Freeman Cebu Sports


WRECKORDER - Ferdinand G.S. Gujilde - The Freeman

The problem with well-loved champions is they still win even if they lost. Especially in the last match of their career. Or in a match that feels like the last. Ageing champions Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal lost in the first round of the French Open. But fans treated them kindly, like they won another day.

Murray used to be part of the Big 4. Although he was just number four. Behind Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic. In that order, based on who won 20 slams first. Reverse it, based on who has the most number of slams.

Regardless. Wherever history places him, Murray occupies a special place in the books. He ended a 77-year singles crown drought of Great Britain at the greatest slam it owns, the Wimbledon.

Nadal suffered the earliest exit in the mud championship he won 14 times. But the crowd cheered him on like it was the last appearance of his majesty. Alexander Zverev the conqueror became a mere spectator. Of history unfolding. Or ending.

But the king of clay was not emphatic. He instead spoke about uncertainty of his future in tennis, even if his yesterday is one of the best stories in tennis. Or in all of sports. Tournament organizers had to abort the farewell tribute to the greatest clay specialist who ever played. Whether he comes back next year depends on his body. Just as Murray admitted his body is not what it used to be. Mortality.

At 38, Rafa is old. But his body is twice as old. Even older, especially his knees that suffered the brunt of his brutal game. Although he played good against Zverev, he was no longer invincible good. Especially against Sascha who hungered to answer what could have been had he not twisted his ankle the last time he played Nadal at the French Open.

Despite winning, his query remains unanswered. That was then, when Rafa was perfect ten. This is now, when the Mallorcan had to beat not only the man at the other side of the net, but also the man within, tired, injured and ageing. Circumstances changed.

Exactly why comparing who is the greatest of all time in sports does not make sense. In basketball, Michael Jordan and LeBron James and the other greats belong to different eras. Too, Pelè, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi in soccer. In reality, it is an unfair question. Who is the favorite probably makes more sense. It appeals to personal preference. Or choice.

Experts don’t help either, their opinions vary, confusing even. Largely because it is personal. Neither reality nor conclusion. The better question to answer is who raised the level of the sport or increased public interest in it. Impact. Rafael Nadal did both. Even more. Muhammad Ali too. In boxing. In and out of the ring. But not Lance Armstrong. He was beyond recycling.

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