Roger or Rafa?

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By Hugh Rennie

 

I remember when everybody asked that question. The question now is, can either of those two men make a dent in Djokovic’s savage physiological armour?

The man is a brick wall with pong like shot making abilities. You would hit the ball cross court and, sure, he’d sling it back a couple of times, not because you made him, but because he was luring you into a false sense of security, and when he sensed you hanging over there, on that far side of the court, bang, down the line it went.

And against this man, being behind in a rally means you have a one in ten chance of winning it back.

But, I am not quite telling the truth, rather, saying what it feels like watching Djokovic, witnessing him beat up Rafa on his favourite surface, which is a more and more common occurrence.

Rafael Nadal, almost any commentatorwould admit, has lost some tenacity, HIS tenacity, that worked so very well for him for the better part of his career. It is that extra shot he used to make the players hit, just that one more, that partly made him such an annoying and difficult player to beat. But he made up for it by increasing his power.

Indeed, his shots are on average stronger than they used to be. But strength of shot isn’t necessarily going to win the point, all an experienced player needs to do is put the racquet where the ball is and the pace of shot will bounce it right back. A lot of players even use their opponent’s pace of shot to their advantage.

No one can see a repeat of the dominance between Roger and Rafa — the end of an era. Now it is certainly Djokovic who reins at the helm, and there’s no one else. It is just Djokovic, with those two “struggling” behind, along with the wildcard, and perpetual ‘almost-but-not-quite’ Andy Murray somewhere beneath.

The question now is, who is next? Where is the next hot shot, young-gun Rafa, or maturing Federer-to-be.

Australia is rearing some good talent in the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis. Particularly Kyrgios – who has shown fearlessness in the defeat of (albeit an injured) Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year – and more recently, an in-form Roger Federer at the clay court Madrid Masters 1000 series.

Federer, who came off the victory at the inaugural Istanbul Open 250 series, praised Kyrgios’ serve as the main reason for his 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 defeat. On a clay court, that is a particularly good omen.

Bernard Tomic is inside the top 100, with a good forehand and serve, but Tomic has perennially struggled with the goings on outside the tennis court, his father and the media “dog him”, and you can see he lacks the tenacity and focus required to bring down the top ten players on a regular basis.

It is difficult to say who the next great player(s) will be. Because, well, the great (possibly the greatest) players are STILL in contention. Roger Federer is in his mid thirties, and his ability to stay in contention for the number one spot is a testament to his ethereal game, and kurt attacking style.

And there’s certainly no Rafael Nadal in the nurseries, not that we have seen on tour anyhow. No one hits the ball like Rafa and Roger, the two experts in their opposing art forms. But right now, no one is as physiologically strong as Novak Djokovic.

The future of men’s tennis? It is surely there for the taking, but, still, the top three to five players in the world are not going to give it up lightly. And we have yet to see any extraordinary young stars.

Bright young stars, just not extraordinary.

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