Last August 17, Rafael Nadal was featured on the cover of this magazine, headlining our Fashion Issue, looking shirtless, muscular, and unstoppable. His ascendance had just culminated with a gold-medal win in the Beijing Olympics and his thrilling, epic win over Roger Federer at Wimbledon (a match documented in the new book Strokes of Genius by Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim). The symbolic passing of the torch was clear: Federer was the past of tennis (and fashion), and Nadal was the present (and future).
Well, forgive us, Mr. Nadal: We seem to have discovered a New York Magazine cover jinx.
Since Nadal appeared on that cover, he has lost to Andy Murray at the U.S. Open (Federer ended up winning that tournament), dealt with a lingering tendon problem in his right knee, and, over the weekend, somehow lost at the French Open, the event he has dominated for four years. Considering the fact that Nadal is such a clay-court specialist and was generally deemed unbeatable on the surface, the upset by his longtime irritant Robin Soderling is already being considered one of the biggest upsets in major tennis history.
But as thrilling as the Nadal-Federer match at Wimbledon was, and as pat as it would be to declare it the end of Federer, in the end it doesn’t actually seem to have settled much about who the new tennis alpha dog really is. The two have traded majors since then, and with Nadal’s exit Federer seems primed to pounce at the French Open, an event he has never won. (Mostly because he was always losing to Nadal — he’s dropped the last three finals to him.)
We’re not counting the 22-year-old Nadal out — that would be ludicrous. (And yeah, yeah, maybe he did crush Federer so badly at the Australian Open that he made the man cry.) But as we’ve watched Sports Illustrated suffer the public wrath lately for unleashing its renowned jinx on the Cleveland Cavaliers — whose beautiful season burst into flames within days of their SI cover a week ago — we’ve felt a little like it’s time to shoulder some of our own responsibility. We’ve never had a Federer cover here at New York. Until then, Roger, good luck.