Will anyone gatecrash the Roger-Rafa party in 2011?

December 30, 2010

SPAIN/Will 2011 be the year when Rafael Nadal’s stock rises even further? Or will it be the year when Roger Federer will leave Australia with a lighter suitcase? Or will it be the year when someone finally gatecrashes the Roger-Rafa party?

There will be 126 players looking to stop the all-or-nothing battle royale between Nadal and Federer when the Australian Open kicks off in 18 days.

While Nadal will be in pursuit of becoming the first man in over four decades to hold all four grand slam titles at once – a feat last achieved by Rod Laver in 1969 – Federer will be heading to Melbourne Park with a pounding heart as one slip up would mean that for the first time since 2003 he will not be a reigning champion at any of the four majors.

It is a situation that seemed unthinkable in January 2010.

Many pundits were busy penning Nadal’s tennis obituary when he followed up his injury-ravaged 2009 season by quitting mid-match in the Aussie Open quarter-final against Andy Murray. While Nadal headed home to nurse his dodgy knees, an unstoppable Federer looked like he was ready to monopolise the men’s game for a few more years when he pocketed a record 16th grand slam title on Rod Laver Arena.

But a monopoly of any kind rarely excites the masses and thankfully for the men’s game, rumours of Nadal’s demise were greatly exaggerated. After the Spaniard roared back to win the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S.

Open crowns, the Roger-Rafa rivalry was once again reignited at the season-ending Tour finals.

Since the Wimbledon 2004, the two European rivals have bagged 23 of the 26 grand slam trophies on offer and with Federer winning the O2 event, it will be game on in Australia.

“To put it into context what Roger and Rafa have achieved for the past five years I would hope that people appreciate it because I guarantee people will be writing in 15 years time that these were the good old days,” Andy Roddick said in London last month.

Nothing in tennis today matches the sight of a fully fit Nadal trading eye-popping shots with Federer. But no matter how compelling their rivalry has been, the likes of Murray or 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic must feel that they have now served their apprenticeship on the men’s tour and are should get their hands on some of the bigger prizes.

Federer and Nadal are likely to disagree.

PHOTO: Federer (L) and Nadal shake hands after Nadal won their charity tennis match in Madrid. REUTERS/Susana Vera

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