Tennis has seen some great rivalries, Agassi v Sampras, Djokovic v Murray, Lendl v McEnroe and Sharapova v Williams, to name a few. But all other rivalries pale in comparison to the competition between two of the greatest tennis players – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Nadal and Federer have met on 38 separate occasions, each of which have been fiercely contested battles. Although Nadal has fared better in the head-to-head battle, winning 23 (or 61%) of the matches between the two, it is never a walk in the park for the Spaniard, with Federer always proving to be a worthy opponent.
Image source: standard.co.uk
2005 NASDAQ-100 Open Final, Miami
Federer defeated Nadal 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-1
This was just the second of many battles between the two giants of the game, and it was one in which Roger Federer survived an epic fight from an 18-year-old Nadal, to eventually come back from two sets down to claim the title.
Nadal, who had beaten Federer in straight sets just a year before at the same venue, came incredibly close to repeating the act when he was two sets up and holding a 5-3 lead in the third set. But the experienced Swiss had other ideas.
With his back to the wall and nowhere to go, Federer started fighting back, winning four straight points and snatching the set, and the title, right out of Nadal’s hands. His onslaught didn’t stop at the end of the third set, Federer would go on to win the fourth set 6-3, before absolutely demolishing the teenaged Nadal 6-1 in the final set.
Image source: heraldsun.com.au
2009 Australian Open Final, Melbourne
Nadal defeated Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2
The 2009 Australian Open was a special one for both Federer and Nadal, and was one that would see the winner etched into the history books. For Federer, a win would see him equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles, while a win for Nadal would make him the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open title.
Federer immediately went into the final with a massive advantage over Nadal. Not only did the Swiss have a full day’s rest after his semi-final, but he would also be taking on a tired Nadal off the back of a five hour and 14 minute semi-final against Fernando Verdasco – the longest ever match in the Australian Open.
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Despite fighting his way to a two-set to one lead, Nadal failed to capitalise on five separate opportunities to break at 3-2 in the fourth set. The experience of Federer shone through, and he punished the Spaniard, winning the fourth set and tying the match at two sets apiece.
It seemed as though the momentum has shifted in favour of the Swiss, but a mentally strong Nadal fought back and won the final set, and the title, decisively.
2017 Australian Open Final, Melbourne
Federer defeated Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
Another Grand Slam final between Federer and Nadal had been in doubt for many years, especially in 2017 as both Federer – struggling with a knee injury – and Nadal – a wrist injury – went into the a Australian Open after long layoffs.
Both men traded sets, with Federer claiming the first and third and Nadal the second and fourth sets. The Spaniard looked to have the match all but wrapped up in the fifth set as he raced to a 3-1 lead over his older opponent.
However, Federer had other ideas, he went on to win the next five games, eventually beating Nadal and avenging his loss eight years earlier.
2006 Internazionali BNL d’Italia Final, Rome
Nadal defeated Federer 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5)
The 2006 final in Rome is seen as the match that cemented the rivalry between the two tennis legends and emphasised their status as two of the sport’s greatest stars.
Only three weeks after their four-set Monte Carlo final that Nadal won, he and Federer were at it again. While Federer rested in the time in between the two tournaments, Nadal went to Barcelona and won another title.
In a match that lasted five hours and five minutes, Federer controlled the pace and tempo for most of the early games and dominated the net for the duration of the match.
After trading set-for-set throughout the match, Federer cruised to an early 4-1 lead in the fifth. Despite Nadal’s valiant fightback, the Swiss squandered two opportunities to put the match to bed serving at 5-6, 15/40.
Nadal capitalised on his opponent’s mistakes and began to dominate the remainder of the final set from the baseline eventually smashing the winning point and claiming an epic come-from-behind victory.
2008 Wimbledon Final, London
Nadal defeated Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7
If not considered one of the best sporting matches in history, the 2008 Wimbledon Final is certainly the greatest match played in tennis history.
With Roger Federer looking to clinch his 13th career Grand Slam title, and sixth straight Wimbledon trophy, and Rafael Nadal attempting to become the first man to win the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double since Bjorn Borg in 1980, the match was set up to be one to remember.
The two stars put on a clinical display for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching anxiously at home. Nadal raced to an early two-sets-to-love lead and looked to have the match in his pocket, but Federer refused to go down without a fight.
The Swiss buckled down and sent booming forehands into the corners as he clawed his way to a third-set victory. He went on to deny the Spaniard three championship points in the fourth and fifth sets, forcing the match into a fifth-set playoff.
With darkness closing in and the matching nearing five hours, Nadal, serving for his first Wimbledon title, sealed the victory sending the crowd into a celebratory frenzy.
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