It's the best rivalry in tennis and maybe of all sports. They are two of the greatest champions to ever play the game (maybe the best two when all said and done) and in the past 10 years no two players have been as dominant on clay, all of which make this latest Federer Nadal rematch a perfect and fitting end to this year's French Open finals.
Federer, unlike his next opponent, wasn't supposed to reach the finals. In fact with all the talk about Djokovic and Nadal, Federer seemed surprisingly overlooked for a guy with one French Open trophy and three other final appearances at Roland Garros to his name. After racing out to a two-set lead, the match tightened and Djokovic picked up his game. But when it mattered most, Federer was too experienced and raised his level as well sending the second-seeded Serb packing after suffering his first loss of the year.
Earlier in the day, Nadal also faced a tough opponent in Andy Murray. From the get-go it was evident that Murray had much more to be concerned about than his sore ankle. No matter what the fourth seeded Murray threw at Nadal, his Spanish counterpart returned it with ease. It was a fierce and admirable fight but his efforts were to no avail as Murray fell in straight sets to Nadal who once again proved why he is the best ever on clay.
Thus Federer and Nadal meet again. Going back to their first matchup in 2004 Rafael Nadal has dominated Roger Federer. In fact Nadal is only one of two players currently on tour that the Swiss champion has a losing record against (the other is Andy Murray). A lifetime 8-16 against Nadal (all but one which came in the semifinals or finals), it's fair to say that Federer has been downright dominated by El Matador.
You can call Nadal Federer's kryptonite or an enigma or something else or that Nadal is just better, but whatever it is Nadal has Federer's number, especially on clay where Nadal leads the series 11-2.
Nevertheless, in their fifth Roland Garros matchup one gets the sense that this year could be different. For one, Nadal finally seems beatable on the red clay. He even admitted as much earlier in the week. He certainly looked great against Murray in the semifinals and seems to be playing better as the tournament goes along, but Nadal's game has looked usually shaky.
Secondly and just as importantly, Federer is playing his best tennis. Up until his match with Djokovic Federer had yet to lose a set and needed only four sets to beat the game's hottest player. With lower expectations and less pressure much of the tournament Federer seems more at ease and strangely more confident. At the same time it is clear (especially from his celebration after beating Djokovic) that Federer feels somewhat slighted and like he has something to prove.
Yet regardless of what happens, it is good for the game to see Nadal and Federer in another Grand Slam finals. They are the two greatest champions of our era and the two best clay courters as well. Good friends off the court, they have competed in five other Grand Slam finals and their rivalry is by far the best in the game.
Each meeting is a delight to watch. Nadal with his brutish style against Federer's grace, the long points and stunning shot making and the pervasive question as to whether this match will be the one where Federer figures out Nadal and breaks through on clay makes yet another Nadal Federer final the perfect culmination to the French Open.
This year is the year, Federer in five. Enjoy.
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