Federer, Nadal shine as rivals stumble with 2018 beckoning

By AFP: Tuesday, December 26th 2017 at 20:40 GMT +3 | Tennis
Rafael Nadal of Spain in past action. [AFP]

Written off as dead men walking, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal defied time to sweep the Grand Slams in 2017, while the injury curse that dogged their rivals looks set to be the new year’s early storyline.

Evergreen Federer, who will turn 37 in 2018, took his majors tally to 19 with a fifth Australian Open title, which was secured by a five-set triumph over Nadal and a record eighth Wimbledon with a stroll past a tearful Marin Cilic.

Nadal, 32 in June next year, was not to be outdone, claiming a 10th French Open, a third US Open crown, and the year-ending world number one spot.

Federer finished the year at number two in the world, having started at 16, and a season-leading seven titles - including three Masters at Indian Wells, Miami, and Shanghai - despite having skipped the entire clay court season.

“It’s been an amazing year for me,” said Federer, who had missed the last six months of the 2016 season through injury.

Nadal added two Masters titles at Monte Carlo and Madrid to his triumphs at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows, finishing the campaign with six trophies.

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The 16-time Grand Slam champion also secured the year-ending top ranking for a fourth time.

“It wasn’t one of my goals going into the season - far from it. After returning from a difficult period in my career and battling through injuries, this wasn’t on my mind.”

Nadal will go into the new season without his uncle Toni, who has been his coach since childhood.

But one thing will be familiar - his career-long battle with knee injuries.

He had to withdraw after just one round at the World Tour Finals and has already pulled out of an exhibition tournament in the United Arab Emirates from December 28-30.

Injury permitting, Nadal will now start 2018 as top seed in Brisbane from next weekend with the Australian Open due to get underway on January 15.

The Spaniard is not the only A-lister under an injury cloud.

Former world number one Andy Murray and fellow three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka have not played since Wimbledon.

On the women’s circuit, Serena Williams started the year with an Open-era record 23rd Slam triumph in Melbourne.

Williams, who has not played since her Australian Open win, married her boyfriend in November, two months after the couple celebrated the birth of their baby daughter.

In Williams’s absence, a power vacuum opened up as Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens became two of the most unlikeliest champions at the Slam