Nadal vs Federer – The Greatest Rivalries

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Tennis has a lot of rivalries, possibly one of the greatest being Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe. Borg was a brilliant baseline, Swede and McEnroe a volleyer from New York. From 1978-1981 Tennis was defined by their rivalry and the 4th set tie break in the 1980 Wimbledon final, McEnroe won the set but lost the title. When Bjorn Borg retired McEnroe says his professional life was never so much fun again, for those who are keeping track they were tied at 7-7 but McEnroe won 3 out of the 4 Grand slams.

Then came the Federer – Nadal Era

It was 2004,Federer having won two grand slams already, was world No. 1 when he met a 17 yr old Nadal who then ranked world no. 34 beat him in the Miami Masters. One of the biggest upsets of all time, a David meets Goliath version of the Tennis era but Federer soon recovered and went on to win 3 grand slams in 2004.

Soon thereafter came the first grand slam final encounter-It was 2005 and Federer had won the Australian open coming into the French Open as a clear favorite only to be beaten by a 19 yr old Nadal in 4 sets thus beginning one of the greatest tennis rivalries of all time!

Between 2006-2008 Federer and Nadal have met each other in every Wimbledon and French Open final. Head to Head Federer and Nadal have played 40 times and the Spaniard has won 24-16 of them but let’s look at the top 3 clashes that make it a great rivalry.

2008 Wimbledon final 

It is one of the longest finals in Wimbledon history (4 hours and 48 minutes) but this Federer vs. Nadal 2008 final is also said to be the greatest match in tennis history. There was a rain delay and of course, the tiebreaker wasn’t for the ones with a weak heart, in fact, a book dedicated to the match for the true blue fans-(Strokes of Genius by L. Jon Wertheim).

If you are an ardent Federer fan you would say that rain was the reason Nadal won that match, the pace on the grass reduced but truth be told this was when Nadal got into Federer’s head. He didn’t serve and volley, he walked away from his natural game and instincts. Federer also realized that Nadal was a lot fitter and had a lot more power. Add to it the complexity of being a lefty, combine that with that backhand and Federer was being challenged in his backyard.

2 sets down. 4-6,4-6  what do you do if you are Federer? The unstoppable force vs the immovable object – for the viewers some great tennis. For what its worth, it must be said that Nadal was overwhelmed by the enormity of the possibility of beating Federer, the 3rd set could have been the end of the match but the great one saw an opening – he figured the only way he could play Nadal was by being relentless. 

2 hours later at 9:15 pm, the score read  6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7, Nadal claiming his first Wimbledon and fifth Grand Slam tournament singles title. In the post-match commentary, Nadal went on to admire his competitor at the other end by saying- “He is still No.1”, such was the mutual respect and sportsmanship the two gentlemen had and still have demonstrated throughout the 18 yrs they have faced each other.


If Federer is the King of grass, Nadal is the GOAT of clay, in 2007 the exhibitors came up with an idea to have a battle of surfaces with half the court made of grass for Federer to play on and the other half made of clay for Nadal to play on.

Played in Nadal’s hometown of Palma de Mallorca, he won 7–5, 4–6, 7–6 (12–10) settling that debate. For 6 years Nadal and Federer were No.1 and No.2  but if there is one court they have both done equally well on it is the US open with Federer-Nadal score of 5-4 which leaves us with the Australian Open to talk about.

2017 Australian Open

It was the first meeting after the 2011 French Open, Federer was coming back after a 6-month knee injury. He came into the tournament seeded 17 and Nadal seeded 9th.

The Australian open even had a moniker “Fedal 15” assuming Nadal gets his 15th slam here, it was supposed to be the match that would decide who is the GOAT. Given the advancing age of both players, there was a lot of anticipation assuming this would be the last grand slam match between the two.

The match lasted a little less than 4 hrs with a set each to Federer and Nadal leading up to the final and 5th set. And as poetic as it is it was the famed Federer forehand that won him his 18th Grand Slam. In fact, in 2017 Federer and Nadal played each other 4 times and Federer won all four times, Federer finally had gotten over his mental block and even added the Tweener shot to his repertoire in 2010 managing to win some unimaginable games.

Unlike what everyone had thought, the end of the rivalry was not near, 2019 itself saw the two of them playing the French Open and Wimbledon and if you are a fan on either side what you truly want from 2022 is one last Grand Slam final for us to cheer them on.

Nadal advanced to his 21st Grand slam at the Australian Open yesterday and Federer acknowledged his rival by congratulating him on the milestone but the eager fan hopes and wonders,

“Will it be 22 in 2022?”

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