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Fedal: Alive and kicking

 Abreshmina S Quadri |  2017-01-28 14:12:48.0  |  New Delhi

Fedal: Alive and kicking

There goes a clichéd saying, "Form is temporary, class is permanent." The phrase has been used time and again but somehow it seems perfectly apt for the two tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Roger and Rafa have both come back into the Australian Open after their own share of struggles. While the former missed half of last year owing to a knee injury, the latter has been looking fragile and missed two major Grand Slams in 2016 — French Open and Wimbledon — with a left wrist injury.

While for Rafa the hiatus isn't something new, Federer's knee injury was the first of his career. When the young superstars of the sport were touching greater heights, the two legends were nursing their injuries at home.

With the New Year, they have come back displaying excellence. The zeal, confidence, hunger and fitness that the two have shown at the Rod Laver Arena is absolutely surreal. When the world had almost given up on them, they've risen from the ashes and proved to the world that they aren't done yet.

Australian Open 2017 was considered a stage where current world number one Andy Murray would be looking to win his first ever Grand Slam down under while his nemesis Novak Djokovic would want to snatch back his crown and sit atop the rankings again.

They've both lost the battle. While Djokovic's sudden slump in form continued as he was knocked out by 117th ranked Denis Istomin in the Round of 64, Murray too followed soon after losing to world number 50 Mischa Zverev in the round of 32.

The oldies stuck around and defeated every opponent coming their way, and that too in remarkable fashion. Rafael Nadal outlasted teenager Alexander Zverev to win a five-set thriller in four hours while Roger Federer sent world number 5 Kei Nishikori packing even after Nishikori initially led the first set 5-2.

More than winning or losing, it is about the flair that the two displayed. Neither of the legends showed any signs of wear and tear; or gave a hint of the fact that they hadn't played competitive tennis for quite some time. They only looked fitter and much more determined.

As the world saw Rafa and Roger only growing with each day of the tournament, another Federer-Nadal final didn't seem like a dream. It felt like the great rivalry will soon shine in all its glory once more at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.

'Fedal' — the title given to the two players' rivalry long ago — has been one of the greatest sporting rivalries. The two have competed fiercely for years and for every single viewer, it has been nothing short of a marvel.

They have both matched each other with every tone; Federer's artistic game versus Nadal's sheer strength, Nadal's unparalleled ground-stroking versus Federer's all-court variety, Federer's calmness to Nadal's passion — together they've made tennis what it is today.

Federer and Nadal have shared between them 23 of the 26 Grand Slams from mid 2004 to the end of 2010.

The two have received an enormous amount of love from the world of tennis and still do — the testimony of which is the fact that since the ousting of Murray and Djokovic, a resurgent excitement cropped up among one and all anticipating an epic Federer-Nadal showdown again.

Federer, since stepping into the game on the big platform, has been the favourite of the classicists. His elegant style of play, his cat-like court movement, his magical aura, all of that has made him the player he is. Federer's play isn't like a high-tide but a calm wave; he's consistent, gliding and beautiful.

Federer has the most infamous backhand; while the modern tennis usually sees the use of a two-handed backhand, Federer remains old-school swaying his wrists powerfully. This backhand is also one of the cats in his bag because he spins and angles the shot at once to throw his opponent off.

On the other hand, Rafael Nadal has always been known for sheer power. Even his greatest rival Federer has never really had an answer for his boulder-like forehand.

Nadal may not be as elegant as Federer but he's a thinker. His strength lies in the way he reads the game and mind of his opponent and then strategises to toy with it. The technique that goes behind his 'fearhand' is the topspin in his movement. His power and grip on the racquet helps him spin the ball at a much higher rate which makes it difficult for the opponent to place the ball wishfully.

While the storm called Fedal was dormant for most of 2016, 2017 has ruined the monotony and brought the storm back. And evidently, it became increasingly difficult for the others to weather this storm with each passing day. The question is, "Is it going to be them again weathering the storm that the other is through the year?"

Of all the possibilities that were being talked about regarding the Australian Open, the Fedal storm was the least likely, yet somehow was the heartfelt wish of many. They may not win another title; they may never again attain the heights they have already touched, but just that it is being talked as a possibility once more is mesmerising enough. Right when everyone thought that the Federer-Nadal era had finally ended, they have come right back to haunt the young achievers.

2017 has just begun and this is only the first Grand Slam of the long season ahead. It may be too soon to say that the two will once again wipe all the sweat and blood that the young have spilt for the past years but the current image is sure chilling.

The two torch-bearers have lit up again and are showing that the fuel in them is left; the fire in them still burns.

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