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Rivalry! 01/30/2009 - 3:01 PM


by Pete Bodo

Alright. Now that we've all stopped hyper-ventilating over the Rafael Nadal/Fernando Verdasco bull fight (personally, I had trouble telling the bull from the matador through long stretches of that one), let's just wipe our brows and take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to have yet another Nadal vs. Roger Federer Grand Slam final.

In fewer than three full years, we’ve been awarded six Grand Slam finals pitting Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal. By comparison, the last pair of players who had anything like a comparable rivalry, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, met in Grand Slam titles a grand total of just five times – and that’s in an 11-year span (compared to the mere 37 months during which Nadal and Federer have had at each other).

Any of you Nadal fans who aren't air-kissing your beloved Federer fans are ingrates; you Federer fans who aren't sacrificing furry little animals before Nike posters of Nadal are clueless. It's about time y'all realized that nothing in sports is better than a great rivalry, and a great rivalry can only exist between equals - or players close enough to being equal that the differences are academic, especially when they meet.

Rivals2 What? The outraged Federer fan might say. Roger is 24 hours from equalling Pete Sampras's Grand Slam singles title record. How dare you make that comparison! I'll tell you how: Nadal is 12-6 vs. Federer, 5-2 in Grand Slam play. It's a fact, get used to it. It underscores the validity of the hall of fame quote Mats Wilander uttered when he told me, at the height of the "Wilanders" controversy, "It's weird that Roger may be the greatest player ever, but that there's one guy in his own time who he can't beat."

On Sunday, Federer gets another chance to chip away at the inconvenient truth of the record.

So what we've seen created, in just over three years, is an all-surface, all-continent battle between perhaps the greatest player who ever lived and someone who might have been - fairly -  called a "provincial" player until it turned out he wasn't. The speed at which Nadal morphed from upstart into understudy into nemesis was remarkable. And while it may be irritating to TMF's fans, and the source of serious complications in Federer's life, Nadal's maturation into an all-around player has accomplished some things that no number of Grand Slam titles (not 15, not 22, not 38) could really do - heighten the awareness and appreciation of his abilities, add a measure of heft (the kind that can only come from one source - a guy you don't own) to his reputation, and provide him with a unique, personal yardstick by which to measure - and demonstrate - his worth.

We think of great rivalries as consisting of two components: Bird and Johnson, Sampras and Agassi, Namath and Unitas. The truth is that a great rivalry is a unitary thing, organically produced by two individuals. It exists independent of the individuals, even though it could not exist without the principals. A rivalry is an entity as well as a state-of-being; great rivals are Siamese twins, each tries to beat the other's brains out, but he's sustained by the same hot blood and leaves his counterpart showered in equal glory. Pete Sampras, it turns out, was right - we have proof of it right before our eyes: Nothing, but nothing, is as good for tennis as a great rivalry.

And there's more. I think we can all agree that we've got perhaps the greatest player of all time playing against perhaps the greatest clay-court player of all-time (an item that seems to be traveling southward on Nadal's resume, as in: Other Interests and Hobbies: Greatest Clay-Court Player of All-Time). We all love Andre, but Nadal has shown us what the Sampras-Agassi rivalry might have been, had Agassi's attention span in tennis been more consistent. If anything, Federer and Nadal are on track to be the next. . . Chris (Evert) and Martina (Navratilova).

Rivals In fact, some of the the parallels are striking, in a trans-gender kind of way: you have the mercurial "talent" pitted against the worker; the artist with the one-handed backhand matched with the bludgeoning double-fister; the slashing, attacking stylist dug in against the dogged, recalcitrant defender; the unsophisticated, un-intellectual athlete squaring off against the world citizen (oh, how often, upon hearing Martina air some vaguely political grievance, have I rolled my eyes, murmuring, . . Oh, please, Martina. Spare me.Thank God the comparison only goes so far. . .)

If they keep rolling down this path, can the day be far off when Federer and Nadal share a bagel (as Chris and Martina once did) while they wait to play yet another Grand Slam final?

I'm going to enjoy these finals - pass the lox.

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Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 06:51 PM


:-( I agree it will be all Nadal if his legs aren't tired.

