Melbourne - The
rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal transcends tennis and
has long captivated fans, who are happy to overlook its big flaw: it's
heavily weighted to one side.
The head-to-head record between the elegant Swiss and the snarling
Spaniard is anything but even, with Nadal winning 23 matches out of 34,
slightly more than two-thirds.
On the biggest occasions, Nadal has been even more dominant, winning
six of their eight Grand Slam finals. Federer must cast his mind back
nearly a decade to his last win over Nadal in a major title match, at
Wimbledon in 2007.
Since then, Nadal has won on all surfaces, maintaining his dominance
on the clay of Roland Garros but also beating Federer twice on the grass
of Wimbledon and once at the Australian Open, their only major
Without Nadal's emergence, Federer could by now be the proud owner of
more than 20 Grand Slam titles, even more than his existing record of
The 35-year-old is still smarting over the pivotal, and riveting,
Wimbledon final of 2008, when he fought back from two sets down only to
lose 9-7 in the fifth, in a match that lasted just under five hours.
It was a turning point: after Nadal had finally overcome Federer on
his favourite surface, he won again five months and another five sets
later in Melbourne, a defeat which left the Swiss in tears.
"Maybe I lost the
Wimbledon finals in 2008 because of too many clay court matches, because
he crushed me at the French Open final (a month previously)," Federer
said, after reaching this week's final.
"I said that before. I think it affected my first two sets at Wimbledon. Maybe that's why I ended up losing."
Now Federer can tilt the balance back in his favour if he beats Nadal on Sunday, an opportunity he seems to relish.
"Now it's a different time. A lot of time has gone by. I know this
court allows me to play a certain game against Rafa that I cannot do on
centre court at the French Open," Federer said.
Compared to some of tennis's other great rivalries, Federer versus Nadal isn't much on paper.
John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg were locked at 7-7 when the Swede
retired; Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert wound up at 43-37 and Andre
Agassi and Pete Sampras were 14-20.
But what holds the interest is the clash of styles and personalities
and, as the rivalry has gone on, the fascination with whether Federer
can finally put one over on his Spanish nemesis.
"It's been amazing for me and I think for tennis, too," said Nadal, when asked how he saw their match-up.
"It's the combination of two different styles that makes the matches really special. It's different ways to play tennis.
"Both of us have had a lot of good success with these two different
styles. I feel that this rivalry goes (beyond) the tennis world.
"People from outside of our world talks about this, and that's good for our sport. It's good that we are back there."