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The battle of legends: Federer and Nadal – SportsUntapped.com
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Added July 16th, 2010 by Jonas

The battle of legends: Federer and Nadal
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There is a lot written these days about Nadal being able to catch Federer’s grand slam record (currently at 16) or not. Nadal currently has 8 Grand Slams to his name and he needs to double that amount just to catch up if Federer doesn’t win any more slams (which, considering Fed has already won one in 2010 and still is one of the favorites for the upcoming US Open, seems highly unlikely).

I think we have two great legends on our hands and whoever might win the most grand slams of all time is not that important. We should instead stay thankful to be living in a golden age of two great tennis champions who both love their game as much, or more, than their own mothers and have tennis skills that we all thought was beyond human capacity. It is a treat to watch these two giants fight it out on the tennis  court. Two players who have great mutual respect and admiration both on and off the court, but love nothing higher than beating the other.

It is a shame that we had so few Federer vs Nadal Grand Slam finals of late (“Fedal’s”) because those are truly moments where history is carved in stone, not only written on a paper or blogs. This is a moment where the Rafa-fans and the Fedophiles desperately want to watch every second, but hardly can because it is too nerve-wrecking, too exciting and sometimes too much to bear.

When Federer and Nadal put their shoes and rackets on the shelf tennis will have a huge space to fill and it will likely take a long time before we see anything remotely like these two players and their brilliant rivalry.

What is it besides their exceptional tennis skills that make Federer and Nadal stir up so much emotion? I think the secrets lie in their different personalities, looks, and playing styles.

Federer comes out on the court as a Zen-master, ready to show his great precision and skill. His racket is an instrument, done to his exact specifications and with a sweet spot much like the wooden rackets of the 70-80s (he is truly old-school). He dresses elegantly, rarely shows emotion on the court and hardly seems to sweat. He flicks his hair to the side with his finger and silently walks back to the baseline after a point. The biggest celebration you will see is a closed fist and when he misses a shot he shakes his head slightly in disappointment. On court he is a man of small gestures and big shots. He lets his play speak for him instead. His movement is silent like a ninja; he never grunts or makes any superfluous noise. Sometimes he seems to levitate in the air and float from one perfectly balanced shot to the other. That is why he is such a joy to watch, it is like watching something not quiet human, a being with an extremely strong aura and presence. Not only an athlete, but an artist.

Federer is comfortable in the media light. He carries himself excellently in interviews, always speaks carefully and thoughtfully, but wouldn’t shy away from criticizing something if that was needed.

Nadal is a gladiator, packed with muscle, a determined look and runs out on the court like a bull ready to run for hours. He brings a club not an instrument and would probably play as well with a frying pan as he does with his Babolat Aero pro. He also carries an unquenchable thirst to do battle. He knows his abilities and he knows he can win, always, no matter how much pain he is in or how long the opponent will fight him. His strokes are big and using great power he gets almost twice the top spin on his shots as any other player on tour, making his shots land well within the court and bounce up to shoulder level. He is extremely athletic and runs everything down.  This makes one of the most uncomfortable players to play, it seems like no matter what you do the ball will come back and haunt you time after time until you finally give up, go for the impossible winner and lose the point.

Nadal is a quiet man. He loves the simple things in life and was taught strong values of modesty and gratitude early in life. He thinks the media presence on the tennis tour is a necessary evil, he is not really comfortable speaking in English, and his answers are very often matter of fact. If someone asks him why he lost, he will say something like “My opponent did play better than me, no?” stating a fact like a retorical question.

Who would not like this setup; scripted almost like a Hollywood movie. The elegant, old-school, no-sweat shot maker against the muscled long-haired warrior. Precision versus Power. Both players with fantastic determination to win, great athletic abilities to perform on the tennis court, and a huge respect and love for the game and each other. No wonder the whole world stops when they play, no wonder why so much is written about them, no wonder that they both have huge dedicated fan bases, no wonder at all really because we are witnessing the biggest wonder in the history of tennis.

