Long consigned to the history books, Roger Federer’s epic rivalries with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal can now be seen in full as the Swiss writes the final pages of his ATP Tour career.
A triumvirate known internationally as the Big Three, sporting legends have dominated tennis’s biggest stages, taking the game to an unprecedented level. The three most decorated players of all time have forged their careers in parallel, with 63 Grand Slam titles between them to date.
On his road to greatness, Federer raised his game in the presence of his two biggest rivals. He has faced Nadal, five years his junior, 40 times. He met Djokovic, six years his junior, 50 times.
ATPTour.com looks back at some key moments from Federer’s two biggest rivalries on tour.
Rivalry between Federer and Nadal
H2H: 24-16 Nadal
Grand Slam meetings: 10-4 Nadal
Grand Slam finals: 6-3 Nadal
Nitto ATP final encounters: 4-1 Federer
ATP Masters 1000 fixtures: 12-7 Nadal
ATP Masters 1000 Final: 7-5 Nadal
Meetings in the final: 14-10 Nadal
Some rivalries transcend their sport and it is impossible to envision modern tennis without Roger Federer’s rivalry with Rafael Nadal. At a time when he was the dominant force and the undisputed No. 1, Federer found himself facing a new rival with the breakthrough Nadal, ready since adolescence to leave an indelible mark on the circuit. In total, the two players met 40 times, taking tennis to new levels of excellence and popularity.
The impulsiveness of the Spaniard has always counterbalanced the natural talent of the Swiss, a clash of styles that produced an enticing spectacle. The speed of Nadal, a player as physically strong as he was tactically adept, contrasted with the magic hands of Federer, who was able to place the ball anywhere on the pitch.
Nadal was never afraid of the great Federer, whom he beat in an unforgettable first game. On the Miami courts in the 2004 season, before he turned 20, Rafa appeared to be a tactical enigma for Roger. With a looping southpaw forehand straight to Federer’s backhand over his shoulder, the Spaniard was ready to break the dominant force in the Tour. The Swiss, who was forced to improve his backhand to rival Nadal, responded by winning the 2005 Miami final in five sets on the same stage. He was victorious, but he also knew he had found a special enemy.
Nadal was ready to challenge Federer’s supremacy, and the signs of a great rivalry soon appeared. Before Federer could extend his mastery to clay, the Spaniard made sure he stamped his authority. Although the Swiss was the man who ended Nadal’s 81-game winning streak on red soil – the longest streak on a surface in the Open era – Nadal was still ferociously dominant during this part of the season. He would knock out Federer in three consecutive Roland Garros finals between 2006 and 2008.
“If one of us didn’t exist, the other would have been more successful,” admitted Nadal. “But it’s also true that the rivalry has benefited our international reach because it has made the game more appealing to people. When a player wins all the time, maybe that’s good for the player, but it’s not “It’s not necessarily good for the sport. Ultimately, what’s good for the sport has to be good for both of us.”
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, 2017 Indian Wells ” style=”width: 100%;” />
Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
After playing back-to-back Wimbledon finals, Nadal and Federer faced off against London again for the third season in a row in 2008. In one of the greatest matches in sports history, Nadal defeated the Switzerland, the Grand Gazon Slam champion for five years. The Spaniard’s five-set triumph confirmed that their rivalry would extend far beyond the bounds of clay. A race against time had begun, it was history in motion.
By the time history repeated itself at the 2009 Australian Open, Nadal’s first major trophy on hard courts, their rivalry was in full swing. “God, it kills me,” admitted a battered Roger at the awards ceremony.
While the world seemed resigned to the idea that Grand Slam finals between these two big names were a thing of the past – their last coming at Roland Garros in 2011, Nadal and Federer found themselves decisive at the 2017 Australian Open. There, with the weight of history on his shoulders, the Swiss secured a five-set victory for the ages thanks to a stinging backhand and a new racket, chosen in part to defend against the Spaniard’s forehand. that had plagued the Swiss for so many years. Unexpectedly, Federer had another major, after a five-year drought, and another epic chapter against his most iconic rival.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Australian Open 2017″ />
Photo credit: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
With impeccable professionalism, Federer has withstood the passage of years despite a meteoric career already under his belt, winning the last four finals he played against Nadal on the Tour. Far from resigning themselves to a changing of the guard, the competitiveness of the Swiss has prolonged this unique rivalry.
