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Federer's Rivalry With Rafael Nadal

Federer-Nadal Rivalry

The rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal has been hailed as one for the ages. The two great sportsmen – who have held a lock on the 1-2 positions in the South African Airways ATP Rankings for nearly four years – have faced off 20 times since their first meeting in 2004, often producing tennis at its best.

Following Federer’s five-set triumph in the 2006 Wimbledon final, John McEnroe credited Nadal for raising the Swiss’s game: “He's making Federer a better player. That's all you can ask for in a rival.”

The pair has contested 16 title matches, tying their rivalry with Agassi-Sampras and Becker-Edberg and placing it four back of all-time leaders Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe. Of those 16 finals, seven have come at Grand Slam tournaments, equalling the record of 'Big' Bill Tilden and 'Little' Bill Johnston, who contested seven straight US Championships from 1919-1925.

When Nadal withdrew ahead of the 2009 Championships with a knee injury, Federer rued the missed chance of facing his arch rival in a fourth straight Wimbledon final: "It's disappointing for me, of course, because I'd love to play him. He's my main rival. We've had some wonderful matches over the years, and especially the one here last year was the one that obviously stands out.”

Though Nadal holds a 13-7 advantage in their career series – including a 5-2 mark in Grand Slam finals – Federer won their most recent match on clay at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Madrid.  Below is a history of the duo's 20 career meetings, beginning with their last match this past May.

Nadal, Federer2009 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Madrid F. Federer d. Nadal 64 64

After losing his past five matches to Nadal, Federer bounced back in style to end his title drought with a 6-4, 6-4 victory Nadal in the final of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open

Early in the match, Nadal showed no ill-effects from his gripping semi-final with Novak Djokovic – which lasted four hours and three minutes and saw the Spaniard save three match points the night before - as he created a break point in Federer’s first service game courtesy of a couple of wayward forehands from the Swiss.

Federer was able to alleviate the danger on that occasion, and later in the seventh game when Nadal had a second break point chance, before turning the tables on the left-hander as he broke him in the ninth game at his first opportunity. The Bottmingen resident then confidently closed out the set with a love service game, a backhand into the net from Nadal handing the Swiss three set points, and Federer secured the one-set lead with an unreturnable serve.

With the prospect of becoming the first man to defeat Nadal on clay in over a year, Federer kept his focus in the second set and capitalised on Nadal’s ever-increasing fatigue with a drop shot that the Spaniard could not chase down in the fifth game to earn a break point, which he converted as Nadal fired a forehand long.

As Federer continued to raise his level, Nadal fought hard to stay within touching distance of the Swiss and forced Federer to serve for the victory at 5-4. A forehand winner from the Spaniard, yearning to win his second title in Madrid (also 2005), gave him a 15-30 lead and as cries of “Rafa, Rafa, Rafa” echoed round Manolo Santana court, Federer’s forehand found the net to present the Mallorcan with a lifeline in the form of two break-back points.

Undeterred, 2006 Madrid champion Federer played strongly on the break points, forcing Nadal to go for an extra shot and reaping the rewards as the Spaniard made two backhand errors. Federer was denied on his first match point, born from a second-serve ace, as he netted the volley from Nadal’s dipping return. A strong forehand in the ensuing point forced Nadal out wide and his return shot into the net granted Federer a second chance to clinch victory, which he converted with his sixth ace of the match after one hour and 26 minutes.

2009 Australian Open F. Nadal d. Federer 75 36 76(3) 36 62
History would be made by the winner. For Roger Federer it was the chance to equal Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 14 Grand Slam championship titles, in front of 1962 and 1969 Grand Slam champion Rod Laver, and for ATP World No. 1 Rafael Nadal it was the opportunity to become Spain’s first Australian Open titlist in the event’s 104-history.

Nadal had prevailed over Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco in five hours and 14 minutes – the Australian Open’s longest-ever match – on Friday night, while Federer had a 24-hour head-start to recover from his semi-final. The question was whether the ATP World No. 1 could recover both mentally and physically in time for the final and clinch his first hard-court Grand Slam crown? Spectators on Rod Laver Arena should have had more faith in the Mallorcan.

Federer, who put a lot down to serving poorly, missed 11 consecutive first serves in the second set, while Nadal played a near-faultless tie-break in the third set after fighting back from three consecutive break points service in two games. Nadal let five break point opportunities slip through his fingers at 3-2 in the fourth set, which Federer won. Many spectators assumed the momentum would change, but a mentally fatigued Federer was unable to muster any resistance as Nadal ran through the deciding set for a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3),3-6, 6-2 win in four hours and 23 minutes.

