Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Two of the most revered names in the Open Era of tennis. Yet, 2016 was a year of hits and misses for both these players. Federer, bogged down by a knee injury early in the season and later by a back injury, ended his season prematurely after Wimbledon. At the end of 2016, he was ranked 16, the first time since 2002 he was ranked outside the top 10 and the first time since 2000 that he had not won a title. Nadal had fared a bit better compared to Federer. He had won a few titles but he too was hindered by an injury to his left wrist, his most lethal weapon and finishing as world number 9. Because of all this, fans and experts alike predicted a similar 2017 season for both of them.
But what has transpired over these 9 months has proved them all wrong. Both Federer and Nadal have won 2 grand slams each, in convincing fashion, proving that age doesn’t matter and that you can never count out a legend. Now with just a few more months to go before the end of this season, Nadal and Federer are ranked 1 and 2 with 1960 points separating them. The race to number 1 is tantalisingly poised. So what lies ahead for both these players?
After the Laver Cup, Nadal heads to China for the China Open. Its a tournament that has been dominated by Djokovic in the past years, with Nadal losing to him in the finals in 2015. However, since many of the big names have already called it quits on this season, Nadal has a chance to win it this time. Nadal isn’t always at his best on hard courts, but after winning the US Open and Laver Cup, his confidence must be sky high. This, combined with his determination, could see him making to the semi-finals at least. He then heads to play in the Shanghai Masters, where he could potentially clash with Federer. It hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for him but again, the lack of big names should work to his favour. Nadal also hasn’t really made a mark at the ATP world tour finals in the past years and by that time if he is exhausted and unfit, it could see him make an early exit in the tournament.
Federer has already stated that becoming World Number 1 by the year end has become secondary and that his focus is more on his fitness than anything else. He has also cast doubt over his appearance at the Paris Masters stating that he would prefer Basel over the Paris tournament. This would mean he would play one less tournament than Nadal before the end of the season. The Basel Open is one of Federer’s favourites and if fit, expect him to go all the way. Playing in front of his home crowd should give him the extra bit of support needed. He too hasn’t made that much of an impact at the Shanghai Masters in the past few years. However this year could be different with a potential showdown with Nadal on the cards. It ends with the ATP tour finals where he has the most number of wins. Judging by his careful selection of tournaments , we could see a fit Federer triumph again in it.
All in all, if Nadal can keep up his intensity and he is fit for the rest of the season, he should end the season as world number 1. However, Federer will be in hot pursuit, even if he has stated that the number 1 ranking has become secondary to him. The season could see Nadal just edging out Federer or Federer going just slightly past Nadal. Whatever happens, it is ultimately good for the game to see these two legends playing at the top of their game.