Venus versus Serena. Nadal versus Federer. The two Aus- tralian Open singles finals will feature the two most defining rivalries in modern tennis. Individually, each one of the four finalists is an institution.
They’ve all carved their names in sporting history in their own way and will leave a lasting legacy that will forever transcend tennis.
Venus Williams with her pioneering triumphs and fight for equal pay; Serena Williams with her endless ability to smash records, longevity and dominance; Roger Federer with his balletic moves, unrivalled numbers, and deft touch; Rafael Nadal with his warrior-like grit and odds-defying victories.
There is not enough space or time to discuss these super-humans at length. On Saturday Venus, 36, and Serena, 35, square off for a 28th time and tomorrow Federer, 35, and Nadal, 30, will contest their 35th showdown.
It is the first time in the Open era that all four grand slam singles finalists belong to the 30-and-over club. The world is rejoicing over this vintage finals line-up and there are plenty of reasons why.
These two matches don’t just gratify the nostalgics out there, they are giving us a chance to witness these rivalries for what could be one last time before one or more of these veterans choose to hang up their racquets.
This particular finals combination has not been seen at a grand slam since Wimbledon 2008 and we don’t know if we’ll ever see it again.
“Probably is a unique situation. Let’s enjoy this because probably will not happen again,” was Nadal’s verdict on Friday when asked about the finals line-up. But beyond this idea of holding onto these legends while we still can, it is the manner in which they’ve reached this stage at a major that is most inspiring.
Think of what Venus, Serena, Federer and Nadal have all had to overcome to get to this point. Autoimmune diseases, pulmonary embolisms, knee injuries, wrist problems, back issues, months away from the court, and the basic reality of ageing – none of these factors have stopped this magical quartet.
Venus, an entrepreneur who has a business degree, explains it all so eloquently and pragmatically.
“I think people realise this is an amazing job, so it’s best to keep it,” said the seven-time major champion.
“I think this generation is going to inspire the rest of the generations to play a schedule that’s achievable, sustainable, and that you can play grand slam tennis for a long time. This is beautiful for the game because it will be able to retain its stars for a long time, which is a great business model.”
The tennis authorities are undoubtedly grateful for the longevity of these superstars, and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley is probably over the moon with this year’s scenario but a glaring reality remains: Where is the younger generation that is meant to carry the sport when these icons retire?
This fortnight in Melbourne, Federer took out Kei Nishikori, who at 27, is yet to win a Masters 1000 title, let alone a major, while Nadal beat the highly-touted German teenager Sascha Zverev, the injury-prone dangerman Milos Raonic, 26, and the uber-talented 25-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, who seems to be taking the scenic route to the top.
Old is still gold in tennis. The future? Not so shiny.