The rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal which reached fever pitch in the middle of the year should have concluded with a showdown in the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai earlier this month, but the world's top two were both walking wounded by the time the big event arrived. Federer arrived in China nursing a worrying back problem which, coupled with illness, left him well short of his best as he exited in the group stages.
Nadal did not compete in Shanghai, having pulled out of the earlier Paris Masters midway through the event with a knee injury. The problem also prevented him playing in the Davis Cup final. Nadal, proud to have taken the world No 1 position from Federer in the autumn, blamed the punishing ATP tour schedule for missing the late events. Federer, though sympathetic, maintained that his rival could learn from the painful lessons of this season.
"Maybe Rafa should have asked himself what was the point of him going to play in Paris before Shanghai," said Federer. "He was already ranked No 1 in the world. Blaming the schedule for his injury was harsh because it was his own decision. Rafa played so many matches in the year that it was inevitable he was eventually going to run out of steam." Federer admitted to making his own errors of judgment regarding his schedule. "I maybe made a mistake by playing too much in the indoor season but I couldn't resist," he reflected.
"I just love playing the indoor season. I have never been able to win Paris Bercy before so I wanted to give it a shot after coming off a win in my home town of Basle. I felt I had it in me to win that tournament. Then all of a sudden my back was hurting so much that I couldn't move any more. That and the unlucky sickness made things very difficult for me in Shanghai." Federer stressed the importance of fulfilling commitments on the global calendar, adding: "In the last five years I have missed maybe one or two tournaments a year that I had promised to play. I try to make it that kind of thing happen very rarely."
That responsibility to the Tour illustrates how Federer regards himself as a role model for those watching him, especially the younger generation, and is a position that he clearly relishes within the sport. "I needed idols when I was young and I had them in [Boris] Becker, [Stefan] Edberg and [Pete] Sampras," he said. "I wanted to be like them and be as successful as them. I don't feel I have an obligation but I just feel that I want to give back as much as I can to the kids.
"If I can give something back to a sport that has served me so well then I will be happy. Maybe in 10, 15 or 20 years time when people say that Roger Federer was my idol, it would make me very happy." firstname.lastname@example.org