You knew it would have to happen sometime. The always congenial and typically amicable rivals are finally experiencing a modicum of tension. Or, at least, it's what you will read and hear.
Now, before we try to make a mountain out of molehill of Rafael Nadal's thoughts on Roger Federer's lack of support for the player's movement with regard to the ATP schedule, let's state with equanimity that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have always held each other in high regard. In fact, I'm quite sure they still do, and the fact that Rafa is willing to set off on a different course than Federer with regard to the great big elephant in the room known as the ATP schedule, does not in any way, shape or form renounce the mutual respect that the pair share for one another.
That said, Rafa's comments do make for a good read, and maybe -- should the longtime rivals meet in the Australian semifinals -- good fightin' words too.
"For him it's good to say nothing," Nadal told reporters in Spanish, in response to hints that Federer disliked hearing players complain about problems on the tour because it tarnished the image of the sport. "Everything positive. 'It's all well and good for me' and the rest can burn themselves."
"He likes the circuit. I like the circuit," added Nadal. "He finishes his career fresh as a daisy because he is physically privileged, but neither Murray nor Novak Djokovic and I are fresh as a daisy."
Strong words from the world's No. 2, quite obviously, and courageous too. Considerable credit has to go to Nadal here for stating his mind and for not being afraid to send a message to Federer.
Nadal's stated concerns about the rigor of the ATP's schedule are certainly not only his own. But the toll that his commitment to supporting Spain's Davis Cup aspirations -- a commitment that Federer regularly eschews when it comes to playing for Switzerland -- is somewhat unique. Perhaps, Nadal, ever loyal patriot that he is, does harbor some underlying bitterness for Federer's perceived lack of "love of country."
But, as with Nadal's current beef, there is always more than one side to the story. Doesn't Switzerland value Federer's Grand Slams more than it would value a Davis Cup title, and isn't Federer's reluctance to attempt an all-out pursuit of the latter at the expense of the former really the most patriotic endgame in reality?
The issues are complex, to say the least. And while Nadal's willingness to come out in support of the poor, the tired, the huddled masses of tennis players who do not benefit from being physically privileged like Federer, wouldn't he be wise, at this point in his career to take a page from the Federer playbook and stop hanging himself out to dry when doing so isn't required by the tour?
His well-documented frustration with the rigors of the tour is warranted -- no doubt -- and his desire to have Federer show more support for the grinders on tour is understandable, but is it realistic?
Tennis, individual sport that it is, is driven by self-interest, and Federer is interested in cementing his legacy, not helping other, younger and more physically robust players, end it. Can you blame him?
Nadal, also is driven by self-interest. He wants an easier road to hoe, and he doesn't quite know how to get it without offending his own innate sense of honor. He'd like the tour to make it easy for him to stay healthy and be able to perform at his highest level for the most important events. He can state that he's out to see all the players benefit, but are his intentions really so selfless?
At the essence of the argument is this: Tour solidarity is in the interest of Nadal, but it is not in the interest of Federer. So it's only natural that the narrative has turned.
It is an interesting time for tennis, and there is a lot to play for -- both on the court and off. Nadal's fiery comments prove so much.
A little off-court fire to the rivalry might be just the thing to make it more compelling on the court. Not that it needed it, but it probably won't hurt.