How the Federer-Nadal, Federer-Djokovic and Nadal-Djokovic rivalries unfolded in 2019
Rafael Nadal led the way for Spain as they clinched their 6th Davis Cup title last week in a revamped format. The conclusion of Davis Cup also brings down the curtains on what was a highly entertaining 2019 season.
While Nadal and Novak Djokovic won two Grand Slams apiece this year, the likes of Dominic Thiem, Fabio Fognini and Daniil Medvedev were the new entrants in the elite list of Masters 1000 champions.
Stefanos Tsitsipas won the Nitto ATP finals, while Medvedev had a remarkable North American hardcourt season where he reached the final in five out of five tournaments and won his first-ever Masters 1000 trophy at Cincinnati. And Thiem’s progress towards becoming a player for all surfaces was another notable highlight of 2019 as far as the newer generation of tennis is concerned.
But despite the younger generation showing glimpses of greatness, the year still belonged to the Big 3.
With a win-loss record of 58-7 for Nadal, 57-11 for Djokovic and 53-10 for Federer in 2019, the three greats enjoyed the top three wining percentages in men’s tennis this year. They are still dominating the sport even in the twilight of their careers, just as they did when they were at the peak of their prowess.
Interestingly, 2019 also saw the revival of the legendary ‘Fedal’ rivalry as the duo squared off against each other in the semifinal at Roland Garros - their first meeting since the 2017 Shanghai Masters final.
Nadal, Djokovic and Federer combined to play six matches among themselves, as each one of them faced the other two twice apiece. Let us take a look at how these storied rivalries unfolded in the last year of this decade.
Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer
Since their first ever clash back in 2004 at the Miami Masters, 2016 and 2018 were the only years when Nadal and Federer did not face each on the tour even once.
Their much-anticipated meet-up in the semifinal at the Indian Wells this March was set to be their first battle in one and a half years. But the fans of the duo were left utterly disappointed after Nadal had to withdraw from the match owing to a recurring knee injury.
Federer fans were over the moon as the Swiss great decided to make a comeback on clay this year, after missing out the previous two seasons. The moment the 20-time Grand Slam champion announced his intentions to play on clay, everyone could sense a possible Fedal clash on clay for the first time since 2013.
To everyone’s delight, Federer edged past the resurgent Stan Wawrinka in the Roland Garros quarterfinal to set a mouth-watering semifinal clash against the ‘King of Clay’. But on a cold, windy and rainy day in Paris, the conditions were far from ideal for such a high-octane contest.
As he has done on so many instances in the past, the Spaniard found a way to not only work around the tough conditions, but also bring his best against one of the toughest opponents he could face.
Federer, showing tremendous resilience, played his part in the first two sets, but surrendered the third meekly. Nadal continued his dominance over his rival on clay, rolling Federer over in straight-sets 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. The Spaniard went on to win the French Open a whopping 12th time by taming Thiem in four sets in a four-set final.
After their meeting at the French Open, Fedal fans didn’t have to wait too long for another clash as the duo met each other just a month later, again in the semifinal, at Wimbledon.
If Nadal dominated Federer in his fortress, it was the latter’s turn to do the same on grass. The Wimbledon semifinal clash was their first meeting at the All England Club since their epic 2008 final, and Federer edged past the resurgent Spaniard in a four-set thriller.
While Nadal still leads Federer 24-16 in their overall head-head record, 2019 saw the duo sharing one victory apiece against each other - as Nadal continued his dominance on clay while Federer retained his edge on grass.
Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic
While Federer dominated Djokovic in their initial exchanges, the Serb has held an upper hand over the Swiss maestro since the turn of this decade.
Since 2011, Djokovic has recorded a string of monumental wins over Federer. His triumphs in the finals at Wimbledon 2014 and Wimbledon 2015, as well as the 2015 US Open, have gone a long way towards shaping the decade of tennis that has just got over.
In their first meeting in 2019, Federer and Djokovic faced each other in the Wimbledon final. Federer had the statistical edge, winning 36 games and 218 points as compared to Djokovic’s 32 games and 204 points, but it was the resilient Serb who emerged victorious 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12(3) in a titanic clash that lasted nearly five hours.
In the 16th game of the deciding set, the Swiss maestro had a couple of match points on his serve. But he squandered both the opportunities before slowly crumbling against the unrelenting Djokovic in what was arguably the most thrilling contest of this calendar year.
Federer’s loss at Wimbledon was his 4th consecutive loss against Djokovic, but he finally managed to break the losing streak towards the end of the year. The Swiss registered a resounding 6-4, 6-3 win over the 16-time Major champion in their crucial tie at the Nitto ATP Finals in November.
In spite of being a great champion himself, Djokovic has never enjoyed crowd support when he plays either Federer or Nadal. And that was clearly evident in both the Federer-Djokovic ties in 2019 as well.
At the O2 Arena in London, in what was a virtual quarterfinal clash, the Serb appeared visibly disturbed as the pro-Federer crowd even cheered his double faults. And at Wimbledon earlier, Djokovic kept gesturing sarcastically in the direction of the partisan crowd as the match went into overtime.
Nonetheless, Federer and Djokovic end the year with one win apiece against each other in 2019.
Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic
The Nadal-Djokovic rivalry has perhaps been the most decorated duel of this decade. The two players have locked horns in some of the most stunning and absorbing contests ever seen in tennis.
But while Nadal and Djokovic usually bring their best against each other, 2019 saw a considerably subdued version of their rivalry.
In their first meeting of 2019, Nadal and Djokovic fought for the title at the Australian Open. The Spaniard suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Djokovic, getting rolled over 3-6, 2-6, 3-6 in just over two hours. The Serb was absolutely brutal in his march towards the 7th Australian Open crown of his career, inflicting upon Nadal his first ever straight-sets defeat in in a Slam final.
While Djokovic was too good for Nadal at Melbourne Park, it was Nadal’s turn to dominate his rival on clay in the Rome final. Though Djokovic did not succumb in straight sets, he was shown no mercy in his comprehensive 0-6, 6-4, 1-6 defeat in the Italian capital this spring.
Usually known for producing physically demanding contests filled with long and exhausting rallies, the Nadal-Djokovic battles in 2019 lacked spice and variety. But with the Big 3 still going strong, we can expect a few more classics among these three in the couple of years to follow.