Nadal dominates, practically speaking, with a 16-8 record against Federer and an 11-2 superiority on the clay. Off clay courts, Federer holds a slight edge.
Regardless of your feelings and your loyalties, most will agree that never in the history of the game has there been a more compelling rivalry as the one between Federer and Nadal.
We are witnessing, perhaps, the two greatest men ever to play the game of tennis. These tennis phenoms continue to exert pressure on a very talented men’s field as Federer nears age 30 with Rafa just turning 25.
Currently, the World No. 1 is hanging on to the brass ring for dear life, fighting off the newly inspired Djokovic for the top spot in men’s tennis.
Federer, on the other hand, is playing some of his most inspired tennis since losing in the semifinals of the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic.
In the past, playing practically perfect tennis against Roger Federer evolved into an art form for Rafael Nadal. Nothing inspired him more or engaged his senses more completely than striving to match his considerable strengths against the man many proclaim as the best player ever to wield a tennis racket.
The quixotic mission to overtake Federer that had driven Nadal throughout his career must reemerge during Sunday’s final for Nadal to win French Open number six.
It will mark Federer’s fifth French Open final and Nadal’s sixth. Federer has won one championship trophy and Nadal has five.
They have met each other on the grounds of Stade Roland Garros four times prior to Sunday’s final.
2005 Semifinals: Nadal won 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Head to Head: Nadal 2 - Federer 1
In 2005, Roger Federer came to the French Open trying to win the only Grand Slam title to elude him––at Stade Roland Garros in Paris.
The Swiss made his way convincingly through the draw, finding himself face to face with the young Majorcan Nadal in the semifinals.
It was the first time they met on clay and Federer had no reason to doubt his ability to win on that surface, since he spent considerable time honing his skills on the red dirt growing up.
But Nadal defeated the top seed in four sets, extending his own winning streak to 23 matches.
Rain delayed the start of the match for over an hour and a half. As darkness descended, Federer, leading 3-1 in the fourth set, hoped they would postpone the conclusion because he was having difficulty seeing the ball.
But the match continued and Nadal broke Federer’s serve twice, going on to win the final set and the match. At age 19, Nadal would go on to win the final and claim his first grand slam singles title.
The Majorcan would tie Mats Wilander by winning the French Open on his first try. It marked the beginning of a winning streak on clay to match the great Bjorn Borg.
The stories of the match were Federer’s unforced errors and his errant forehand. The Swiss committed 62 unforced errors, 34 coming on his forehand, contrasted with 41 winners. However, Nadal committed 32 unforced errors with 27 winners.
Nadal eased ahead in their head to head.
2006 Final: Nadal Wins 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6
Head to Head: Nadal 6 - Federer 1
Some men would get a complex if his chief rival had defeated him in six out of seven head-to-head contests.
Regardless of his ranking, Federer began to get that complex facing this barely 20-year-old from Majorca who kept letting the air out of the Swiss balloon, deflating the Federer invincibility––on clay that is.
For the first time, Federer faced Nadal in the finals of the French Open in 2006. It was nothing like the classics the two enacted in Monte Carlo or especially in Rome. The 1-6, followed by 6-1 first two sets could hardly be classified as sterling tennis.
It was a beastly hot day, wilting and dusty—heavy only with anticipation as Federer hoped to win his first French Open title.
It looked as though Federer might pull ahead by breaking the Nadal serve at the start of the third set, but when Nadal served down 1-2 and 0-40, Federer called attention to a ball of Nadal’s that skimmed the line.
The point was replayed and Nadal won the next four points in a row to pull himself out of harm’s way. Nadal rewarded Federer with a break of the Swiss' serve. The Majorcan went on to capture the third set.
The two now fought the wind in addition to the heat as they battled toe to toe in the fourth set. The set finally went to a tie break. Nadal remained solid taking the breaker and the match, winning his second consecutive French Open title––his first over Federer.
Federer had made his first French Open final––now he waited to win one.
