Federer vs Nadal: Old rivalry, new beginnings

Published: November 29, 2010

Federer celebrates winning his singles match against Nadal at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. PHOTO: REUTERS

This week, tennis fans across the world were treated to yet another edition of the closest thing tennis has to El Classico; Rodger Federer versus Rafa Nadal in the ATP World Tour Finals. Although this match wasn’t the most eventful the pair have had over their long rivalry (one that boasts its own Wikipedia page no less), it provided substantial fodder for Federer fans that have had little to celebrate of late.

Fans had been wondering whether the Federer versus Nadal rivalry exists anymore, though that is partly owing to the fact that the final at the O2 arena this weekend was only their second head-to-head match up on tour. At 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 some might incorrectly assess this as an outright thumping and re-changing of the guard on the subject of the No1 ranked player in global tennis. The nature of best of three set matches is such, however, that it will be tough to draw any definite conclusions from this particular final, one that will be able to settle the age old question of whom is the superior tennis player.

Federer in good form

For Federer, his speech after accepting the trophy at the end of the tournament said it all for me; he had the excitement in his voice that only beating Nadal can elicit and the sense that making it to the top of the rankings might just be a realistic prospect by the end of the opening grand slam of the 2011 season. Federer was his efficient self with over 10 winners in the middle of the first set by the time Nadal managed to finally post his first. He came out of the gates, all guns blazing, on the Nadal service return, which was refreshing to see after previous performances of a more passive nature.

His serve seems to be going through the same evolution that Pete Sampras experienced towards the peak and latter half of his career; both players seemed to be able to summon an ace at will during their peak. That weapon in the arsenal seems to be confined to being called on to extract oneself from the trickiest of positions during the match, largely owing to their own fault. With the lack of first serve accuracy that Federer managed during the final, there can be little doubt what his training regiment will be focusing on come Monday morning. But what was most refreshing for the entire Federer fan club was the resurgence of his single handed backhand against Nadal’s forehand. This a constant battle that he had in the last few match ups against Nadal seemed to be losing quite comprehensively though he stubbornly stuck to it, a strategy that arguably cost him more than one Grand Slam Final against the Spaniard.

This resurgence of form is no doubt a product of having a new coach and perhaps adding to it is the stability associated with his family life.  Either way, owing to his performance, you expect the average Federer fan to have that spring back in their step tomorrow morning at the office water cooler.

Nadal’s performance: onslaught of poor shots

Only Nadal will know best what prompted the onslaught of poorly played shots, the cost of which showed clearly on his face, the look of a man facing near impending doom after losing his first break in the third set. To be fair, in a best-of-three format even the shortest lapse of concentration can cost a player vital points that decide these epic encounters.

However, there are plenty of positives to be taken from his performance this weekend into the 2011 season, aside from his conversion rate at the net; his first serve accuracy would even have had Goran Ivanišević sitting up in his seat in anticipation of a fault that never really came. Had more of those first serves been aces, Federer would certainly not have had such a seemingly smooth night.

One loss in the last tournament of real significance can take nothing away from his achievements this year, which was one short of a Grand Slam sweep. Although he might seem to have tripped towards the end, plenty of tennis fans know better than to count this loss as more than a blip on the radar.

When all is said and done, two things are certain; both the athletes will be going into the 2011 season in an effort to further cement their legacies and are almost inevitably going to get in each other’s way in the process. This rivalry is far from over; in some ways, it has only just begun all over again.