Author of The Wake-Up Call, with the tennis blog Tennisnerd and personal blog here

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26 Responses to “The battle of legends: Federer and Nadal”

  1. Linda says:

    Love this article; separately, they are amazing — Federer with his air of elegance and Nadal with his air of confidence……but together on the court — together they are the epitome of athleticism, sportsmanship, talent and beauty. I love them both — alone or together — regardless of wins or losses, they are a sight to behold on the court (and actually, off the court, as well).

  2. KAV says:

    Federer always wants to attack his biggest rival Nadal in front of media, He is so arrogant and declares Nadal as a one dimensional player and and said in one interview he could let him go through wins in clay court ,How arrogant player?

  3. Anya says:

    While I support them both, my loyalty still is with ROGER. He is a tennis icon. I do not believe the Federer era is over yet. He will come back and win some more. He does need to adopt a more gracious attitude when losing to his winning opponents and give them credit where credit is due. I wish Roger good luck and I hope he wins the US Open. If Roger does not win, then I hope Rafa wins.

  4. danelle says:

    great article… thanks

  5. Betsy says:

    This piece is a bit simplistic and generalizes too much about these two great players, but all in all a very nice read and enjoyable. Makes me want to watch another Fedal! Come on Rafa and Rog! 😀

  6. Lynne Danley says:

    No, Kav —
    You misunderstood what Roger said. Roger was talking about the difference between playing on clay and on other surfaces. Compared to hard court and grass, he was saying, clay is an “easier” surface to play on in that it’s more predictable and calls for a simpler style of play like the style Nadal has. He’s right in that Nadal’s game is not sbtle or complicated. That’s okay, and I’m sure Roger didn’t mean it as a slight. I don’t think it came out quite right — remember, English is not Roger’s primary language either. But Roger has nothing but respect for Rafa and his game. Whenever someone in the media implies that there are three or four top players in the game, Roger gently states that there are two — himself and Rafa — and that there are other fine top competitors like Djokovic and Murray who will one day win a number of majors. They are the president and vice-president of the Players’ Association and work well together there, too. These two guys are two of the classiest acts in sports, and the writer is correct — we are truly privileged to have them in the game. And I am happy to hear that someone acknowledges Federer’s greatness in spite of the fact that Rafa has a winning record against him. They generally play on Rafa’s best surface, on which he is a master, while Roger is outstanding on all surfaces. So that’s less important than people want to make it. What matters is the heroic greatness of these two and the auras they have. Well done!

  7. Jonas says:

    Thanks all for commenting. The Federer vs Nadal discussion is endlessly fascinating. My love for tennis would never have been as strong as it is now without these two players. I agree, KAV, that Roger sometimes can come out as arrogant in interviews (unintentionally I think), maybe he gets annoyed with the constant questions about the rivalry, but I don’t think he wants to belittle a player that he, arguably the greatest player of all time, finds so hard to beat!

    My point with the article was to say to both fan camps that no matter who your favorite is you have to respect the other, because they need each other to reach the greater levels. I don’t think the tennis world would be half as interesting with only Roger or only Rafa. They are like yin and yang – you need both.

  8. mbell says:

    As a tennis fan and a rafa supporter, I am tired of people saying that Nadal’s style of play is “simple”. The fact is, that while Federer has the most beautiful and versatile game in tennis, Nadal is the master as regards tennis STRATEGY! It was Nadal who first discovered that Federer’s backhand was his major weakness when everyone else was acclaiming Federer’s one-handed backhand as one of the greatest backhands ever. Nadal wins because he analyzes how to beat the other players and then attempts to execute that strategy. He is rarely wrong in his game plan although sometimes his execution goes awry. Nadal’s superior game plans in the Fedal rivalry are the reason he is far ahead in their matches together.

  9. Majid says:

    beautiful article…what a description of both players…..truly they both are legends…hats off to them..

