Source: Herald Sun
PAT Cash describes life on the tennis circuit in the 1980s as a throwback to the wild west.
Rampant egomaniacs, would-be rock and rollers and tough, outstanding athletes mingled explosively as the sport threw off its conservative shackles to become a battleground for a rebellious new breed.
The ATP Tour was packed with swaggering gunslingers - Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis - and menacing assassins - Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, Guillermo Vilas and Ivan Lendl.
It was no place for the meek.
Rivalries were shaped by endless confrontations, on and off court, as the faint-hearted were ruthlessly crushed.
Cash learnt the hard way. Friendship was an extravagance few could afford. And it was rarely indulged.
Most of those long-retired, middle-aged gladiators are now on better terms.
But a quarter of a century ago, the very notion of civility was unheard of.
Fast forward to the semi-finals of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai in November.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have barely walked off centre court and the pair cross paths in a corridor.
Federer has hardly broken a sweat destroying Nadal 6-4 6-1.
In another world, Nadal would have shunned contact with Federer at all costs.
Eye contact would have been avoided. Token conversation likewise.
But here is Nadal, effortlessly juggling a soccer ball off his arms, shoulders and feet as part of his warm down in front of an entranced Federer.
Instinctively, Federer joins in as the two best tennis players in the world chat while keeping the ball in the air.
After a few minutes marvelling at Nadal's deft footwork, Federer generously declares the Spaniard has superior skills to Diego Maradona.
The men exchange smiles and Nadal happily takes his leave.
It is a new world. Fraternity has returned at the top and Nadal, at 21, is content to lead the way with Federer.
There is no doubt the muscular Spaniard would have handled himself in Cash's era. Equally, there is no question over Nadal's mental toughness.
Amazingly, he has been unable to use running as a training tool since 2005 because of stress fractures in his feet.
But he has remained world No. 2, behind Federer, while winning three successive French Open crowns and forging a rare winning head-to-head record (8-6) against the Swiss master.
Nadal's affection for Federer has not blunted his desire to topple him, but his most savage setback in 2007 came at Federer's hands in a stupendous Wimbledon final.
The Spaniard's low point came about 7.30pm on July 8 in the wood-panelled All England Club locker room.
It was the moment Nadal was driven to tears amid the realisation the Wimbledon title and the season-ending No. 1 ranking had slipped through his hands.
As usual, there was no public sign of Nadal's angst.
"When I arrived to the locker room, I sat down and, as it's normal after losing the final of the tournament that you dream of winning, against the (world) No. 1 and with lots of chances, I started to cry of anger, of sadness," Nadal said.
"It's been the only match of the year that I've cried and one of the few in my career.
"It was a really close match. I was 20 or 25 minutes there (crying). When people started arriving, I sat down inside the tub. They were cheering me up.
"I thanked them and I asked for being alone. I don't like people witnessing me crying."
It was the match that could have changed history.
Nadal made the early running in the fifth set of a classic Wimbledon final, only to be shoved aside as nerves and a rampant Federer took control.
Federer's victory allowed him to maintain his rankings buffer over Nadal and move him closer to overtaking Pete Sampras's overall grand slam singles record of 14 titles.
Nadal has not surrendered his dream of usurping Federer but, for the moment, he is concerned at the charging pack behind him led by Serb Novak Djokovic.
At any other time, Nadal's rankings points tally of 5735 (Federer has 7180) would be sufficient to hold the No. 1 ranking.
"I've always been more preoccupied with the ones behind me than in front of me," Nadal said.
"Federer has always been far away. At certain point of the season, the press started printing that I could be the No. 1 at the end of the year.
"In the year classification (ATP race) I was ahead of him and he had to defend lots of things.
"The key match was Wimbledon's final."
Nadal has been stranded at No. 2 since July, 2005.
Another man might consider himself unlucky. Not Nadal.
He has never lost a singles match at the French Open, holds the world record for the most consecutive wins on any surface - 81 on clay - and has made two Wimbledon finals, but still cannot lay his hands on the No. 1 mantle.
There are compensations.
For starters, the left-hander is ridiculously wealthy, adding a further $6 million prizemoney to his fortune in 2007 with six titles from 70 wins in 85 matches.
The son of a Mallorcan restaurateur and glass-maker, Nadal hails from a close-knit clan of tough athletes.
He is coached by his uncle Toni, an imposing figure, who offered to quit at the start of this year.
"When things were going bad at the beginning of the season, he suggested it (resigning)," Nadal said.
"I said 'no'. He was not the problem. I had enough courage to change the situation without needing another coach. Toni is and will be my coach."
Concerns had been raised over Nadal's future in 2006 when defeat in his first Wimbledon final - to Federer - gave way to the most barren period of his career.
"When things go wrong, I get nervous," Nadal said.
"But I know that the normal is that I have to end up playing well again.
"If it is not tomorrow, it will be in two weeks, a month, or three or five.
"I was eight months title-less and I was anxious.
"When I won in Indian Wells, I began playing at a high level. Lots of times what you need is a click."
Nadal might rule the sport on clay, but he admits the pressure of performing on his favourite surface is suffocating and one of the reasons Federer has a better, more productive schedule.
"I spend two months playing thousands of matches (on clay) with the pressure of winning," Nadal said.
"Federer is different. He has a lots of weeks with nothing.
"I, without clay points, wouldn't be in Shanghai (at the Tennis Masters Cup).
"I've done a very good season outside clay, but if something happens during it, I'll be bad all the year.
"I arrived too exhausted to Hamburg (two weeks before the French Open). There was a moment when my head exploded, even more against Federer.
"I was playing a final every week for 4 or 5 weeks, with very hard matches and pressure.
"All the day I was thinking about the same. There's a moment that you are tired."
Nadal's relief at a third triumph in Paris, weathering a Federer storm for the second time in as many years, was as much because of stress as elation.
"I played all Roland Garros with a numbing foot, infiltrated with anaesthesia," Nadal said.
"I didn't want to go to the hospital to not have a small doubt in my head.
"I knew it was nothing serious. It was painful. I went to the hospital after the final and I had a small contusion."
Nadal is yet to excel in Australia, a curious blimp on an otherwise excellent career.
It is a situation he is eager to address at the Open from January 14-27.
And no one, not even Federer, would begrudge Nadal a victory at Melbourne Park.