Roland Garros 2019 semifinal, Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal: How ‘Fedal’ showed us a different type of rivalry
Rivalries have always been an integral part of any sport. Not only do they act as a motivating factor for the players, but they also make the sport even more exciting for the fans.
Be it Sachin Tendulkar vs Shane Warne or Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi, individual rivalries have never failed to gather eyeballs and provide the fans with some memorable moments. But among the many iconic rivalries in the history of the sport, one that stands out is that between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
The two tennis greats all set to face each other in the semi-final at Roland Garros 2019. When they take the court on Friday, they will rekindle a rivalry that is unique and special.
When Federer first arrived at the scene, the legend Pete Sampras was nearing the end of his career. The Swiss displayed immense quality and amazing technique in defeating Sampras at Wimbledon 2001, and was immediately touted as the heir to the throne.
He lived up to all the expectations and reached a stage where it seemed no opposition was strong enough for him. During the year 2004 he won three Grand Slam titles and became the World No. 1, looking practically invincible.
But despite being in such dominant form throughout the year, Federer lost at the Miami Open in straight sets, to a 17-year-old Spaniard - none other than Rafael Nadal.
The match may not have gathered much attention back then but in retrospect, it held plenty of relevance. It was the beginning of one of the most loved and competitive rivalries in the history of the game.
From there on, Federer continued his fine form whereas Nadal went from strength to strength and soon a fierce rivalry started taking shape. The pair became the de facto top contenders at each of the four Grand Slams and put in world-class displays match after match.
In 2008, the two played the longest ever Wimbledon final, a match that lasted more than seven hours if you include the rain delays. Even though Nadal managed to clinch the title in the fifth set, both of them played like champions and showcased sheer brilliance with their physical capabilities and mental strength.
That match is widely considered to be the greatest match in tennis history.
Despite their astonishing career stats and Grand Slam titles, the difference in their game style, nature and approach towards the game is what makes their rivalry so exciting. Federer oozes finesse and grace through his game and frequently adopts the traditional ‘serve and volley’ strategy. Nadal on the other hand (literally!) personifies strength, speed and power; unlike the Swiss, the Spaniard relies upon his baseline game to dictate the play.
The two have been successful across all surfaces. However, grass remains Federer’s territory (he has won a record eight Wimbledon titles) whereas Nadal is known as the King of Clay (with a record 11 French Open trophies in his bag).
Federer and Nadal have revolutionized the sport in their own ways and have been at the pinnacle for more than a decade now. And that itself speaks volumes about the talent they possess and the hard work they have put in.
However, it is not just their on-court success and battles that have made this rivalry special. Apart from revolutionizing the sport, Federer and Nadal have also changed the way people look at a rivalry.
Unlike many other rivalries, where animosity between the rivals takes centre-stage, the Spaniard and the Swiss have shown utmost respect and love towards each other.
The two have openly contributed and supported each other’s initiatives off the court. They have played various exhibition charity matches to raise funds for each other’s foundations. The Swiss also lent his support by attending the inauguration of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain.
They have openly praised and complimented each other in victory and in defeat. At the Australian Open 2009 final, after an emotional loss for Federer, Nadal showed humility and class by saying in the post-match presentation:
"Well first of all, sorry for today. I really know how you feel right now. It’s really tough. Remember, you’re a great champion. You’re one of the best of history and you’re going to better Sampras’ record."
Almost a decade later, after the 2017 Australian Open final, Federer - who was at the winning end this time around - reciprocated the gesture and showed tremendous respect as he stated:
"There are no draws in tennis but I would have been happy to share this trophy with Rafa tonight."
Needless to say, the camaraderie between the two players is adored by fans all across the globe. The way they have conducted themselves and their rivalry on and off the field serve as a massive lesson for all young sportsmen.
Just like their rivalry, a never-ending debate has been going on over the past decade about who the better player of the two is. While Federer has won 20 Grand Slam titles compared to Nadal’s 17, the Spaniard leads the head-to-head 23-15. There are arguments in favor of each side.
But more important than the debate is the fact that the two of them have pushed each other towards greatness and taken the sport to a higher level. As the debate rages on, they take on each other once again in the semifinal at Roland Garros 2019 - and we know that they will remain friends irrespective of who wins.