Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: How They Fared Against Top 10 Through the Years

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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: How They Fared Against Top 10 Through the Years
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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of the greatest players ever to grace the sport of tennis. But who fairs better against top-notch competition? In other words, who has the better record when it comes to matches against fellow members from the top ten?

Their win-loss records are almost identical percentage-wise. But their career percentage hides a more interesting pattern when we dive deeper into the numbers. 

If we take Federer's win-loss record against top-10 players, it is as follows:

1998: 0-1  (0 winning percentage)
1999: 1-4  (20 winning percentage)
2000: 3-8  (27.27 winning percentage)
2001: 5-5  (50 winning percentage)
2002: 10-5 (66.67 winning percentage)
2003: 9-5  (64.29 winning percentage)
2004: 18-0 (100 winning percentage)
2005: 15-2 (88.24 winning percentage)
2006: 19-4 (82.61 winning percentage)
2007: 17-4 (80.95 winning percentage)
2008: 7-10 (41.18 winning percentage)
2009: 14-10 (58.33 winning percentage)
2010: 15-6 (71.43 winning percentage)
2011: 10-9 (52.63 winning percentage)

Career: 143-73 (66.20 winning percentage)

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

For Federer, it is clear that his overall winning percentage is achieved from his incredible 2004-2007 reign, where Nadal was almost the only top-10 player who could beat him. It is also evident just how much he lost in 2008, where his percentage went from 81 in 2007 to 41.

If we take a look at those years, here are the top-10 players who beat Federer:

2004

None.

2005

No. 4 Safin in Australian Open SF
No. 5 Nadal in French Open SF

2006

No. 2 Nadal in Dubai F
No. 2 Nadal in Monte Carlo F
No. 2 Nadal in Rome F
No. 2 Nadal in French Open F

2007

No. 2 Nadal in Monte Carlo F
No. 2 Nadal in French Open F
No. 4 Djokovic in Montreal F
No. 7 Gonzalez in Masters Cup RR

Michael Steele/Getty Images

Clearly, Federer owned everyone in the top ten with the sole absence of Nadal.

2008

No. 3 Djokovic Australian Open SF
No. 6 Roddick, Miami, Q
No. 2 Nadal, Monte Carlo, F
No. 2 Nadal in Hamburg F
No. 2 Nadal in French Open F
No. 2 Nadal in Wimbledon F
No. 7 Blake in Beijing Olympics Q
No. 4 Murray in Madrid SF
No. 9 Simon Shanghai RR
No. 4 Murray Shanghai RR

Here, not only did Nadal win all their meetings, Federer also started losing to Roddick, Blake, Simon, Murray and Djokovic. 

If we switch to Nadal, his win-loss record against top-10 opposition is remarkably stable throughout his career: 

2003: 2-1 (a 66.67 winning percentage)
2004: 2-2 (a 50 winning percentage)
2005: 5-3 (a 62.50 winning percentage)
2006: 10-3 (a 76.92 winning percentage)
2007: 11-7 (a 61.11 winning percentage)
2008: 17-6 (a 73.91 winning percentage)
2009: 14-11 (a 56 winning percentage)
2010: 11-5 (a 68.75 winning percentage)
2011: 16-11 (a 59.26 winning percentage)

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Career: 88-49 (a 64.23 winning percentage)

What is remarkable is that his two best career years, 2008 and 2010, do not stand out on the list. Sure, they are better than average but not by much, and 2006 was even better.

Part of the reason for that is that Nadal didn't meet top-10 players aside from Federer off clay and the World Tour Finals in 2006. As Nadal developed into an all-court player, he made it to the later rounds of more hard court tournaments where he would meet more top-10 players. 

As far as I can see, on clay Nadal has been able to meet and beat top-10 players from the get-go in 2003 where be beat both Carlos Moya and Guillermo Coria, and he didn't meet too many top-10 players in his early years on tour off the clay, enabling him to have astounding percentages against the best of the best. 

To be sure, Nadal was by no means a "gimme" once he ran into a top-10 player off clay. He beat Federer on hard court in 2004 and 2005 and Agassi in 2005, among others. But it's always been a more level playing field for Nadal's opponents once they caught him off clay, which the top-10 players did more and more often from 2007 onwards. 

Both Federer's and Nadal's records against top-10 opposition are good enough to put them on the top-five list in the Open Era (Note: The ATP list has two more Federer victories than I have, increasing his win-loss record to 66.5 instead of 66.2. I have chosen to use Mustard's numbers here as he's done the counting for each year, whereas the ATP only provides the overall career stats).

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Only Björn Borg outperforms them by a margin with a 70.5 winning percentage. But Borg retired early and didn't face half as many top-10 players in his career; Federer and Nadal have met 40 more top-10 players than Borg ever did. 

As Federer and Nadal keep playing, it is likely that their percentages will dip slightly. Perhaps Federer's more so than Rafa's, provided Nadal can keep his stronghold on clay.

To put their top-10 records further into perspective, here are Djokovic' and Murray's win-loss record against top-10 players: 

Djokovic:

2005: 1-2 (a 33.33 winning percentage)
2006: 1-7 (a 12.50 winning percentage)
2007: 6-10 (a 37.50 winning percentage)
2008: 11-11 (a 50 winning percentage)
2009: 14-12 (a 53.85 winning percentage)
2010: 4-8 (a 33.33 winning percentage)
2011: 21-4 (a 90.91 winning percentage)

Career: 58-54 (a 51.79 winning percentage)

Murray:

2006: 4-4 (a 50 winning percentage)
2007: 5-6 (a 45.45 winning percentage)
2008: 10-8 (a 55.56 winning percentage)
2009: 14-6 (a 70 winning percentage)
2010: 7-5 (a 58.33 winning percentage)
2011: 7-8 (a 46.67 winning percentage)

Career: 47-39 (a 55.65 winning percentage)

While still very, very impressive and good enough to make it to No. 8 and No. 11 on the overall list (Murray is better than Agassi and both are better than Connors), they still have a fair amount of work to do to reach Federer's and Nadal's numbers. Then again, they most likely also have some more prime years to do so.  

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