Federer Vs. Nadal: Fair To Call It a Rivalry?

Mark Eckhart Jr.Correspondent INovember 1, 2008

We have been blessed the past few seasons to have been able to continuously watch two of the greatest athletes in their sport meet time after time on the Grand Slam stage. The most thrilling of their Slam Finals might have been this past year at Wimbledon where Roger Federer was seeking his sixth consecutive Wimbledon championship.

Nadal was poised to end the reign of Federer at the All-England Club.  What a match it turned out to be.  In what is claimed by many to be in instant classic, and the greatest match we have seen in decades, if not of all time, it just doesn't get anymore exciting than it did on that afternoon.

Nadal was on the attack early and often and backed Federer completely into a corner and took the first two sets. Federer wasn't going quietly and took the next two with such intensity that some said he had lost throughout the course of the season.  Then the 5th set began.

The two greatest players in their sport to settle the Wimbledon championship in a fifth set. No tiebreaks, best man wins. They held serve until it was 7-7 when Nadal finally broke through on Federer's serve to go up 8-7.

The next game Federer dumped his final forehand into the net and through the darkness that overtook the stadium, the crowd erupted and Nadal fell to his knees. Nadal had broken through on Federer's surface in a Slam before Federer had won the French. That victory helped Nadal achieve the No.1 ranking throughout the rest of the season.

As great as this match was is this really a rivalry, or does one player have a distinct advantage over the other?  The two have met a total of 18 times in their careers. Their first meeting was in the round of 32 of the Masters Series in Miami in 2004. Since then every meeting has either been a semi-final of a final match-up.

Nadal holds a 12-6 record against Federer, 4-2 in Slam finals, but that number can be a little misleading because over half of their matches have been played on clay, which is Nadal's surface of choice. As opposed to only three matches on grass, which is Federer's best surface.

Federer is obviously a great player, but he isn't the best on clay. Nadal grew up on that surface his whole life in Spain, which is why he's so dominant at Roland-Garros. Nadal is 9-1 on clay against Federer, whereas Federer is only 2-1 against Nadal on grass. Both men have only lost 1 match to the other on their surface, but with so many of their matches on clay, it's hard to call this a fair rivalry.

Federer is 5-3 against Nadal on surfaces other than clay, and I understand that Federer is the best on grass, but it's easier to become a great grass player, than it is to become a great clay court player. Look at Federer and even Sampras. They have 12 Wimbledon championships between them, and zero French Opens. Clay takes a totally different game to develop on that surface, and when you grow up on it your whole life, like Nadal has, you already have everything you need so there isn't any development necessary.

If you look at hard courts, which would be a middle ground for these two players, Federer holds a 3-2 edge. That is probably the most accurate statistic because The No.1 player isn't going to dominate the No.2 player on an even surface and vice-versa. If the number of matches they play on other courts increases to balance out all of their clay meetings, then it can be called fair, but as long as Nadal plays Federer over half the time on his surface, this isn't a rivalry.