Nadal was now 60-0 on clay, sporting a new and impressive whipped forehand cross court volley.
Could life get any better for Nadal?
2007 Final: Nadal Wins 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
Head to Head: Nadal 8 - Federer 4
After winning the tournament in Hamburg, Federer let himself hope and believe he could defeat Nadal at Stade Roland Garros in Paris.
This would give the Swiss the only Grand Slam jewel missing from his crown.
It would also allow Federer the chance to own all four grand slam championships simultaneously on his way to a calendar year grand slam.
All wonderful ambitions for the the No. 1 player in the world. Certainly, Federer had his chances in this match.
But the Swiss capitalized only once on 17 break chances. Nadal escaped 16 times while converting on four of his 10 chances to break the Federer serve.
Federer also suffered with 59 unforced errors while Nadal had less than half as many.
Nadal was merciless in attacking the Federer backhand. Federer did win a set, which was the only one Nadal lost in the entire championship.
Nadal won his third consecutive French Open Championship.
Federer, with 10 career grand slam singles titles, could only watch as Nadal celebrated another victory.
Once again the Swiss was left with no answers for defeating Nadal on the red clay of Stade Roland Garros.
2008 Grand Slam French Open Final: Nadal Wins 6-1, 6-3, 6-0
Head to Head: Nadal 11 - Federer 6
It was hardly a match at all. It was one of Federer's worst defeats ever, especially in the finals of a major.
All the hype leading up to the tournament that suggested Federer had a chance to win seemed patently ridiculous in the aftermath of this seismic beat-down.
Nadal won his fourth consecutive French Open title, equaling Bjorn Borg's record at Stade Roland Garros.
It gave Nadal 28 consecutive wins on the red clay in Paris.
It seemed to all the world that no one would ever be capable of defeating Nadal at the French Open.
Federer was powerless to have an impact on Nadal's game.
The Majorcan's precision and drive were impenetrable on the day as the crowd sat in stilled silence, watching the dismantling of the World No. 1 by his arch rival.
The only thing Federer could look forward to were the green lawns of Wimbledon, always a salvation to the Swiss after another harsh clay season ended.
Little did the Swiss know what awaited him in the 2008 Wimbledon finals...
2011 French Open Final: Who Wins?
To be perfectly frank, no one gives Federer much of a chance to win on Sunday during the French Open finals. He has never defeated Nadal at Stade Roland Garros. But, then, no one gave the Swiss much of a chance to defeat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals on Friday in Paris.
Until his quarterfinal match, Nadal looked for all the world like a man begging to be beaten after an uncomfortable opening round match against John Isner. The American extended the defending champion to five sets before Nadal could close it out. The real Nadal did not materialize in any of his early-round matches.
On Friday early on, it looked like the Nadal of old was in command in this semifinal contest against Murray. The conditions on court were wreaking havoc with the players as they tried to maintain control in the wind and swirling red dust.
But the experienced Nadal out-dueled a wounded Murray in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.
Second up, Novak Djokovic hoped to extend his winning streak to 42 matches and steal the No. 1 ranking away from Rafael Nadal––the man he would face in the final if he could get past Roger Federer during the semifinals at Stade Roland Garros.
Although Federer led 13-9 in their head-to-head matches coming into Friday's contest, Djokovic had won their last three encounters in 2011. For Federer the prospect of winning this match and finding his way into another major final would be a difficult proposition. Being the underdog, however, proved to be an advantage for the Swiss.
The two played four sets with Federer better able to handle the conditions and the stress. After Federer took the first two sets, Djokovic had to fight back hard to win the third. As the day faded out of sight, the two played toe to toe all during the fourth set. The match would come down to a fourth set tie break.
The tension was heavy and hard as Federer managed the enormous victory 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6.
Once again, Federer will come into the final the decided underdog with little or no pressure to win. Nadal must win to hold onto his number one ranking. The pressure will all be on Nadal's shoulders. But he is accustomed to facing and defeating Federer.
Nonetheless, this contest is far from a gimme for either man.