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Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal: Will the renowned rivalry add another chapter?

Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal Rivalry: The G.O.A.T debate

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the two connoisseurs of the sport have faced each other 40 times in their career with Nadal leading the head-to-head record 24-16. 

However, off late, Federer has reduced the gap significantly by winning 7 out of the last eight matches against the Spaniard.

Evenly placed at 20 grand slams each, they will look to outbid each other to win a 21st grand slam and stake claim as the Greatest player of all time (GOAT). 

How the stats compare for Federer and Nadal

Player NameRoger FedererRafael Nadal
Head to Head Record16 wins24 wins
Total number of Grand Slams Won2020
Wins in Grand Slams against each other4 wins10 wins
Big Titles Won (Slams, ATP Finals, ATP Masters 1000, and Olympic Medals)5456
Number of ATP Finals Won60
Number of ATP Masters 1000 Titles Won2835
Number of ATP 500 titles Won2421
Win-Loss Record in the entire career1242-2711008-205
Number of times finished as the year-end number one5 times (2004 to 2007 and 2009)5 times (2008, 2010, 2013, 2017, and 2019)

 Let us analyze this celebrated rivalry and the expectations for the future

  • First-ever clash - Miami Masters 2004 - Round of 32 - Nadal beats Federer in straight sets

Rafael Nadal comfortably beat Roger Federer 6-3 6-3 in just 70 minutes. He won 79% of his first-serve points and converted 3 out of 7 breakpoints. 

Though Federer had a good day with his serve smashing 8 aces, he won only 25% of his return points. Roger was at his prime that time as he was ranked the number 1. Nadal was just 17 years old during the match and was also the youngest player in the tournament. 

Nadal troubled Federer with his topspin heavy forehand and impenetrable defense. Playing in a fiery red sleeveless shirt, Nadal announced himself on the big stage with that spectacular victory.

  • Miami Masters - Finals - 2005 - Federer edges Nadal in a five-set thriller

It was the same venue as their first match but the occasion was bigger as it was the finals. Federer had won 21 matches in a row and lost only once in the last 48 clashes on the tour. 

Nadal was cruising with a two-set lead. But Federer did not give up taking sets 3 and 4 7-6 (5) 6-3. He was unstoppable in the decider winning the fifth set 6-1. It was Nadal's first loss in his career after being up by two sets. 

The Swiss maestro hit 9 aces, clinched 74% of his first-serve points, and managed to convert 7 out of 13 breakpoints. He countered the Spaniard's backhand and bouncy shots with his hard-hitting. In the end, Federer remarked that he felt like the happiest man in the world after notching up his third victory coming back from two-sets-to-love down. 

  • 5 consecutive victories for Nadal vs Federer - French Open 2005 to French Open 2006

Nadal asserted himself strongly with 5 wins in a row against Federer who was at his all-time peak then. Four of those matches came on the Spaniard's favorite surface, clay. 

It included back-to-back clashes in the French Open 2005 semifinals and the French Open 2006 finals with Nadal winning both the matches in four sets each. But their meeting in the finals of the Rome Masters in 2006 stood out as Nadal came through in five sets. 

The Spaniard fired 4 aces, took 69% of his first-serve points, and saved 6 out of 10 breakpoints. Federer's second serve let him down in the clutch moments as he won only 51% of points on it. He also mishit his forehand in the tiebreaker of the fifth set. 

With that victory, Nadal successfully defended his title. It was his 53rd consecutive win on the red dirt equalling him with the record of Guillermo Vilas.  

Federer dominates Nadal winning 4 out of the next 6 matches - Wimbledon 2006 to Wimbledon 2007

While Nadal was ruthless on clay, Federer was unstoppable on grass winning back-to-back finals against the Spaniard in Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007 in four sets and five sets respectively. With the victory in Wimbledon 2007, Federer had won 5 Wimbledons in a row making him the undisputed king of the surface. 

Rafa later revealed that he cried in the dressing room out of disappointment for half an hour after the loss. Nadal too had his share of victories with wins in the Monte-Carlo Masters finals in 2007 and the finals of the French Open 2007. 

Federer stunned Nadal in the finals of the Hamburg Open in 2007. Trailing by 6-2, he came out all guns blazing winning the next two sets 6-2 6-0. 

