Curtain falls on Federer and Nadal ultimate rivalry
When we think about Rafa vs Federer, we think elegance vs swagger, endurance vs aggression. The contrasting playing styles of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal has played a vital part in determining the competitiveness of their rivalry, Nadal with his heavy topspin centred ground strokes at the clay courts against Federer's single-handed backhands at grass courts, it felt like they were destined to do this forever.
The photo of Roger Federer sitting and crying after playing his last ever competitive match, a doubles contest at the 2022 Laver Cup, with none other than his long-time rival and doubles partner for the match Rafael Nadal, who was also holding back his tears, has to be one of the most beautiful photos ever taken, showing the transformation of long-time rivals and fierce competitors to respected admirers of each other and friends.
It all started at the 2004 Miami Open, where a 17-year-old Spanish teenager, Rafael Nadal beat the then number one Roger Federer in straight sets. This ignited a fierce rivalry that went on for more than a decade and half, facing each other a total of 40 times in their career. Their 2008 Wimbledon final considered one of the greatest matches ever played, where a cornered Federer almost turned the tables around from what looked like an easy Nadal win.
Not the one to give up in face of constant challenges, Federer adapted his gameplay against Nadal over the years, resulting in wins against him in the 2017 Australian Open final that further showcased the longevity of these two, giving the tennis fans worldwide the spellbinding matches after matches that we just could not look away from. Every defeat felt like a crushing heart break, only to come back stronger and decisively, that's what this rivalry put on relentlessly.
But beyond all the stats, what sets this rivalry apart is the absence of any toxicity between these two. Being role models in the truest sense, there never has been any controversy regarding their match ups or techniques. Their highly competitive nature did not stop them from being friends, having often arranged charity exhibition matches for philanthropic interests.
The Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rivalry has taught us that only our true opponents can push us towards betterment, until our absolute breaking point, only to come out of it transformed and at our best self. Without rivals no one can reach the height of success and that's the one thing we will cherish about this rivalry, how both Nadal and Federer made each other the legends they are today.