Breaking Down the 5 Best Matches from Rodger Federer's Rivalry with Rafael Nadal

Justin OlexaContributor IIIMarch 22, 2014

Breaking Down the 5 Best Matches from Rodger Federer's Rivalry with Rafael Nadal

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    Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal
    Roger Federer vs. Rafael NadalAndrew Brownbill/Associated Press

    The Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal rivalry comes back to where it all started this week. They met for the first time 10 years ago here in Miami. 

    Roger Federer had just won the first two majors of his career and was settling in as the world No. 1. The 17-year-old Rafael Nadal had yet to really make a name for himself. Nadal ended up taking that match 6-3, 6-3. It would only be fitting for them to meet again this year.

    Instead of looking ahead, it is time to look back at some of the best matches of their rivalry. 

    In deciding what matches to include, I looked back at all of their matches and weighed them based on the stage and score. 

    **All Stats from unless noted otherwise

No. 5: 2005 ATP Masters Series Miami Final

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    Roger Federer
    Roger FedererClive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Match Recap

    Roger Federer came into the contest on a 21-match win streak. He had just won at Indian Wells and was looking to avenge his first loss to Nadal.

    The 18-year-old Spaniard was looking to pick up his first career hard-court title. He was the youngest finalist in the history of Miami.

    Nadal was off to a great start—breaking the world No. 1 twice to take the first set 6-2.

    Federer appeared to be in control of the second set, leading 5-2, but Nadal came storming back to force a tiebreaker. He carried this momentum into the tiebreaker and won it 7-4— finishing it off with a trademark fist pump.

    The world No. 1 had just let the set slip away, and he had now dropped four sets in a row to the teenager.

    Even worse for Federer, Nadal grabbed the early break in the third to lead 3-1. Down 4-2, Federer broke back to keep his hopes alive.

    The third set ended up going into another tiebreaker. Federer went down 5-3, but he came firing back to take the next four points and the tiebreaker 7-5. 

    From then on, it was all Federer. He took the last two sets 6-3, 6-1. However, Nadal had made it clear he was going to be something special. 

    Highlights from the match can be seen on YouTube, courtesy of Sky Sports.

    Final Score: Federer wins 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-1

No. 4: 2006 ATP Masters Series Rome Final

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    Nadal in Rome
    Nadal in RomeClive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Match Recap

    Federer was still the top player in the world heading into this final. However, Nadal's legacy had grown substantially from their 2005 Miami encounter. 

    He was now ranked second in the world. His clay-court dominance had already begun at just 19. Rafa had won his previous 52 matches on the surface.

    Federer came in at 39-2 on the year, his only two losses came against the Spaniard. 

    Highlights from the match can be seen on YouTube, courtesy of Sky Sports.

    The first set was a back-and-fourth battle. It led to a tiebreaker that was dominated by Federer. He won it without even dropping a point 7-0.

    The second set led to yet another tiebreaker, but this time it was much more competitive. At five-all, Federer made the key mistake of the set. After Nadal left a ball short, Federer sent an easy forehand-approach long. At 6-5, Nadal almost fell over approaching the net, but Federer could not capitalize as he sent a backhand into the net. 

    In the third set, Nadal was able to jump ahead by picking up the break at two-all. Up 5-4, Nadal took care of his serve to close it out 6-4.

    Federer took care of business in the fourth set. He broke Nadal twice and won it 6-2. 

    The first break of the fifth set went to Federer. He jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but Nadal was not going to go easily. With Federer up 4-2, Nadal broke back to get back on serve.

    Down 5-6, Nadal faced two match points, but he was able fend them off and send the match into a deciding tiebreaker.

    Federer secured the first mini-break early to jump out to a 3-1 lead. As Nadal often does, he came fighting back to take the lead 6-5. On the final point, Nadal hit the baseline—sending Federer off balance as he floated the ball back. Nadal took advantage by ripping an inside-out forehand to the corner that Federer could do nothing about. 

    Federer was obviously disappointed after the loss but according to the Associated Press (h/t USA Today), he felt like he was getting closer. "Obviously I would have liked to win, but I already knew after Monaco I was extremely close, I think this is another step closer."

    Final Score: Nadal wins 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5)

No. 3: 2009 Australian Open Final

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    Match Recap

    Nadal came in seeking his first hard-court Grand Slam, while Federer was looking for his 14th Grand Slam title. This would tie Pete Sampras for the all-time record (highlights above)

    Federer came out very shaky and was broken in the first game. However, he settled his nerves and broke back the next game. Federer was able to break again to go up 4-2 with a punishing forehand return winner.

    Nadal was the one to break right back this time. Both men held the next three games to level the score at five-all. The Spaniard held once again and then served it out to win the set 7-5. 

    Nadal was the first to break in the second, but he was broken right back to level the score at three-all. Federer held to go up 4-3 and put the pressure on Nadal. It took five tries, but Federer finally came through on his fifth break point to go up 5-3. 

