Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Advantage, Federer

Ma and I were in Cebu over the weekend for the opening of our Arrow and Ep Espada stores in Ayala Center. Last Saturday, when we got back to our hotel room after a long day, we caught the last set of the men's Wimbledon finals between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. I'm not an avid follower of tennis like my best friend Raqs, and certainly not a starstruck fan like my friend John, but I have a rudimentary knowledge of the sport and its stars. Recently, the much celebrated rivalry between Federer and Nadal has been of particular interest to me, not just because they're both brilliant players, not even because they're both easy on the eyes, but because (I think writer Jessica Zafra, another big tennis aficionado, also commented on this before) they seem to have such different personalities, which shows both on and off the court. On one side, there's cool, calm Federer, he of the long, deliberate strides, the lazy-looking but precision swings, and the killer serves. On the other end, there's fiery, fierce Nadal, who runs around with an almost manic energy, grunting every time he whacks the ball with the monster strength generated by what Zafra calls his "Popeye arms". It's control versus power, quiet intensity versus loud passion, Brando versus Pacino... it's a Swiss watchmaker versus a Spanish matador. Heck, look at how they're dressed when they emerge from the locker rooms: Federer in his impeccable, white 5-piece tennis outfit complete with monogrammed sports coat, Nadal in his trademark sleeveless shirt (to show off those Popeye arms) and baggy, wedgie-conducive shorts.

I admit I've never been overly fond of Nadal, who strikes me as being a bit of an arrogant brat. But there's no denying his skill, especially on clay, where he creams everyone, including Federer, whom he recently denied the French Open title, hence depriving the Swiss of his elusive grand slam once more. Aside from the momentum coming off Roland Garros, Nadal is steadily improving and maturing as a player, so in the days leading to the Wimbledon finals, when it became increasingly apparent that a Federer-Nadal showdown was in the making, I worried Federer would succumb to his younger, hungrier opponent. It also couldn't have helped that there was tremendous pressure on Federer to equal tennis legend Bjorn Borg's record 5 straight Wimbledon win

My fears were not allayed when we switched on our hotel room TV and saw that the match was tied 2 sets apiece, with Nadal taking the 4th, 6-2. It looked like Federer was having a hard time of it, although as usual you could hardly tell from his composed, almost impassive face. The final set was tied at 1 game each... then 2 gam
es... until finally, Federer broke Nadal's serve and took the 6th game with an amazing, line-grazing shot that had the normally self-contained defending champion pumping his fist and letting out a satisfied yell. Leading at 4-2, Federer then proceeded to make Nadal look foolish by serving 3 aces in the next game, and in the final game, drove the last nail in the coffin with a resounding overhead smash, the perfect way to punctuate the thrilling, hard-fought match, a convincing way to go down in the record books as one of the best who have played at Wimbledon, and a masterful way to show the world he's one of the best who's ever played the sport.

But for all the great tennis action I had just witnessed, the best part was watching a victorious Federer fall to his knees a la Borg, his stoic face crumpling with emotion as he started crying. This is why I root for the guy: though Nadal is the more obviously passionate one, Federer's cool exterior hides a fire within that fuels his game-- that he has such impressive control over his passion, that he uses that fire to drive him rather than consume him, is what sets him apart from the more temperamental Spaniard. Pundits may compare Federer and Nadal all they like-- who's the better player, on which surface, using the forehand or backhand, from the baseline or at the net, playing volley or defense-- and there is no way to say who loves the sport more. But Federer manages to pull it off with style and class, bearing his great talent and many triumphs with grace and humility. So even if Federer never wins the French Open and never gets that grand slam, even if Nadal manages to beat Federer at Wimbledon next year, even if by some stretch Nadal goes on to win more than 5 Wimbledon titles... point for point, Federer's the winner in my book.


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