It was the first win for the Swiss superstar against his nemesis on clay and the first loss for Nadal in the finals of a clay-court tournament. All these matches were of high-quality as Federer's offensive power was countered by Nadal's defensive speed. 

Nadal took Federer the distance in the epic five-set clash but the Swiss was too good in the end
Nadal took Federer the distance in the epic five-set clash but the Swiss was too good in the end. Image Credits - Associated Press.
  • Nadal bosses Federer on outdoor clay and grass but Federer reigns on indoor hard 

The next 5 matches of their legendary rivalry went 4-1 in favor of Rafael Nadal. They met in the semifinals of the Tennis Masters Cup in China and Federer easily won the encounter 6-4 6-1. 

Nadal won two tightly contested finals played at Monte Carlo and Hamburg. He once again met the Swiss in the finals of the French Open 2008, their third consecutive clash in finals at Roland Garros. Nadal proved why he is known as the king of clay blowing away Federer 6-1 6-3 6-0 to win his fourth French Open title in a row. 

The duo then played the greatest-ever tennis match in the finals of the Wimbledon 2008 and Nadal at last beat Federer on grass after two agonizing defeats in the finals in 2006 and 2007 on the surface. 

The Spaniard stormed to a 6-4 6-4 lead but a rain delay shifted the match to the next day. Federer fought back winning the next two sets 7-6 (5) and 7-6 (8). 

In the dying moments where hardly any light was visible, Rafael Nadal won his first-ever Wimbledon by clinching the fifth set 9-7 when Roger Federer dumped a forehand into the net. The Spaniard adopted the serve and volley strategy and increased his aggression by targeting Federer's forehand. 

John McEnroe labeled it as the greatest tennis match and Bjorn Borg described it as the best-ever tennis match seen in his life.

  • Nadal once again outlasts Federer winning 5 out of the next 8 encounters -  Australian Open 2009 to ATP Finals 2011

The two legends of tennis went head-to-head in the finals of the Australian Open for the first time in 2009. Nadal had the last laugh emerging victorious in 5 sets against Federer to win his first-ever grand slam on hardcourts. 

Federer cried after the defeat during the presentation ceremony stating that the repeated defeats (5 in a row) to his great archrival was killing him. 

Nadal embraces Federer to console him after his defeat in the 2009 Australian Open finals
Sportsmanship at its best: Nadal embraces Federer to console him after his defeat in the 2009 Australian Open finals. Image Credits - Abc.net.au

It was a surprise win for Federer in the Madrid Open finals in 2009 when he trounced Nadal in straight sets in front of his home crowd. Nadal got revenge for his defeat in the next year at the same stage when he outwitted the Swiss in straight sets in the Madrid Open 2010. 

Federer fully exposed Nadal's weakness on indoor hardcourts with two back-to-back victories in the ATP Finals in 2010 and 2011. 

The Spaniard was ruthless as he dismantled Federer 6-3 6-2 in the semifinals of the Miami Open 2011 dominating him from start to finish. Federer won only 48% of his second-serve points and did not convert a single breakpoint. 

Nadal again ruled on clay against Roger with two consecutive wins in the semifinals of the Madrid Open in 2011 and the finals of the French Open 2011.

Nadal gets a stranglehold over Federer with 6 victories in the next 7 matches

It was a psychological blow as Nadal won 6 out of his next 7 clashes against Federer. 4 out of those victories came on outdoor hard courts and one on indoor hardcourts as Nadal warned Federer of his hardcourt prowess than just being regarded as a clay-court champion. 

The Spaniard overcame the Swiss in four sets in the semifinals of the Australian Open 2012. His clever passing shots fetched him a lot of points after he lost the first set in a tiebreak. 

The two players met twice in a row in the semis and quarters of the Indian Wells Masters in 2012 and 2013 splitting each match. The King of Clay once again proved to be too good thrashing Federer with just the loss of four games in the finals of the Rome Masters 2013. 

The duo matched each other shot for shot in a classic quarterfinal clash at the Cincinnati Masters 2013 before Nadal notched up a come-from-behind victory in three sets. 

Federer was left searching for answers as the Spaniard conquered him in his London fortress beating him in straight sets in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals in 2013. Nadal again beat Federer in straight sets in the semifinals of the Australian Open 2014 at Melbourne Park. 

