|ESPN.com: ESPNTennis||[Print without images]|
Is the era of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer soon to be a thing of the past?
That's the suggestion tennis tycoon Andre Agassi put forth this week.
Now, I'm the first to admit that Agassi is a formidable student of the game, not to mention a legend in his own time. But if my name were John McEnroe, I'd be saying to Agassi, "You cannot be serious!"
Sure, some heavy hitters are nipping at Rafa's and Roger's heels -- Juan Martin del Potro, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick, to name but a few.
But none of those guys, at least for now, has proved to have the staying power to win Grand Slams consistently. By contrast, Federer and Nadal have won 19 of the past 22 Grand Slam tournaments.
"I think it's a little premature," said Mark Woodforde, the former player doing TV commentary at the Shanghai Masters. "The dominance of those two, there's going to always be that rivalry, but the group at the top has enlarged, and that's a healthy outcome. Those two, however, are at a stage where they recognize that the Slams are where they can remain dominant."
Is Nadal's domination done?
That's an interesting question, and who better to supply an answer but the person in question?
"Remember, I'm only 23 years old," Nadal said, flashing his trademark impish grin.
Point to Rafa.
Nadal is the first to admit he has had a physically and mentally challenging year. But his not-so-good performances aren't too shabby -- five titles, including a first Australian Open title.
Nadal's issues: tendinitis in both knees; a pulled stomach muscle; the upheaval from his parents' separation.
"Is pretty good year for me, no?" Nadal said. "But you sometimes have your head in other problems and other things."
How long can Nadal's knees hold out?
ESPN.com checked in with Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, an orthopedist who specializes in running and is the chairman of the board of governors for the International Marathon Medical Directors Association.
Although Maharam doesn't know Nadal's case personally, he addressed the seriousness of knee tendinitis: "With lots of conditioning and cross-training, he should be able to sustain his level for years to come. Tendinitis and knee issues are definitely reversible with proper rehab and preventive work."
Nadal is a competitor at heart, and if he has to crawl, he won't go away quietly.
Is Federer's domination done?
Let's be honest, many discounted the power of Federer early this year, an assessment primed by his emotional breakdown after losing the Australian Open final to Nadal, not to mention his frustration and smashed-to-smithereens racket in Miami.
Turns out his struggles to regain form were just blips on the Federer map. He righted the ship to win his first French Open title before recapturing ownership of Wimbledon, a record 15th Slam title.
Sure, he has had a big shake-up on the home front. He married longtime girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec, and the couple welcomed twin daughters during the summer. But although life will be different, tennis remains a major priority.
As for the Roger's-getting-old notion, he's only 28. There's plenty of life left in his legs and racket swings in his arm.
Not convinced? Let's use Agassi himself as an example.
The former great won his last Grand Slam title, the 2003 Australian Open, at age 32. He reached his last major final at the 2005 U.S. Open. And he didn't retire until he was 36.
Federer plays by his own rules, which means he doesn't always comply with tour mandates. The Masters 1000 tournaments are mandatory for the top players, but Federer determined he was too tired to play in Shanghai and stayed home.
What's the bottom line?
Until there's historical evidence that proves otherwise, it's hard to be swayed that the days of wine and roses for Federer and Nadal are drawing to a close.