During the presentation ceremony the emotional Federer received consolation from his rival, who encouraged him to return to the microphone to share his thoughts with the crowd. Nadal followed, telling the Swiss: “I'm sorry for today. I really know how you feel. But remember – you are one of the best players of the history and you are going to improve the 14 [of Sampras].”

Nadal was the first man since Goran Ivanisevic in 2001 to win a Grand Slam championship title with five-set victories in the semi-finals and final. At 22 years and seven months, Nadal was the second youngest player to win six Grand Slam titles after Bjorn Borg (22 years and one month) at 1978 Wimbledon. Nadal was the first left-hander to win the Australian Open title since Petr Korda in 1998. Full Report

2008 Wimbledon F. Nadal d. Federer 64 64 67(5) 67(8), 97
Roger Federer was looking to clinch his 13th career Grand Slam title and sixth straight Wimbledon trophy. Rafael Nadal was attempting to become the first man to win the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double since Bjorn Borg in 1980, and also emulate Spanish compatriot Manuel Santana – the 1966 winner at the All England Club.

In one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of their 18-match rivalry, Nadal won the first set 6-4 in 48 minutes but trailed Federer 3-0 in the second set. The World No. 2 fought back to silence the Centre Court crowd with a two sets to love lead. The third set was interrupted by rain, with Federer leading 5-4. The duo returned after a 71-minute delay and despite windy conditions held on for a tie-break. Federer moved into a 5-2 lead and eventually clinched the set on his third set point 7-5.

The fourth set moved into an inevitable tie-break, which kept the 15,000 spectators on Centre Court on the edges of their seats. Two unforced errors from Federer on the forehand wing, gave Nadal his first championship point at 7-6. Again Federer’s serve got him out of trouble, but Nadal was then able to his a forehand winner with Federer approaching the net for his second championship point at 8-7. Serving for the match, Nadal was drawn to the net by Federer who passed the 22-year-old with a backhand winner down the line. With Nadal’s confidence dented, Federer seized control of the tie-break and took the final to a decisive set.

Rain interrupted the match at 2-2 in the fifth set. After a 30-minute delay the final resumed and as darkness set in, Nadal finally converted his fourth break point opportunity for an 8-7 lead after Federer hit a forehand long. Another championship point went begging, but at the fourth time of asking Nadal clinched the crucial point for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7 victory in four hours and 48 minutes. It was the longest final in Wimbledon history (since 1877). The battle for the ATP World No. 1 ranking had just intensified. Full Report

2008 Roland Garros F. Nadal d. Federer 61 63 60
After contesting closely fought battles in the finals of ATP Masters Series events in Monte Carlo and Hamburg in the lead up to Roland Garros, much was expected when Roger Federer stepped up to face Rafael Nadal in their 17th career meeting. However the match proved to be the most one-sided encounter between the pair.

Nadal enjoyed the better start in the match, breaking Federer's serve in the first game courtesy of one of an eventual 49 unforced errors from the Swiss’ racquet. From there, Nadal did not look back and went on to break the Federer serve twice more to seal the set 6-1 as Federer drifted a forehand volley long.

After fighting back from an early break down in the second set, Federer had the chance to gain a key break though when presented with a break point chance in the seventh game. However, he was denied and, after failing to take his opportunities, the Swiss No. 1 was immediately under pressure and conceded his own serve as another backhand pass from Nadal was just out of his reach. Nadal was quick to extend his lead, closing out the set 6-3 as Federer returned serve long.

The third set lasted just 27 minutes as Nadal broke serve three times to secure the match victory after just one hour and 48 minutes, and hand Federer his first bagel set since June 1999, as the Swiss fired a forehand long, prompting muted celebrations from Nadal after the comfortable win. Full Report

2008 Masters Series Hamburg F. Nadal d. Federer 75 67(3) 63
Rafael Nadal had a score to settle against Roger Federer, who snapped his Open Era record 81-match winning streak on clay in the 2007 final. Nadal was looking to become only the third player since 1990 to win the three ATP Masters Series titles on clay in Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg in his career. The only players to accomplish the feat were former World No. 1s Gustavo Kuerten and Marcelo Rios.