    After holding serve, he evened the score up at one set apiece.

    Both men finally took control of their service games to send the third set to a tiebreaker without a break. After a ridiculous drop volley at 5-3, Nadal jumped out to a 6-3 lead. Federer double faulted to give Nadal the set.   

    After breaking the Spaniard, Federer jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the fourth. Once again Nadal had the answer, he broke Federer the next game to get back on serve. 

    Be sure to check out an incredible point a two-all (11:00). Federer broke once again to go up 4-2. This time he did not give the break back—closing out the set 6-3.

    Nadal was simply too much for Federer in the fifth—taking the final set 6-2. 

    Proving to be more than just a clay-court specialist, the Spaniard had now won a Grand Slam on the three different surfaces.

    After the tough loss, Federer was moved to tears. Here is what he had to say, according to John Pye of the Associated Press (h/t Huffington Post).

    In the first moment you're disappointed, you're shocked, you're sad, then all of a sudden it overwhelms you...The problem is you can't go in the locker room and just take it easy and take a cold shower. You're stuck out there. It's the worst feeling. ... It's rough.


    Final Score: Nadal wins 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2

No. 2: 2007 Wimbledon Final

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    Match Recap

    Nadal had now been the world No. 2 for two whole years. He was looking to dethrone the man that had won the previous five Wimbledons.

    Federer took Nadal down in the 2006 final and was looking to do the same here. 

    In the first set, Federer jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. Nadal was able to break back to make the score 3-2 Federer. Both men then held their serves to reach a tiebreaker. Neither gave an inch in the breaker, but Federer eventually pulled it out 9-7.

    The second set was on serve with Nadal leading 5-4. With Federer serving, Nadal stepped up and broke him to take the second set 6-4.

    The third set yielded no breaks of serve—setting up another tiebreaker. Nadal pushed Federer to deuce when he was serving to stay in the set, but Federer hit a great shot to take the advantage and won the game. Federer proved to be too much in the breaker—taking it 7-3.

    The fourth set was all Nadal; he broke the Federer serve twice and closed the set out 6-2.

    Federer fired back in the fifth. They were on serve through five games, but Federer stepped up and broke Nadal to go up 4-2. He followed that up by holding at love and breaking the Nadal serve to close out the match.

    According to Caroline Cheese of the BBC, Federer had this to say about beating Rafa, "He's a fantastic player and he's going to be around so much longer so I'm happy with every one I get before he takes them all!"

    Little did he know how true this statement would become. 

    Final Score: Federer wins 7-6(7), 4-6, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-2 

No. 1: 2008 Wimbledon Final

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    Match Recap

    Federer came into the 2008 Wimbledon final looking for his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title. He was running through the competition—not even dropping a set before the final.

    Nadal was trying to break through at Wimbledon for the first time. He had lost the last two finals here to Federer.

    Nadal was the first to break, to take an early lead. Federer put up a fight, but he was not able to get the break back. Nadal took the first 6-4.

    It was Federer who grabbed the early break in the second set—jumping out to a 4-1 lead. With Federer serving at 4-2, Rafa broke back to get back on serve. At four-all, Nadal broke Federer again and closed out the set in the next game.

    Federer would not be going home without a fight. Both players held serve all of the third set to setup a tiebreaker.

    Federer grabbed two early mini-breaks to put himself in great position. Down 6-3, Nadal was able to fight off two set points to put pressure on Federer. Federer responded with a huge ace out wide to take the set.

    No one broke once again in the fourth. This set up one of the greatest tiebreakers of all time. 

    Rafa grabbed the early mini-break and put himself in a position to win the match. He jumped out to a 5-2 lead. Federer fought off two match points, including a beautiful backhand passing shot down 8-7. He won the next two points to send this one into a deciding fifth set.

    Darkness was setting in during the fifth set and neither champion was able to break serve early on. Federer had a break point chance up 4-3, but Nadal closed that window with an excellent body serve and forehand combination.

    At five-all, it was Federer who stepped up and saved a couple of break points. However, at seven-all Federer could not hold off any longer. Nadal secured the break and had the chance to serve it out at 8-7.

    Nadal grabbed a 40-30 lead to set up another match point. Federer responded with a great backhand return to even up the score at deuce. After an unreturnable serve, Nadal had his fourth match point. Federer sent a forehand into the net, and Nadal dropped to the ground in celebration.

    The key to the match was Federer's failure to capitalize on break points. He had 13 chances and broke just once.

    According to the Associated Press (h/t, here is what Nadal had to say after the match, "I am very happy for me but sorry for him, because he deserved this title, too." 

    In such a great match, it is hard to crown a winner and a loser. For Federer, it was the first time he had lost on grass-courts since 2002. 

    This match will go down as one of the best of all time. 

    Final Score: Nadal Wins 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7