Fitting metaphor for a new rivalry - He (Nadal) is going to be a threat in future: Federer

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By WILLIAM C. RHODEN
  • Published 5.06.05
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Paris: One hour after he had earned his way into the French Open final, Rafael Nadal was wrapping up a news conference. He had beaten the top-seeded Roger Federer with relative ease, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. As the news conference ended, one of the moderators advised the members of the news media to stay put for a surprise celebration. The doors to the interview room flew open and in came Pau Gasol, the 7-foot power forward for the Memphis Grizzlies and a friend of Nadal’s, pushing a cart with a cake, orange juice and Champagne. The journalists broke out in an impromptu Spanish rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

Rafael Nadal was 19.

The birthday celebration was a fitting metaphor for Friday and for the entire men’s tournament, which has seen the arrival of a rising star ? Nadal ? and the birth of a rivalry with Federer, widely regarded, at least before Friday, as the world’s best tennis player.

Federer and Nadal played in Miami in April, and Federer came from behind to win. But Friday’s match was the one Federer really wanted, so he could reach the French Open final for the first time.

“It’s a pity he beat me here in semis of a Slam,” Federer said. “I know I can beat him on any surface, which is good to know, because he is going to be a threat in the future.”

This was the blossoming of a rivalry.

Tennis has what it needs: Nadal, a young, energetic star with charisma, and Federer, an established star commonly regarded, at one point, as nearly invincible.

On Thursday, Francesco Ricci Bitti, the president of the International Tennis Federation, called this a potential golden age of tennis. There was certainly a bold contrast between the semi-finalists. Nadal is youthful and vibrant, while the 23-year-old Federer, who has won every Grand Slam event except the French, is reserved and low-key.

Federer was asked if the fans at Roland Garros had watched the world’s two best players Friday. He shook his head and spoke about the depth of the field. “Once I play this guy, he’s the best with me,” Federer said. “The next time I play Andy,” he said, referring to the No. 2-ranked Andy Roddick, “and he’s the best again.”

This is a great time for the sport of tennis. The men’s and women’s fields are deep, a mix of young players, from 15-year-olds all the way up to thirtysomethings like Mary Pierce and Andre Agassi. Bitti said this was what tennis needed: contrasts.

“Roger Federer is a wonderful person and he’s very important for our sport because he is a great person ? available, humble, well-educated; in his own way, he’s a character,” Bitti said. “But I think we also need Nadal, the people coming up. He’s a great sports guy, obviously, but he’s much more flamboyant, fiery, and the people like this.”

Nadal will play Mariano Puerta on Sunday for the championship. This is where the happy story of tennis turns serious. For the second consecutive year, the men’s championship features a player who was suspended for a violation of the sport’s drug policy.