Roger Federer's rivalries have become the stuff of folklore over the years. His two main rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been on his tail for the better part of a decade, making for some epic contests.
With 20 Slams at the age of 39, Roger Federer is just ahead of Nadal who has 19 Slams, and Djokovic who has 17. But at one point the Swiss' main rivals were players from a different generation altogether.
What many people forget is that Roger Federer had established his reign on the men's tour long before the other members of the 'Big 3' had even started playing. As a result, his rivalries from the early 2000s have been relegated to the history books.
Roger Federer went toe-to-toe with some of the best players of the late 1990s and 2000s, and came out on top almost every time. He regularly faced the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi early on, creating some memorable battles.
Marat Safin is one such man who has had many epic encounters against the Swiss maestro. And in a recent interview, the Russian opened up about what it was like facing Roger Federer.
Roger Federer and David Nalbandian were the toughest opponents for me: Marat Safin
"I remember that Nalbandian beat me in the first match of the Davis Cup final (in 2006). I didn't feel anything go by. I faced him several times and there was nothing I could do," said Safin.
Safin then brought in Roger Federer, saying that he made him feel the same kind of helplessness that Nalbandian did.
"The only two players I felt I couldn't do anything with were David (Nalbandian) and Roger Federer," Safin added. "Their level was incredible."
The 20-time Grand Slam champion had some incredible encounters with Marat Safin. The most memorable of those, of course, was the 2005 Australian Open semifinal - which was actually won by the Russian, and which many still consider to be the greatest match ever been played in Melbourne.
At a total run-time of 4 hours 28 minutes, the match went the full distance and then some. The Russian narrowly edged Roger Federer 5-7 6-4 5-7 7-6 (7) 9-7, even saving a match point along the way.
Safin eventually went on to lift the trophy at the Rod Laver Arena that year.
Apart from the defeat in Melbourne in 2005, Federer only lost to Safin one other time in their 12 encounters. But the two almost always produced scintillating patches of play - most notably the 2004 Tennis Masters Cup (ATP Finals), where the Swiss legend won the second set tiebreak with a score of 20-18.
Their first ever encounter - on the clay of Rome - was also thoroughly memorable. Federer won it eventually in a third set tiebreak, but not before being pushed to his absolute limit.
Before Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic came along, there was Marat Safin. And the Russian joined hands with Roger Federer to create some incredible moments of magic.Published 09 Jul 2020, 18:05 IST