March 25, 2022, 01.10 PM

Unfortunately, the story of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic unravels in the most unforeseen conditions. Rating these three on basis of the spectator support, huddling for autographs or photographs or the commentators’ praise would be an injustice. It is essential to look at mass psychology before making up our minds.

A filed photo of Roger Federer.Uniqlo A filed photo of Roger Federer.

Federer’s entry on the tennis screen came in 2001 when he defeated Sampras in the famous “change of guard” match but we must realize that his entry was at a time when the world of tennis was craving for new heroes, new poster boys, and new faces. The cluster of Grand Slam winners, which had seen 20 different champions sharing 40 trophies in the decade before Federer, had left the fans wondering about the future of the sport. Easing into the frame was very smooth for the long-haired, cutely smiling, and confident Swiss. In fact, his arrival was a rejuvenation for the sport and sports administrations at that time.

Have we ever heard a single voice about Federer like what we hear about players like Novak or Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, or even Andy Murray? No, not me at least and by that standard, Federer must have been perfect, but we know there is nothing perfect in this world except for the perceptions that we hold on to.

I too would have loved to continue with my liking for Roger and not write this article, but the problem is the existence of two other men who have made strong claims to greatness and, unfortunately, we cannot ignore them.

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This is exactly what happened with the arrival of Nadal on the tennis stage. In Miami 2004, with all fans and past players booting for Federer, Nadal beat the Swiss in their first match. It was waved off as a bad day in the office for the world's No.1 player as it was followed by the match won by Federer in 4 sets again in Miami in 2005 but the semi-final loss in French Open had a significant fraction of the followers take note.

Then came the excuse that Nadal is a clay court specialist and clay is not Federer’s favorite surface. Was it really the right approach to defend our idols but fans did exactly that and by the time Nadal beating Federer became a regular feature, they resigned that the greatness mantle had to be shared among them. Soon, it became easy for all tennis followers to believe that both of them were destined for each other.

Then comes the much-needed villain that makes all love stories immortal. The winner of the 2008 Australian open was treated as just another flash in the pan performance. People liked his funny jokes, antics, and friendly nature. His interviews were also aired and was nicknamed Joker.

The Serb who undoubtedly is the gutsiest of all athletes ever to play any sport had actually turned down UK citizenship to represent the British. Obviously, even before becoming a champion, he had already rubbed many on the wrong side, and starting the 2011 season with a bang by dismantling the established routine of Federer and Nadal victories made things worse.

Rafael Nadal smiles and hugs the Australian Open trophy. AFP/ CLIVE BRUNSKILL Rafael Nadal smiles and hugs the Australian Open trophy.

If Nadal wins another French or follows it up with more than one title, it will sure cement him as the Greatest of All Time. Whatever happens, Rafa already has the claim to be the Greatest of All Time clay court player and he can rest with that as a great career accomplished.

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