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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

REFLECTIONS: Clash of the Rivals (in 2011-2012)




We've always enjoyed famous rivalries of competitors at the top of their games. In the tennis world, there have been many:

Rod Laver vs. Ken Rosewall (1963-1976)
Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe (1978-1981)
Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert (1973-1988)
Steffi Graf vs. Monica Seles (1988-1989)
Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi (1989-2002)
Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal (2005-present)


   But to understand a rivalry, we must first understand it's key component. The dictionary defines a rival as "a person who is competing for the same object or goal as another, or who tries to equal or outdo another." We can certainly look into the tennis archives and agree with this statement when acknowledging the above pairings. But what about in 2012?
   One could argue that the new rival of Rafael Nadal is Novak Djokovic. But rivalries are usually reflected in a see-saw battle where one squeaks out a win over the other on any given day.Djokovic battled Nadal in 2011 a half-dozen times. And when the dust settled, Novak took home the trophy. Repeated and consistent beat-downs, at least in my book, are not rivalries. 
   So what has my mind buzzing with anticipation for 2012? Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Just in the past few weeks during round-robin play at the Barclays ATP World Tour Final, Tsonga and Federer met twice with their second meeting in the final itself. In their earlier match in the tournament, their tightly contested slug-fest ended in a 2-6, 6-2, 4-6 win for the fourth seed and defending champion Federer. But it was not to end there. The two made their way through the other best six players in the world and met in the final. Although Federer once again came away with the victory, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, it was clear that the Frenchman Tsonga is never one to be counted out when playing the Swiss maestro. 
   One tournament does not make a rivalry you say? No it does not. But lets take a look at the highlights of 2011: Tsonga met Federer in the second round of the BNS Internationali d'Italia during the clay court swing and lost 4-6, 2-6. Then came the grass. At the 2011 Wimbledon Championships, Tsonga stunned the centre court crowd by coming from two sets down to defeat Federer 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. This was Roger's first loss in a Grand Slam event after leading two sets to love.
   The Rogers Cup in Montreal followed, and Tsonga once again overcame the Swiss in the third round by a score of 7–6 (3), 4–6, 6–1. On Tsonga's own turf in Paris, Federer followed up with a win of 6-1, 7-6 leaving one to ponder what would have happened if Tsonga were able to take the second set tiebreaker. 
   Roger is now 30 years young, and we will see how well he can maintain the beautifully-crafted racquet work he displayed in the latter part of 2011 where he won 17 matches consecutively and took the year-ending championship. Tsonga is a younger man, age 26, and has all the reasons on the world to be hungrier than a man who has already won it all. But it seems that these two have developed a chemistry that not only delights the fans, but one that creates the spirit of rivalry as we all have come to love. Even if it's short-lived as Federer moves ever closer to his career end, this match-up may prove to be the one-to-watch in 2012.

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