Nadal vs Federer

Superman had kryptonite. Roger Federer has Rafael Nadal on a clay court. Nadal defeated Federer in the French Open yesterday and added another chapter to one of the greatest ongoing rivalries in tennis today.

Were it not for Federer, Nadal would probably be the number one ranked player in the world. And were it not for Nadal, Federer would have already passed Pete Sampras’ record mark of 14 Grand Slam titles.

They have met in a Grand Slam final a total of 5 times, with Nadal winning three times in the French Open and Federer winning 2 times in Wimbledon. When they meet on a clay court, Nadal is an astounding 9-1. On grass or hard surface, Federer has a 5-2 advantage.

I knew that Nadal had been nearly unbeatable on clay courts, but I was surprised to find that he has an overall record of 11-6 against Federer, including a 9-4 record in all finals appearances.

I decided to take their numbers and line them up against some of the historic tennis rivalries. The more research I did the more classic match ups I found, but for all of our sakes I decided to only list the stats for a few of them.

Match Up

Overall Matches

Grand Slam Finals

Total Titles b/w Both

Federer vs. Nadal

17 (Nadal, 11-6)

5 (Nadal, 3-2)


Sampras vs. Agassi

34 (Sampras 20-14

5 (Sampras 4-1)


McEnroe vs. Lendl

36 (Lendl 21-15)

3 (Lendl 2-1)


Borg vs. McEnroe


4 (McEnroe 3-1)


The one key factor that can’t be put into a stat is the aura that surrounded the three earlier rivalries I’ve listed. The 5 set match between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon Final is considered perhaps the greatest of all time. The fourth set required a 20 minute tie breaker, which McEnroe finally won 18-16. He went on to lose the match, but that final set the stage for another 5 set face off in the US Open 2 months later.

Though I didn’t get to watch them, I did get to watch Sampras/Agassi and McEnroe/Lendl. And I remember the “buzz” in the press whenever those pairs would face each other. In Sampras vs. Agassi, it was a match up of the power serve against the power return. In McEnroe vs. Lendl, it was McEnroe’s net game against Lendl’s booming baseline shots.

It’s that kind of mystique that ultimately defines a great rivalry. It seemed like more than just a match up between two top players. It’s as if there were more on the line than just a title.

Though Federer and Nadal gain more of that aura with each match, I don’t think they’re quite on par with the rivalries of old yet. I think they will get there, but only time will tell where their history ultimately ranks. In the meantime, we’re getting to see some great tennis.


One Response to “Nadal vs Federer”

  1. I’m only a marginal tennis fan at best – and even that is too generous of a description of my interest. I haven’t watched men’s championship tennis since Sampras retired, and you know what? I haven’t missed it.

    I’m old enough to remember McEnroe, Conners, Borg, and that crew, and although it wasn’t really my cup of tea (truly, I’m more of Sampras/Agassi/Becker/Philopousisisisis or however you spell it, guy myself) at least I sat up and paid attention.

    The men’s game is about as compelling as watching my wife’s toenails dry, and even THAT is more interesting to me because I love her and I’m invested in her. I’m not invested in watching a sport where the players either trade cannon serves with no returns, double-faults, or stumbling attempts at baseline rallies with absolutely no at-the-net play.

    And I can’t watch women’s tennis because the grunting scares me.

    The only tennis I’ve caught myself watching was Forrest Gump versus the Chinese National Player, and that’ FICTIONAL TABLE TENNIS! That’s where the sport of tennis is at with me – I’d rather watch Tom Hanks PRETEND to hit a computer-animated PING-PONG ball in an IMAGINARY GAME against an unnamed, imaginary opponenet.

    Okay – enough for today…time to go take my medicine…

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