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French Open 2019: 5 things you must know about Federer-Nadal rivalry

Federer and Nadal, the two men with the most Grand Slam titles in singles tennis first played each other in an ATP event over 15 years ago, at the 2004 NASDAQ-100 Open
Federer and Nadal, the two men with the most Grand Slam titles in singles tennis first played each other in an ATP event over 15 years ago, at the 2004 NASDAQ-100 Open
Kartikeya Kumar

The battle for the ages is here. One of the biggest and most anticipated rivalries in sport is all set to take place at Roland Garros on Friday. Two of the most loved and decorated players in men's tennis (Federer has 20 singles Grand Slam titles while Nadal has 17) are ready to face each other yet again.

Many fans of both Roger and Rafa must have given up on the idea of the two playing each other in a grand slam many years ago. Even the 2017 Australian Open final - their most recent encounter in a grand slam - came after years of missing arguably tennis's biggest rivalry on the big stage.

The 2017 Australian Open final itself turned out to be a match for the ages, with the game going into the fifth set. Although Roger conceded a service game early in the fifth set, he came back with a bang - to win five consecutive games, and the match in the process.

The most amazing thing about that match was that it came at a point when it was unexpected. Roger was coming back from a six-month injury layoff, while Nadal was not in the best of touches leading up to the tournament. In a way, that match was the revival of the Federer-Nadal rivalry as both players equally shared all the four Grand Slam titles in 2017.

While a lot has passed between that match and this one, there is a lot of history between these two champions that is worth looking for all tennis fans. Let us have a look at the most significant statistics going into their upcoming encounter at the semifinal of the 2019 French Open.

#5 The last time they met at a grand slam was in 2017

Roger Federer emerged victorious at the Rod Laver Arena in 2017, winning a grand slam title after almost five years.
Roger Federer emerged victorious at the Rod Laver Arena in 2017, winning a grand slam title after almost five years.

And what a match that was! The build up to this match was even more exciting.

Roger Federer was returning to the tennis circuit after six months - the longest break in his career so far. The break came after a semifinal loss to Milos Raonic during the 2016 Wimbledon. His knee was in such a bad state that he had to forego the following season including 2016 Summer Olympics to prolong his career.

Rafael Nadal had an equally miserable 2016. After a first round exit at the Australian Open, he had to withdraw from the French Open midway and opt out of the Wimbledon that year due to a wrist injury. He also lost his fourth round match at the US Open, and failed to win a single medal at the Olympics.

Even with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray exiting before the quarterfinals, both players had to get through a host of tough opponents before setting up a final for the ages. While Nadal beat the likes of Marcos Baghdatis, Alexander Zverev, Monfils, Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov before the final; while Federer also had to face the heat from the likes of Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Mischa Zverev and Stan Wawrinka before facing Rafa.

This encounter was their first Grand Slam meeting after exactly three years, as Nadal beat Federer in the semifinal of the 2014 Australian Open. With the emergence of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, and their own ageing, a Grand Slam final between the two was as good as a dream come true for tennis fans.

The Last Time They Met At Roland Garros Was In 2011

Though Federer showed fight, Nadal was unstoppable back in the day winning his 6th French Open title.
Though Federer showed fight, Nadal was unstoppable back in the day winning his 6th French Open title.

Rafael Nadal announced his arrival on tennis' biggest stage, winning a French Open title in his very first attempt in 2005. By 2006, his rivalry with Federer had become a thing, with the two meeting each other at every French Open and Wimbledon final between 2006 and 2008. Nadal defied all odds when he stopped Federer from winning a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title after a five-hour epic to win his maiden Wimbledon title in 2008.

The 2010 Australian Open turned out to be Federer's last grand slam win for quite a while. Nadal won all the other majors in that year, and the 2009 French Open was his only attempt at the title he did not win between 2005 and 2014. In 2011, the two players looked all set for their first meeting at the Roland Garros after the 2008 Final.

Though Nadal won the first two sets 7-5, 7-6, Federer won the third set. However, like the 2008 Wimbledon Final, winning three consecutive sets turned out to be too much of an ask for Federer, with Nadal closing the match winning the fourth set 6-1.

