As tennis’ greatest rivalry reaches its fourteenth anniversary, we look back at the clash that started it all between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Fourteen years ago on Wednesday, the Miami Open provided us with the beginning of what was to become one of the greatest rivalries sport has ever seen.
On 28th March 2004, A 21-year-old Roger Federer – who had previously triumphed at both Wimbledon and Melbourne – had his eyes firmly set on another title in Miami. A month earlier, the Swiss had become world number one for the first time in his career.
A strong favourite for the tournament, Federer was playing with a rich vein of form that propelled him to top spot in the tennis rankings.
His third-round opponent, Rafael Nadal, was a 17-year-old prospect with a lot of potential. What both men didn’t expect on that day fourteen years ago was for a rivalry to emerge that would captivate tennis audiences and sporting fans throughout the world for over a decade.
Nadal was ranked 34th in the world at the time, yet the youngster drew first blood in a thrilling and subsequently dominant performance, shocking the tennis world with a extraordinary 6-3,6-3 display over Federer.
Their style of play contrasted greatly; Federer a light righted-handed style with a single-hand approach, Nadal a left handed player with a double-hand approach with power in abundance.
The rivalry would span thirty-eight matches (and counting) and the contrasting style of play has provided us with unforgettable moments of tennis brilliance.
The pair have accumulated an astonishing thirty-six Grand Slam titles between them. Federer with a world-leading twenty Slams, Nadal a close second with sixteen.
Although the Grand Slam title ranking is comfortably in the hands of Federer, the head-to-head ratio between the pair crowns a different king. Nadal has triumphed over his rival 23 times, as opposed to Federer’s 15 wins – a ratio of 61% to 39%, respectively. Although Federer has noticeably closed the gap on this ratio in recent years, Rafa still holds a sizeable lead.
Both players have gone on to etch their names in the annals of tennis history as two of the best players of the modern era.
2017 provided us with a ‘back-to-the-future’ moment as the the two tennis elites were hitting form once again, setting up a thrilling Australian Open Final.
With two titles each to their names that year, the Australian Open brought the Federer-Nadal rivalry to new heights, rubber-stamping their rivalry as the greatest in tennis history. Federer, at 34 years of age, triumphed to accelerate his position as one of the greatest of all time.
Fast forward to 2018, and both players are still performing at the elite level. Federer has successfully defended his Australian Open title, solidifying his position as world number one. Meanwhile, Nadal is ranked 2nd in the world and undoubtedly has his eyes firmly set on usurping his great rival.
Fourteen years ago in Miami, who would’ve thought we would be witnessing the spark that would ignite a rivalry between arguably two of the greatest tennis players of the modern era.
Dean Byrne, Pundit Arena.