Dear Rafael Nadal,
I currently find myself going through a range of emotions. For a significant part of the last two decades, I have cheered your every loss. As a die-hard Roger Federer fan, I was always happy when you lost or missed a tournament because it meant you were losing an opportunity to challenge his status as the GOAT.
For as long as I remember watching tennis, I have been amazed by Federer. His accuracy, simplicity, and elegance always left me awestruck.
It felt like all the stars were aligning when Federer won his first Major at Wimbledon, defeating Mark Philippoussis and solidifying his position at the top. A journey towards greatness that started with defeating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon had come a complete circle after his first Grand Slam title at SW19.
So even when you, Rafael Nadal, arrived on the scene by winning Roland Garros in 2005, I was not bothered. After all, you were a rookie compared to Federer at the time, and clay was never really his favorite surface.
However, you and Federer soon became major rivals. Your presence, especially in claycourt tournaments, started to worry me. Federer achieving his Career Slam started to seem like a distant possibility especially after he lost in straight sets in the 2008 Roland Garros final.
To add salt to his and my wounds, you finally managed to breach the Wimbledon fortress in 2008. The match will go down in the history of tennis as one of the greatest Grand Slam finals ever played. I was heartbroken when Federer's forehand struck the net and you lifted the trophy.
It was a mammoth effort from you to win at Wimbledon, but it felt like a knife to the chest for a naive Federer fan like me. When you defeated the Swiss at the 2009 Australian Open, and he could not control his tears during the presentation ceremony, I felt the same emotions in my chest.
It took me eight Grand Slam matches and four years since 2005 to finally appreciate your magnificent journey in tennis.
I was certain that Federer would have to be a champion at Roland Garros at least once to cement his legacy in this sport. And for that, I will be forever grateful to Robin Soderling. His fourth-round victory over you gave my idol his shot at redemption, and he grabbed it with both hands.
You achieved a career Grand Slam in 2010 and soon returned to be the undisputed king at Roland Garros.
But, there was a paradigm shift in tennis at that point in time. Both you and Federer were challenged by Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray's growing dominance and new Grand Slam winners like Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic. Their success indicated the emergence of new champions in tennis, and the unparalleled dominance of Federer Nadal started to fade away.
"Keep playing Rafa, tennis needs you" - Roger Federer's heartwarming message to Rafael Nadal
So when both of you returned to the Australian Open in 2017, I was not entirely sure whom to root for anymore. From 2004 to 2015, you and Federer have played at least one match against each other every year. That streak was broken in 2016. So when you both reached the final, while my heart was secretly rooting for Federer, I was just grateful to watch my two favorite players compete for yet another Grand Slam title.
When you broke Federer in the fifth set, I was at the edge of my seat. I was confident that it would take a monumental effort from him to defeat you, and when he did, I could not control my emotions. But I also felt sympathy and great respect for you for your Australian Open journey.
Federer delivered an emotional speech at the presentation ceremony and his words echoed my own sentiments.
"I would like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback. I would have been happy to lose, too. To be honest, (my) comeback was perfect as it was. Tennis is a tough sport. There are no draws, but if there were going to be one, I would have been delighted to accept a draw tonight and share it with Rafa," he said.
"I'd like to thank Rafa's team. Keep playing Rafa. Tennis needs you."
A Roger Federer fan begins to support Rafael Nadal as well
When the 2017 season ended, I was overjoyed to see the Grand Slam titles split evenly between you and Federer. He won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and you won at Roland Garros and the US Open.
I was even more delighted when you aced Djokovic at 2020 Roland Garros to win your 20th Grand Slam. Two of my favorite players in tennis were tied at the same number of Grand Slam titles.
You can imagine my heartbreak when I watched the 2021 French Open semifinal against Djokovic, where he dominated you on your favorite surface. I was not upset because you lost to Djokovic; I was upset because you lost at Roland Garros.
My heart sank soon after when you announced you were ending your season due to injury. I wasn't sure if you'd ever come back.
So when you returned to the tour this year, I, like many other tennis fans, was skeptical about your chances at the Australian Open. Your draw was tough, and you played long matches to reach the final.
My hopes of watching you win again at the Rod Laver Arena started to fade when Daniil Medvedev took early control of the final. At 2-3 0-40 in the third set, I almost closed my eyes as I could not watch the inevitable unfold.
However, your determination, grit, and fighting spirit showed why you are the greatest. Your win at the Australian Open is not just about a record-breaking journey; it is a story of inspiration and determination for everyone who follows the sport. You might have overtaken Federer in the Slam race, but as a "Fedal fan," I am delighted with your achievement.
Federer's congratulatory message to you on your record-breaking feat touched the hearts of many fans across the globe, including mine.
The fact that you and Federer enjoy each other's success makes both of you legends.
What started as an on-court rivalry in 2005 has grown into a friendship that transcends championship titles, and records. The legacy you are leaving behind will perhaps be unmatched by anyone else playing this sport.
With sincere gratitude,
A Roger Federer Fan.