Roger Federer just defeated Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4, to win the Madrid Open. Perhaps, even more noteworthy was that the victory was on clay where Nadal has historically been at his best. After the instant classic finals at Wimbledon in 2008 and the Australian Open in 2009 where Nadal pulled out dramatic 5 set victories, this should be a real confidence boost to Federer for the upcoming French Open. Who knows- maybe this will propel Federer to new heights in his rivalry against Nadal, which has most recently been a one sided affair. To date, their matchups have had the following head to head results:
- All Matches: Nadal- 13, Federer- 7
- All Finals: Nadal- 11, Federer- 5
- All Grand Slams: Nadal- 6, Federer- 2
With the recent victories in grand slams by Nadal over Federer, this matchup has become one of the most anticipated in the history of tennis. When you compare the records of Nadal vs Federer vs some of the more recent tennis rivalries during my lifetime, you get this type of comparison:
|Rivalry||All Time Record||Grand Slam Record|
|Nadal-Federer||Nadal- 13||Federer- 7||Nadal- 6||Federer- 2|
|Borg-McEnroe||Borg- 7||McEnroe- 7||McEnroe- 3||Borg- 1|
|McEnroe-Connors||McEnroe- 20||Connors- 14||McEnroe- 6||Connors- 3|
|Sampras-Agassi||Sampras- 20||Agassi- 14||Sampras- 6||Agassi- 3|
|Lendl-McEnroe||Lendl- 21||McEnroe-15||Lendl- 7||McEnroe- 3|
|Becker-Edberg||Becker- 25||Edberg- 10||Becker- 1||Edberg- 3|
Interestingly, the current state of the Nadal-Federer rivalry is similar to many of the other rivalries when they were all said and done. Generally, in grand slam matches, which to me is the measure of a tennis rivalry, one player had a clear advantage in head to head matchups, with the closest rivalries being McEnroe vs Borg at 3-1 and Edberg vs Becker, also at 3-1. Of course, these are records at the end of those rivalries, Nadal vs Federer should have many more matchups to go and the win by Federer today hopefully foreshadows a tightening of that disparity (clearly, I’m a Federer fan).
The recent matchups at Wimbledon and the Australian Open between these two, which were five set thrillers with final scores of 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8),9-7 and 7-5,3-6,7-6(3),3-6,6-2, respectively, has clearly raised the ante in terms of fans and media anticipation. However, as we can see by the comparisons to some of the other rivalries, in terms of competitiveness, it’s on a similar path as those and Federer will need to add some grand slam victories to separate the rivalry from the rest.
There is talk that this matchup right now is the best rivalry in all of sports, which is clearly an endless debate. Wikipedia lists some of the great rivalries in sports here.
Personally, some of the best rivalries I think about include traditional English premier league soccer matches (take your pick– there are many of them), Celtic-Rangers clash in Scottish soccer, India-Pakistan in world cricket, Real Madrid-Barcelona in Spanish soccer, Ohio State-Michigan in US college football, Duke-North Carolina in US college basketball, and the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox in professional baseball. Some like to say Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson in professional golf is compelling theatre, but those two battling it out on the last Sunday of a major seems to happen too infrequently.
Ultimately, most of the top rivalries are history or regional based which will always keep those matchups in the spotlight. The individual matchups like Federer vs Nadal is solely built on exceptional play by both players and for this rivalry to be considered the best in sports, it has to become a must see event for the serious tennis fan and the casual sports fan alike for a few years. A couple of big victories by Federer in the French and Wimbledon and it may arguably become the best rivalry in today’s sports world. We will see.
Update- June 7, 2009: Rafael Nadal lost in the 4th round of the 2009 French Open, to eventual tournament runner-up Robin Soderling. Federer defeated Soderling in the finals to win his first French Open and earn a career grand slam, reinvigorating the discussion of Federer as the best player ever. Here’s my view and analysis of the candidacy of Federer as the best player ever.