Posted by tennisfan65 01/30/2009 at 06:53 PM

Octennis wrote:

There are so many reasons why Nadal should win on Sunday. He has not lost to Fed in over a year. He holds the number 1 ranking. He has almost 70% winning percentage against Fed lifetime. His confidence against Fed is very high. I think this match is going to be another dissapointment for federer just like Wimbledon was last year. Go RAFA!


These are all valid arguments, and Rafa certainly can win. But there is at least one reason why Roger should win: he's simply the better player on this surface. Keep in mind this as well: Verdasco's best was almost good enough to beat Rafa; Federer's best will most definitely be good enough, so it's still on him.

To be honest, I'd rather watch a good match without a guarantee that Roger will win, than a lousy one where Roger wins in straight sets. But I don't see this one being an epic 5-setter.

Posted by Carrie 01/30/2009 at 06:55 PM

Did want to say that I also enjoyed Andrew's, Grant's and jan's postings.

I do think that being a fan of a player can be a very personal connection. It doesn’t always have to go with player x does this stroke this way or player has this many titles. Of course- watching them play is a huge part of it but there can’t be a matrix for why a player is or is not worthy of having fans. I love the fluidity of Roger’s strokes, how he makes it look so easy and under that sometimes passive exterior there is a real fire (that you can see). On the flip side- I love watching Rafa’s fight, seeing him turn defense to offense with some of his incredible gets, and that he has a real desire to improve and is not satisfied. I can appreciate that he does not have traditional strokes. And I do love his incredible defense- I was born in Pittsburgh (go Steelers!) so I am predisposed to loving defense. Being a fan of one player versus another does not make someone inherently better. There can be different things that make fans connect to players.

We don’t have to always love the player with the prettiest strokes, or the most impressive defense, or the best serving, or the sweetest volleys, or the most gumption. But different aspects appeal to different people- and that is one thing that makes this sport so great. To use a bad analogy- different people like different types of music. That doesn’t mean someone is wrong for being a fan of rap, country, post-punk, jazz, etc. There are just different aspects that appeal to people.

Posted by jb (Go Smiley Fed!!) 01/30/2009 at 06:56 PM

Good heavens Pete - spurred up the ole GOAT with this one! And I of course, will have to weigh in.

I for one am ridiculously psyched to be watching tennis in these times. As I've been saying for years, through all the 'Fed's a flash in the pan’, ‘Rafa's the 'true' #1’, ‘Rafa's a dirt baller’, “Fed's got no passion for the game’ flame wars, we are incredibly privileged to be watching these guys play and we should enjoy it. Rafa has forced Fed to improve his game, Fed’s held up a standard that Rafa and the rest of the tour are clamoring to overtake.

Grant, my biggest fear is that 1 of these 2 spectacular athletes will get hurt, like, heart stopping, career ending hurt. Didn't ANYONE else feel that cold shiver of 'oh no it’s starting' last year when Rafa and Fed both went out in Paris? Fed's back, eesh! rafa's knees, crap! Either of those injuries could have seriously affected their ability to continue to play.

I just wish that the fans of both would stop being brats and hurling spitballs, but what the will be kids.

As for Sunday nite - its game on, and while I’m totally rooting for a Fed win, I’m also hoping we get a great match. (Though I'll settle for a Rafa beat-down, and am fully aware that I may get a Fed one instead!) Either way, 1 man will be taking a huge step, and dang it, I'm going to see and enjoy if it kills me!

Andrew lol - the lift on the jet! I forgot about that, talk about inflation!

Mark - 'tis sad isn’t it? My office thinks I’m certifiable....

Posted by Crazy-for-Rog 01/30/2009 at 06:57 PM

Rosangel ... I think you misinterpret my post. I am talking about who suffered the most at the hands of the other -therefore, whose legacy is tarnished by virtue of the presence of the other player. Not about who has won more while in the era of the other. I get that Nadal grew up in Fed's era. I totally get that. I'm simply saying that, Nadal, because of his 12-6 H2H record and 5-2 grand slam record over Fed, has hurt Fed more, much more than Fed has hurt him. I don't think Fed can stop him from achieving much more, not when he is 27 and getting older. But Nadal is still in his prime, and he will continue to prevent Fed from extending his legacy, and possibly, even prevent him from breaking the Sampras record.

Posted by Octennis 01/30/2009 at 06:59 PM

How is this comment a fair point of view not biased toward federer?

