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Federer-Nadal: The greatest Tennis rivalry that seems to be the best in all individual sporting actions

At 37 and 33, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have shown the world why their’s is considered the greatest Tennis rivalry of all times. In the English summer of 2019, on the hallowed Wimbledon turf, Federer and Nadal once more pushed each other to present a ‘poetry in motion’ with their sharpened serves, altered tactics and drive for excellence. Their latest encounter saw the triumph of Federer by 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was 11 years since Federer and Nadal last met on the greens of Wimbledon. The 2008 final was the last of three successive Wimbledon finals between the two players. They both were then at the prime of their careers. Nadal with slick long hair and Federer with gusty moves weathered rain delays and encroaching darkness to play what many believe was the greatest match in Tennis history.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played each other 40 times in their careers. Nadal leads the head to head 24–16. Of their 40 matches, 14 of them have been on outdoor hard court, 6 on indoor hard court, 16 have been on clay and 4 have been on grass. Federer leads on hard court (11-9), grass (3–1), and indoor hard court (5-1). Nadal leads on clay (14–2) and outdoor hard court (8–6). The two genius played 14 Grand Slams against each other with Nadal leading 10–4. Nadal leads 6–0 at the French Open and 3–1 at the Australian Open while Federer leads 3–1 at Wimbledon. They have not met in the US Open till date.

After the end of the mega semi final, Nadal said, “I am sad for the loss because for me it was another opportunity. But at the same time I created another opportunity to be in another final of a Grand Slam.” This is where the two greats stand even today. Both Federer and Nadal are a major cause for each other’s respective success. The Swiss legend who is elder, always created a certain space for Nadal to chase his Grand Slam records. And thus, ‘Fedal’ captivated fans all over the world and inspired a generation of Tennis lovers.

COMPARISON BETWEEN FEDERER-NADAL AND NADAL-DJOKOVIC

Comparing to the other great rivalries in the history of Men’s Tennis, Federar- Nadal rivalry is considered to be the greatest. The present generation is witnessing the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry in which they faced each other 54 times with Djokovic leading 28–26. Both the two rivalries almost started at the same time- Federer-Nadal in 2004 and Nadal-Djokovic in 2006. So in terms of longevity, both remains at the same place. But in terms of intensity, ‘Fedal’ races far ahead;  the reason being the polar-opposite playing style of Federer and Nadal. While Federer glides across the court with his quick forehands, Nadal is a great chaser of the ball with huge swings in his racket. Nadal’s game is intensely physical with thunders and roars while Federer spreads a calming effect with his effortlessness. 

But experts believe that the main difference between the two lies in their backhand returns. Nadal prefers a two-handed backhand while Federer uses the elegant one-handed backhand.  Federer himself admitted this difference in one telephonic conversation to USA Today. In that interview he clearly stated, “I think his playing style has been the most challenging for me with the one-hander. I think he’s been pretty tough.” Arguably, this intensity of clash between Federer and Nadal is not found in the case of Nadal-Djokovic.

COMPARISON BETWEEN FEDERER-NADAL AND BORG-MCENROE

In the past there have been several clashes in Tennis like Rod Laver vs. Ken Rosewall, Boris Becker vs. Stephen Edberg, Pat Sampras vs. Andre Agassi, Martina Navratilovavs Chris Evert, Steffi Graf vs Gabtiela Sabatini. But none of these can come closer to the ‘Fedal’ except Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe.  The Swiss and The American met 14 times on the regular tour and 22 times in total with each player winning 11 matches.  Like Federer and Nadal, the two former greats were also poles apart. Borg was a baseliner with tremendous stamina while McEnroe was a feisty left hander with the perfect serve and volley game. But what was most talked about other than their playing style was their contrasting personalities. Borg who was famous for his ice-cool nerve was completely opposite to the hot-tempered McEnroe. Their rivalry reached to such a level that it was often described as ‘Fire and Ice’. In spite of this, Borg was the only person who convinced McEnroe not to misbehave on courts. McEnroe admitted this by once saying, “It meant a lot to me that he showed me respect in the locker room when he didn’t have to”. But Borg-McEnroe rivalry was relatively short-lived, ending with Borg’s sudden retirement at the age of only 26. The rivalry lasted for only about three years between 1978 and 1981 falling almost 10 years lesser than Federer- Nadal.

