COMMENTARY | The resurgence of Rafael Nadal in recent months has impacted the world of tennis beyond just his individual accomplishments.
As Nadal blazed his way through the Americas, his new-found form served to reshuffle the expectations for tennis in 2013, and possibly well beyond.
Reshuffling the Deck
Prior to Rafa's comeback, the pecking order on the men's side of the tour was starting to set like a freshly thrown pot straight off the potter's wheel. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had met in the two most recent Grand Slam finals with each player claiming one crown apiece.
Early play in 2013 suggested that Murray would soon displace Roger Federer as the No. 2 player in the world rankings. Questions about Nadal's health also had many speculating that Djokovic's chances of winning his first French Open title had never been higher.
Although the early stages of Rafa's comeback on clay harkened back to yesteryear, it was his result at Indian Wells on the hard court that ultimately shattered any preconceived notions about where the tour was headed this season. With the Indian Wells trophy in his possession, Rafa revealed to the world that his star in the universe of tennis was burning as brightly as ever.
A fresh set of expectations for the remainder of 2013 materialized almost immediately after the title ceremony in Indian Wells. At the top of those is the firm belief that the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry will reign once again.
The Cusp of History
The table is now freshly set and upcoming events will likely represent a historic feast for players and fans alike.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have played each other a total of 33 times in their history. They are four meetings away from tying Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe for the most encounters between two opponents in the Open Era.
Within their 33 matches, Djokovic and Nadal have also clashed 15 times in the final round of a tournament. The record for the most encounters in a final during the Open Era is 19, held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Clearly, Djokovic and Nadal are within striking distance of both significant records.
During the two-year period of 2011-2012, the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry made 10 appearances in the final round of a tournament. Unbeknownst to most, that pace was actually greater than the best two-year period of the Federer-Nadal rivalry, which occurred between 2006-2007 and included nine finals.
Considering that Djokovic and Nadal have averaged five meetings in a final over the last two years, it is possible the two could break both of the aforementioned records this year. Assuming both players stay healthy, it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which they haven't done so by early 2014.
History shows that in any sport it's quality, not quantity, that burns a long-lasting impression on the minds of its fans. When brilliant quality is created through the pursuit of history, that quality itself becomes the history. The fact that Roger Federer was making so much individual history throughout his competition with Nadal is a possible reason why their rivalry is so often quoted as the best in history.
It might be for this same reason that so many people believe the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal is the best match in history, as opposed to the match between Djokovic and Nadal during the 2012 Australian Open. The combined number of Slams for the 2008 Wimbledon finalists was 16, whereas the number for the 2012 Australian finalists was 14.
For now, the fact that the stakes were higher for Federer-Nadal than for Djokovic-Nadal will probably continue to tip the scale of "best rivalry" in its current position. However, as the meetings and stakes between Djokovic and Nadal grow, there's a legitimate chance their rivalry could eventually surpass the closest competition.
Together, Djokovic and Nadal have already produced some remarkable results. They are the only male pair in the history of tennis to meet in four consecutive Grand Slam finals. They also hold the record for the longest Grand Slam final with a time of 5 hours, 53 minutes at the 2012 Australian Open.
In terms of sheer quantity, there is little doubt their rivalry will soon stake its claim to two additional rivalry records. The only remaining question is the quality by which those records are achieved.
Judging by recent encounters between the two players, it's entirely possible that by the time it's all said and done, the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry could emerge from the shadows and rise to a level that eclipses all those before it. In terms of both quantity and quality.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. He is a frequent contributor at the Bleacher Report.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rafael Nadal
- Novak Djokovic
- Roger Federer