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Federer vs Nadal: 5 instances when Roger Federer let a critical lead slip away against Rafael Nadal

Things don't always go your way and Roger Federer knows that better than any player on the tour
Things don't always go your way and Roger Federer knows that better than any player on the tour
Gaurav Singh

Rafael Nadal has enthralled the world with his tennis for years now. Although he is 32, he still has the ability to bulldoze past his opponents with his tremendous power tennis, which is a sight to behold.

If there is one player has experienced that mighty sight from close quarteres, it is none other than Roger Federer. The number of times Nadal has comeback to derail Federer is quite impressive.

Tennis is game of margins, and not just margins, but thin margins. Thin margins are something that have defined and decided many a Fedal clash.

In this article, we look at five instances when Federer took a tiny and/or big lead against Nadal, but subsequently failed to capitalize and ended up on the losing side.

#5) 2005 - French Open semifinal

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the 2005 French Open
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the 2005 French Open

This match took place when their rivalry was in a nascent stage. Federer was looking to capture his first French Open, which would have established his dominance on all surfaces.

But Nadal was absolutely savage in the first set as he broke Federer in the opening game and got a double break of serve to lead 5-2 and went on to win the set 6-3.

In the second set, Federer got a break of serve at 1-1 to lead 2-1 and hung to win the second set 6-4. In the third set, Nadal got under Federer's skin when Federer was serving at 4-5 on serve.

Nadal was striking the ball with alarming precision and had two set points at 15-40. Federer saved both the set points, but Nadal was not to be denied, as he converted his third set point after stretching Federer out of court and following it up with a tremendous volley.

Next came the decisive moment in the fourth set when Federer broke Nadal early in the fourth set and raced to a critical 3-1 lead. It looked like Federer would win the set and the match would go to the fifth set.

But that wasn't to be as Nadal quickly broke Federer back to cancel the 3-1 lead to make it 3-3, and broke Federer's serve to lead 5-3 and successfully served for the match to book his place in the final.

Federer let a 3-1 lead slip away in the fourth set. Had he played a bit more meticulously at that juncture, he would have clinched the fourth set and one wonders what would have happened in the fifth set.


Match result – Nadal won 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

Match duration – 2 hours and 47 minutes

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#4) 2006 Rome Masters Final

Nadal did indeed have the last laugh after the marathon encounter
Nadal did indeed have the last laugh after the marathon encounter

While most people would have been happily enjoying their Sunday relaxing at home on 11 May 2006, a war of huge magnitude was taking place in the European Union.

Two big Greek gods (Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) were fighting tooth and nail on a baking hot afternoon in Rome. The quality of tennis was absolutely sensational from both players - be it Federer's delicate backhand slice or Nadal's raging forehand.

This was the match that intensified their rivalry.

Federer won the first set 7-6, but Nadal staged a strong comeback to win the second set 7-6 and the third 6-4. Federer won the fourth set 6-2 to take the match into the deciding set.

Federer broke Nadal in the fourth game of the fifth set to take a 3-1 lead, and subsequently consolidated by holding his serve to take a critical 4-1 lead in the fifth set. He was on the verge on a 5-2 lead, but a resilient Nadal broke Federer to put the match back on serve at 4-3.

Federer had two match points with Nadal serving at 5-6 (15-40). But Federer’s forehand errors went into overdrive at this critical juncture. He made two forehand errors that brought the game back to deuce, and the fifth set went into the tie-breaker.

In the tie-breaker, Federer rose to a 5-3 lead, but a rampant Nadal nullified the lead and went on to win the tie breaker 7-5.

Federer led 4-1, and was two games away from winning the titanic clash. But he let that lead slip away. In rather dramatic fashion, he also squandered two back-to-back match points and a 5-3 lead in the tie-breaker.


Match result – Nadal won 6-7 (7-0), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(7-5)

Match duration – 5 hours and 5 minutes

#3) 2008 – Hamburg Final

Federer should have buried this match in straight sets
Federer should have buried this match in straight sets

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal endured bad starts to the 2008 season, as they lost in the semifinals of the Australia Open. Both were in hot pursuit to win their first title of the year when the clay season commenced. But it was Nadal who drew first blood when he beat Federer in straight sets to win the Monte Carlo title.

The final at Hamburg was their second encounter of the season. And it took place one week before the start of the 2008 French Open.

