It is the scene where it all began, when, in 2005, Federer first came across the player that would thwart him on 14 occasions, including in five major finals. It is a rivalry that has gone from an annoyance to a delight for the Swiss, who confessed he did not always enjoy having a major challenger to his dominance.
“I think in the beginning, early on in my career when I became the World No. 1, I didn't really have that rival, and I was very happy about it,” said Federer. “I was just able to win, win, win, and dominate. That was quite incredible.
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“So in the beginning I guess I struggled to embrace the rivalry I had with Rafa. Only later on I was able to say this is actually quite cool. Sleeveless, pirate pants, you name it, long hair, lefty, spins, more with the flat shots and so forth and double-handed against one-handed [backhand], lefty against righty. I think it all kind of made sense, and I was able to embrace it then."
He continued, “I knew he was good [when we first played in Miami], but he surprised me to some degree that he was so consistent, so good on hard courts already so early. That really showed me he was probably going to become a World No. 1, Grand Slam champion; just a really special Spaniard who could not only play on clay but other surfaces as well. He clearly lived up to all the expectations. From then on it went; the rest we know.”
Indeed we do. The pair has gone on to play each other on 22 occasions, including in seven Grand Slam finals. They met most recently in the title match at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which Federer won in three sets. From Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park to Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, it is the big stages that they play on for the grandest prizes in tennis that makes the rivalry so special for both of them.
“It's special always to play against him and have these matches, for sure very important matches for both of us in our careers,” said Nadal. “So that makes our careers probably more special for both of us.
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“When I go on court against him I feel it's a really special match, especially because we play always really important matches. That makes the rivalry very, very special. I don't know if rivals in the rest of the history of tennis played a lot of the matches, as many matches as we played. I don't know how many matches McEnroe/Borg or Sampras/Agassi played, but we played a lot a lot times. So that makes the match really special always.”
Added Federer, “My No. 1 rival to me it seems is Rafa. Doesn't matter how many more times I'm going to be playing all the other guys. At the moment, we have that history and nobody can take it away from us.
“We've played in so many big finals against each other and were able to play over four or five tough sets and have always shown a lot respect towards each other. So clearly those are the matches I'm really looking forward to and hoping to play my best tennis.
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“I think we really get up for these kinds of matches against each other because we know the world is watching. We always have these incredible points and incredible matches against each other. The excitement is huge walking into the stadium. Those things make you nervous. So it's a good thing when that happens
Courtesy: Official Website