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Federer and Nadal prove opposites attract

The Age logo The Age 23/01/2014 Oliver Brown
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open.

Implausible as it might seem, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal share precisely the same height and weight: 185 centimetres, and a rigorously controlled 85kg.

It is some freak of genetic divergence that two such antithetical specimens could ever be sculpted from the same raw material and yet their rivalry, which reaches its 33rd instalment in Melbourne today, has always been derived less from their common ground than their plenitude of exotic differences. Where Federer is more comfortable in the company of Anna Wintour or Credit Suisse suits, for example, Nadal would far rather kick back with his closest amigos over the PlayStation in Manacor.

The parallels run no deeper than the Nike ticks on their respective bandanas. The polarities, however, help to define their endlessly engrossing duels: innate gift versus unflinching resolve, Swiss understatement versus Latin flamboyance, groomed metrosexual versus piratical brute. As Jon Wertheim observed in Strokes of Genius, his account of their 2008 Wimbledon final, this was perhaps the ultimate juxtaposition of artist and conquistador.

As sport's most exquisite treat, the Federer-Nadal dynamic is a delicacy we could not have dared dream we would still be relishing. Having reached its finest vintage five years ago, its lustre faded just slightly last season as the Spaniard administered fearful thrashings in Indian Wells, Rome and London, heightening the impression his nemesis was drifting into the night. One lone three-set tussle in Cincinnati was not enough to dispel suspicions the balance of power had swung too far for this to be considered the greatest contest. Federer's restoration in Australia, under the gaze of fellow understated aesthete Stefan Edberg, has shown such conclusions to be spectacularly premature.


While it is true that Federer and Nadal represent the most gushed-over, lavishly exalted pair in tennis history, they never cease to fascinate as a character study.

Where Federer remains a byword for rock-star cool, flicking his hair back with the insouciance of a L'Oreal model, Nadal radiates nervous energy at every step from the rearrangement of his shorts to the alignment of his water bottles.

Their murderous confrontations in grand slams, where Nadal's cruise to victory at the 2008 French Open was arguably the only match unworthy of them, soften into an almost cloying mutual respect the second they pack their rackets away. Privately, though, their results against each other have moved them to tears. Nadal was a broken man in the wake of his five-set Wimbledon defeat by Federer in 2007, but dissolved not nearly so publicly as his adversary did at the 2009 Australian Open, mumbling through heaving sobs: "Oh, man, it's killing me." This, then, is how their battles resonate.

Never more so, one senses, than in Chapter 33, as Nadal seeks to reaffirm his supremacy as world No. 1 with a third slam title in four attempts, while Federer looks to sweep away a few autumn leaves aged 32 with an 18th major and his first since 2012. The lines for their reunion in the Melbourne Park crucible could scarcely be more starkly drawn.

 - Telegraph, London

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