Too rare to care? Can Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer still be considered rivals?

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: Rivalry in tact

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal barely seem to play each other anymore, and that annoys Michael Graham.

This year, we have all heard a lot about that Wimbledon final. You know, the one that was the greatest match of all time and cemented the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as one for the ages.

And that’s fair enough, of course. It was an absolute classic, and our own Kevin Palmer recalled it brilliantly for us during Wimbledon this year on its tenth anniversary.

It was brilliant. The whole rivalry was brilliant. It was iconic.

However, there is a very prominent word in that, isn’t there. Was.

Because, if we are honest, they tend to spend more time avoiding each other now than they do actually risking ending up on the same court as each other. I know that’s not a very popular view, but it’s the one I’ve started to take.

This week, Rafael Nadal has confirmed his intention to play in the Rogers Cup and, right on cue, Roger Federer has announced he has withdrawn.

“I had a fantastic time in Montreal last year and always enjoy playing in front of the Canadian fans,” Federer said, “but unfortunately with scheduling being the key to my longevity moving forward, I have regrettably decided to withdraw from Toronto this year.

“I wish the tournament every success and am sorry to miss it.”

And that’s fair enough if it was done in isolation. In fact, even relative isolation would do.

They both played in the Australian Open at the start of the year, and after that Nadal was injured and Federer continued. Just as Nadal returned, Federer decided to skip the entire clay court season, of which Nadal, naturally, played the entirety.

Federer then returns for Wimbledon warm-ups, while Nadal decides he doesn’t need warm-ups so he vanishes again. Now, as soon as Wimbledon is over, Federer needs to consider his ‘scheduling’ again.

It goes back further, too. There have been just six matches between these two ‘rivals’ in the last five years, and only one of those was any kind of a contest. Five of them have been won in straight sets.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

In fairness, there are reasons for that.

Nadal has been working his way back from injury and had dropped to as low as tenth in the world for a large spell during that time. So, fair enough, to don’t expect the rivalry to shine when one player is so far beneath their best.

It’s also fair to say that as world numbers one and two respectively, tournaments will be actually trying to keep them apart until the final. That, I guess, is the big drawback of the seeding system. So I am sympathetic to the circumstances that has led us here.

But what is the excuse now? Both players are fit, both players are playing well and, perhaps most importantly, neither player has anything left to prove.

So why, going into August, nearly two thirds of the way through the year, have we seen just two tournaments, both Grand Slams, that have featured both of the top two players in the world.

The answer, seemingly, is to protect Roger Federer’s “longevity”. And yes, the longer he can play, the better for everyone, us fans very much included.

But come on, Roger, if you are going to stick around and prolong your legend, at least do so doing what it was built upon in the first place. Give us your best – against the best – not some watered-down version.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all innocent and coincidental. Maybe no one is trying to avoid anyone and maybe we, as fans, are just on a bad-luck streak when it comes to seeing the best two players in the world going toe-to-toe in the sporting arena.

But even if it is, we are fast reaching the point where this, whatever it is now, can’t be considered a rivalry anymore.

Rivals make each other better. Rivals seek each other out. Rivals need the thrill of being the best.

Whatever it is that Federer and Nadal are doing nowadays with regard each other, it’s definitely not that.