In the opening set, Federer romped to a 5-1 lead and had set point at 40-30. But it was from this pivotal juncture that Nadal's forehand started to do some serious damage and Federer's unforced errors further helped the Spaniard's cause.

Federer had another set point on Nadal's serve at 5-2, but Nadal's fearsome forehand rescued him again. Nadal was striking the ball tremendously well as he broke Federer again to put the match back on serve.

Then the unthinkable happened as Federer was broken at 5-5 and Nadal successfully served it out to win the set 7-5.

Federer led 5-3 in the second set only to get broken back again. He went on to win the second set in a tie-breaker, but ran out of steam and lost the third set 6-3.

Had Federer captured the first set when he led 5-1 with multiple set points, he might have had the outcome in his favor. And if he would have won this match, it would have given him the confidence and mental edge going into the French Open final three weeks later where he lost one of the most painful matches in his career.


Match result – Nadal won 7-5 , 6-7 (7-3), 6-3

Match duration – 2 hours and 52 minutes

#2) 2008 – Wimbledon final

A gloomy evening that was lit up by Rafa's triumph
A gloomy evening that was lit up by Rafa's triumph

There have been innumerable articles that have been written on this match, so we will not go into detail describing it. Very briefly, this match is considered the greatest match ever played in tennis.

The stakes were sky high. Roger Federer was looking to win his sixth Wimbledon and hold on to his supremacy as the world number one. And on the other side Rafael Nadal was looking to win his first Wimbledon and become the first player since Björn Borg to win the French and Wimbledon in the same year.

The first set was fiercely contested with Nadal winning it 6-4. At the beginning of the second set, Federer got a vital break of serve and raced to a 4-1 lead. But Nadal fought back to win five games in a row to steal the set from Federer.

Nobody would have foreseen what was going to unfold in the next three sets. Federer won the next two sets; the fourth set tiebreaker was the most unbelievable period of play ever seen in tennis, leaving the audience in suspense and anxiousness.

The fifth set was nothing short of a cliffhanger, where the match entered sudden-death phase at 6-6, then 7-7. But it was Nadal who held his nerve to break Federer at 7-7 and successfully serve for the match.

Had Federer hung on to the 4-2 lead in the second set and capitalized on it, the outcome could have well very been different in the end.


Match result – Nadal won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (7-5) , 6-7(10-8), 9-7

Match duration – 4 hours and 48 minutes

#1) 2011 - French Open Final

This was the fourth time Nadal had defeated Federer in the French open final
This was the fourth time Nadal had defeated Federer in the French open final

2011 was the first Slam-less year for Federer since 2002. He reached the semi-final of the Australian Open and US Open where lost to Novak Djokovic, and the quarterfinal of Wimbledon where he lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Nadal was the favorite at Roland Garros but Federer was not behind, as he defeated Djokovic in four sets in the semi-final to reach the summit clash. Nadal evaded his nemesis Novak Djokovic in the final, who had defeated him in straight sets at the finals in Madrid and Rome.

Federer broke the Nadal in the first service game and raced to a 3-0 lead. He was cruising in the first set with a double break of serve, and got a set point when he led 5-2. However, a few unforced errors saw the game vanish and Nadal clawed back to 5-3, still a break down.

Another iffy game from Federer saw Nadal breaking back his serve and leveling the first set at 5-5. Then the inconceivable happened again as Nadal broke Federer at 5-5 to win 6 games in a row and wrap up the first set 7-5.

In the second set, Nadal was serving for a two-set lead at 5-4, (40-30), but a forehand error made it deuce and this was when the match had a 10-minute rain delay. Nadal had another set point when the match resumed, but Federer saved that one too and broke Nadal to make it 5-5.

The second set went to a tie-breaker and Nadal quickly raced to 4-0 lead and eventually won the tie-breaker 7-3.

In the third set, Nadal broke Federer to race to a 4-2 lead and it appeared that it was game over for Federer. But Fedal clashes never end without pulsating drama and unbelievable suspense.

It was at this stage that Federer started to play some unbelievable drop shots combined with well-directed winners and took the third set 7-5. All of a sudden it looked like the 2008 Wimbledon final plot was about to reincarnate itself.

But that wasn’t to be as Nadal come out all guns blazing in the fourth set, and Federer didn’t have an answer. Nadal won the set 6-1 and with it the French Open.

The match result could have been different had Federer capitalized on the double break of serve when he led 5-2 in the first set.


Match result – Nadal won 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-1

Match duration – 3 hours and 40 minutes

Edited by Musab Abid

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