Federer vs Nadal Rivalry – Not Over But Not The Same

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Current head to head record between Federer vs Nadal (10-22).

It’s hard to believe that the last meeting between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was almost six months ago in a rain filled semifinal match at Indian Wells that Federer won rather comfortably over a frustrated Nadal. And though there’s still a possibility that both will face each other again this year, most likely at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, tennis fans may well have to wait until next year for the 29th chapter of one the sport’s most enduring rivalries to take place.

But when or where that match takes place, the real question to ask is does Federer versus Nadal matter anymore? For a long time, “Fedal”, as some fans affectionately refer to it, became and remained the tour’s biggest storyline as it featured a fascinating combination of two very different men with two unique playing styles battling each other for supremacy over the sport. And it wasn’t just tennis fans who tuned in eagerly for each encounter between the “Swiss Maestro” and the “Mallorcan Matador”. Television networks and other media were only too happy to proclaim each encounter as a “must-see” event. While everyone else was just playing tennis, Federer and Nadal were, to some, creating art every time they stepped onto a court.

Whether you agree if the amount of hyperbole surrounding each match was justified or not, the Federer and Nadal rivalry helped usher in the “golden age” of tennis that we are in now as it earned comparisons with Laver vs. Rosewall, Borg vs. McEnroe, Becker vs. Edberg and Sampras vs. Agassi to name just a few.

Nadal, who is only a year older than Djokovic and Murray, in many ways feels more a part of the Federer era that includes players like Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian. Nadal beat Federer in their very first match at Miami in 2004 and it was that match that sparked the whole phenomenon. Federer finally appeared to have a worthy contender to his “world’s best” title and that ongoing narrative sustained the sport even after Nadal passed Federer in terms of total overall wins between them.

Nadal, when he was No. 1, faced a similar moment with Novak Djokovic especially last year during the Serbian’s stellar season. Now Nadal was the hunted with Djokovic seen as the challenger finally realizing his true potential. Now Federer and Nadal’s encounters though still important, didn’t feel like defining moments for the entire tour. And with Andy Murray reaching several Major finals on his own, culminating with him winning the U.S. Open this week, the case can now finally be made that any of the top four can win a Major moving forward.

“Fedal” is now not the “A plot” or the only plot anymore. It’s just one of several storylines that tennis watchers must keep up with.

While Federer and Nadal are still very much Major contenders, their rivalry is at a vulnerable stage. While Federer has played some of his best tennis ever to return to No. 1, at age 31, there’s no guarantee he will continue to sustain that high level over the course of an entire year. Nadal, who has been out of action with a knee issue that has now forced him to fall to No. 4 in the world, shows more signs of physical wear than ever before and that may limit his scheduling moving forward.

More often now, both men find themselves facing each other in the semifinal stage as they did this year at Indian Wells and earlier in Melbourne. In some ways, it feels odd to see them there, but unless they somehow end up on the opposite side of the draws, these somewhat anticlimactic encounters may end up being the final chapters of their incredible story.

Is that good or bad? Maybe a little bit of both. Tennis needs rivalries to sustain broad interest but not at the expense of developing appreciation of other players on tour. At the height of the Federer and Nadal saga, some wondered if it was worth bothering to watch anybody else on tour while others, fed up with the constant barrage of hearing how great Federer and Nadal were, while everyone else was “third best”, tuned out altogether. Now with Djokovic and Murray in the mix, the sport is a bit more balanced in terms of coverage while also sending the signal that yes, contrary to earlier rumors, tennis will go on after Federer and Nadal end their careers.

A fitting end for this long time matchup would be another showdown in a Major final but even if that doesn’t come to pass, Federer versus Nadal, no matter what the final head to head reads, will still be considered by many the best rivalry the sport has ever produced. It may not have the same impact as in years past but with both men at intriguing stages in their careers, the 29th chapter will certainly be must see by all who follow the sport.

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