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Top 5 epic duels between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal 

  • Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have accounted for 39 Grand Slams between them in their illustrious career.
  • Widely considered as the two greatest individuals to play the game, we look at their top 5 clashes.
Karan Vinod
Modified 21 Mar 2020, 19:14 IST

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal last played each other at the 2019 Wimbledon semi-finals
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal last played each other at the 2019 Wimbledon semi-finals

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal together have given the world one of the greatest rivalry in tennis history. It is only natural that two of the finest players to ever play the game have gone up against each other 40 times and more often than not all those encounters have been memorable. Roger leads the way with 20 Grand Slams while Rafa is one behind with 19 wins.

Nadal holds the Head to Head record with 24 wins compared to Federer's 16. However, the Swiss maestro has won seven of their last eight meetings, with Rafa winning the lone clay-court appearance. With most of their clashes in the final rounds of competitions, the winner has more often than not go on to win the tournament.

Now, we take a look at the top 5 epic encounters between these two tennis legends.

#5 2006 Italian Open final

Rafa was starting to dominate in clay
Rafa was starting to dominate in clay

One of the closely-fought clashes in the history of the game, everyone who showed up for this match between these two titans got what their ticket was worth. Nadal came back from being 4-2 down and saved two match points, as he extended his head to head record against Federer to 5-1.

The match was played for more than five hours and Nadal equaled the record for the most consecutive wins on clay which was 53 straight wins, set by Argentine Guillermo Vilas. Federer started off well as he secured the first set by playing a near-perfect tiebreak where Rafa failed to secure even a single point.

Nadal hit straight back as he won the next two sets 7-6 and 6-4 and looked to be in cruise control before Federer tied the game and took it to the decider by winning the fourth set 6-2. The Swiss maestro raced to 4-1 lead in the deciding set and looked to be heading towards only his second victory over the Spaniard. However, that wasn't to be the case as Rafa pegged the Swiss superstar back to level it up at 4-4.

Chances were there for both the parties but the game eventually went to a tiebreak. Federer leading 5-3, was two points away from victory but after failed forehands, Nadal won the next four points and secured the win.

Final score: Nadal d. Federer 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5)


#4 Hamburg 2007 final

Roger Federer emerged victorious in this match
Roger Federer emerged victorious in this match

In what was a brutal exhibition of attacking tennis, Roger Federer absolutely dismantled Rafael Nadal at the Hamburg final in 2007. It was an all-out attack from the Swiss maestro who won 2-6 6-2 6-0. It brought an end to Nadal's 81-game winning streak on the clay court and it seemed like Federer had finally found the formula to beat the Spaniard on clay.

Despite a slow start where the Swiss dropped the first set, Rafa was unable to exploit the backhand of Federer. That was always the game plan against the maestro and very few have exploited it like Nadal. The inability to target his backhand meant that Federer was engaged in rallies much more and pounced on the chance to unleash his forehand.

It was pretty much straight forward after the first set. The returns from Nadal were mainly on the Swiss's forehand side and given Federer's remarkable court positioning, he was able to control the point from then on. The set ended 6-2 in favor of the Swiss and honestly, it could have been so much worse.

The final set of the game was no different. Roger was wreaking havoc with thumping forehands and forcing errors out of Rafa. The Swiss's service game got much better as the match progressed and one of the many problems Rafa faced was his inability to hit winners. It was all over for Nadal as soon as Roger secured the first break as the Federer express rolled on to win the final set 6-0.

Final score: Federer d. Nadal 2-6, 6-2, 6-0

#3 Wimbledon 2007 final

The moment Federer secured his fifth Wimbledon
The moment Federer secured his fifth Wimbledon

An encounter that every tennis fan will remember, this match was widely regarded as the greatest Wimbledon final since John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg's epic duel in 1980. Roger Federer won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon and secured his place among the pantheon of greats with five or more titles at SW19.

The game started with Federer securing the first set dramatically as the Hawkeye reversed the decision on set point for Roger. However, he did go on to win the first set 7-5 in the tiebreak. Nadal hit back in the second set as he broke the Swiss's serve in the final game and secured the second set 6-4.

Both the players held strong and neither seemed to be able to break each other's serve in the third set as it went to a tiebreaker. Federer coasted along to win the tiebreak 7-3 and win the third set. The Spaniard hit back immediately as he raced to a 4-0 lead in the fourth set and after an interruption due to a medical time-out, Rafa won the set 6-2 and forced a decider.

The final set was Nadal's to lose and lose he did as he failed to convert four break points in the third and fifth game that would have seen him in the lead. Federer proved too resilient and steamrolled his way to a fifth championship by winning the fifth set 6-2.

Final score: Federer d. Nadal 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2

#2 Australian Open 2017 final

Federer won his first Grand Slam title in nearly five years at Melbourne in 2017
Federer won his first Grand Slam title in nearly five years at Melbourne in 2017

Coming into the 2017 Australian Open, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were ranked 17th and 9th in the world, respectively. They were both coming off serious injuries that essentially derailed the second-half of their 2016 campaign. However, these two once again proved to the world why they are considered the best to play this game. It was their ninth meeting in a Grand Slam final and was arguably the match of the year.

The first set saw Federer lead the way by winning 6-4. Nadal immediately pegged him back by winning the second set 6-3. The start to the third set proved to be crucial as there was a swing in momentum as the Swiss maestro saved three break points in the opening games all by serving aces. It was Federer from that point onwards in that set as he raced to a 6-1 victory.

The Spaniard hit right back in the fourth set and took the match to a decider by winning the penultimate set 6-3. Injury concern was growing as Federer asked for a medical timeout ahead of the deciding set. Resuming play, it was evident that something was bothering the Swiss as he trailed 3-1 in the final set. Then came the swing in momentum.

Federer hit back immediately and broke the Spaniard to level it up at 3-3. He held his serve and Rafa ended up serving trailing 3-4. This game saw a 26-shot rally which was the longest in the match and it was at deuce, with Roger eventually breaking Nadal's serve and getting set to serve for the championship.

Nadal turned on the afterburners and led 40-15 while Federer was serving for the title. However, the Swiss once again showed his class by leveling up before hitting a forehand winner to win the championship.

Final score: Federer d. Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3

#1 Wimbledon 2008 final

Roger Federer was denied a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title by Nadal in 2008
Roger Federer was denied a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title by Nadal in 2008

Considered by many as the greatest tennis match ever played, this encounter had absolutely everything. Two top players, rain delay, poor light, ridiculous shot-making and finally a worthy champion. With both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the peak of their powers, this game was so good that it produced a documentary and a book.

This was their third consecutive final at the Championships and proved to be the best of the lot. Nadal looked like a man possessed as he won the first two sets of the tie and the battle looked all but over. Federer was leading the third set 5-4 before rain interrupted play for the second time. Upon resumption, Federer was made to work hard but won the next two sets with both going to a tiebreak and saving two championship points.

The improbable comeback looked on the cards for the Federer clan. Being two sets down in a Wimbledon final, this was what fairytales were made of. The fifth set began with both the players holding serve until the Swiss maestro was two points away from winning the title. But like always, Nadal was relentless and leveled it all up again at seven-game a piece. The Spaniard immediately broke Federer's serve in the next game and served the game out winning 9-7 in the deciding set.

Final score: Nadal d. Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7

Published 21 Mar 2020, 19:14 IST
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