The return of the King - Federer is back - Australian Open 2017 finals

Federer got much-needed confidence beating Nadal in three sets in the finals of the Basel Open 2015. Both of them missed the second half of the 2016 ATP Tour due to injuries. 

Both Federer and Nadal returned to the tour in the Australian Open 2017 and very few tennis pundits predicted a deep run for them as they were returning to competitive action after a long time of six months. 

But, as fate would have it, they met each other in the finals of the Australian Open 2017. In a thrilling five-setter, Nadal failed to convert a 3-1 lead in the deciding set as Federer won five games in a row to win the tournament for the 18th grand slam in his career. 

It was his first grand slam victory after a five-year hiatus and also ended his six-match losing streak against Nadal in grand slams. 

Federer and Nadal pose with their silverware after the finals of the Australian Open 2017
Back with a bang: Federer and Nadal pose with their silverware after the finals of the Australian Open 2017. Image Credits - Getty Images

Federer changed his tactics by following the "Serve + 1 strategy" blasting forehands directly to Nadal's backhand. He kept the rallied short (0-4 shots) by opting to play first-strike tennis with his backhand also giving him a lot of winners perfectly complimenting his explosive forehand. He generated a majority of points through "Approach and Volley" and "Serve and Volley" strategies. 

Federer pulverizes Nadal with four victories in a row on outdoor hardcourts 

Carrying on from the fabulous win in Melbourne Park against his greatest rival, Federer beat Nadal thrice on outdoor hardcourts in 2017 without dropping a set. It was a first-class performance in the pre-quarterfinals of the Indian Wells Masters as he coasted to a convincing 6-2 6-3 win. 

Nadal failed to put up any resistance losing 6-3 6-4 and 6-4 6-3 in the finals of the Miami Open and the Shanghai Masters.

The tactic of hitting cross-court shots laden with topspin to Federer's backhand was not successful. Another great clash was in the offering in the semifinals of the Indian Wells Masters in 2019 but Nadal gave a walkover without hitting a single ball due to severe pain in his right knee. 

Two grueling grand-slam matches in 2019 and they split the honors

The legends clashed in the semi finals of the French Open 2019 and Nadal gave Federer a sound lesson with a 6-3 6-4 6-2 win. Federer had opted to play in Roland Garros to get some valuable match practice ahead of his favorite hunting ground, Wimbledon. 

The second-seeded Federer took a tight first-set 7-6 in the tiebreak in the semifinals of Wimbledon. Unforced errors affected his game in the second set as Nadal roared back into contention taking it 6-1. It was one-way traffic from then on as Federer broke Nadal's serve a couple of times to win the third and fourth sets 6-3 6-4. 

How the Fedal rivalry will shape up in the future?

Roger Federer will prioritize tournaments like Wimbledon, the Olympics at Tokyo, the US Open, and the ATP Finals this year. Nadal will be a strong favorite on clay to retain his French Open title having won it for the last 4 years in a row. 

Federer holds an edge on outdoor and indoor hardcourts against Nadal as it suits his fast play and the Spaniard often starts slowly off the blocks.

Nadal can fancy his chances in the Wimbledon having made back-to-back semifinals in 2018 and 2019 before losing to Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer respectively. 

After missing this year's Australian Open due to recovery from knee surgery, the Swiss will target a deep run in the tournament in 2022. 

Nadal needs to sort out the jinx at Melbourne Park having lost 4 finals since his lone title there in 2009 and two consecutive quarterfinal defeats at the hands of Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2020 and 2021.

With Roger Federer set to turn 40 in August 2021 and Rafael Nadal to turn 35 in June 2021, age is fast catching up on the legends and they will have to take care of their fitness to avoid injuries for continuing to play at the highest level of the sport.

With a legion of fans, Federer and Nadal have taken tennis to the next stage with their intensive competitiveness along with admiration and mutual respect for each other's achievements. They have become better players because of each other and retained the same amount of bonhomie over the years.

While tennis aficionados often debate on who will win when Federer and Nadal face each other on the court, in fact, tennis is the undisputed winner in the long run.

Long live Fedal!

Which was your favourite battle between Federer and Nadal and why? Do let us know in the comments below.

Featured Image Credits - Tennishead

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