Federer started the match strongly with breaks of serve in the second and sixth games for a 5-1 lead, but Nadal clawed his way back by winning six successive games to clinch the opening set 7-5 in 61 minutes. The pair exchanged breaks of serve early in the second set, but it was Federer who moved into a 5-2 lead before Nadal broke back in the ninth game. The writing appeared on the wall for Federer, but the Swiss regained his composure and calmly sealed the tie-break to take the pair's 16th career meeting to a deciding set.

Nadal secured the crucial break in the fourth game of the third set and failed to convert two further opportunities for a 5-1 lead. Federer kept battling but Nadal was not to be denied as he fought off one break point in the seventh game to record a 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-3 win in two hours and 53 minutes. Full Report

2008 Masters Series Monte-Carlo F. Nadal d. Federer 75 75
As always seems the case, the stakes were high when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer met in the 2008 Masters Series Monte-Carlo final. Nadal was looking to become the first player in the Open Era - and the first in almost 100 years - to win four consecutive titles in Monaco. Coming off his seventh career clay title one week earlier in Estoril, Federer was desperate not to fall to Nadal for a third consecutive year in the Monte-Carlo final.

The ATP World No. 1 broke Nadal in the first games of the first and second sets, even racing to a 4-0 lead in the second when Nadal eked out just five points during that stretch. But Federer's inability to hold serve - he was broken six times and saved just one of seven break points - was his undoing, as Nadal embarked on a five-game winning streak of his own before closing out the match 7-5, 7-5.

Since winning his first Monte-Carlo title in 2005, Nadal had won 98 of 99 clay-court matches through his title title run in Monaco in 2008. The victory marked the 21-year-old's 10th ATP Masters Series title and his 24th title overall. Nadal also snapped a nine-month title drought dating back to Stuttgart in 2007. Full report

2007 Tennis Masters Cup SF. Federer d. Nadal 64 61
Federer claimed the most lopsided win in his storied rivalry with Nadal to race into the Tennis Masters Cup final in Shanghai. After holding his nerve in a tense first set, Federer blew open the match by winning 13 consecutive points at the start of the second set before closing out a 6-4, 6-1 victory.

Federer produced one of the best serving performances of his career, putting 81 percent of first serves into play and, in the first set, firing four consecutive aces to get out of a 0-30 hole.

The ATP World No. 1 hit with conviction the topspin backhand that has so often let him down against Nadal. He was confident on return, opting for a more aggressive topspin backhand rather than his slice. And he found the time he needed to dance around his backhand and unleash the full force of his mighty forehand.

After his early challenge, Nadal fell well short of his best form. His groundstrokes lacked their normal penetration and he made a number of unforced errors.

Yet Nadal did have a number of chances on the Federer serve in the first set and only gave up his first break chances when he dropped serve to lose the first set 6-4. Federer then embarked on his 13-point sweep at the beginning of the second set to take a 3-0 lead. During that run he made seven of eight first serves and broke Nadal to love. Full report

2007 Wimbledon, F. Federer d Nadal 76(7) 46 76(3) 26 62
After a draining run to the Wimbledon final for the second consecutive year, Rafael Nadal's mental and physical toughness was on show as he produced the best grass court performance of his career against four-time defending champion Federer. Playing for the seventh consecutive day after rain wreaked havoc with the tournament, Nadal pushed the mighty Federer to five sets for the first time in his 34-match winning streak at the All England Club.

Federer, who had never lost a match at Wimbledon after winning the first set, claimed the crucial first set tie-break despite Nadal's gallant effort to save three consecutive set points at 3/6 in the 'breaker.

An attacking Federer made many forays to the net but Nadal had his blistering passes dialed in, protected his serve and volleyed with confidence. The Spaniard saved a break point in the first game of the third set and then didn't face another break point until Federer claimed the decisive break in the sixth game of the fifth set.

Having seen Nadal save 16 of 17 break points against him to win Roland Garros, Federer twice rallied from 15/40 in the fifth set to avoid going down an early break.

Federer, who clubbed 65 winners - including 24 aces and many cross court backhand winners - equaled Bjorn Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon titles. Nadal was attempting to become the first player since Borg in 1980 to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year. Full Report

2007 Roland Garros, F. Nadal d Federer 63 46 63 64
The stakes were higher than ever when Federer and Nadal clashed in the 2007 Roland Garros final. For the second consecutive year Federer was attempting to become just the sixth man in history to win all four Grand Slam titles and to be just the third man to hold all four majors at the same time. Nadal was looking to join Bjorn Borg as the only player to win three consecutive Roland Garros crowns.