Farhad Aspy Fatakia

Part-time writer and full time information technology entrepreneur with a soft spot for Justine Henin. He supports AC Milan, despises what Real Madrid have become and thinks Phil "The Power" Taylor is the most under-rated sports personality of his generation. Farhad blogs at The Offside Trap, where he writes as ‘SuperPippo9’.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Amyn

    Federer is on a decline. He is past his best and even then he is better than most and on good days can even make Nadal look average. Nadal is on the rise and should soon pass Federer’s record. This one loss doesn’t change the fact that world number 1 is Nadal and we have a new master of the game. The guard is changing! Recommend

  • http://d Shaham

    This article seems to come from a federer fan no matter how balance you have tried to kept sir :)
    let me enlighten you
    * All matches: Nadal 14–7
    * All finals: Nadal 12–5
    * Grand Slams: Nadal 6–2
    * Grand Slam finals: Nadal 5–2
    * Best of five sets: Nadal 8–3
    * Masters Cup: Federer 2–0
    * Masters Series: Nadal 7–3
    * Masters Series finals: Nadal 6–3

    and yea wer talking abt a guy who is 4years & 10months younger than federer. so 5yrs in hand to break all records. This particular match was played INDOORS, federer has grown up learning tennis on INDOOR court, which changes the whole scenario (being nadals first final and his 5th). Its not about hard or clay anymore as nadal had dominated on all surfaces. federer did play well but remember the only slams he won which broke pete samprass records were all in nadals absence due to injuries. federer is good but not good enough for rafael nadal.Recommend

  • aamir

    nadal is at no1 position but one should not forgot that federer has broken all the records of the history,being at no1 position one cannot compare nadal with federer, as he is compared with legends of tennis :)Recommend

  • Amyn

    Wait till Nadal gets to Federer’s age (5 years to go). Then he will not be comparable to any legend of tennis as he would be above them all! This is not to discredit Fed. He has been awesome and always a treat to watch. But Nadal is just that much better.Recommend

  • Farhad Aspy Fatakia

    Thank you all for the healthy dose of comments and to be honest, I am at heart a Federer fan. The reason I feel he is a superior tennis player is that his game does not rely on speed and power, it relies on accuracy and the science associated with being an all round player. Something that Nadal cannot hope to be in my opinion, ever.

    I’m not saying that this match was significant in determining who is better, that is a debate for the years to come to decide no doubt but it is great to see the two of them going at it yet again. The reason I have my doubts about Nadal winning as many as Federer did, is that his God given talent in his speed is dependent on his knees which are already tattered. I anticipate he will not be able to keep up this kind of pace for long and after that, we will find out what he is REALLY made of as a tennis player and not just as an athlete. Recommend

  • http://d Shaham

    well the debate can go on and on. 1 thing we should all be clear of is that NADAL is not just a clay court player anymore as clay only requires speed and power however he has dominated on grass where speed has a lesser role. he has also played well on hard courts and there his top-spin/power does not help much. the stats i have quoted above show NADAL is a better player than federer however yes your point is valid that he is young and his knees could b a problem in future to get to the mega 16 of federer’s. wether Nadal can surpass that record is a BIG questionmark! im a crazy nadal fan but lets be honest its a big feat he needs to achieve. but let us also accept that head to head nadal has and will always be better than federer. secondly federers record may stand there but he is not the same roger we knew years back. i repeat this was indoors which plays a huge role in federers game, outdoors andy murray, soderling and djokovic can beat federer. so its the change of guards, nadal is the new man.Recommend

  • kk

    will rafa still be playing after 5 years? will he be ranked no.2 in the world? will rafa be able to win WTF at the age of 29? .. i dont think soRecommend

  • http://billaytoot.wordpress.com Bilal

    You can not compare Nadal with Federer Please!!!!…. Federer has much better Tennis playing style…. OK may be nadal has much more winning record, but still I support federer.. Look at this decent man who plays such a beautiful tennis..

    Talking about Grand slams and titles, you think ROger is done? No way…there are more grand slams coming in his way …… Roger is a legend…..How many times Roger has got injured and how many times nadal? The way Nadal plays his game, i dont think he ll be able to keep it up, though he might end up with injuries…

    Roger is like an old wine…who gets better with age….and if Roger had changed his coach little earlier then I don’t think Nadal would have such high record against him….Recommend

  • qwa

    In the Roland Garros Mens Final two of the greatest Tennis Players of our generation defeated their respective opponents to reach the 2011 French Open Final
    Watch Nadal vs Federer live online in the French Open 2011 Final Roland Garros. Most of the people are waiting to watch this match “Federer vs Nadal”.