RIVALRIES IN OTHER SPORTS

Not only Tennis but more than a decade-long rivalry is very rarely found in any other individual sport. There were some top-class clashes between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The brutal brilliance of the two greats took Boxing to a level that was never dreamt of. But the battle that started with the famous ‘Fight of the Century’ in 1971 ended with ‘The Thrilla in Manila’ in 1975. Another short-lived rivalry that prevailed was in Golf in the 1960s between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Palmer burst on the scene in the 1950s and remained as the game’s best player till Nicklaus came in the early 1960s. The pair was engaged in a series of hard-fought battles in major championships, but it fizzed out by the mid-1960s when Palmer’s game began to fade.

So the 13-long year exceptional rivalry can be regarded as the greatest one in any individual sport. Both Federer and Nadal are at the fag end of their career. Perhaps we will not see much of these two players in the future but the gift of matches that they have given to the world will remain as some of the proudest memories of the entire Tennis-loving fraternity.

FEDERER-NADAL RIVALRY RESULT

2004 NASDAQ-100 Open Third Round, Miami

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-3, 6-3

2005 NASDAQ-1OO Open Final, Miami

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 2–6, 6–7, 7–6, 6–3, 6–1

2005 Roland Garros Semi-Final, Paris

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

2006 Dubai Tennis Championships Final, Dubai

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 2-6, 6-4, 6-4

2006 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters Final, Monte-Carlo

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-2, 6-7, -6-3, 7-6

2006 Internazionali BNL d’Italia Final, Rome

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6

2006 Roland Garros Final, Paris

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6

2006 Wimbledon Final, London

  • Surface: Grass, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3

2006 Tennis Masters Cup Semi-Final, Shanghai

  • Surface: Indoor hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-4, 7-5

2007 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters Final, Monte-Carlo

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-4, 6-4

2007 Masters Series Hamburg Final, Hamburg

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Federer d. Nadal 2-6, 6-2, 6-0

2007 Roland Garros Final, Paris

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

2007 Wimbledon Final, London

  • Surface: Grass, Result: Federer d Nadal 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2

2007 Tennis Masters Cup Semi-Final, Shanghai

  • Surface: Indoor hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-4, 6-1

2008 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters Final, Monte-Carlo

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 7-5, 7-5

2008 Masters Series Hamburg Final, Hamburg

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 7-5, 6-7, 6-3

2008 Roland Garros Final, Paris

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-1,6-3, 6-0

2008 Wimbledon Final, London

  • Surface: Grass, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7

2009 Australian Open Final, Melbourne

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2

2009 Mutua Madrileña Masters Madrid Final, Madrid

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-4, 6-4

2010 Mutua Madrileña Masters Madrid Final, Madrid

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-4, 7-6

2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Final, London

  • Surface: Indoor hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 6-1

2011 Sony Ericsson Open Semi-Final, Miami

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-3, 6-2

2011 Mutua Madrid Open Semi-Final, Madrid

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 5-7, 6-1, 6-3

2011 Roland Garros Final, Paris

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1

2011 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Round Robin, London

  • Surface: Indoor hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 6-0

2012 Australian Open Semi-Final, Melbourne

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4

2012 BNP Paribas Open Semi-Final, Indian Wells

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 6-4

2013 BNP Paribas Open Quarter-Final, Indian Wells

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-4, 6-2

2013 Internazionali BNL d’Italia Final, Rome

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-1, 6-3

2013 Western & Southern Open Quarter-Final, Cincinnati

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 5-7, 6-4, 6-3

2013 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Semi-Final, London

  • Surface: Indoor hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 7-5, 6-3

2014 Australian Open Semi-Final, Melbourne

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Nadal d. Federer 7-6, 6-3, 6-3

2015 Swiss Indoors Basel Final, Basel

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 5-7, 6-3

2017 Australian Open Final, Melbourne

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3

2017 BNP Paribas Open Fourth Round, Indian Wells

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-2, 6-3

2017 Miami Open presented by Itau Final

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-3, 6-4

2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters Final

  • Surface: Hard, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-4, 6-3 

2019 Roland Garros Semi-Final

  • Surface: Clay, Result: Nadal d. Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-2

2019 Wimbledon Semi-Final

  • Surface: Grass, Result: Federer d. Nadal 6-7, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4

About Poulomi Kundu

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