Rafael Nadal: 6 Reasons He Has a Leg Up on Roger Federer

Alex SandersonCorrespondent IIIAugust 24, 2011

Rafael Nadal: 6 Reasons He Has a Leg Up on Roger Federer

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    While Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer no longer constitute the biggest rivalry in men's tennis, it is still an intriguing one as they are two of the best players of all time.

    Heading into the 2011 US Open, the duo is probably about tied as far as being the second favorite in the tournament after World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

    Federer still has the overall career achievements to top Nadal, but the Mallorcan owns their head-to-head matchups.

    It's actually possible that they could meet in the semifinals of the US Open since they aren't ranked No. 1 and No. 2 anymore. The following is a look at where their rivalry stands right now, first analyzing why their US Open chances are pretty similar.

Almost Dead Even Outside of Clay

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    While Nadal holds a distinct advantage over Federer in their head to head history, that would only be because a majority of their 25 meetings have been on clay courts, where Nadal is probably the best ever. Federer holds a 6-5 record outside of clay.

    The two have never before met at the US Open, and you would think it would be a venue that wouldn't give either player a distinct advantage.

    Neither player has had a particularly good hard court season as well and have both fallen firmly behind Djokovic on the surface. One of the two has won the US Open every year since 2004 except in 2009, however, so you can't count them out.

Both Have Some Question Marks

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    Nadal and Federer both had subpar US Open series results as neither even advanced to a championship match. Nadal is dealing with burn blisters on his fingers and foot, while Federer can't seem to regain the momentum he had at Roland Garros.

    Nadal looks nothing like the player he was a year ago at this time, as he was super hungry to win the US Open and wrap up his career slam. He served the best he ever has in his life in accomplishing that goal, proving his doubters wrong.

    At the age of 30, Federer's consistency outside of the grand slams has really fallen off. He's been losing a lot more matches of late than he used to, but maybe Flushing Meadows can light a spark under him.

Nadal Is Defending Champion, but Federer Is Due

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    The old saying in sports is that in order to be a champion, you have to beat the champion. Well, Nadal is the defending champion of the US Open and will be so until someone takes him out.

    Federer knows all about defending championships in New York, as he won five years in a row between 2004 and 2008. He came up just short the last two years, however, and is not only due for a US Open title, but a grand slam title in general.

    The Swiss Maestro won at least one major championship every year between 2003 and 2010 in racking up 16 titles. However, he came up empty in the first three slams this year, and needs to win the US Open to keep that incredible streak alive.

Still Hanging Around

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    While the duo have both had subpar seasons in 2011 to their standards, most players would still take their records. The two met in the French Open final and neither lost before the quarterfinals of each of the three grand slam events played.

    They are both still entrenched in the top three rankings in men's tennis, and their grand slam pedigree puts them in the conversation for any major championship they play in.

    Both players also have to be motivated to try and stop Djokovic from closing out a fairy tale season. Federer was able to take him out the last time they played in Paris and he may be able to use that to his advantage if they met again, while Nadal wants payback from all the defeats he's had against him in 2011.

    That wraps up a glimpse of why the two greats have similar chances to win the US Open. The final six slides will talk about why Nadal still has the overall advantage over Federer.

Nadal Owns Him on the Big Stage

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    Nadal lost to Federer the first two times the duo met at Wimbledon in 2006-2007, but has won every meeting since. His style of play was even effective against Federer in his prime, when almost no one else was able to touch him.

    The grand slam wins for Nadal since 2007 have all been in finals (2008 French Open, 2008 Wimbledon, 2009 Australian Open, 2011 French Open). The dominance is as much mental as it is physical, as Federer had his opportunities in three of those four matches but Nadal pulled through.

Stats Don't Lie

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    Looking at match statistics from 2011, the only big edge that Federer has over Nadal comes in the first service category. Federer is almost unbeatable when he's getting a high percentage of first serves in.

    The biggest difference between the two clearly comes in the return game. Nadal is near the top of men's tennis in almost every returning category, while Federer is nowhere to be found.

    This signifies that Nadal's strength goes up against Federer's strength when they play. Nadal has not had as many problems as other players against Federer's serve, something you would expect from a world class returner.

Age Differential

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    While the likes of Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi have proven that you can still win majors after turning 30, being that age is in no shape or form an advantage against a 25-year-old in his prime.

    When Federer was about 25, he was in the midst of one of the best three-year runs in tennis history. Nadal probably would be in that same category if it were not for the sudden outburst by Djokovic this year.

    If the two were to play a long four- or five-set match, the edge would have to go to the younger Nadal. Federer has been extremely fit in his career, but your body does not do the same things at 30 that it did at 25.

Federer's Vulnerability Against Big Hitters

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    Perhaps the biggest thing that epitomizes Federer's decline is the fact that he keeps losing matches to players that he used to have no issue with. There has been a trend of late that he has trouble against the bigger hitters of the game, especially on faster surfaces.

    Four of the Swiss Maestro's last seven grand slam losses have been to players who can be classified as big hitters. Juan Martin del Potro Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, and Jo Wilfried Tsgona were players that he used to have no problems with, but are now suddenly giving Federer all kinds of trouble.

    Nadal, meanwhile, only seems to lose matches on the big stage if an injury really hampers him, or against Djokovic. That bodes well for him having a better chance than Federer at getting to the final weekend.

Recent Grand Slam Results

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    Federer has only reached the finals in three of the last eight grand slams played, winning just one title. His Mallorcan rival, on the other hand, has won four of those eight grand slams and reached the finals in five.

    Those numbers provide a pretty good summary of where the two men currently stand in their careers.

    Federer is still a force to be reckoned with, but he is past prime. The all-time grand slam singles titles holder can not be expected to win every grand slam that he enters on a hard-court any longer.

    Nadal is on a completely different spectrum as the 10-time grand slam winner is still very much in his prime. He has a legitamate chance of at least challenging Federer's record, if not breaking it.

Hunger Factor

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    Nadal's loss in the Wimbledon final last month has to be the toughest loss for him in his career.

    While Djokovic already took the No. 1 rankings in the computer just by virtue of getting to the finals of Wimbledon, the final match against Nadal was really going to determine who should be considered the best of the best. Djokovic was indeed able to defeat Nadal for the fifth time in 2011, cementing a changing of the guard in tennis.

    Nadal will obviously then be looking to reassert his dominance both over Djokovic and men's tennis at the US Open. He will also be trying to repeat at a grand slam tournament for the first time in his career, other than at the French Open which he has done twice (2005-2008 and 2010-2011).

    On the other side of the ball is Federer, who has looked pretty distant at times in some of his matches this season. His Wimbledon quarterfinal loss to Tsonga, when the Frenchman came back from down two sets, was an uncharacteristic lackluster performance by him on the big stage.

    It makes you wonder if he is fully motivated at this point. He has accomplished just about everything possible in the sport and it would seem likely that his motivation would slip at least a little.