Nadal, Federer making unexpected return to greatness in 2017

Spain's Rafael Nadal, left, and Switzerland's Roger Federer pose with their trophy after the men's final match during the 2006 French Open. (Michel Spingler/AP)

Flashback to 2006.

The majority of the population wore Livestrong bracelets, Sean Paul was turning up the Temperature and Vince Young’s scintillating performance led Texas to a comeback victory at the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile on the ATP Tour, a dominant Roger Federer won the Australian Open for his seventh slam and a young Rafael Nadal hoisted the French Open trophy for the second time.

Eleven years later, the beginning of tennis’ golden age has come full circle and is getting the conclusion it deserves.

The significance of what these two greats have accomplished in the last six months cannot be understated.

Nadal, who hadn’t had a sniff of the No. 2 seed since he finally relinquished it in October 2014, continued to fall as far back as No. 10 and started 2017 as the No. 9 seed, has solidified the No. 2 spot once more.

Federer, who hadn’t claimed an event since winning in his hometown at the Swiss Indoors in October 2015, finds himself with three championships and a 19-1 record this year that includes wins against Rafael Nadal (thrice), Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych (twice), Juan Martin del Potro and Nick Kyrgios.

Nadal, who has already solidified his spot as the greatest player on clay of all time, finally moved past Pete Sampras for second most Grand Slams in tennis history with a record-setting 10th French Open, months after a gutsy runner-up performance on the Australian Open hard court.

Federer, who at 35 years old, won his first Grand Slam in 1,664 days against the man who owned him 68 per cent of the time and may have been a healthy adductor — or wrist or knee — away from taking the ‘greatest of all time’ title away from him.

Their return to greatness has been so unimaginable it feels like a dream, if not for the fact the two of them spent the last decade-plus defying the odds. At a time where Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are now all on the wrong side of 30, Nadal and Federer have rediscovered their edge and are going to hold on as long as they can.

Playing less often seems to be the key to success for Federer, who sat out the entire clay season. A finally-healthy Nadal could follow suit now that the King of Clay has taken back what’s rightfully his and the grass season returns.

Nothing will ever replicate the 10 years Nadal and Federer dominated tennis, but the way the 2017 season has gone so far feels comfortably familiar.

Fast forward to July, 2017.

The majority of the population are playing with fidget spinners, The Weeknd can feel it coming and Nadal and Federer are squaring off in the Wimbledon Finals.

Wouldn’t that be something.