Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's Tale of 2 Forehands: How They Changed the Sport

Adam AzmiCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  (L-R) ATP Executive Chairman & President Adam Helfant, Rafael Nadal of Spain, Roger Federer of Switzerland and CE of Barclays Global Retail Banking Antony Jenkins pose after their men's final match during the ATP World Tour Finals at O2 Arena on November 28, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

With one hand, you can grasp but with two you can rule.

This best describes the influence that right-handed Roger Federer and left-handed Rafa have had on the sport.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been the most prominent figures to date in the sport of tennis for the past five years and arguably the most dominant duo that the sport has ever seen.

Their ambidextrous choke-hold on the sport is definitely undeniable with both of them dominating the top two spots in professional tennis, wresting away 24 Slams out of the past 28 Grand Slam titles. However in doing so this pair of rivals has done more than just win titles; they have revolutionized the sport in total.

Roger Federer leads the pair with 16 Grand Slam titles with Rafael Nadal rapidly catching up at nine Grand Slam titles. Both individuals are potential wielders of the infamous title of the "GOAT." The title of GOAT between these two has been a widely debated topic among the avid fans of both sides, citing Federer's graceful play and Nadal's breathtaking endeavours on the tennis court. But to some extent, our personal differences have blinded us from actually acknowledging the greatness of each player in his own right.

Roger Federer is probably the greatest right-handed player to ever pick up a racquet. Being the most successful player among other right-handers like Sampras, Agassi or Borg. Federer has amassed the most titles as a right-handed player with 65 and counting, third only to southpaws Jimmy Connors and Johnny Mac. Currently Federer does hold the title "Greatest Righty of All Time." His 23 consecutive semifinals at Slams is also a record that won't be broken for a very long time.

Rafael Nadal is also building up a reputation as the most powerful lefty that tennis has ever seen. With unparalleled dominance on the red clay of Roland Garros and consistent results on other surfaces, Rafa has already passed fellow lefties John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in regards to his Grand Slam tally. If he continues his amazing run at the Slams and wins the Australian Open this coming January, we will see him come one step closer to surpassing the great "Rocket Rod" and eventually be known as the greatest lefty ever.

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The Roger-Rafa rivalry has given tennis new significance and to fully understand, let us go deeper into this rivalry with more intricate detail.

Their first meeting was during 2004 where a recently crowned world No. 1 Roger Federer would meet a young 17-year-old Rafael Nadal in the third round of the Miami Masters. Federer was outclassed in straight sets by the Spaniard. Nadal exclaimed that it was one of the best matches he had ever played in his career with respect to Federer.

Roger spoke admirably of the young Majorcan predicting that "He's gonna be the most powerful lefty in tennis in a few years."

His prophecy didn't miss by far.

The following year Nadal would go on to beat Federer at the 2005 Roland Garros semifinals and claim his maiden Grand Slam. In that same year, he would ascend to the No. 2 spot that he would go on to hold for 160 consecutive weeks before finally snapping Federer's 237 consecutive weeks at No. 1.

That match gave us the opportunity to bear witness to the birth of the best right-handed vs. left-handed rivalry since McEnroe and Borg during the '80s.

Up until now they had met 22 times with Rafa leading by 14-8 in head-to-heads against Roger. Most of us would see this H2H and assume that this seemingly lopsided rivalry is not worth mentioning. However the stats are alarmingly incredible.

These two men have solely been the obstacle in each other's careers and have simultaneously been the main factor of each other's success.

  • Rafa has prevented Roger from achieving a Career Slam and the coveted Grand Slam for four consecutive years from '05-'08.
  • Roger snapped Rafa's 81-match winning streak on clay when he beat Rafa on clay in the '07 Hamburg final. 
  • Federer and Nadal are the only No. 1 and No. 2 pair in the open era to contest the French Open and Wimbledon men's finals back to back in a calendar year. They are also the only pair in the history of tennis to contest both of these finals back to back for three consecutive years (2006–08).
  • In the history of tennis, Federer and Nadal are the second pair to face each other in seven Grand Slam singles finals (2006–08 Wimbledon, 2006–08 French Open, 2009 Australian Open) in the span of four years, after Bill Tilden and William Johnston (1919–25 US Open), who did it in the span of seven years. 
  • Federer and Nadal are the only No. 1 and No. 2 pair to win at least 11 consecutive Grand Slam singles tournaments between them (2005 French Open–2007 US Open). In this period, Federer won three consecutive titles at both Wimbledon and the US Open and two consecutive titles at the Australian Open, while Nadal won three consecutive French Open titles.
  • Federer and Nadal are the only pair to win at least four consecutive finals at three different Grand Slams during the same period (2005-08 French Open for Nadal, 2003–07 Wimbledon and 2004–08 US Open for Federer).
  • From 2008 French Open to 2010 US Open, the pair won 10 of 11 Grand Slams (except 2009 US Open).
  • Federer and Nadal have won eight consecutive Wimbledon (2003–10) and six consecutive French Open (2005–10) titles.
  • Federer and Nadal have won the Wimbledon and French Open duo for six consecutive years (2005–10).
  • Federer and Nadal have won the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open trio for four consecutive years (2005–08).

I think we get the point. This article would be a Wikipedia page if this list goes on.

However the main difference between these men is the distinction of Federer, as a right-hander, plays an orthodox game and is the benchmark for the most basic yet graceful form of play. The classical game of tennis is embodied in the flesh of this man.

In contrast, Nadal is the symbol and inspiration of unorthodox play with his extreme grip on his forehand, beastly movement and energetic play. Nadal has led the way to the modernization of this sport.

In the past, experts have sighted Roger Federer as the perfect model for the game.

Through some extent this is true. Federer's game is anything but complex. He weaves his shots from the bare essence of tennis. The full tennis textbook is present in the Federer repertoire.

But on the contrary, I believe that Federer alone is not the model that we seek but Federer-Nadal is the most complete model for every aspiring tennis player.


A Federer-Nadal match is the most complete tennis module that a coach can use. In their matches, every element is present: Orthodox, unorthodox, left, right, topspin, backspin, slice, drive, lobs and drop shots.

These players are the best shotmakers in history and they can hit every shot in the book—from a banana curve shot to the infamous tweener—they can do it all.

It's not just the shots that make their matches worthwhile; it's the strategy. Federer and Nadal are arguably the smartest tennis players alive. In their matches we can see how a lefty has an advantage to the righty's backhand and how to overcome it. It's not just entertaining, but educational as well.

The great thing about Roger and Rafa is not that they have won lots of titles but it's the legacy that they leave behind. Think about it! People in the next 20-30 years can benefit from them.

This is why Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will undoubtedly go down as the greatest pair to ever play the game.


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