It’s 2019, Take That and the Spice Girls are on a stadium tour, Tiger Woods has donned the prestigious green jacket, and Cristiano Ronaldo has led Portugal to a Nations Cup Victory. In Paris Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, & Roger Federer occupy 3 of the 4 semi final spots at Roland Garros.
It’s 2019. Has time stopped?
Rewind to 2006. I remember it well, the light ambience of the piano keys in a premium hotel bar, and a heated debate with three of my closest friends. They remain my closest friends. Drinking rum and cola, smoking pretentious cigars. We were young enough. The topic – Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer. The question – Who is, and ultimately, who will become the greatest men’s tennis champion of all time?
At that time, Federer had won seven grand slam titles, Rafa had just added his second in Paris.
My argument was biased; Federer’s dominance was carried out in an artistic light, like watching a ballet performance. Although it should have, it didn’t stimulate me. I got excited by watching a young, flamboyant, puppy-like energy from Rafa. I was in the minority - and rightly so. Federer went on to win five of the next six majors. It now stood at 12 -3. I looked like a fool. I stayed in captivity for a few years, utterly distraught with my mindless, subjective opinion.
Fast forward 13 years. Federer is 37 years old, Nadal 33. We could go to any bar, drink any drink, and have exactly the same argument and it would still be as heavily debated, and as highly relevant to modern times. The only other consideration you would need to flirt with is Novak. You can’t underestimate his argument. In fact, since Marat Safin won the Aussie Open in 2005, just eight Grand slam tournaments have not gone the way of Rafa, Fed, and Novak. These have been shared between just four other players. It truly is a crazy era.
So what next?
Wimbledon, the sporting highlight of the summer. Who will win that pineapple-topped trophy?
Rafa looked more formidable in France than ever before. Federer looked as good in France as he ever has. Novak has won three of the last four majors.
The younger generation is looking wealthier than it has done in recent times. Led by Tsitsipas, Zverev, Khachanov and Thiem, you feel that even these stars are still a few years off a maiden major victory.
So for now, the old guard will continue to stand firm and share between them the next two years of silverware. Maybe after all that has concluded, and the curtain draws, we can finally close the argument that started all those years ago. We will never have a definitive answer? No. Only consensus surrounded by years of stats, memories, and beautiful history.