  10. midgie says:

    I agree with mbell. Back when Nadal first burst on the scene, he could be viewed (and was) as just a slugger with an unquenchable desire to win. This simplistic (even then) characterization was perpetuated by the media because it contrasted nicely with Fed’s more elegant style of play and it wsa clung to by Fed fans because despite Rafa’s dominance over Fed in the head-to-head, they could still claim that Roger was, after all, \an artist\ and Rafa simple a \fighter.\ So, yes, it frustrates me when writers and fans, still cling to this stereotype despite all the evidence to the contrary. Rafa has not been this one dimensional player for quite some time (if he ever was). Watching him work his way through Wimbledon was a thing to behold. His power was still blazing, but he was slicing, volleying, serving brilliantly, all the while treating everyone to his masterful footwork and unparalled topspin. Like mbell says, there is no one, not even Roger, who is a better tactical tennis player these days. The way he figures out an an opponent as the match progresses, well, you can almost FEEL it happening.

  11. Mike says:

    This article is artistic, lovely!

  12. Bobbie says:

    Nice article and yes, thank you for forgetting the numbers and focusing on the show!

    I agree with just about all that is said except for one typical faux pas, painting their styles in black and white.

    I have seen Roger sweat and his swings can be SEEN as forceful especially when he plays Rafa. I agree in general he appears to work less but he can be as giant in his movements as Nadal. Roger is more deceiving and therefore surprising.

    And as for RAfa, the ballet of his tennis game is amazing. His pointed and clicking heals when he jumps are a beautiful site, especially when at the end of a long slide on the clay. I cannot remember in which of his latest wins he did a beautiful 360 degree spin, like a skater’s single axel at the net in an attempt to avoid having his own body hit the ball that he just hit. Amazing movements. Perhaps not ballet but ice skating?

    It really doesn’t matter, I loved the article which praised the incredible talent of both of these men. And as Rafa has risen periodically from the ashes, I suspect Roger is capable of doing the them. Can never count either of them down and out for long.

  13. Bobbie says:

    Midgie is so right about Rafa’s ability to change his play and hone in on his opponents weakness even DURING the match. Roger does not seem to have that same ability to change his game plan. We saw that at Wimbledon very clearly and it is why Roger lost and Rafa was biting the trophy. Sometimes his ego does get in his own way. Meaning that in a nice way:)

  14. Benoit Dreyfus says:

    Let’s talk Turkey. When will Rafal grow up & stop touching his Rear End, as part
    of his routine, when ever he serves?
    Next case, Why hasn’t it been mentioned, Rafel took injury time outs during Matches, when it looked like he might lose? When he won one these Matches, he
    pumped his left arm, the one that was supposed to be injured, many times to
    signify victory.
    Next case, Rafal, at one point, in a match, had to signal to his Uncle, to stop Coaching. Have run out of commenting room. Hope you fans got my message.

  15. Devon says:

    I have finally come to terms with the fact that — with the exception of Grand Slam FInals under the belt as a criterion — that Federer, no more than Nadal, can be considered the greatest of all time. That said I think the GOAT debate is just a way for certain personality types to get caught up projecting their unfulfilled egos, onto the GOAT archetype, through the players. In reality there can be no such thing of the greatest of all time, because all-time as yet to unfold; and because time itself is locked into so-called eras. It is even crazier when the GOAT monkeys start hypothetically comparing top players between eras.

  16. gavyn says:

    has anyone mentioned at all that even though nadal owns a winning record against federar, majority ot thos matches were played on clay……i mean no doubt nadal is the greatest player ever to play on clay…..but federar is also in his own right the greatest player to ever play on grass….if not hard court and indoor included….but how many grass court events are there in a year….only wimbledon and none of the masters 1000 event….i wonder why that is….is grass that much harder to maintain that clay….i’m no expert…i just thought that it’s an unfair comparison of the two….pls don’t get me wrong…i just hope that before before both of their careers are over…..perhaps the best two ever…we’ll be able to determine who indeed is the GOAT of the sport…in a fair and comprehensive way…

  17. midgie says:

    Benoit Dreyfus:
    Rafa has a bit of OCD and goes through the same routines, which include picking an imaginary wedgie (along with lining his water bottles, dragging his foot across the line on clay courts and rather delicately adjusting his hair behind his ears). He just does it. Why should you care? As Johnny Mac says – Those behaviors should be the least of his opponents’ worries. They should be concentrating on how to beat this guy and forget what isn’t important.

