Friday, 29 December 2017 03:44 AM GMT
Nadal and Federer's return

Two names stand out once again in the history of men’s tennis. You might have known that the two men to find a way back to the top of their sport in the absence of others - and put their stamps all over 2017 - would belong to the same two names in question.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had apparently passed their best days, and had long since seen their biggest victories start to fade, as, well, experience and logic seem to suggest they would. However, the hunger in some never really appears to die, and despite those peak years of almost endless success their lights did begin to dim, form became more inconsistent, and injuries took a grip of their bodies, not to mention several players who blocked them at almost every turn.

Being in one’s thirties is entirely different to one’s twenties, especially given what the body is put through on a regular basis, for let us not forget the length and depth of a tennis season that starts in January and doesn’t let up until November. But, now, looking back, there’s the feeling they were just waiting; waiting for their moment; waiting to pounce, and to take advantage of just such a moment as the one 2017 offered each of them (in fact, they had multiple chances to seize the day over the course of the year).

The achievements of these men, who certainly deserve to be mentioned in the same breath, over the past eleven months, is nothing short of astonishing. Something to tell your sports-loving grandchildren about decades from now. A golden season that took us back in time and fulfilled all the dreams of those who had longed to see them regain their mantle at the top of the game. Ultimately, 2017 closes with Nadal and Federer perched alongside one another, again, as the world numbers one and two respectively.

For anyone feeling the challenge of the passing years, here was something to hold on to, to give mankind the hope of ageing with passion and grace, something truly memorable, to inspire and take satisfaction from. A story of this ilk could not have been written, invented or fabricated. It is one that has transcended all expectations, of the public, of those in tennis and sport, and of those involved, as both men were uncertain what they themselves could expect to achieve upon returning to the practice courts and then tournament action.

A year ago, with both men injured, it was grim contemplating the future without them (which surely crept into people’s minds), or with lesser versions of the two greats. Their absence was greatly felt in the latter stages of the 2016 season as they took the necessary time to recover. Every injury later in a career is a threat to longevity and can cause a great deal of unpredictability, not to mention the patience, belief and work ethic that goes into a comeback.

The ceaseless desire shown by both men over their careers thus far would seem to have been the catalyst in getting them back to the court in good shape. The love of the sport, the will to not only play but win, the hard work and constant attempts to shape shift (into updated and successful models of tennis players again) and find new ways to excel, to outwit the opponent, in an on-court chess match, makes these two men examples to us all.

Federer, by winning both in Australia and at Wimbledon, has extended his record to 19 Grand Slams. Nadal has ended the year as the oldest year end world number one since records began in 1973. By taking the other two Grand Slam titles of 2017 (Roland Garros and US Open), to add to his existing tally of 14, he reached 16 in total and went clear of Pete Sampras’ short-lived record of 14 Grand Slams, too.

It’s not just what they did, it’s how they did it. It’s how they further cemented not only their standing as the greatest two male players of all time but as legendary sporting figures with genuine legacies. It’s how they each played some of their finest ever tennis along the comeback trail. Furthermore, it’s how they showed us just what it all signifies to them, still, and how being fit and healthy and able to compete simply meant the world. What comes next is anybody’s guess. For who knows how the return of Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka amongst others, all at the same time, will affect the tour.

If we can be sure of anything, it is that the current world numbers one and two will want to defend their titles and will not want to go quietly, nor would they want an injury to cut short their spectacular careers.

Let’s hope they get the necessary time off now to start the season in good health and that they can find some of the form they achieved over the past year. Now, managing one’s schedule will become more important than ever, as Federer has proven this time around. To keep playing, to keep doing what they love, and to keep reaching those heights something has to give, something has to be neglected, and let’s face it – to keep these men on the court for the coming years - it has to be worth it.

The sacrifices and the disappointment are part and parcel of what is a beautiful journey. Thanks to Federer and Nadal that journey doesn’t look like ending any time soon. All we can do is show our appreciation to them for the memories, it truly has been a vintage year this year.