Tennisfan65 says:
"I can see him accomplishing more in terms of sheer numbers of majors (though this is unlikely), but I don't see that Rafa will ever be a better player than Roger."

Am i wrong here or did he just say that Rafa could have more slams but still not be as good of a player as Roger? That doesnt even make sense. If Rafa has more slams than isnt that the measuring stick of who is a better player? If Rafa has a winning percentage against Federer isnt that also a measuring stick of who is a better player?

What happened to logic?

Posted by jb (Go Smiley Fed!!) 01/30/2009 at 07:03 PM

oh and one last question given that this is a Rivalry with a capital R... Who in their right mind thinks that this sunday 'resolves' anything but who was the better player on the day?

Whoever loses, you know they'll just pick themselves up and move on to the next tourney, where they'll do their best to get back to center court, facing the guy who beat them in the Oz final. And it'll be game on.

Is it time for tennis yet?!

Posted by federerfan 01/30/2009 at 07:11 PM

"In any event, my point (which is based solely on statistics) still stands. Nadal went through Federer to win 5 of 5 Slams, Federer went through Nadal to win 2 of 13 Slams. It's pretty simple."

It is simple, so what?

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 07:17 PM

Carrie - however in tennis it's all about the slam count. Aesthetics are secondary.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 07:20 PM

Octennis - FedTrolls don't care about logic. They will spin the numbers in favor of "Federer is the GOAT" despite basic things like slam count, H2H winning %. However Nadal DOES have to win more slams, otherwise it's academic.

Posted by tina 01/30/2009 at 07:20 PM

With all the what-ifs in tennis, as in life, I often wonder what this conversation would be like had Agassi not skipped AO and Wimbledon for years.

As for Martina and politics - Pete, had you been there when millions marched on Washington, and heard Martina speak so powerfully, you might not roll your eyes. There wasn't a dry eye on the Mall. Some athletes simply transcend sport. And as for her tennis career, that wasn't too shabby, either.

I fear going way OT, so I'm signing off - and I'm truly exhausted now, having woken up at 3.30 for the riveting Nadal/Verdasco semi. Or maybe I'm just sleepy now because I'm the rare person who would have rather had a surprise Slam winner, and neither Fed nor Nadal, again...

Posted by mcakron 01/30/2009 at 07:20 PM

Ku -- yep, totally agree. Plus, the standards/criteria always seem to shift depending on whose poster one has on their wall.

Anyway, as the article posits, let's just be grateful we have one guy (Fed) who's already in the discussion and another guy (Rafa) who's inching his way toward it. And, oh yeah, they play in a GS final on Sunday.

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 07:23 PM

I will be suffering dozens of little heart attacks on Sunday...

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 07:24 PM

Oh god, can we keep politics out of tennis? I suffer enough of it everywhere else(even work), please gods no!!!

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 07:24 PM


He did pick Rafa :-)

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 07:25 PM

well, sort of.

Posted by Andrea 01/30/2009 at 07:27 PM

yeah well...after roger gets #14 on sunday, we can all put our feet up and wait for nadal to match that.

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 07:27 PM

jb, I felt that shiver.

My only wish for this year was that they remain healthy, everything else will come.

Posted by tennisfan65 01/30/2009 at 07:30 PM

Octennis wrote:

How is this comment a fair point of view not biased toward federer?

Tennisfan65 says:
"I can see him accomplishing more in terms of sheer numbers of majors (though this is unlikely), but I don't see that Rafa will ever be a better player than Roger."

Am i wrong here or did he just say that Rafa could have more slams but still not be as good of a player as Roger? That doesnt even make sense. If Rafa has more slams than isnt that the measuring stick of who is a better player? If Rafa has a winning percentage against Federer isnt that also a measuring stick of who is a better player?

What happened to logic?


If your criterion for greatness is based simply on number of slams/titles, then we shouldn't be having any discussions about GOATs, in any sport. In other words, Sampras is the GOAT, period. And if/when Roger surpasses him, he'll be the GOAT, and so forth. This comparison may miss the mark if you don't follow American football, but according to this logic Brett Favre is the best quarterback of all time because he has most MVPs, most passing yards, most touchdowns and most wins. And Bill Russell is the best basketball player because he's won the most championships. I'm sure you'd get more than decent share of arguments against both statements above.

