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February 16, 2011
By the Editors of MangoBoss

Roger Federer will be 30 years old on his next birthday, August 8,
which falls just ahead of the US Open. Rafael Nadal will be 25 on his
next birthday, June 3, which occurs right in the middle of the French
Open. It's somehow fitting that these two champions each celebrate
their birthdays during one of the Grand Slams. Sort of like being born
under the right stars.

Federer currently holds 16 Grand Slam titles, more than any other man
in history.  He is one of only 3 men to hold the career Grand Slam,
having won each of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and the
Australian Open at least once. He is one of only 3 players to have won a
Grand Slam on all surfaces (grass, clay, hard court).

So too Nadal has amassed historic achievements. His Grand Slam totals
9, 7 behind Federer -- so far. He too has won all 4 Grand Slams.  He is
in fact, the
youngest man to complete the career Grand Slam.  And
other than Andre Agassi, he is the only man to have won all 5 Grand
Slams and an Olympic gold medal in singles.

Tennis is different from other sports. It's the only international sport
played on surfaces so vastly different that they actually change the
game. Different physical skills are required to play clay tennis than hard
court or grass tennis. To play clay tennis, you need legs of steel, lungs
of a whale and the mind of chess player. Clay is slippery, suited to
those who can keep their heads while the earth moves beneath you.
Think ice skater.  To play hard court tennis, you need the shoulder
strength of a wrestler and the precision of a archery champion or a
marksman.  It's a fast game. Imagine standing in front of  To use an
analogy, it's like watching Muhammad Ali pummel opponents in a
traditional boxing ring. Then, you submerge ring under water and say
"now, let's see what you can do".

As for their physical raw talents, let's go to the tapes.

Federer                Nadal

Height        6'1" (186 cm)        6'1" (185 cm, ever so slightly less)

Weight        85 kg                     85 kg

Most people are surprised to learn that Federer and Nadal weigh
exactly the same, given Nadal's apparently  larger muscle mass.  The
weight and height numbers are from each player's official websites.

Key Weapons of Rafael Nadal

1. The Cross-Court Forehand.  Federer plays right-handed with a
one-handed backhand. Nadal is a natural right-handed but was made to
play left-handed by his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal.

As a result, Nadal's forehand cross court unleashes a 5000 revolutions-
per-minute top spin that carries a right handed player out the court and
positioned to defend only with his backhand.  It's the can-opener.  
Once the can is opened, Nadad can choose to close out the point by
moving to his right and going forward, and either picking off a weak
back hand reply aimed at the right hand line or an attempted cross
court reply that can surely only reach the middle of the court given his
opponent defensive position.  Nadal rarely has to defend the left hand
side of the court after he digs his forehand deep into his right-handed
opponent's backhand.

Nadal's inside-out forehand against a right-handed player doesn't work
as devastatingly well as his cross-court forehand but it's hard to
handle. More devastating is his down-the-line-forehand against the
righty's forehand side. It's a supremely well-controlled medium-heavy
topspin shot that is almost always falls about 4 inches from the baseline
and pulls his opponent behind the line, if he's luky enough and fast
enough to even reach it.

The Serve. Nadal's serve is underestimated by many. Many only
consider it only a safe spin serve but it's far more than that. In 2010,
Nadal unveiled a flatter, harder serve that has allowed him to shorten
his points and conserve his body.

The Balance. Nadal's defensive skills are legendary and
well-chronicled. Few shots get by him. But less has been written about
a trait he shares with Federer. Nadal has the balance of a great ballet
dancer. He almost never is off balance. Every shot is hit from his power
base, with a perfect triangle of legs and trunk. Unlike Federer, Nadal's
balance seems almost gyrometric--he spins his trunk while keeping his
legs perfectly balanced and ready to drive through the top spin side of
the ball. Think Charlie Chaplin meets Olympic champion Roman-Greco

Key Weapons of Roger Federer

1. The Eyes. Roger Federer sees the ball unlike any other player in the
Open Era. He sees the infinitesimal spinning seams of the ball as it
meets the racket and can manipulate the ball's surface to the nth
degree as it hits the strings. To do that, you have to see like Superman.
X-ray vision.

The Reflexes. Roger Federer has the reflexes of a cat. I remember
noticing his unnaturally quick reflexes not while he was playing tennis
but when he was playing with 7 to 10 year old children in South Africa.
Federer was running with these super-active athletic young boys with a
soccer ball. What was remarkable was that even as quick as young
boys can be as they play at full speed,
Federer was quicker. And not
just a little quicker.
Federer was twice as quick. It was as if you were
watching a leopard or a panther paw with yarn. His reflexes were
quicker than the eye. It was then that I saw the truth of what I had
heard Roger Federer's mother say about him-- that when he was a boy
coaches had told her that Roger could have been a world class

So, you have the reflexes of Messi or Cristian Ronaldo coupled with the
eyes of Ted Williams, the last man to bat .400 for a season in major
league baseball.

The Balance. Roger Federer has the balance of a ballet dancer. Think
Baryshnikov. His balance is so preternatural that as he runs at full
speed, as he prepares to strike the ball, his legs are moving, his trunk is
bedning, his arms are shifting but his head is still.
Perfect stillness. The
stillness of his head is essential, as it allows him to use his Ted Williams
quality eyes to see the threads of the ball. You can't see clearly when
your head is shaking.

His Relaxed Mental State. Roger Federer plays relaxed. His mind and
his body remain relaxed as possible even as he moves, as he strikes. His
attentiveness to maintaining his relaxed mind and keeping his body
relaxed help him conserve his energy. When you're relaxed, you can
see your options more clearly. You also avoid injury. Tense muscles are
more apt to strain. Federer's relaxed style of playing have allowed him
to remain relatively injury-free throughout his career. His relaxed arms
also allow him to whip through the ball at the last second, giving the
ball an arc with both velocity and spin. It's a grand marriage of
precision and force.

So, Who is Better --Nadal or Federer?

What most people overlook in comparing Federer with Nadal is that
they are more similar than different. Both these great champions have
ascended to the heights they've achieved by mastering an elusive
combination of spin and balance. Both are spin-meisters. Both are
masters of balance. Each has super-human balance in fact.

But what makes Nadal a greater player, in our humble opinion, is his
competitive fight. We are talking tiny differences here -- both these
great champions would eat you alive if you stood between them and a
trophy. But Nadal would continue eating even after you extracted his
teeth. His appetite knows no bounds. His thirst for victory extends to
every single point. His mind is more like that of an annihilator than a
player when he is on the court.

Rafa Nadal is 5 years younger than Federer. He is only 7 Grand Slam
victories behind him. Last year, he picked up 3 Grand Slam titles
(Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Us Open) to 1 for Federer (Australian
Open). If we assume that for each of the next 5 years that Rafa will
win at least 2 Grand Slams (French for sure and one of the others),
then Rafael Nadal will have 19 Grand Slams in 5 years and Federer will
probaly have 18 or 19, assuming he can still win 2 or 3 more Grand
Slams even as he nears 35 years old. This is unlikely, given that Rafael
Nadal has figured out how to win on the hard courts of Australia and
the US Open as well as the grass of Wimbledon.

Here's the bottom line.  Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are champions
for the ages
. It's rare to have all-time greats with overlapping careers.
Tennis fans are lucky to have them both playing in great form at the
same time. Both these great champions are men of quiet dignity and
sportmanship. Their standard of play and standard of comportment
elevate their sport and the spirits of the fans privileged to watch them.

Nadal Sweeps Aside Ferrer to Claim 2013 French Open Championship
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