The Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal Rivalry: Turning Point

Conor McCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2009

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 17:  Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain after the men's final during the Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 17, 2009 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry has raged on for the best part of four years now, with Nadal taking the lions' share of victories. While it may be fair to say that Federer's recent return to the pinnacle of the tennis world was helped by Nadal's knee injury, there is no doubt that there has been a huge momentum shift in their rivalry.

With the most likely prospect of the pair meeting in Cincinnati, due to the expected birth of Federer's child, as well as Nadal's knees possibly needing more rest perhaps taking at least one of them out of running for Montreal, I think Federer is by far the favourite. 

Furthermore, if they are to meet in further Grand Slams, or even as soon as the US Open, again, I would fancy Federer to overcome the all-to-often stumbling block that he seems to meet when playing Nadal, such is the fearless ferocity of his game.

There are many reasons why I feel this way.

If we look back to their most recent meeting in Madrid, where Federer triumphed 6-4, 6-4, we can see many new tactics that Federer has employed both in the physical side of play, and, I feel most importantly, also in the mental side of things. The fact that Nadal may not have been 100 percent that day is of absolutely no relevance.

Firstly, and perhaps most noticeably, we saw the drop shot. We've all heard how Federer used to say that he felt as if he was messing around by playing the drop shot. However, things have changed. The Swiss man has decided that this is something that can hurt Nadal, and now he has embraced the shot with his usual precision to perfection style.

Disguising this shot excellently, he used it at the right time in the right place against Nadal, and nearly every time it worked. However, he did not fall victim to over usage or predictability, and therefore, it was most effective. He mainly used this shot when Nadal was not only out of position but on his backhand side, which made it virtually impossible for Nadal to suddenly run in and reach the ball, let alone get it back—he was running in the opposite direction.

How can I be sure that he will use it in the future? Because not only was it a success, but  we saw Federer use this shot time and again against his opponents when Nadal was still in the French Open. Many feel it was in preparation for facing Nadal in the final. 

The Madrid final also provided us some very interesting new serve-and-volley tactics, which, once again, were employed by Federer.

Federer mixed things up very well. He would sometimes serve and volley on his second serve, and soon enough Nadal started to anticipate it, and therefore hit a short dipping ball, so it was hard for Federer to get. No sooner than Nadal had started to do this, Federer then started to fake a serve and volley.

This would mean that he would pretend to move into the net but would simply and suddenly step back, Nadal would already have hit a short ball that would only reach the service line, and Federer would be in control of the point.

This was a very, very clever move by Federer, and he would then change between serve and vollying on the second serve, and faking it. This left Nadal stranded as to what return he should produce, and usually left Federer in control of the point.

Another very interesting point to take from this most recent encounter to take is how Federer attacked and changed it up on the break points, something he rarely did before.

He would hit over the ball rather than slicing it like he used to, and instead of inviting Nadal's mistake, he would force the winner, or force an error from Nadal. The drop shot also came into play on his break points. Once again, very clever.

Now, if we look at the mental side of things, we can also draw some very interesting things from the Madrid encounter.

Federer once joked about how when himself and Nadal play, there shouldn't be a coin toss to see who decides who serves first. This is because if Nadal wins, he likes to receive first, whereas if Federer wins, he always asks to serve first.

However it appears that Federer was first to pay close attention to this. As we know, Nadal is a very superstitious character. We see this with his constant fixing of his socks so they are even, arranging his bottles so they are always in the exact same place, and many more things. It now seems that somewhere along the line of Federer's decision to start making new tatics to play Nadal, he has realised the importance of the menatal game.

When Federer won the coin toss in Madrid, he looked Nadal in the eye and said, ''You serve.'' While it may not have sent shock waves down Nadal's spine and while he did not break him in that first game, it was still a very smart plan, and one that would make Nadal think, and show that Federer is up for the mental game too.

All of these new tactics and more are a great help for Federer in making a sound game plan to defeat Nadal, but now that, admittedly with the help of Nadal's withdrawal from Wimbledon (but Federer will say,''Ahhh he's had his fair share of luck, I deserve mine!''), Federer has broken the record, and is in one way, now ahead of the history books, he has very little pressure on his shoulders.

He can tell himself that he has a very good life with his wife and baby(due Aug 10th). He can also tell himself that he no longer has to worry about breaking the Grand Salm record, and that every Slam victory from here on in is a bonus. Some people will claim that he has to beat Nadal in a Grand Slam final, and he can think to himself that he has lots of time to do that.

I think he will defeat Nadal in a Grand Slam, if not a final, and even as soon as the US Open. Especially if it was the US Open final, in fact, as in the US Open the pressure is on Nadal for his career grand slam, and won't Federer know what that feels like?

Federer will feel very little pressure on most if not all of his future matches, and with people perhaps taking favour with the younger Nadal every time they play, he has the freedom to enjoy working on the head-to-head deficit.

So yes, I'm going on the record saying that I am convinced that Federer will beat Nadal the next time they play, wherever that may be, but thats not to say that I underestimate the sheer will power of Nadal.

With complete freedom to unleash all his talent and skill, as well as some well tested new tactics for Nadal, the Swiss man looks, to me, in complete control of the Tennis World.

However, I will never inderestimate the never-say-die Spaniard, and he'll be determined to battle back from adversity.

I'm sure Federer craves to play Nadal right now, and he's not the only one...