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Rafa & Roger: The Rivalry

Federer, Nadal© Getty ImagesRoger Federer and Rafael Nadal played for the 33rd time in the Australian Open semi-finals.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal squared off for the 33rd time in the Australian Open semi-finals on Friday night. It was their 11th Grand Slam meeting, putting them in equal-first place for the most matches played at the majors.

Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 23-10 and holds a 9-6 edge on hard courts, having also won their three encounters on the surface in 2013. Federer has not defeated Nadal at a major since the 2007 Wimbledon final and has never defeated the Spaniard at a hard court Grand Slam.

It was the pair’s third meeting at Melbourne Park, with Nadal also having won both their previous clashes. He denied Federer in five sets in the 2009 final and also triumphed three years later when they met in the semi-finals.

Here is an in-depth look at all of their previous clashes.

2014 Australian Open SF. Nadal d. Federer 76(4) 63 63
Nadal and Federer had met on the same court exactly two years ago, when Nadal prevailed in four sets before losing out to Novak Djokovic in a near-six-hour finale. As they returned to Rod Laver Arena, it was with renewed hope for Federer that he might get his first Grand Slam win over Nadal since the 2007 Wimbledon final. 

With Stefan Edberg in his corner and a larger racquet head paying dividends, Federer came into the semi-finals feeling confident on the back of impressive victories over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray. With Nadal also struggling with a troublesome blister on his left palm, would this be Federer’s chance to reach his 25th major final?

In short, no. Nadal produced an awesome display, punctuated with remarkable passing shots, to which Federer had no answer. While Nadal excelled, he needed to, to combat the high level of aggression from Federer. The Swiss did not relent in coming to the net, despite often being thwarted by Nadal's passing shots, and stepped in to hit over his backhand returns, instead of slicing them all.

But with Nadal looking to chase down Federer’s tally of 17 major titles, the Spaniard afforded Federer no mercy as he claimed the victory in two hours and 23 minutes, setting a final clash with Stanislas Wawrinka.

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2013 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals SF. Nadal d. Federer 75 63
Federer had won all four of their previous encounters at the season finale, most recently in the 2010 title match at The O2, but Nadal defeated the six-time champion in straight sets to reach his 14th final of a remarkable year.

After three straight service breaks, Nadal closed out a hold to love with his eighth forehand winner to end the 43-minute first set. Federer, who needed to be aggressive, struck 11 winners and committed 15 unforced errors in a high-quality opener. In the second set, Federer committed a forehand error in the fifth game to give Nadal the break. Nadal tightened up his game and at 5-3, created one match point opportunity at 30/40. Federer serve and volleyed, but Nadal’s backhand return was low enough to get Federer into trouble. He hit a backhand volley long to end the 80-minute encounter. 

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2013 Western & Southern Open QF. Nadal d. Federer 57 64 63
Nadal, FedererIn arguably their most riveting encounter since their 2012 Australian Open semi-final, Nadal outlasted Federer after three sets of high quality tennis. The Spaniard needed five match points to close out the 32-year-old Swiss, extending his winning streak on hard courts in 2013 to 13-0 and moving one step closer to a 37th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final.

Federer executed a highly aggressive game plan early on, which included topping many backhand returns and attacking the net with authority. He would capture the first set on a late break at 5-5 30/40, but Nadal would refuse to succumb to his rival, turning the tables late in the second set. As Federer’s unforced error count rose to 44, Nadal continued to apply pressure on his serve with deep angled returns with significant pace. The World No. 3 took an immediate lead in the third set, breaking for 2-0 and holding serve from there to the finish line. In a dramatic final game, Federer rallied from 0/40 and eventually saved four match points before Nadal rifled a forehand down the line to close it out.

Nadal improved to an overall record of 21-10 against Federer with the win, ending the five-time Cincinnati champ’s bid to repeat.

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2013 Internazionali BNL d'Italia F. Nadal d. Federer 61 63
Nadal maintained his rich vein of form, overwhelming Federer in 69 minutes to claim his third successive title and notch his 15th straight win. The victory over Federer gave Nadal his 24th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and seventh crown in Rome.

Nadal dominated the opening set, breaking serve three times to win six straight games. At one stage, defending champion Nadal won 20 of 25 points. Federer raised his game in the second set to break a nine-game losing streak for 1-3, but Nadal was too good on the day, securing his 36th win in 38 matches this season.

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2013 BNP Paribas Open QF. Nadal d. Federer 64 62
Federer, Nadal, Indian Wells 2013Nadal extended his winning streak to 12 matches, which includes his two title runs on clay in Sao Paulo and Acapulco, after a straight sets win over Federer.

