Everything ran late this morning because of an ice-storm over the weekend. My first two patients had already called in late so there was no rush. I started getting ready for work at a leisurely pace. So I’m flicking the remote control between the various ESPN alternatives, hoping of course for some more celebration of Roger’s win yesterday. Instead I ran across Mike and Mike, one of whom was laying down a serious diss on Federer. I immediately paid attention.
It’s not everyday that two irritating talking heads who get paid to opine on football, take time out from noisily flapping their gums to comment on tennis. And I admit that I don’t normally pay attention to these two. They scream too much for a start, and the Skinny One comes across as an irritating know-it-all nerd. I know that one of them is called Greeny and the other Golic, but because I don’t know which is which (and also, don’t care), I’ve taken to calling them El Gordo y El Flaco (the Fat One and the Skinny One).
Those who watch Spanish-language TV in the US would know that these nicknames are patterned after a delightful entertainment show called “El Gordo y La Flaca”. Imagine E’s Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic, except that this Ryan is probably close to 300 pounds and Giuliana is far more demure and ten times more intelligent. (No diss intended on Giuliana, or to the original show.)
So this morning El Gordo off-handedly says to El Flaco something along the lines of, whoa did you catch that story about Roger Federer this weekend. And El Flaco proceeds to diss Federer. He insinuated that Federer's accomplishment is questionable because of his losing record against Nadal. Except that El Flaco did not quite come out and say it that clearly. He posed it as a hypothetical.
El Gordo did not seem immediately to understand the point that his partner was trying to make. He observed that Federer has won more Slams than anybody. El Flaco then made an analogy to football and again asked how could Federer be considered the best when at the time that he played, someone else routinely beat him? He noted that he wasn’t comparing Federer to Rod Laver or any other of the greats that preceded him. He was only asking if, whether in Federer's lifetime he could be considered the best when there was an opponent he could not beat. He invoked Sampras and Agassi and asked if Sampras would have been considered the best if Agassi routinely beat him?
El Gordo finally seemed to comprehend. He acknowledged that he did not follow tennis as closely as El Flaco so he didn’t know. But he saw his point.
So did I. The Nadal period. It remains a stain on the Federer record. Even footballers who could give a crap about tennis could see the problem. Nadal has a winning record against Federer. Does this detract from Federer’s accomplishments? Can Federer be considered The Greatest in spite of this? Who gets to decide?
Well in a sense, I do. And so do you. I think that Federer will be better appreciated after he is gone. Heroes are rarely acknowledged in their lifetimes. We take Federer's greatness for granted because he makes it look so easy. In my opinion, he is the greatest tennis player on the tour. And I am choosing to appreciate him now and not wait until I can tell my grandchildren about him. But part of Federer's greatness is because of the existence of Nadal. Between them they have created a rivalry that is riveting. I will tell my grandchildren about that as well.
For those who disagree, there is actually a very simple solution. Nadal needs to rehab every inch of his body and then return to the tour, and win ten more Slams. Easy peasy. That would give him 17, one more than Federer. And then I will promptly pass the baton and call him The Greatest Ever.
Of course the problem is that Nadal has played a heavy price for his tennis wins. Whereas Federer’s style of play has thus far allowed him to have a relatively injury-free career, Nadal’s style of grinding has been very destructive to his body. He has acknowledged that he no longer runs as much as he used to. He has admitted to trying to change up his game. Which is why I wanted to call up El Gordo and El Flaco and tell them to stick to talking about football. Because the new conservative, body-protective Nadal is not going to erase Federer’s record any time soon. You know that I’m right.