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Vol. XXX No. No. 14, November 16-30, 2020
V.K.Parthasarahy, former State player and former Vice-President of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association writes on the Big 3, two of whom have graced Chennai with their presence.
To be at the top of a tough international sport like tennis and remain there for a length of time is certainly no mean achievement. Three of the most celebrated players in the world: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, all in their thirties, have been in the forefront of world tennis from 2003 onwards. During this period, they have collectively won 57 Grand Slam titles (Federer 20, Nadal 20 and Djokovic 17) and incidentally prize-money of more than 100 million dollars each. To this can be added Olympic medals, ATP tournaments and Davis Cup ties. It is notable that all three have surpassed Pete Sampras’s earlier record of 14 grand slams.
There is little in common among these three stalwarts as they come from different parts of Europe, each with a distinct personality and style of play. These ambitious and fierce competitors are admittedly arch rivals but at the same time, all three are known for their sportsmanship and court manners. Over a period of time, their rivalry softened into mutual admiration and finally into friendship off the court. The story of men’s international tennis for the last fifteen years is nothing but a record of achievements of this Magnificent Trio. They have raised the standard of tennis to breath-taking heights that other aspiring players have found difficult to reach. Even equally gifted players like Del Potro of Argentina and Andy Murray of Great Britain have not been able to stay in the reckoning partly owing to injuries. The trio’s domination of the game is such that in most major tournaments, two of the three met in the final rounds as shown in the following statistics:
Head to Head: Nadal leads Federer 24-16; Djokovic leads Federer 27-23; Djokovic leads Nadal 29-36.
No. of weeks at No.1 ATP: Federer 3120, Djolovic 305, Nadal 209.
Roger Federer – Mr. Perfection
Roger Federer whose is a brilliant all-round game, is accepted as the most accomplished player in the world since Rod Laver. He is very positive and determined. Lurking behind his smile and affability is a ruthless killer instinct. He derives his power not from muscles but from coordination and timing. His composure, exemplary court etiquette and graciousness towards the beaten opponent have made him the most popular among tennis players and spectators alike. He holds a record of 20 Grand Slam titles including a record 8 Wimbledon titles. No other tennis player in the open era has been a contender for Gram Slam titles at his age (late thirties).
Federer is much more than a tennis player. He has shown concern for the needy through the various schemes of the Federer Foundation. In 2011, in the Reputation Institute’s study on the world’s most respected, admired and trusted personalities, Federer ranked number 2 behind Nelson Mandela. After the 2004 tsunami that severely affected South India, Federer arranged an exhibition match with the top players at the time in Indian Wells, USA, , called ‘Rally for Relief’. The proceeds went to the victims of the tsunami. He even visited Chennai and other affected areas in Tamil Nadu towards the end of 2006. It was an unpublicised humanitarian visit under the aegis of the UN. All his accomplishments on and off the tennis court earned him the honour of being named Goodwill Ambassador by UNICEF in 2006.
Rafael Nadal – Chennai’s favourite
Rafael Nadal of Spain is the most colourful player of the trio. He first came to Chennai for the 2004 Chennai Open ATP tournament. The teenager’s unconventional attire of colourful calf-length tight-fitting shorts and matching T-shirt, head-band over long hair and his mannerisms made conservative Chennaiites look askance. But when he started hitting the ball, they had no doubts he had the makings of a champion. Although he lost the singles in the first round, he won the men’s doubles title partnering his compatriot Tommy Robredo. Indeed, he won the French Open the following year. He came back to Chennai in 2007, when he beat the then top player Carlos Moya in a nail-biting semi-final match, the 2nd longest in ATP history, and became the City’s favourite forever. He too had a special place in his heart for Chennai, and he expressed his sympathy during the traumatic 2015 floods. “I heard about the floods in Chennai. It’s really saddening to see so many people suffering; it’s worse when it happens in a place that you’ve visited. I’ve been there a couple of times for the Chennai Open. It was a great feeling playing there with some amazing crowd support.”
His overall performance is almost as impressive as Federer’s with 20 Grand Slam titles of which 13 were from the French Open. Nadal has won 85 career titles overall, including the most outdoor titles in the open era (84) and a record 60 titles on clay. With 81 consecutive wins on clay, Nadal holds the record for the longest single-surface win streak in the open era. He has also won Olympic Gold Medals, Davis Cup ties, not to mention other ATP tournaments. His powerful top spin forehand is considered the most lethal stroke in tennis today. Over time he has become the crowd’s favourite wherever he plays.
Novak Djokovic – The Ballkids’Buddy
Currently World No.1, the youngest of the trio Novak Djokovic started playing tennis at the age of 4, and winning tennis championships at the age of 14. He won his first Grand Slam in Australia in 2008 at the age of 21. He then surged forward and has very nearly caught up with the other two through several victories, with a record of 8 Australian Open titles, including the latest one in January 2020. He is the first player in the 28-year history of ATP World Tour Masters 1000s to win all nine elite tournaments and complete the Career Golden Masters.
His game is characterised by speed, power and precision, and fortified by a single-minded determination to win. He always keeps cool under pressure and succeeds in overturning the match in his favour. He has declared his intention of overtaking Nadal and Federer. Going by his present form, age and mind-set, he may well succeed.
Early in his career, he used to entertain spectators by imitating various players including Maria Sharapova. His clowning ended when he became a champion, but he continues to entertain the crowd by taking a characteristic sweeping bow along with the ballkids in all four directions when he wins. He is always their Champion.
Very recently, the trio has been appointed to the ATP Payers Council Committee, with Djokovic as President. It was Djokovic who, earlier this year, came forward to help aspiring players who suffered financial losses following the cancellation of tournaments because of the pandemic. The top 3 tennis players in the world have graciously come forward in support of any scheme of assistance to young players. They also subscribed to the idea of changes in the distribution of prize money making it more equitable to benefit middle-level players. Such a trio of champions has never been seen before in the history of tennis.
(Article updated after the recent French Open Championships.)