There are not many good individual sports rivalries going these days. Team rivalries are still going strong, but not many individual ones come to mind. Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers of all time, but he has no one who pushes him consistently. The entire sport of boxing has fallen off, so no one much cares if there are any rivalries going on right now. Mixed Martial Arts has potential for some great ones, but that sport does not yet have the presence. The best rivalry right now would have to be in tennis: the rivalry between Men’s No.1 Roger Federer and Men’s No. 2 Rafael Nadal.
Two things make a great rivalry: two opponents at the top of their sport, and two opponents whose matches against each other are always entertaining. Federer and Nadal deliver on both fronts.
Federer has just been a monster the past few years. In 2006 and 2007, he won 3 of the 4 Grand Slams. Both years, the only Slam he missed was the French Open. The same situation also happened earlier this year. Federer is especially god-like on grass; he has won five Wimbledon Tournaments in a row and could win a sixth. He is also the only man to ever advance to the finals twice without dropping a set.
Nadal seems equally unbeatable on clay. He won three straight French Opens. Nadal also pushed Federer incredibly hard in last year’s Wimbledon final; at times, it looked like he was going to upset the king on his home court. If there were a weakness in Nadal’s game, it would have to be hard court. He has never made it past the semifinals of the Australian Open, and never past the quarters of the U.S. Open. Still, he is easily considered the second-best player in the world now and could eventually be considered the best. Ten years from now, both these men will likely be in the talk for best tennis player of all time.
The rivalry between the two has been great as well. They have met in the both the French Open final and the Wimbledon final for the last three years. Each year, Federer seems like the only hope of stopping Nadal’s clay domination, and Nadal the only hope of stopping Federer’s grass domination. Though this year’s French Open final may have been a disappointment because of Nadal’s straight-set win, I think it just shows how much better Nadal is getting. Last year’s 5-set Wimbledon final was one of the best tennis matches I have ever seen; it is right up there with the 2002 Sampras-Agassi U.S. Open final.
Overall, Nadal actually has quite a significant lead over Federer, including a 4-2 win record over Federer in Grand Slams. However, if you break it down, Nadal has beaten Federer four times at the French Open, and Federer has beaten Nadal twice at Wimbledon. It really is a matter of surfaces because on hard courts, Federer has a slight 3-2 edge.
Nadal and Federer bring out the best in each other because no one else is at their level. Only when they play each other are they forced to dig down deeper than usual. Only when they play each other do they seem human. At last year’s Wimbledon final, there were two tiebreak sets. Going into the fifth set Nadal was up 3 sets to 2 and had just won the fourth 6 games to 2. Federer’s comeback really showed he had heart, not just amazing talent. Seeing such a high level of tennis being played is always a treat to watch and the drama of the rivalry just adds to it.
Come Sunday, watch the Wimbledon final. Even if you do not like tennis and do not understand it, watch it. You will see two of the greatest at their sport compete against their best competition. Like Ali vs. Frazier, and Agassi vs. Sampras, this is a historic rivalry you do not want to miss.