They have become global icons through 21st century HD TV, 24-hour Internet updates and digital fandom. Their supporters can track them on Google, YouTube and Bleacher Report news articles.
Federer and Nadal will always be linked together, like Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier or Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. The fascination of their rivalry features contrasting tennis styles and magnetic personalities.
Both players have created an empire of fans, but there are differences in how and why their most rabid followers have chosen their hero.
But which player has more supportive followers, and does he derive a greater advantage with his tennis career and image?
Federer is classical Greece with timeless athleticism and brilliant originality. He is both artist and mathematician, sculpturing masterful tennis strokes and calculating precise angles and shots. He is the standard of ancient and modern athletes, immortalized as a champion of heroic conquests.
Federer has an eclectic group of fans, spanning the world and ranging from casual to devoted tennis enthusiast.
Their common bond is a sense of admiration and love for his beautiful tennis, as if attending cultured theater.
Tennis purists and former legendary players like Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg have named him their heir apparent.
Federer’s supporters appear at his matches, regally waving the Swiss flag. They cheer loyally, and with a sense of belief for his past exploits, and with hope for his next grand moment.
They log onto fan sites like Fans4Roger, immaculately presented in three languages. There they register with a membership fee to follow his latest news and match-up, share photos and read tribute statements. The site is laced with words such as “fairness,” “support,” “respect” and “honour the achievements of his opponents.”
Federer fans proudly list his Grand Slam achievements and records, performances of proof that he is the greatest of all-time. They believe he is almost infallible were it not for a single antagonist. Indeed, Federer fans view Nadal as a barbaric invasion to their civilized hero.
Nadal is mighty Rome with relentless determination and practical innovation. He is both gladiator and architect, battling in pressure-filled moments and constructing continuous rallies. He is the ultimate fighter, revered for his workman-like performances.
Nadal’s fans are those who value throwback attributes in their sports heroes. They recognize his old-school work ethic and his vivid humanity.
Their common kinship is viewing his unconquerable spirit, as if frequenting Rome’s famed arena games.
Sports purists may see Federer as a parallel to Joe DiMaggio’s grace and smoothness, but Nadal is Pete Rose’s spiritual descendant, hustling and playing as if his life depended upon it.
Nadal supporters can be respectfully raucous, whether waving their Spanish flag or clapping and shouting. They believe in the human spirit, and know their hero will train and fight to return to glory.
They have created online tributes, such as Steve Tignor's Fan Club: Rafael Nadal, a series of testimonials that share stories of becoming Nadal converts. Their appeal to their hero is expressed with terms such as “human,” “relatable,” “fighter” and “appealing.”
Nadal fans tout his mastery over the great Federer, citing his Grand Slam successes and intangible attributes in an age of greater competition.
They are confident that were in not for the emergence of Vandal-like Novak Djokovic, Nadal might have one day stood above his longtime rival in the eyes of the rest of the world.
There is an increasing sense of desperation for both fan bases, as time closes down their golden ages of Grand Slam glory. How much time remains for one more epic run?
In the past months, tension has increased between the two rivals. Nadal said Federer must speak out more to improve conditions in tennis.
Last week, at the commencement of the Indian Wells tournament, Federer called for officials to monitor and hasten the pace between points, pointing at Nadal in particular.
Devoted supporters are sure to take cues from their champion, which indicates increased tension between both sides of fans.
In addition, Federer is now receiving more sentimental support from casual and non-tennis fans, hoping he can pull off another classic victory, like Jack Nicklaus winning the '86 Masters in golf.
Eventually, both players will retire and one day be seen wearing sharp suits and dark shades in the front seats at Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.
The two fan bases will then be able to praise their respected rival, which will be an indirect manner of praising and remembering their own hero.
Tennis is moving forward into spring 2012, and both champions are primed for tennis’ Grand Slams. They will seek support from their followers and perform for a fascinated world audience.
Which superstar’s fans are more supportive?
It depends on who you ask.