Great rivalries between teams divide fan bases and their cities. Everyone picks a side for Red Sox vs. Yankees, Redskins vs. Cowboys, Celtics vs. Lakers. Yet, names change, and rivalries lose their fire. No longer is it Jeter against Pedro Martinez. Current Red Sox ace Rick Porcello facing Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius does not exactly have the same allure. It is possible, maybe inevitable, that the Red Sox and Yankees will once again spark their rivalry in the near future. Individual rivalries, however, are equally as intense yet only remain for a finite amount of time. Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson and Arnold Palmer vs. Jack Nicklaus captivated fans of their sport for decades. There was a mutual respect between those adversaries that made each battle epic. That is why this Sunday, at 3:30 AM EST, I will be waking up to watch (possibly) the last meeting between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam final.
As a matchup between the 9th (Nadal) and 17th (Federer) seeds, this has not been the most likely meeting between the two greatest players of their generation, and arguably of all time. Yet, early losses by presumed favorites Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic opened the door to one more Federal-Nadal final that was a staple for tennis throughout the late 2000’s. Neither Nadal nor Federer won a major in 2015 or 2016, and Federer has not won a Grand Slam Tournament since his 2012 Wimbledon victory.
Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam Tournament in 2003, his first Wimbledon Championship, on his way to an unfathomable seven total Wimbledon victories in his illustrious career. He currently stands alone at a record 17 Grand Slam wins and 28 finals while amassing a total of 302 weeks at number one in the world, also a record. He also has the career Grand Slam, winning a title in each of the four major tournaments. Outside of his astonishing career numbers, he is also a tremendous role model and pristine figure as the face of his sport. He created the Roger Federer Foundation which works with disadvantaged kids, giving them an opportunity to play sports. On and off the court, Roger Federer has drastically improved the game of tennis and when he is gone, he will be sorely missed.
Rafael Nadal broke onto the tennis scene as a teenager in 2005, winning his first of nine French Opens. While Federer may be the King of Grass, Rafa’s numbers on clay may be even more staggering. Few people know that Rafa was actually originally a righty, yet his Uncle and long time coach, Toni Nadal, encouraged him to play lefty to have a service advantage on the ad-side. He is currently tied with Pete Sampras, owning 14 Grand Slam titles overall, including a career Golden Slam as he won Gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With a win on Sunday, Rafa will be one of three players to win a major in his teens, twenties, and thirties. Rafa also has his own foundation called Fundación Rafa Nadal, which focuses on social work and development.
Federer and Nadal have taken part in many classic matches, yet none more thrilling than the 2008 Wimbledon Final. Federer was attempting to break Bjorn Borg’s record of consecutive Wimbledon Championships before Rafa stopped him in a near five hour epic, where there were two rain delays and a fifth set that ended 9-7.
This Sunday will be the 35th installment of the Federer-Nadal rivalry. The first being in March of 2004, where a then 17 year old Nadal beat Federer at the Miami Masters. Rafa has the decisive advantage on clay in their rivalry, going 13-2. On other surfaces, Rafa leads 10-9. In Grand Slam Finals, Rafa also leads 6-2. Overall, while Federer’s numbers may be more impressive, Nadal has the edge in head to head meetings.
Any fan of tennis can appreciate the career accolades of both men, along with their character. Yet, more importantly, they have the respect of each other as well. While both men have little to prove, Federer would increase his Grand Slam lead to 18 compared to Nadal’s 14. Despite a career of health issues, Nadal is about five years younger and he will have more opportunity to increase his total. For Roger, any chance could be his last. So, appreciate this Federer-Nadal matchup while you can, because the next time you see them in a Grand Slam final, it may be in a 30 for 30.