Fifth seed Nadal missed out on a break point chance at 2-3 in the first set, but the Spaniard broke the World No. 2 in the seventh game with a cross-court backhand pass. Trailing 3-5, Federer wiped away two set points on his serve before Nadal locked up the set on his fourth opportunity. 

Nadal opened up a 3-0 double break lead in the second set, making the most of his trademark forehand when Federer approached the net. Federer fought hard to bounce back, but Nadal wasn’t fazed and he took advantage of uncharacteristic errors from Federer to convert his fourth break for a 5-2 lead. He closed out the victory in 84 minutes. Nadal reversed his loss to Federer in the semi-finals of the same tournament one year ago.

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Nadal, Federer2012 BNP Paribas Open SF. Federer d. Nadal 63 64
After needing to save two break points in his first service game, Federer opened up a 3-0 lead and though Nadal got back on serve in the fifth game, Federer broke for a second time to go up 5-3 and served out the set.

With the winds picking up, Federer broke Nadal at love in the third game of the second set. A Nadal double fault from the same end of the court set up another break point for Federer, and the Swiss took advantage to go up 5-2. Nadal prevented Federer from serving out the match at the first time of asking, but could not hold him off a second time. "I know how well I played tonight, so I'm just really pleased with my performance," said Federer.

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Federer, Nadal2012 Australian Open SF. Nadal d. Federer 67(5) 62 76(5) 64
In the most eagerly awaited clash of the championships, second seed Nadal battled back from a 1-4 deficit in the first set to reach a tie-break. Third seed Federer took an early advantage, and while Nadal saved two set points at 3-6, the Swiss converted his third opportunity after 56 minutes of play.

Both players exchanged breaks of serve early in the second set, but Nadal won five straight games from 2-2 to seize control. From 5-2 in the second set to 0-1, 0/40, in the third, Nadal won 11 straight points. Federer saved three break points in the second game and broke for a 4-3 lead, but dropped his serve to 15 in the next game. He saved one set point at 5-6, 30/40 with a powerful crosscourt forehand winner, but in the tie-break Nadal stormed into a 6-1 lead. Federer won four straight points, but Nadal eventually won the 67-minute set when his opponent hit a sliced forehand - under pressure - into the net.

In a highly competitive fourth set, Nadal converted his second break point opportunity when Federer hit a backhand wide at 4-4, advantage. Nadal weathered a storm when serving for a place in his 15th Grand Slam championship final, by saving two break points. Federer hit a backhand long to give Nadal victory in three hours and 42 minutes. It was their 10th meeting at a major championship.

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Federer, Nadal2011 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals RR. Federer d. Nadal 63 60

Federer won his first match over Nadal since the championship match at the 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals by hitting 28 winners to four in a 60-minute win. The straight-sets victory ensured the Swiss a place in the semi-finals at the circuit finale.

Federer broke Nadal's serve to love for a 4-2 lead and went onto close out the first set in 32 minutes, having hit 12 winners - including nine off the forehand wing - and winning 17 of 21 first service points. Federer ran through the second set, as Nadal won just nine of 35 total points. The 30-year-old Swiss committed just eight unforced errors and hit seven aces.

Federer has now beaten Nadal in their four indoor meetings, all of which have come at the season finale.

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Nadal, Federer2011 Roland Garros F. Nadal d. Federer 75 76(3) 57 61

Nadal and Federer contested a Grand Slam final for the eighth time when they met in the Roland Garros final, and it was Nadal who prevailed as he finished strongly to end Federer’s bid for a second title at the clay-court major in three hours and 40 minutes. The Spaniard had also beaten Nadal in the Roland Garros final from 2006-2008.

Having ended Novak Djokovic’s 41-match unbeaten run in 2011 in the semi-finals, Federer hoped his top form would be enough to dethrone Nadal in Paris and made a strong start as he raced to a 5-2 lead. The Swiss squandered a set point chance in the eighth game, though, and it sparked the Nadal comeback as the Spaniard reeled off five straight games to take the opener.

Nadal capitalised on his momentum to break early in the second set, and was serving for the set at 5-4, deuce, when a heavy shower suspended play for 10 minutes. Upon resumption Federer broke back, but Nadal regained his composure in the tie-break to take a commanding two-set lead.

The top-seeded Nadal broke through in the sixth game of the third set, but had no chance to build on his lead as the resilient Federer immediately struck back with a service break to love. The Swiss then delighted the Philippe Chatrier court crowd, and stunned Nadal, as he won four of the next five games to claw his way back into the match.

The key stage in the fourth set came in the opening game as Federer squandered a 0/40 opportunity on Nadal’s serve. From there the tide swiftly turned in Nadal’s favour as he broke serve twice, dominating the baseline rallies as he raced through to claim victory.