    Nadal does not routinely take timeouts when he is losing, and to suggest otherwise indicates you have not watched many of his matches, but rather are just hopping on the bandwagon. Rather, he is known for his exemplary sportmanship. He took an injury timeout during his match with Petzschner at Wimbledon, but so did Petzschner later in the same match. Do you somehow have clairvoyant knowledge about Nadal’s physical state at the time and whether or not he truly required a timeout or not?

    Lastly, the coaching issue is nonissue. Whether or not Uncle Toni was coaching Rafa or simply offering encouragement, is there anyone in their right mind who thinks that Rafael Nadal is clueless about how to handle an opponent or play his best tennis unless his uncle is there to shout out pointers? It’s absurd.

  18. Manuman says:

    Nice to see someone making the point I want to make when I read these Fedal discussions. I always feel that rather than getting caught up in ultimately unresolvable and, unfortunately at times acrimonious, debates about who is better we should be grateful that we are able to witness this great rivalry and the magnificent displays of tennis two exceptional sportsmen come up with. It’s nice to read so many comments along these lines. At the same time, I think it’s also only fair to also let them be human. For example, let Rafa have his quirks and Roger his borderline arrogance, after all he’s earned it. Nothing to get all riled up about. As Nadal said recently, “I think tennis is only a game. In life there are much more important things than tennis.” Oh, but what a magnificent game it becomes in the hands of these two masters, especially when they making impossible shots and mindboggling displays of defense and savvy across the net from each other.

  19. Hank says:

    For all of you interested in this topic, please read the in-depth David Foster Wallace article linked below. It not only illuminates the contrasting styles of these two great players, but also puts them in historical perspective.


  20. Jack says:

    Loved it to the core… you’ve really brought a Fedal final live in words…!! Wish a Fed vs rafa final in USO 🙂

  21. Daksh says:

    PLEASE stop criticizing any of these greats. they both have proved that they are already legends of the game. federer is 29 n rafa is 24. federer has passed his peak while nadal is just reaching his peak. federer definitely still has it in him to win a few more grand slams. while nadal is a great tactician n plays according to his opponent federer plays de way HE wants to irrespective of his opponent. federer always wants to be in the commanding postion n when he is not he comes up with some amazing impossible shots. So does rafa but fed starts attacking immediately while nadal defends n then attacks. Contrasting styles that are amazing to watch n i would not wish it to be any different.
    Coming to head to head though i m a fed fan n rafa is my next fav i think rafa always has higher chances cause he is de only player who can match fed shot for shot n wear him down. fed never likes to give up n tats why he is adamant on beating rafa on the backhand wing as well cause he believes he can but not always does it happen. i m sure if he plays with more variety (tat he has) n comes to de net more often he’ll find a way to beat rafa.

  22. Abhirup says:

    Let tennis players remain tennis players, warriors remain warriors. I would prefer tennis players to be tennis players, not gladiators or warriors.

  23. Benoit Dreyfus says:

    Dear Manuman, I have seen MOST of Nadal’s IMPORTANT matches.
    He has taken injury time outs, once again, when he is losing. How
    about when he was having his foot or was it, his right leg, being treated,
    and not only did he get up from the chair, he BOUNCED back up?

    You didn’t respond to my observation about Nadal, touching his right
    Buttock, frequently during matches.

    I wonder if he is superstious and ritulistic when he is having sex, as he
    is when playing matches?

  24. marcitas carbonell says:

    nadal’s not being supertitous nor ritualistic by touching his butts while playing in his great matches .it’s just that he is a great player like federer .I’m fond of watching them playing against each other . tennis is not complete or exciting without the other.let’s watch them in this coming US Open.

  25. mel's brother says:

    I think someone has a major fixation on mr nadal’s butt.

  26. Benoit Dreyfus says:

    “Mel’s brother” I guess your one line comment “some one has a major fiixation on
    mr nadal’s butt” refers to me. Fixation, Smixation, how could ANY ONE watching
    Nadal serve, not be aware of how he touches his butt, every time he serves. I wonder if his Uncle taught him how to do that, when he taught him to serve, I doubt it.

    I forgot to mention the following observation.

    Isn’t Nadal fortunate enough to have a left handed serve, which from experience I know is difficult to return, that he has to bounce the ball, before serving, count less times, to rattle his opponents?

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