WIMBLEDON, England — One is too old — at least we think so, even if Roger Federer doesn’t — and the other is too worn out. Tennis is a sport for the young, isn’t it? And the physically fit, which Rafael Nadal seems to be only occasionally. But there are no logical parameters for either of these two.
Federer should have retired a couple of years back. The man will be 34 in a few weeks, ancient for running backs or guys running down backhands. Nadal should have fallen apart a few years ago. First there were the troublesome knees, then the back. He seemed to spend more time in rehab than on court.
But now it’s summer, and more than just on the calendar. It was 85 degrees Tuesday in Greater London, and it may hit 100 today. Tourists are using parasols. Authorities are issuing heat warnings.
No sweat, figuratively, for Roger and Rafa. They are in their element and on their way in the world’s oldest and most important tournament: the All-England Lawn Tennis Championships. Pass the strawberries and cream and let the guys hit a few passing shots.
Each scored an opening-round victory, as he should have, Federer, the No. 2 seed and seven-time winner, blasting someone named Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. Nadal, who has slipped to a 10th seed after the injuries and some erratic play, defeated Thomaz Belluci of Brazil, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
So despite age and infirmities, the results were no surprise whatsoever. Tennis’ upper echelon — throw in Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka — is so far superior to the guys in the sport’s netherworld, it might beat them with wooden racquets.
But ahead of Federer, at least in the same bracket, are Murray, Tomas Berdych, the No. 6 seed, and Nadal. And Nadal obviously could meet the other two. Defending champion Novak Djokovic is in the other bracket, meaning if Federer or Nadal play him, it would be in the final.
The tough road for the 29-year-old Nadal is the result of his seeding. “I am No. 10,” he conceded, “because I deserve to be No. 10. That’s what happens with a one-year ranking. When you are injured six months and come back and you are not able to play great, No. 10 is a great number,”
The number people talk about for Federer is his age. Of the top 10 men, only Roger and his Swiss compatriot, Wawrinka, are older than 29. People keep asking Federer not whether he still might end up a winner but when he’ll quit. Not too smart.
“Stefan Edberg,” said Federer about one of his coaches, a former champ, “I think he announced at the beginning of the year that he was going to retire at the end of the year. He thought that was a bit rough. Had a farewell at every single place he went to. He said that eventually it was just a bit too much. I don’t think I am going to do that.
“I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, to be honest. Yeah, I don’t want to go there with my thoughts because the more I think about it, the closer I am to retirement.”
What he wants to get close to is that huge gold cup awarded the winner. Asked what moment of a match he likes, Federer cleverly responded, “I prefer the moment at match point until I hold the trophy. … I enjoy coming here, but we come here for a purpose.”
Nadal, the clay court specialist (he has nine wins in the French Open), twice has taken Wimbledon. Federer comes in the eternal optimist. Nadal, the Spaniard, dwells on the negative.
“I have to serve better,” he insisted. “I lost my serve twice. In Roland Garros [the French], I was playing against a player [Djokovic in the semis] who was better than me that day. I was working the first months of the season to better than I was in the previous three months. It was very bad. Is something that I made happen. Last two months been more regular for me. First three months I lost more matches than I should win.”
He did win his first match at Wimbledon 2015, as expected, and so did Roger Federer. Now it gets meaningful and telling. Father Time is standing at the net.