Roger Federer (left) and Rafael Nadal’s era, their rivalry and their presence in the grand slam winner’s circle was supposed to be in the archives. (Reuters: Geoff Burke)
Having won the French Open for a 10th time with a crushing 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Stanislas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal cradled the Coupe des Mousquetaires like a child from whom he had been cruelly separated, and kissed it softly.
Remarkably, after three years, the trophy was where it now belongs in perpetuity — back in its greatest champion’s arms.
After watching Rafael Nadal hold it in the 2005 French Open for the first time at Roland Garros, my prognostications — like those of most in the press seats — were based on the seemingly irrefutable evidence the softly spoken, unusually muscular 18 year-old had just provided.
Tennis had a new superstar whose feats on clay would astonish over the next few years even more than the dubious knee-length “shorts” he wore.
Then, as inevitably, the enormous physical toll taken by relentlessly pounding the court for hour after gut-busting hour would result in relatively early retirement, as was often the case with the great dirt-courters.
Twelve years and nine more French Open titles later?
In a sport where the sheer size and strength of the competitors has increased remarkably over the course of Nadal’s career, the Spaniard’s durability has not only defied predictions — it beggars belief.
Yet, here again is Nadal seizing the trophy without conceding a single set over the two weeks, long after debilitating injuries seemed to have permanently eliminated him from the grand slam podium.
So incredibly, in a sport that had not only anointed its new champions Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, but was now on the lookout for their successors, everything old is new again.
Roger Federer is Australian Open champion, Nadal is French Open champion. Just as they were way back in 2006, during that memorable stretch when the Swiss and the Spaniard won 21 of 23 grand slam titles between the 2005 French Open and the 2011 Australian Open.
Of the major professional sports, only golf is supposed to allow ageing athletes to turn big events into living museums.
Federer is 35 and Nadal is 31 — although with more kilometres on the clock than an Alice Springs rental car.
Yet, in their own way, Federer’s 18th grand slam title and Nadal’s 15th were as remarkable as Jack Nicklaus’s famous victory in the 1986 US Masters aged 46.
Federer and Nadal’s era, their rivalry and their presence in the grand slam winner’s circle was supposed to be in the archives. Yet, through the sheer magnitude of their sporting genius, these twice-in-a-generation superstars continue to create history.
Rafael Nadal seizing the trophy without conceding a single set over the two weeks. (Reuters: Christian Hartmann)
Australia’s home-ground advantage in cricket
Was Australia’s limp performance against England at the ICC Champions Trophy the consequence of two wash-outs that left batsmen without much-needed time in the middle?
Or was the Australian team that capitulated to the Old Enemy distracted by the pay dispute that continues to drive a wedge between administration and the players?
Either way, a cataclysmic batting collapse followed by some uninspired bowling to ballistic England pair Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes resulted in a comprehensive defeat and a humbling exit before the semi-finals.
Yes, one day cricket is a not the real thing and you can rest assured all-rounder Moises Henriques won’t be batting number four in Brisbane as he was at Edgbaston.
But after Australia lost the Ashes in England in 2013, a blistering performance by the revitalised Mitchell Johnson in the ODI series set the scene for Australia’s 5-0 Ashes whitewash just a few months later.
Australia will have home-ground advantage, and the pace quartet of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson provides genuine grounds for optimism.
But any psychological edge to be gained at the Champions Trophy was seized by England.
England’s Ben Stokes plays a shot during the ICC Champions Trophy match between England and Australia. (AP: Rui Vieira)
Will Brazil dish it up to Socceroos?
After Brazil and Argentina had drawn a massive crowd of 95,000 to the MCG on Friday night, there was the now customary debate about the merits of high-profile, and high-priced, exhibition games.
Was this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see superstars such as Lionel Messi play here, or a costly friendly lacking the genuine stakes of a “real game”?
But whatever your take on Brazil-Argentina, there will be some added interest in Australia’s performance against the Brazilians on Tuesday — also at the MCG.
A 3-2 victory over Saudi Arabia was the result the Socceroos needed, but the performance itself was nowhere near what ambitious coach Ange Postecoglou will have wanted.
Before the Socceroos leave for the Confederations Cup in Russia, where they will play Germany, Cameroon and Chile, the Brazil game provides a chance to plug the leaks in a defence badly exposed by the fast, nimble and well-drilled Saudis.
Postecoglou will be hoping even without star striker Neymar, Brazil will dish it up to his team and help inspire the improved effort needed before both the Confederations Cup and, more importantly, the must-win World Cup qualifier in Japan on August 31.
Brutal athleticism of NBA play-offs
You do not have to love basketball to have been awe-struck as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors scored an NBA play-offs record 156 points in the first half of Game Four of the Finals — 49 of those by the Cavs in the first period alone.
There are few sports that can produce such a compelling blend of brutal athleticism and supreme marksmanship as the NBA at its best.
Accordingly, Lebron James’s Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors have somehow exceeded enormous expectations in creating the game’s greatest rivalry since the Lakers and Celtics went title for title in the mid-1980s.
A likely Warriors’ sweep has now given way to a compelling game five on Tuesday in which James and his team-mates will be challenged to reproduce their game-four heroics on the road.
It is unlikely any sport will be played at a higher level this year.
There are few sports that can produce such a compelling blend of brutal athleticism and supreme marksmanship as the NBA. (AP: Larry W. Smith)
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