I don't want to get into protracted arguments about GOATs since I was only responding to a rather simplistic view of how head-to-head numbers tell the whole story between Rafa and Roger. I'll just paraphrase what someone once said when comparing Pete and Roger: Pete could hit most shots better than his peers, while Roger could hit shots we didn't even know existed. So Rafa, who's an excellent human being as well, can do many things much better than his peers. I often marvel at his running cross-court backhands from the dead run, his accurate forehands, and his impenetrable mental stamina. And while the whole of his game approaches Roger's in terms of efficiency and quality, the artistry and beauty of their games are incomparable. So yes, as a whole package, I don't think Rafa will ever be a better player than Roger, even though he may play better like last year.

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 07:32 PM


Grant - "I guess I didn't sign on as a fan because of some need to cheer for records being broken and for my guy being the BESTEREST EVERS but instead because I like Fed and enjoy watching him play :/"

Andrew - "Like Grant, I haven't followed Federer's matches because I think he's the Bestest Evah, I follow them because I enjoy watching Federer play tennis more than I have any other player. Nadal might yet win a calendar GS, or 18 GS titles. If he does, I'll be up there with his fans cheering."

jan - I am in complete agreement with these sentiments and cannot express it any better but only to add I feel like I "inhale tennis" when I watch Roger play. I've watched tennis for many years and the last 5 years have been extraordinary for me. I hope it continues for Roger and for us.


nothing more to add to these guys. word

Posted by Bash 01/30/2009 at 07:34 PM

It's a rivalry when you know fans of either camp can't agree on one thing. It's amazing too how the fans mirror the attitudes and personalities of their star player.

Posted by Octennis 01/30/2009 at 07:35 PM

If Fed wins this sunday he will have a 36.8% H2H winning percentage against Nadal. If Fed loses he will have a 31.5% winning percentage. Either way he still has a losing percentage. How can the GOAT have such a record against someone in his prime? I though he was the GOAT?

Posted by tennisfan65 01/30/2009 at 07:35 PM

When asked how anyone could be considered better than Rafa, if he’s the world number 1, Toni Nadal responded by saying:

"There is a difference between who is better and who knows more.

Better now is Rafael, he is No. 1 in the ranking. But who has the best game? Federer."

The whole article:,9171,1870373-1,00.html

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 07:39 PM

Octennis - keep up the shattering Spartan logic, destroy tardism!

Posted by fedfan70 01/30/2009 at 07:40 PM

if not for rafa fed would have alrady broke pete's record...
and would have won many slams.... that would have been very boring. rafa is a great sportsman/guy, but his tennis is "ugly"
to watch

Posted by Mike 01/30/2009 at 07:41 PM

Love it when Fed and Rafa KADs get fed up and dismiss each other as 'trolls', when most appear just as blindly biased for their fave as the target of their aggression. Opinions are just that ... no need for name calling.

Personally, I'm happy as a clam to see yet another Fed and Rafa show down ... won't relax for a minute, but still looking forward to it with great anticipation. May the best man (on Sunday) win. ;)

Posted by tennis is !!!! 01/30/2009 at 07:42 PM

How can anyone compare Nadal's Grand Slam success to Federer's?? They have met at three Wimbledon Final's (Fed 2-1). Three French Open Finals (Nadal 3-0). Big Deal...No threat. Nadal 5 Gram Slams, Fed 13 Grand Slams. Where is the (obviously Media) Hype?? We are including all the clay Master Series?? Not valid. Fed was there for the finals to make these "statistics"...But there is a Big Elephant in the room Fans..Don't by into this "rivalry"...Nadal isn't in the rest of Fed's 14 Masters Series Finals Head to Head because He Wasn't there!! This is becoming manipulated again by the media. Federer Owns his Successes..This is not Nadal owning him at all....Fed win's convincingly his 14th on Sunday and hopefully opens your eyes for Real.

Posted by Octennis 01/30/2009 at 07:47 PM

I do believe that Sampras is the GOAT right now. And i have no illusions about the fact that Federer will soon be the GOAT. My point is that Nadal could someday become the GOAT and in so doing will be considered a better player than Roger. However all Fed fans be consoled by the fact that your player is going to be the GOAT soon and there isnt anything that can take that away from him anytime soon. NADAL does however have a great opportunity to become one of the greats and time will tell if he can overtake Fed (which will be a daunting task of atleast 9+ more majors)

The discussion about brett favre being the GOAT quarterback was silly. Passing yards, touchdowns, games won are all fine statistics. In football ones greatness is measured in superbowl rings as well as those other stats. Brett Favre is not the GOAT.

