The Reuters global sports blog
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.
Received wisdom heading into the Australian Open was that the combined effects of fatherhood and a record-breaking number of grand slams would reduce Roger Federer’s hunger for success to the point where mere mortals on the tour need fear him no longer.
Instead, the message remains: Beware of the GOAT.
The possibility no one seems to have considered is that the Wimbledon title that saw him overtake Pete Sampras as the most successful player in grand slams, coupled with the certain knowledge he now possesses that there are far more important things in life than tennis, might take every ounce of pressure off his shoulders and make him a more formidable opponent still.
Justine Henin’s storming run to the final of the Australian Open illustrates exactly what women’s tennis has been missing in her absence.
The Belgian played just one tournament in the run-up to the Melbourne grand slam following an 18-month “retirement” but it looks as though she has never been away.
Is there a more notorious and oft-bemoaned sporting drought than Britain ’s long – and very far from tantalising – wait for a men’s grand slam tennis champion?
In the week the New Orleans Saints finally threatened to shed their unofficial moniker of The Aints because of their lack of Super Bowl success, Andy Murray is doing his level best to get the biggest monkey in world tennis off his back.