Earlier in the clay swing Nadal had beaten Federer in the Masters Series Monte-Carlo final but Federer avenged that defeat with his first clay court victory over Nadal in the Masters Series Hamburg final.

Federer took the fight to Nadal early, earning 10 break point chances over three consecutive Nadal service games in the first set. But the tough Spaniard refused to buckle and scrapped to win the first set. Although Federer rebounded to win the second set, Nadal's ability to fight off 16 of 17 break point opportunities in the match as the telling factor.

Federer returned more aggressively - particularly on the backhand - to try to stop Nadal from controlling points, but, as in past meetings, the Spaniard's high kicking left-handed forehands into his backhand were too much for Federer to handle. Full Report

2007 Masters Series Hamburg, F. Federer d. Nadal 26 62 60
Federer had gone four tournaments without lifting the trophy - the longest title drought of his 172-week reign as ATP World No. 1 - but capped off his week by avenging two years of clay-court torment at the hands of Nadal. He snapped the Spaniard’s 81-match clay winning streak and 16-0 record in clay-court finals, denying Nadal a historic sweep of the clay ATP Masters Series titles as he hoisted the Hamburg trophy for the fourth time.

After a lackluster first set in which he faced break points in his first three services games and lost five consecutive games, Federer changed course and took the attack to his arch rival. He conceded just six points on serve in the second set and seven points on serve in the third set as he hit peak form in his last appearance before Roland Garros. Full Report

2007 Masters Series Monte-Carlo, F. Nadal d. Federer 64 64
Federer entered Monte-Carlo on the heels of two surprisingly early exits, seeing his career-high 41-match winning streak come to an end with an opening round loss to Guillermo Canas in Indian Wells and losing to the Argentine again in the fourth round at Miami.

He regrouped at the year's first clay court ATP Masters Series event to set up a final rematch with two-time defending champion Nadal.

But Nadal, who dropped serve just three times in his five matches, proved too much for the top seed in their first meeting of the 2007 season. He broke Federer's serve once in each set and saved all three break points he faced to capture his eighth career ATP Masters Series shield and extend his Open Era record-winning streak on clay to 67 matches.

2006 Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai, SF. Federer d. Nadal 64 75
Federer notched his second straight victory over Nadal, ending with a vicious cross-court winner to become the first player to reach four consecutive finals at a circuit-ending championship since Ivan Lendl.

He broke Nadal early in the opening set and clinched it with a second break of the Spaniard after 49 minutes. Nadal got out of jail twice on match points in the tenth game from Federer errors, but could not hold off the World No. 1 as Federer wrapped up the win two games later.

The Swiss went on to capture his career-best 12th title by defeating James Blake in the final and finished the season with a 92-5 record.

2006 Wimbledon, F. Federer d. Nadal 60 76(5) 67(2) 63
The pressure was on Federer, as the top seed and three-time defending champion was playing in his favorite surface, riding a 47-match grass court winning streak and facing Nadal in a surface that the Spaniard had not managed to produce good results prior to this year's Wimbledon.

Federer started the match in hot form, breaking Nadal in the second, fourth and sixth games to take the set 6-0. The Spaniard would break Federer in the first game of the second set and serve at 5-4 but fail to close it out. Federer won the second set in a tie-break 7-5 but ended up losing the third set also in a tie-break (7-2). In the fourth set Federer took early control, breaking Nadal at 2-1 and 4-1 and eventually winning the Championships when serving at 5-3.

Federer, who captured his 39th career title and eighth Grand Slam crown, became the sixth man to secure four straight Wimbledon titles.

2006 Roland Garros, F. Nadal d. Federer 16 61 64 76(4)
The stakes had never been higher in a Federer-Nadal showdown than when the top two players in the INDESIT ATP Rankings went head-to-head in the Roland Garros final.

Playing in his first Roland Garros title match, Federer was attempting to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four straight Grand Slam events, and just the third player in history to achieve the feat.

Nadal was looking to become the youngest player to defend the Roland Garros title since Bjorn Borg in 1974-75. The Spaniard also was trying to improve his perfect record at Roland Garros to 14-0, his clay court winning streak to 60 matches and to notch his 100th career clay court win.

Federer broke Nadal twice in the first set to race to a 5-0 lead. But then Nadal began to dominate the match with his crushing forehand and Federer struggled with many unforced backhand errors.

Nadal did not drop serve again until he tried to close out the match at 5-4 in the fourth set. But he clinched the match soon after in the tie-break. Nadal won his 14th consecutive final (second only in the Open Era to Federer's mark of 24 straight finals won).