Posted by Red⁺ = Legacy Solidified 01/30/2009 at 07:47 PM

"When asked how anyone could be considered better than Rafa, if he’s the world number 1, Toni Nadal responded by saying:
"There is a difference between who is better and who knows more.
Better now is Rafael, he is No. 1 in the ranking. But who has the best game? Federer."

Dear tio toni,
Will you marry me?

Posted by Grant 01/30/2009 at 07:50 PM

"If Fed wins this sunday he will have a 36.8% H2H winning percentage against Nadal. If Fed loses he will have a 31.5% winning percentage. Either way he still has a losing percentage. How can the GOAT have such a record against someone in his prime? I though he was the GOAT?"

Durr golly gee if only there were some sort of discussion of this issue on this site today, maybe even above you oh well guess not.

*beats head against wall*

Posted by Christine S. 01/30/2009 at 07:50 PM

Thanks for the entry, Pete. You are so right in comparing Roger/Rafa to Chris/Martina. I was a huge fan of Chris but I loved their rivalry. Tennis does need good rivalries. Roger and Rafa are close to Chris and Martina, but they still have the best sport rivalry of all time. They played on all surfaces, more times in GS finals, 18 of 20 won by one of them at a strech and more overall, 80 times. Also roger and rafa are coming close to chris/martina in that no one was close to them, you expected them to be in all the finals. Rog/Rafa aren't there yet, but now that Rafa is in a hard court final it's getting better.

What really makes a good rivalry is that you enjoy both sides and it produces great tennis and emotion and you look forward to seeing them play because you know it will be great. Roger and Rafa just like Chris/Martina they are both assured of their place in history individually and a great rivalry just makes what they are and what they have accomplished even more special. Here is to many more to come!

Posted by HK 01/30/2009 at 07:51 PM

Lots of passionate traffic here after a great post from Pete. The reference to the Martina-Chris rivalry echoed my sentiments too quite well. Also, the post from Ian Jake comparing the Fed-Rafa rivalry to the Martina-Chris rivalry in terms of the physicality and the games was very well put. Thought I would add my thoughts on the eve of this mouth watering final.

I don't quite see it like a number of posters here seem to do that Fed has to win this to somehow protect his legacy. The whole debate about the GOAT is extremely subjective and fundamentally unresolvable anyway. And Federer has many records now to his name that can legitimately be used to claim that he is one of the greatest of all time. And Rafa is well on his way there as well.

I think Rosangel makes a very good point about the 5 year difference between these guys and this brings to mind something I have been thinking about a lot recently. In tennis, it almost seems like a 5 year difference is like a mini-generation and 10 years is like a generation. So, Sampras and Federer are from different generations. But, I look at Federer and Nadal as being from different mini-generations. In the mid-to-late seventies, Borg/Connors were doing very well. Then they get challenged by Lendl/McEnroe roughly 5 years later with them being around that much younger. Then, you have the next mini-generation or wave in Becker/Edberg/Wilander. Now, Wilander of course matured early but burnt out early as well. Then roughly half a decade younger than these guys we have Sampras/Agassi/Courier. So, it always seems like the next wave of great players is roughly around 5 years younger. Curiously, the next wave after Sampras/Agassi was very weak. We have Kuerten/Rafter/Kafelnikov etc. It was not until Safin/Hewitt and finally Federer came along that we could truly say the torch had been passed. And we are basically seeing the passing of the torch from Federer to Nadal and possibly Djokovic/Murray.

I think this kind of progression has to do with the window within which a player has the best years of their career. When you look back at most of the greats, their absolute best years seem to be between around 23-26. You have maybe an year before and after for the upswing and the downslide.

So, with Federer and Nadal, I look at them as players from two different mini-generations. I feel Federer has already established his one-of-the-great credentials with what he did in 2005-2007. Nadal became number 2 in August 2005 and it took him a full three years to become number 1. And unlike in other eras, he was a historically extremely strong number 2. He never relinquished that ranking and kept getting closer. With the points he had, in most years he would easily have been number 1. To me, the fact that Federer held him off for three years and held the fort in two successive Wimbledon finals when he was in his prime has already secured his legacy. His loss in the final last year in the end was not entirely surprising either. If someone told you that there were two phenomenally talented players who were contesting the French and Wimbledon year after year, holding their turf, without telling you the names but just telling you that one was five years younger than the other. And if someone asked you who was going to break through on the other's turf first? Wouldn't you bet on the younger guy?