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Nadal, Federer2011 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Madrid SF. Nadal d. Federer 57 61 63

Nadal and Federer had contested the final of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tennis tournament the past two years, with Federer triumphing in 2009 and Nadal avenging that defeat in 2010.

Federer was looking for revenge after a heavy defeat to Nadal in their previous meeting in the Miami semi-finals, and overcame a spate of early unforced errors to fight from a set down and claim the opening set. The Swiss could not maintain his high level, though, and Nadal’s response was immediate as he raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set before levelling the match.

The third-seeded Federer squandered an early break point chance in the third set, and immediately rued his missed opportunity as Nadal broke through in the following game to lead 3-1. Federer had the crowd at the Caja Magica on the edge of their seats as he engineered a late fight back in the ninth game, winning a 20-shot rally to earn break back point as Nadal served for the match. But the Basel native dumped a backhand return in the net and the reprieved Nadal went on to claim victory in two hours and 36 minutes.

It was the defending champion who came out on top as he fought from a set down to defeat Federer 5-7, 6-1, 6-3. Nadal’s victory from behind reversed the trend in the Federer-Nadal rivalry that had seen the winner of the first set go on to win their previous 12 clashes.

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Nadal 2011 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Miami SF. Nadal d. Federer 63 62

Nadal and Federer met in the United States for the first time in six years when they contested the semi-finals of the Sony Ericsson Open. Federer had won their two previous meetings on U.S. soil, both at Crandon Park in 2004 and 2005, but it was Nadal who prevailed in their most recent encounter.

The Spaniard was practically unbeatable on serve, especially in the first set, winning 16 of his 18 service points. The World No. 1 was effective in his return games, taking both break point opportunities to wrap up the opening set in 34 minutes. He then broke the Swiss twice more in the second set to claim victory in 78 minutes.

While Nadal played well, Federer made uncharacteristic mistakes, on both wings, framing several shots and missing spots he normally hits. “I had a few mini chances, which against Rafa I was down right away,” said Federer. “From then it was an uphill battle. When I did have chances I played poorly and he came up with some good stuff. Off night for me, unfortunately.”

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2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals F. Federer d. Nadal 63 36 61

After losing six of his past seven matches to Nadal, Federer badly needed victory over the Spaniard in the 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title match to defend his honour. With coach Paul Annacone in his corner for the first time against Nadal, an ultra-aggressive Federer came out firing off both wings, blasting 14 winners to two in the first set.

Never before had Federer hit his backhand with such authority against Nadal, and appropriately the Swiss cracked a crosscourt topspin backhand winner to break Nadal for a 5-3 lead. Federer’s intensity and assertiveness waned in the second set as Nadal forced a decider, but when Federer returned to his aggressive ways in the third, he ran away with the match.

Federer joins Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras as the only players to have won five Barclays ATP World Tour Finals titles.

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Nadal2010 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Madrid F. Nadal d. Federer 64 76(5)

History was on the line as Nadal and Federer resumed their rivalry in the final of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open, exactly one year on from their last meeting when Federer had prevailed in straight sets.

Nadal came into the match in devastating form, having surrendered just two sets in 14 clay-court matches in 2010, a run that had seem him crush the most well-respected of players en route to victories in Monte-Carlo and Rome. Federer was to be no exception. The Spaniard may not have been at his best at every stage of the finale, but he raised his level when needed to defeat Federer in straight sets and avenge his defeat in the 2009 final.

Victory for Nadal saw him win a record-breaking 18th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy and became the first player to complete the sweep of ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournaments (Monte-Carlo, Rome, Madrid) in the same year.

Breaks were exchanged in the third and fourth games of the opening set before Nadal broke decisively in the seventh game as Federer paid the price for a game littered with unforced errors. The second-seeded Nadal then saved four break points as he served out the set, finishing with a hooked forehand passing shot past the stranded Federer.

With a one-set advantage, Nadal looked to have taken a firm grip on the match as he broke Federer in the opening game of the second set, wearing the Swiss down with his relentless attack that forced errors from the World No. 1’s racquet.

Nadal was unable to shut out Federer out. The determined Swiss immediately levelled and when Nadal again broke to lead 3-2, Federer once again pegged him back with a delightful mix of rifling backhands and forehand drop shots.

In the subsequent tie-break, Federer twice squandered a mini-break lead and found himself two match points down as his backhand broke down under relentless pressure from Nadal. The Swiss was able to save the first with a courageous deep forehand into the corner, but could not deny Nadal on the second as he miss-fired to hand the Mallorcan victory after two hours and 10 minutes.

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