Their last two encounters couldn’t have been more appropriate. A victory for Nadal at Roland Garros and one for Federer at Wimbledon, the stages where these two legends had built the foundations of their respective legacies closed their joint masterpiece.
“I have always had the greatest respect for my friend Rafa as a person and a champion,” Federer said. “My rival for many years, I think we forced ourselves to be better players. I saw a lot of hardworking and inspiring players, but in my opinion you were the most influential of all. You helped me to become the player I am today.
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Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic
H2H: 27-23 Djokovic
Grand Slam fixtures: 11-6 Djokovic
Grand Slam finals: 4-1 Djokovic
Nitto ATP final encounters: 3-3
ATP Masters 1000 fixtures: 11-9 Djokovic
ATP Masters 1000 Final: 5-3 Djokovic
Meetings in the finals: 13-6 Djokovic
In another epic rivalry that brought as much pleasure as it did heartbreak, Federer has fought Djokovic more times than any other player on Tour, with a surprisingly intense 50 total matchups in their ATP Head2Head series. Djokovic is the only player to have beaten Federer in every major tournament and the Swiss is the only player to have done the same with Novak.
While Federer won his first four encounters, taking 10 straight sets from a young Djokovic in 2006-2007 at a time when he was the undisputed No.1, the Serb channeled the experience into one of the most intense sports. saw.
From that point on, they occupied a leading role in the fight to be the best on tour, only crossing paths when the biggest prizes were at stake. The next 46 clashes that made up their rivalry only included the semis, finals and Nitto ATP Finals, with Djokovic claiming a 27-23 advantage overall.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2016″ />
Photo credit: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Their two semi-finals at the US Open, where the two players pushed themselves to the limit in 2010 and 2011 and where Djokovic’s dizzying survival skills played to their fullest, will long remain etched in the memory of tennis fans. . In both five-set matches, on one of Roger’s happiest hunting grounds, where he had won five consecutive titles (2004-2008), Novak dug in his heels, saving match points in the spotlight of New York.
The 2011 season was particularly intense for both players. In one of the most astonishing seasons of all time, Djokovic extended his winning streak to 43 games, a historic streak that ended in the French Open semi-finals. There, with the opportunity to underscore his authority, Federer emerged victorious in one of their most epic encounters, raising a finger to the sky once victory was his, recalling that the No. not be the exclusive property of the Serb.
In a rivalry that has gone around the world, London has played a vital role. Djokovic won the Nitto ATP Finals trophy against Roger in 2012, 2014 and 2015, a sign of both players’ ability to stand out on the indoor courts, and the two would become the big modern dominant forces in the season-closing tournament. Roger’s eventual victory there, in the group stage in 2019, underscored his ability to take on the strongest players even as he approached his 40s.
The English capital is also home to the lawns of Wimbledon, where they produced unforgettable battles in the Tour’s most traditional event. When Federer won his epic semi-final in five sets in 2012 before reclaiming the No. 1 spot, Djokovic’s response was resounding. The Serbian is the only player to beat the Swiss in three Wimbledon finals (2014, 2015, 2019), conquering the wonderland that Roger had made his own.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, 2014 Wimbledon” />
Photo credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
The last of those clashes, in which he saved two match points on the return, and which went 12-12 in the deciding set, was one of the heights of their rivalry. With a ninth Wimbledon trophy within reach, defeat was arguably the toughest moment of the Swiss player’s career.
The biggest scenes served as the backdrop for their story together on the court. A total of 20 encounters at ATP Masters 1000 events, in which they faced off at each of the category’s events except Madrid, took their rivalry to every corner of the world. They played finals in Indian Wells, Shanghai, Canada, Rome and Cincinnati (four times).
“We played incredible matches,” Federer admitted. “Every time I go on court against him, the game is brutal. It’s exciting because it goes beyond the game, it transcends the sport.
“Novak plays perfectly on all surfaces. He always brings an extremely high level, to beat him you have to play your best. He moves wonderfully and I have great coordination so we are a good match for each other.
“Rivalries are important in sport. I think they help make it more popular. You always need someone you can have a good rivalry with. Fortunately, I was able to have one with Djokovic. We brought out the best in each other.