Now, with Nadal, he is fast establishing his one-of-the-greats credentials rapidly as well. It is now his time to enter the prime years of his career. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him win Sunday and it would definitely add to his credentials. But I just don't see them as diminishing Federer's. You have to look back at how up and down past great champion's performances were in their later 20s to appreciate how well Federer is actually doing. Nadal could well go on to break all records and end up with more trophies than Federer or Sampras. We will only know many years from now if that happens. In the meantime, either Federer or Nadal winning doesn't diminish either of their legacies for the moment.

The hiccup I mentioned earlier in the passing of the torch from Sampras/Agassi on down is quite a curious occurrence. It wasn't like Sampras and Agassi were winning everything. Sampras basically only won Wimbledon after the 1997 AO until the 2002 USO. It was just that a whole bunch of different guys were winning one or two slams each. I wonder if this was due in part to the vast differences in surfaces and the specialization that happened. Until they started slowing the grass a little at Wimbledon and using heavier balls, it was out of reach of a large group of clay courters. It now seems like the surfaces have become a little slower and maybe the string technology has gotten better and the confluence of all the factors has shifted the scale back to the way it was in the 70s and 80s where you have a few players doing well everywhere regardless of surface.

Posted by Mike 01/30/2009 at 07:52 PM

What would Mens Pro Tennis over the last 5 years look like with Fed and Rafa? ... can you imagine?

Posted by Mike 01/30/2009 at 07:55 PM

... make that 'without'. :P

HK makes a great post and I follow it with a gaff. >sigh<

Posted by sally 01/30/2009 at 07:57 PM

i love fedfan_2007. all your posts are spot on, even though i wish you were dead wrong.

Posted by tennisfan65 01/30/2009 at 08:02 PM

Octennis wrote:

I do believe that Sampras is the GOAT right now. And i have no illusions about the fact that Federer will soon be the GOAT. My point is that Nadal could someday become the GOAT and in so doing will be considered a better player than Roger. However all Fed fans be consoled by the fact that your player is going to be the GOAT soon and there isnt anything that can take that away from him anytime soon. NADAL does however have a great opportunity to become one of the greats and time will tell if he can overtake Fed (which will be a daunting task of atleast 9+ more majors).


It seems like you go strictly by numbers, and that's fine. So according to you Pete is the GOAT now, and Roger will be when he surpasses him in major title. I subscribe to the opinion that Roger is already the GOAT, even if he stays at 13 majors. To elaborate, just this once, in my opinion numbers tell the story only if they overwhelmingly favor one player. So two years ago, when Roger was at 9 majors, I wouldn't have argued that he was the GOAT (even though I thought it then just like I do now), because 9 is quite a bit short of 14. But as of right now, whether Roger stays at 13 or ends up with 16-17 (which we all know is possible), in my book he's the GOAT.

As to the rest of my post, I'm not sure why you are taking it so personally. I respect Rafa and enjoy watching him, yet I consider Roger the better player.

Posted by federerfan 01/30/2009 at 08:04 PM

i think hewitt is the GOAT, since he owned both fed and nadal when they were very young and afterwards he lost his h2h when he became old.
Come to think of Safin was definitely the GOAT, i have the picture o him with a goatee to prove it.

Posted by Grant 01/30/2009 at 08:05 PM

All right, I'm out for the weekend (and maybe even early next week, if it gets as stupid up in this place as I'm expecting).

To the cool Nadal fans (and you know who you are): enjoy the final, but hopefully not as much as I do :P

To the lame Fed and Nadal fans (and i suspect you do not know who you are): hope you have a power outage and miss it.

To fans of neither: oh man we must look petty and dumb.

Posted by rafadoc 01/30/2009 at 08:06 PM

Apparently, and, unfortunately, Pete's article has flown over peoples' heads at an alarming rate. Le sigh.

Posted by rafadoc 01/30/2009 at 08:07 PM

Grant...what you said! lol

Posted by Andrew 01/30/2009 at 08:12 PM

HK: superb post.

