This would be a good time for Nadal to step up and begin a run that rekindles his rivalry with Federer. Not just to satisfy his own ambition, but to satiate a bigger hunger of the ‘game of tennis’.
If tennis is to regain the glorious days of the 80s and the 90s, Nadal needs to play for the bigger picture. He is the one, the masses seem to identify with the most. Nadal has all the ingredients to provide a perfect contrast to Federer. A contrast that brings back memories of Borg and McEnroe.
Human nature recognizes and supports the gritty effort – where you lay down everything you got and put up a valiant fight, despite what the scoreboard says. That’s the reason, Jimmy Connors was so beloved in New York. People sympathize and get energised, to see a player come back against all odds, with a display of sustained resiliency. That is something special and we all have experienced it. It move us to tears – no matter what the result.
Mohammad Ali was an epitome of that. There was barely a dry eye in the world, when he raised the flame at the Olympics, despite his condition. It was what he stood for, that moved us all. He made his mark with the whole world against him. That’s what the masses identify with and yearn for, in their heroes. Probably one of the huge reasons why Rocky movies became such a big hit.
Pele, the soccer star, is another example. Growing up from humble beginnings and fighting prejudice and discrimination, he rose to be the best there ever was.
Nadal has, what the tennis world needs, to get that much needed shot in the arm to capture world audience.
Consider this: Tennis in the US is at its lowest in years. Most people haven’t heard of Federer. In fact, for 2006, Sports Illustrated chose Dwayne Wade as the sportsman of the year, when everyone knew it was clearly Federer. When asked why, one of the broadcasters said it correctly. “It is all about the money. If they had Federer on the cover, they wouldn’t have sold a single copy”. Tennis coverage in the major newspapers is relegated to the last page in a small box. Even Grand Slams rarely see the front page.
Federer’s run, has of course received some due attention, but to ignite it to Borg-McEnroe-Connors, Sampras-Agassi stratosphere, it needs a worthy foil. People are thirsting for five-setters, where every point is contested tooth and nail, come-from-behind victories, getting down and dirty fights kind of games.
Tennis fans, worldwide, are looking to Nadal to revive this charasmatic and wonderful sport to heights it has never seen before. Will Nadal comply?