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    August 04

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THE SPORTS MIND: Who's better – Roger or Rafa?

Barry Alleyne,

Added 22 September 2010

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YOU DECIDE. The sports world is talking about it. It’s the most asked question. Who’s better? Roger Federer, or Rafael Nadal. And today, The NATION’s Associate Editor, Barry Alleyne gives his take on what has the tennis world talking. HE’S ONLY A MAN! That  was shouted out in confidence, by a colleague of mine – let’s call him Mike – last week. After the exclamation, he shared high-fives, fist-knocks and a chest bump with another colleague of mine – let’s call him Justin. The two then hugged and patted each other on the back. The reason they were so happy, was because Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic had just gone airborne and slammed an unreachable forehand cross-court winner in the second set of the 2010 US Open tennis final against Rafael Nadal. That point earned the pumped up Djokovic a 4-1 lead in the second set. Mike, though a Djokovic fan, wasn’t brave enough to call a winner in the match, choosing instead to say he felt it would go four sets. Justin, the braver of the two, puts his cards on the table by declaring the Serbian would edge Nadal in five sets, since he (Djokovic, that is) had earned enough rest after the final had been postponed from the night before because of bad weather. Another colleague – we’ll call him Sherwin – a Nadal fan, reminded both men that it was way too early to count out a player of Nadal’s stature and mental strength. And’s that where this story really picks up. We could as well deal with it, since it will be the topic around the globe for tennis fans until the Australian Open starts January 16 next year. What we have to deal with, is determining who will, could be, or should be considered the greatest tennis player of all time, or as the Americans have so brilliantly acronymed, the GOAT. Oh, by the way, Nadal did tie that second set 4-4, and though losing the set, went on to win his first US Open title, defeating Djokovic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. It was Nadal’s ninth Grand Slam, giving him another trophy to bite into along with his five French Opens, two Wimbledons, and an Australian Open. Now, back to the GOAT discussion. The younger generation of fans will simply have to choose between Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Nadal. The older generation can easily add Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors into the mix. But really, and truly, and even the older generation understands this now, its simply down to Federer or Nadal. Granted, the careers of neither are finished, so the argument of GOAT still has a shelf-life of another half decade or so. By then, Federer would be 33-years-old, and Nadal would be 29. But let’s seriously look at the two, from head to toe, then compare their careers, and try to make a sensible argument of it all. Firstly, the Swiss Master. Tempermental as a junior, Federer grew up as a ball-boy in his Swiss village of Basel, and decided to take the sport seriously. Duh! Like that wasn’t a forgone decision for his parents to make. Federer brought to the game an ease never seen before, breaking down his opponents without breaking a sweat, making every shot look like your grandmother could pick up a racquet and do the same. Between 2003 and 2008, he was virtually untouchable, even though in 2005, a muscular kid with a baby face from the tiny island of Mallorca just off Spain’s mainland, had made waves by winning the French Open at 18-years-old, the only tournament at the time which Federer had yet to win. And no one was really serious about considering the Spanish kid at the time. That kid was Nadal. But this polite man from Switzerland who fluently spoke five languages and was a joy to interview at Press conferences, was on top of the tennis world. At that stage, the only things it appeared Federer couldn’t do, were win the French Open, or become President of the United States. He still isn’t president. But he has won the French, to complete the career slam, and concrete his legacy as aruguably, the GOAT. Federer took over the sport, and eventually caught, and passed another icon Pete Sampras, as the leading Grand Slam winner (16 titles) of all time. It appeared he was the perfect tennis machine, combining skill with heart, grace and humility. But machines do break down, and despite earning the title of GOAT with his 16 slams, Federer appears close, if not at the end of his complete brilliance. Besides, its not like the burden of having to deal with recently born twin daughters, and the rising standard of the game hasn’t also made a difference. But the man that has the tongues wagging, moreso now, but honestly over the past three seasons, is Nadal. Federer’s effortless game is a joy to watch. Nadal’s, a grunting war of attrition, is louder and much harder on the palate for the tennis purist. But the results are the same. Its just that he and Federer use different weapons to destroy their opponents, and make them look foolish. So, should style points really play a part in consideding the GOAT? Maybe not, but human beings usually like the super-model instead of the sexy secretary. And so, the debate has reached fever pitch again. With Nadal now also the proud owner of a career slam and six Grand Slams behind the Swiss Master, the only thing left for him to do, is the same thing Federer did to the previous GOAT, Sampras. Catch him, and pass him. Then the debate will start all over again. Oh, by the way again, He’s only a man. But right now, Rafael Nadal does seem to be the best man. Check out Sunday for a closer look at the games and styles of Federer and Nadal, their careers when compared to each other, and who could be the next man to take over the sport. • Barry Alleyne is an Associate Editor of the Nation Newspaper. He can be reached at barryalleyne@nationnews.com  

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