Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: The 5 Greatest Matches That Never Happened

Adam WaksmanCorrespondent IIIAugust 23, 2012

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: The 5 Greatest Matches That Never Happened

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    Roger Federer is once again at the top of the tennis world and will be the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Open next week. Federer is the favorite to win for the sixth time, in part due to the absence of his longtime rival Rafael Nadal. Nagging injuries have forced him to miss the U.S. Open in addition to the 2012 London Olympics.

    Federer and Nadal—though rivals for years—have never met in a U.S. Open final. Given Federer's age and Nadal's injuries, it is becoming increasingly likely that such a match will never occur. With Federer's resurgent year, a match against a healthy Nadal would make for the most exciting tennis of the summer.

    This is not the first time an historic match has gone un-played in this rivalry. Five matches that should have gone down as legendary duels never happened at all.

5. The 2012 U.S. Open Final

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    What It Would Have Meant

    Rafael Nadal has won six of the eight Grand Slam finals meetings against Federer. It is one of the few statistics in his favor when greatest-of-all-time discussions occur.

    However, seven of those eight meetings occurred at Wimbledon or Roland Garros, on the two surfaces where Nadal is at his best.

    A victory on the hard courts at the U.S. Open in New York would have immensely helped Rafa's legacy. It would have meant he had beaten Federer at all four Grand Slams and would decidedly push the head-to-head battle in his favor.

    On the other hand, a victory for Roger Federer would have supported the belief that Roger is the stronger hard-court player and would have evened up the head-to-head results. In either event, this match would have changed the way we see the Rafa-Roger rivalry and would have pushed some fans off the fence.

     

    Why It Didn't Happen

    Lingering injuries have kept Nadal out of competition for most of the summer of 2012. Nadal plays the most brutal style of tennis we have ever seen, and his knees have never been able to handle it. The knee injuries that have plagued him this year are perhaps the worst yet.

    One has to wonder whether or not we will see Nadal play another year of tennis at his highest level. The severity of his current knee issues have forced him to withdraw from the U.S. Open entirely, and we will not be seeing him play Federer this time around.

4. The 2008 Olympic Gold-Medal Match

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    What It Would Have Meant

    In the summer of 2008, Roger and Rafa were at the peak of the tennis world in as dramatic of a fashion as one could imagine.

    They were the most dominant duo in the history of tennis. Moreover, they were coming off back-to-back epic matches in the finals of Wimbledon and Roland Garros.

    For them to meet in the 2008 Olympic finals in Beijing was destiny. It would complete their summer of utter dominance and history-making.

    A win for Federer would have been the only gold medal in singles of his career, the only item missing from his trophy shelf. A win for Nadal would have completed the perfect summer for him, having already beaten Federer at the summer's other two great events.

     

    Why It Didn't Happen

    Everything was going according to plan until the unthinkable happened in the quarterfinals. American James Blake—who never got past a quarterfinal in his entire Grand Slam career—defeated Federer.

    Blakes' game matches up poorly against Federer's, and this should have been a simple dismantling of the weaker player. Yet somehow Blake prevailed, arguably the greatest achievement of his career.

    Federer still got his gold medal—for doubles with Stanislas Wawrinka—but the fans missed out on their chance to see history.

3. The 2009 U.S. Open Final

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    What It Would Have Meant

    Federer and Nadal have never met in the U.S. Open final, but in the summer of 2009 it seemed inevitable.

    Federer—having one of his most dominant years—was an obvious favorite to reach the finals. With Nadal finally healthy after resting for most of the summer, it was the perfect time for them to finally have their American showdown.

    Roger had an awful lot at stake: a record sixth consecutive U.S. Open title, the Roger-slam (non-calendar year four slams in a row) and a chance to face Nadal at his best venue.

    For Nadal, it was a shot at redemption. 2009 was disappointing and injury-filled for him, after it had started so well with an Australian Open victory. He had already beaten Roger at the other three Grand Slams, and he wanted to complete the set. Unfortunately, the match never happened.

     

    Why It Didn't Happen

    Juan Martin del Potro—a talented but inconsistent player—picked quite a time to play the best tennis of his life and reach his only Grand Slam final. He did something that many thought to be impossible. He beat Nadal and Federer back-to-back.

    Nadal went down against some first-rate hard-court playing in the semifinals. It simply came from an unexpected source. Del Petro defeated Nadal even though he was healthy and at the top of his game. He then took the same style to Federer and stole the 2009 U.S. Open trophy.

    We cannot complain too much, because the del Potro Cinderella campaign was something to see.

    However, it will be a shame if the world never gets to see Nadal and Federer duel at the U.S. Open.

2. The 2010 French Open Final

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    What It Would Have Meant

    After injuries and some disappointing tournament showings, Nadal was not the defending champion at any of the four Grand Slams.

    He was looking to get back on track at the 2010 French Open, where Federer for the first time was the defending champion.

    Another win for Federer—a second straight—would have been crushing for Nadal and would have brought into question his dominance on clay.

    A win for Nadal over Federer would have meant that he was right back in the running for world No. 1. It also would have brought life back to the rivalry that had lost some of it in the prior year.

    Unfortunately, Federer—for the first time in the prime of his career—was upset in the quarterfinals. Rafa would get his trophy, and it was meaningful for him. However, the road to get that trophy was all too easy.

     

    Why It Didn't Happen

    In the quarterfinals of the 2010 French Open—with Federer looking unbeatable—he was upset by the Nadal-slayer Robin Soderling.

    The most amazing aspect of the upset was not that Soderling had pulled an upset for his second consecutive year. It was that he ended the most amazing streak in tennis history—Federer's 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals.

    Instead of seeing an all-time classic final, we saw Soderling work his way into a second straight French Open finals and then fall flat against Rafa, giving Rafa yet another Roland Garros trophy.

1. The 2009 French Open Final

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    What It Would Have Meant

    Coming off of a stunning five-set victory over Federer in the 2009 Australian Open, Nadal was finally looking like he might conquer the tennis world.

    He had won three of the four prior Grand Slams, and it was no longer clear that he was only second best.

    Federer has always been a magnificent clay-court player, and 2009 was arguably his strongest clay season. A win over Nadal at Roland Garros was one of the few pieces missing from his nearly perfect resume. A victory against Nadal would have cemented him as one of the all-time great clay-courters and demonstrated his all-around dominance of Nadal.

    On the other hand, a victory by Nadal would have meant that he would now have eight consecutive French Open titles. There is currently a debate over who the most dominant player on a single surface was—Federer on grass or Nadal on clay.

    A victory at the 2009 French Open by Nadal might have ended that debate.

     

    Why It Didn't Happen

    Again Robin Soderling was the problem. While Soderling has never been a top all-around player, he put together two masterful runs at Roland Garros in 2009 and 2010. They were his only two Grand Slam semifinals appearances, as well as his only two Grand Slam final appearances.

    In 2009, with Nadal at his highest peak of clay domination, Soderling shocked the world by beating Nadal in the fourth round. Soderling would make it all the way to the finals and then be beaten handily by Federer. Soderling has never matched up well with Roger, and he was the perfect man to hand Roger his French Open victory and Career Slam.

    It is hard not to wonder how the Rafa-Roger rivalry would have played out if Robin Soderling had picked different times to have his Cinderella moments.