April 28, 2020
Our favourite tournaments are on hold but something special is happening in the world of tennis.
It feels like there has never been so much love to go around. And it could lead to lasting unity in our sport.
The way people have responded to adversity is uplifting. It’s inspirational.
The magic of past rivalries has turned into enduring love and respect.
One of the early manifestations came in the Instagram exchange between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
The Serb misses the other top players as much as anyone. He clearly loved hooking up with Murray online.
They talked like old friends and rivals, which is of course what they are. They openly admitted how much losing to each other had hurt them at various times of their career.
They paid full respect to the other man’s achievements. They also had fun trying to build the perfect tennis player using components picked from the best in the business.
It was educational, revealing and heartwarming in equal measure.
Again it was our own Andy Murray who was soon setting the tone once more by teasing Rafael Nadal over his lack of social media skills.
‘This is brilliant…he can win 52 French Opens but not work Instagram,’ he laughed.
Andy felt free to be boyishly playful because he has known Nadal since they were indeed teenagers.
He even cheekily suggested Rafa use his extra time at home to start a family.
Murray also admitted he had played a virtual tennis match as Rafa recently and run out of steam after one set.
Not something the real Nadal ever does, as Andy was quick to point out.
Pretending to be Nadal in a match? It’s just the sort of thing a fan would do. And isn’t that just the point?
So many of these guys are one another’s biggest fans deep down. Not just rivals.
Fans and mischievous friends. Nick Kyrgios came onto Instagram to tease Murray in turn. He called him ‘a disgrace’ just for the hell of it.
Murray’s obvious amusement at this piece of abusive gate-crashing reminded us of the long-standing bromance between the Aussie and the Brit, despite their contrasting ages.
But there was an even more perfect demonstration of a friendship bordering on outright love.
It came when Nadal and Roger Federer finally got their Instagram act together after a few technical hiccups.
They laughed like little children at their own incompetence. They knew the world would be watching and didn’t care.
The bond between them is extraordinary. And it is worth remembering that these two have inflicted terrible sporting pain on each other.
Who can forget arguably the greatest match of all time, the 2008 Wimbledon final that ended in near darkness?
Nadal broke Federer’s heart that evening on Centre Court. Roger was in tears.
More recently Federer’s unexpected successes in Australia in 2017 and 2018 shook Nadal to the core as he saw precious chances to add to his own Grand Slam total pass him by.
But the mutual respect that has developed from all that pain is extraordinary. Each man knows the other is a true great.
They have won and lost so many of the biggest matches together. They even played in front of the biggest crowd recently in South Africa.
And they care deeply about each other. Rafa asked both Roger and Andy about their comeback journeys. Out of friendship not fear.
The Spaniard genuinely wants his rivals back in great shape to test him once more. To share what they have together a few more times. Before it is too late.
Federer and Murray both said they will be ready when the time comes.
We talk incessantly of the race to the most Grand Slams – and with good reason. It does matter in sporting terms.
But this lockdown has shown us that even more important to these GOATs is the camaraderie they share.
They don’t want it to end. They want their battles back. They want to give us more incredible moments.
The statistics will take care of themselves when all is said and done. The friendships and respect will last a lifetime.
But could there be another legacy?
A few days ago Federer tweeted: ‘Just wondering…am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?’
Rafa was quick to respond: ‘As you know from our discussions, I fully agree with Roger. It would be great to get out of this global crisis, combining men’s and women’s tennis in one organisation.’
But how could that happen without the women’s game on board?
Then Billie Jean King added her own powerful voice to the debate: ‘I agree, and I have been saying so since the early 1970s. One voice, women and men together, has long been my vision for tennis.’
King proved once more that the greatest feminists of them all are the ones who believe in equality, not exclusively in the power of women.
Wimbledon champions Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza soon came on board.
This unification of the ATP and WTA tours really could happen. One administrative body. One love for tennis.
Of course we don’t live in a perfect world. There will be complications and there will always be dissenters. Kyrgios doesn’t sound keen. Djokovic hasn’t yet spoken out decisively.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And right now there is an extraordinary amount of positive momentum in tennis.
We’re going to call it love.
When big-time tennis returns and the crowds are allowed to flock once more to venues such as Wimbledon, that love will be felt like never before in tennis history.
The more we watch our favourite stars bond away from the courts, the more we know one thing for sure.
Wimbledon 2021 is going to have a very special positive energy. These will be Championships without parallel.
One love. For tennis.