Posted by Matt Zemek 01/30/2009 at 08:12 PM

To move the ball forward on these classic water cooler sports debates, I submit to you a series of questions that merit extended contemplation and consideration. Think of this as the Roger-Rafa Rivalry Questionnaire:

1. What defines a classic, top-tier, best-of-the-best rivalry?

2. What is the rare element that separates merely good rivalries from the very best ones?

3. When considering the "impact upon a career" angle, does the impact need to be positive more than negative? Defined by presence more than absence? Prime year periods versus non-prime periods?

4. What shifts in surface-specific and overall records (if any) would make you re-calibrate your assessment of Roger-Rafa, whatever that assessment might currently be?

5. The greater achievement: Fed making 3 straight French finals while cleaning up on hardcourts, or Rafa cleaning up in France while steadily rising on hardcourts at a still-young 22?

6. The greater weakness: Fed getting his butt kicked by Rafa in Paris, or Rafa not making HC slam finals before this Aussie Open?

7. 2008 Wimbledon: Did it stand out more for Fed's fightback, or for Nadal's unreal resilience in the fifth set? For the rain that blunted Nadal's momentum, or for the light that affected both players at the end?

8. Rafa's brief injury scare in the fourth set of the 2007 Wimby final? Significant in connection to the outcome of that match, or not?

9. The 2008 French: How much should history judge "6-1, 6-3, 6-0" in favor of Rafa and against Fed?

10. The better stat: Fed's 10 straight slam finals or Rafa's 28-0 record at Roland Garros?

11. The better stat: Fed's 56-match hardcourt steak or Nadal's 81 on clay?

12. How much would a different outcome in Rome 2006 have affected your perception of these men?

13. Scheduling issues: this match, the 2008 US Open semis, the 2007 Wimby final. How much do they matter?

14. Compare: 2004 Roddick and Hewitt v. 2008-'09 Djokovic and Murray.

15. Which slams offer the truest tests? Which slams are more aberrational? Should they all be accorded the same weight?

16. The draws both men have slashed through on their paths to their combined 18 slam titles---discuss....

17. The best accomplishment of each player is?????????

18. The biggest hole/gap in each player's resume is??????????

19. What represents the height of professional tennis and, by extension, sport? The ability to win competitions (matches/tournaments), the maximizing of one's potential relative to one's ability, or the fullness and impressiveness with which one wins (otherwise known as STYLE POINTS/AESTHETICS)?

20. Outside of Grand Slam titles, the second most important measurement of an elite tennis career is????? (Be precise about this.)

Happy thinking. Let's see some very considered and nuanced statements/responses/essays on these debate questions, instead of the circular arguments and reflexive, knee-jerk arrows being slung around by some.

Posted by annabelle 01/30/2009 at 08:13 PM

the greatness of a player does not dwell on few opponents. u have to look at the overall picture. the sum of all matches and opponents. even laver said roger has accomplished more than him. sampras even mentioned that he never dominated the way roger does. being said, they admitted indirectly that roger is almost the GOAT. roger is not even done yet. he has more slams in his light frame.
rafa will have his time later. we have to wait to see if he will end more slams than roger and if he will surpass roger's consecutive 235 weeks as # 1.

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 08:17 PM

Interesting post HK.

Have you considered that Rafa started on tour when he was 15, and thus only a few years after Roger? Their relative time on tour is not that different, and Rafa's success came when he was much earlier, around 18, whereas Federer's around 22, but his first Wimbledon is only 2 years before Nadal's first FO.

It always seems odd to me that Nadal is considered to be a part of Murray-Djokovic's generation, when Djokovic's first slam comes in 2008 (fully 5 years after Federer's Wimbly, and 3 after Rafa's), and Murray is reaching his slam winning form in 2009.

Rafa doesn't really seem to fit into either mini-generation, to me.

Posted by 01/30/2009 at 08:17 PM


You calling someone else delusional is kind of ironic. Youre blinded by your apparent love for Nadal, i think its pretty obvious that you have very little objectivity on this matter.

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 08:18 PM

lol, Grant

Posted by Vie 01/30/2009 at 08:30 PM

HK, thanks for your analysis and insights.