Nadal has a 5-0 record against Federer at Roland Garros

Nadal beat Federer in three consecutive French Open finals, between 2006 and 2008.
Nadal beat Federer in three consecutive French Open finals, between 2006 and 2008.

Their encounter at the 2005 French Open semifinal was also the first time the two met in a Grand Slam. Nadal really played out of his skin to beat Federer in four sets and becoming his French Open nemesis in the process.

With a rise in rankings, the two finally met in the final of a Grand Slam for the first time during the 2006 French Open. Federer seemed to have learnt from their previous encounter, winning the first set convincingly with a 6-1 scoreline. But Nadal turned the tables around, bringing his best game out to win the next three straight sets 6-1, 6-4 and 7-6.

The 2007 French Open final was a similar story, with Nadal winning in four sets, only conceding the second set 4-6 to Federer. The 2008 final ended in a straight set victory for Nadal, with none of the sets even going to the tiebreak. This was the first of their only two meetings that ended in a straight set victory, with Nadal again defeating Federer in straight sets in the 2014 Australian Open semifinal.

Their meeting at the 2011 final was also a four set victory for Nadal, and the two have never met at this venue ever since. While Nadal is almost invincible at Roland Garros, the past record suggests even more invincibility for the Spaniard with Roger on the other side of the court.

Nadal Also Leads the Way In Majors With a 9-3 Head To Head Record

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam where Federer has a better head to head record against Nadal.
Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam where Federer has a better head to head record against Nadal.

Okay, so to make things simpler, we need to break their head to head Grand Slam record into three parts. The Australian Open, the French Open and the Wimbledon. Rather surprisingly, with eight US Open titles between the two, the two have never faced each other at the event despite both being present at the event on no less than eleven occasions.

While Rafa is the clear winner at Roland Garros (French Open) with a 5-0 record, Federer leads the way at Wimbledon, with a 2-1 record. Federer just opened his head to head account against Nadal at the Australian Open, with his first ever victory against his long time rival in the year's first grand slam in 2017.

While initially it looked like Federer would beat Rafa in most of the majors other than the French Open, Nadal changed this perception by beating Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon Final - his first victory over Roger in any major other than the French Open. Six months later, he did it again - beating Federer in their first ever Australian Open encounter - that too in the final.

These two victories included, Nadal beat Federer in five consecutive Grand Slam encounters between the two. It began to appear as if Nadal has a psychological hold over Federer, before the latter changed all of that by finally defeating Nadal in a Grand Slam match after ten years at the 2017 Australian Open.

Although Federer has never defeated Nadal at the French Open, Nadal has beaten Federer at least once in all the Grand Slams where they both have faced each other atleast once.

Nadal Leads the Career Head to Head in all ATP Matches as well, with a 23-15 record over Roger Federer

Federer has only recently bettered his record against Nadal, winning the last six consecutive matches.
Federer has only recently bettered his record against Nadal, winning the last six consecutive matches.

If there is one player in the world who can write a book on how to defeat Roger Federer, it has to be Rafael Nadal. Nadal has beaten Federer in 23 out of the 38 ATP matches between the two champions. Nadal has won a staggering 61% of his matches against Federer, even with Federer winning all six of their most recent encounters.

Nadal has enjoyed three streaks of five consecutive wins against Federer - between the 2005 and 2006 French Open, between the 2008 Monaco Masters and the 2009 Australian Open, and between the 2013 Indian Wells and the 2014 Australian Open.

With eleven French Open title victories and a clean record against Federer here, Nadal looks almost certain to win Friday's encounter. But his recent record against Nadal - remember Federer last lost to Nadal way back in January 2014 in any ATP match - might just work out as a psychological advantage for Federer.

The same way Federer defied the odds by showing he can beat Nadal at a Grand Slam, even after losing against him for five consecutive matches and almost ten years, he can possibly also topple the 'King of the Clay' at his favorite venue.

While Nadal is a favorite for this match, Federer is the king of surprises - something he has proved time and again during the course of his career. Though we've all said this thing many times in the past decade, this well might be the last time you will be able to witness arguably the most anticipated rivalry in the history of modern sport.

Though all tennis fans would hope for a few more encounters between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the big stage, let's just absorb every moment of Friday's match, which has kept us waiting for two years.

Edited by Sai Teja

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