s who of the women’s tennis to bag the title. While Garbine Murguruza clinched her second slam, she defeated Venus Williams to win the Wimbledon. Local favourite Sloane Stephens emerged as the dark-horse and surprised everyone by winning the US Open title.
Other noticeable mentions are – Alexander Zverev who finally lived up to his billing and came of age in the season. He won four titles in 2017 including his first Masters 1000 in Rome, he finished the year at No. 4 spot in ATP rankings. Grigor Dimitrov and Caroline Wozniacki too lived up to their potential by claiming year-end titles in Singapore and London respectively.