NEW DELHI: In late 2010, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer recorded a commercial to announce back-to-back fund-raising exhibition matches in Zurich and Madrid. Routine as it might sound, the end result was anything but. Federer burst into a series of laughing fits after Nadal continuously flubbed a few lines. Unsurprisingly, the video became a YouTube sensation. How could great rivals be so comfortable around each other?
Tennis has witnessed many defining rivalries in the Open Era — Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe, Boris Becker-Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi come to mind — but such an intangible makes this one unique. Those guys could hardly hang around each other, much less shoot a guffaw-inducing advertisement. But Federer and Nadal share an unmistakable bonhomie.
This was more evident on final day of the New Delhi leg of the International Premier Tennis League on Saturday. After a competitive set which sent fans delirious, the superstars held a combined press conference wherein they teased not only each other, but reporters as well.
As one journo stuttered to get his query across, Federer teased him a little before giving Nadal the opportunity to answer it. “Go ahead Rafa. I am too nervous sitting here so I prefer Rafa breaks the ice,” Federer said.
Not to be left behind, Rafa shot back jovially: “Well! I am always so good when I talk in English!” But Federer was on it in a flash, much like when he’s at the net. “It’s such a joy for me to listen to it!” came the retort. They were just warming up.
As soon as talk veered about their lack of US Open meetings — it’s the only Grand Slam where they haven’t clashed — Federer said it was his fault because he couldn’t put Novak Djokovic away when he had the chance in the 2010 semifinal. “The blame is on me, I messed up one time on match point. It was on my racquet, on my serve and Nadal was waiting in the final. I hope next year we can break that jinx,” the 17-time Major winner said with a sheepish smile that drew peals of laughter from mediapersons.
That’s when Nadal’s retort came out of nowhere, much like his vaunted forehand on-the-run. “Actually, it was two match points...” the Spaniard said with a wicked grin. As the whole room erupted in chortles, Federer conceded the point to his great rival. “I didn’t want to say that Rafa, but yeah, I messed up,” the Swiss lifted his hand in apologetic manner.
These moments sum up beautifully why it’s impossible for fans to dislike either of the two... they’re just too nice and relatable. Let’s hope others are watching, because these two have changed the game. Forever.