2006 Masters Series Rome, F. Nadal d. Federer 67(0) 76(5) 64 26 76(5)
In May, only three weeks after their Monte-Carlo match, Federer and Nadal were at it again. Federer rested in the time in between the two tournaments, while Nadal went to Barcelona and won the title (d. Robredo).

This match was the best between the two warriors yet, lasting five hours and five minutes. Federer forced the action, successfully approaching the net again and again. The Swiss tennis genius won more points than Nadal, just like in Dubai, 179 to 174.

But once more Nadal won the big points. Federer had two match points with Nadal serving at 5-6, 15-40 in the final set. But he missed forehands on both opportunities.

With the victory, Nadal tied Guillermo Vilas’ Open Era record of 53 straight match wins on clay. He also lifted his career record in finals to 16-2, the best winning percentage in Open Era history.

Even after the defeat, Federer had an incredible 2006 record of 39-3, with all three losses at the hands of Nadal.

2006 Masters Series Monte-Carlo, F. Nadal d. Federer 62 67(2) 63 76(5)
Between the Dubai match and this one in April, Federer went undefeated, winning Masters Series events for the third year in a row at Indian Wells (d. Blake) and the second year in a row at Miami (d. Ljubicic). Nadal, meanwhile, reached the semifinals of Indian Wells (l. to Blake) and fell in the second round at Miami (to Moya).

But Nadal regained his footing at Monte-Carlo. He took the exciting match in three hours and 49 minutes and overcame a 0-3 deficit in the final tie-break.

2006 Dubai Tennis Championships, Dubai, F. Nadal d. Federer 26 64 64
Federer came into the pair's first encounter of the 2006 season undefeated, having won the title at Doha (d. Monfils) and the Australian Open (d. Baghdatis). Nadal was just getting his groove back after suffering an ankle injury at the Madrid Masters Series event in October. Dubai was only Nadal's second tournament since suffering the injury. He opened the year with a semifinal showing at Marseille in February (l. to Clement).

This was the first match between Federer and Nadal with the Spanish superstar holding the INDESIT ATP Ranking of No. 2.

Nadal won the encounter despite winning less points: 71 to 78. They each broke serve three times, but Nadal won the points that mattered. The win represented his 10th straight victory in finals. Nadal’s victory also broke Federer’s Open Era record of 56 straight match wins on hard courts.

2005 Roland Garros, Paris, SF. Nadal d. Federer 63 46 64 63
Theirs was the most eagerly awaited match of the tournament. Federer was already No. 1 in the world and fast-rising Nadal was at No. 5.

Nadal came to Roland Garros on the heels of clay-court titles at the ATP Masters Series events at Monte-Carlo in April (d. Coria) and at Rome in May (d. Coria again). Federer, meanwhile, was fresh off of his second straight clay-court crown at Masters Series Hamburg in May (d. Gasquet).

Federer evened the score by winning the second set, but after that his form fell as the wet and dark conditions set in. Nadal kept the pressure on, ousting Federer in four sets on the way to winning the Roland Garros title on debut (d. Puerta in the final).

2005 NASDAQ-1OO Open, Miami, F. Federer d. Nadal 26 67(4) 76(5) 63 61
Federer was primed for revenge. Again he came into the Miami event with only one loss for the year (to Safin in the semifinals of the Australian Open) and fresh off a title in Indian Wells (d. Hewitt). Nadal was a year older and wiser, already having won three ATP titles.

The balls were flying at Federer from Nadal's exploding topspin groundstrokes, and the Spaniard was running down every ball in sight. Before he knew it, Federer was down 5-3 in the third set tie-break, two points from defeat. But he rallied back, and leveled the head-to-head series at 1-1

2004 NASDAQ-100 Open, Miami, 3rd RD. Nadal d. Federer 63 63
Federer came into the ATP Masters Series event on a roll, having won the Australian Open final over Marat Safin in February and the Pacific Life Open (also a Masters Series event) in Indian Wells over Tim Henman just before coming to Miami. He had lost only once in 2004 prior to this match (in the quarterfinals of Rotterdam to Henman).

Nadal, the youngest man in the tournament at 17, was just starting to emerge as a force on the ATP circuit and hadn’t yet won a title.

He breezed by Federer in only 69 minutes for the best win of his career at that point. The Spaniard said after the match that it was probably the best he had ever served.

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