Six months was far too long for tennis to be without one of its brightest stars and biggest rivalries.
Rafael Nadal has been rehabbing from a partial tendon tear in his left knee that he sustained at Wimbledon in June. With Nadal off the court, tennis has lacked some of the luster the 26-year-old former No. 1 has provided for the sport.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer currently sit atop the ATP World Tour Rankings, but with Nadal set to return on Dec. 27 at an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi, it won’t be long before we see a shakeup in the rankings.
Nadal will face off with Djokovic and Andy Murray—two of the top three players in tennis—but the third member of that group is who fans are really anxious to see Nadal face.
Federer currently sits at No. 2 in the world rankings, just 2,655 points behind No. 1 Djokovic. He’s 71-12 on the year, but the record that means the most to the professional tennis landscape right now is 10-18—Federer’s record against Nadal in their nine-year history.
Nadal missed the 2012 U.S. Open, and for the first time since 2004, neither Nadal nor Federer—who lost to Tomas Berdych—were involved in the tournament semifinals. That seven-year stretch of U.S. Open dominance tells the story of why the Nadal-Federer rivalry is so important to tennis.
As with any sport, it’s the rivalries that define each generation. Tennis fans have been blessed with an opportunity to witness one of the best rivalries the sports world has ever seen, and it’s far from over. Nadal’s return signifies a new chapter in their saga, though it won’t really commence until the two square off for the first time in 2013.
When Nadal and Federer meet again—which could happen as early as January at the Australian Open—don’t expect the end result to be anything short of electric. Tennis needs them and they need each other, if for no other reason than to cement their legacies as two of the best players in the history of tennis, squaring off in one of the fiercest individual rivalries in all of sports.