Posted by CL 01/30/2009 at 08:36 PM

I'm beginning to think that I HATE the FedAl rivalry. At least aound here. If Grant has deserted the battlements, (I sort of see him as the John Cleese character in Holy Grail firing French epithets at those below and discoursing on how many miles the crow flies.), I think I will take a brief pause in the proceedings as well. Catch you all later.

Hope it is a great match. Hope more that Fed wins no matter what kind of match it is.

Posted by kiwibee 01/30/2009 at 08:39 PM

This is a bit off topic but I need to express my love for Hott Sauce. I was totally surprised by his hotness this morning when I turned on the

Go Roger!

Posted by Marksman 01/30/2009 at 08:41 PM

My goodness, I have watched more tennis matches than any of you probably have. Federer vs. Nadal 2009 Aussie Open scoreline will look like this, probably exactly like this: 5-7,6-4,6-3,6-2... Nadal. Nadal. Nadal. P.S. I am a much bigger Federer fan, but one of the few who does not have bias when it comes to watching a match just because of who I like more. It's clear that Rafa has surpassed Federer, anyone who does not agree has blinders over there eyes. [] Hopefully we get a grand final tho. Just don't think Fed has what it takes. Thoughts?

Posted by Syd 01/30/2009 at 08:41 PM

HK, chiming in to thank you for your analysis.

Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 08:46 PM

Marksman, thank you for your analysis.

Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 08:51 PM

Laver-Rosewall had the best tennis rivalry. 150 matches and counting!

Posted by Corrie 01/30/2009 at 08:52 PM

A little snippet for Fed fans:
Fed's hotel was evacuated yesterday evening in a massive power failure for central Melbourne due to 45 degree temps. Fed was locked out of his room and had to go to Melbourne Park.

OT I know, but yesterday was an horrendous day for trying to build up for a final. Rafa was in the best place, winning a match.

Posted by Bismarck 01/30/2009 at 08:53 PM

it is a bit misleading to use the date of "turned pro" for anything.
nadal: (atp tour level)
2002 - 1(!) tournament (2 matches).
2003 - 11 tournaments (25 matches).
2004 - 18 tournaments.

1998 - 3 tournaments (5 matches).
1999 - 13 tournaments (30 matches).
2000 - 28 tournaments.

they are very much 4 years apart in relative time on the tour.

Posted by Syd 01/30/2009 at 08:54 PM

Corrie, thanks. Not such a good omen. :(

Posted by just a note 01/30/2009 at 08:54 PM

Sher @3:35p - loved the distinction you made!;) And @3:42p - how "on point" are you! For me, your posts succinctly clarify the topic under discussion.

Carrie @6:55p - Thanks for this. In my mind, I often see tennis as dance or music with each player having different rhythms. And everyone has their own preference(s)!;)

HK @7:51p - I'm now back in class and this is a great treatise. (I loved being in school!;)).
Matt Z@8:12p - And now THE TEST. I'm not going to pass this test b/c --- well just because. But you are brilliant and I loved reading every question.

Thank you all for such a wonderful tennis day!!


Posted by 01/30/2009 at 08:58 PM

Grant: thank you. I just wish fed fans weren't so threatened by rafa. Federer is so outrageously good and no matter what happens in the years to come against nadal will change that. But it would be nice if some of you could acknowlege how good rafa is. He's won more majors than fed by age 22 and I don't think he's close to his peak yet. Isn't that something to celebrate? As a tennis lover it is to me. It's a beautiful rivalry. Even Fed cherishes it and says so whenever he can. We should all be looking forward to a great match sunday. Either Rafa wins his first hc major (fab) or Roger matches Pete's record (fab). It's a win-win in my book.

Pete, loved the piece except characterizing rafa as "un-sophisticated and un-intellectual", seems a little harsh and he is young. But he is always learning from others, take for instance, his foundation, which was inspired in part by talks with Fed.

Posted by Annie 01/30/2009 at 08:59 PM

oh geez, Rafa's easter egg outfit matches the pic of Martina and Chris!

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 09:02 PM

Corrie, thanks for the info! Where did you find this out?

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 09:04 PM

Thanks Bismarck, I did not know those numbers. That does poke a rather large hole in my theory!

Posted by Sher 01/30/2009 at 09:11 PM

Of course, someone on has some story about the power outage

Apparently, as translated by google:

"Federer had only a relatively small problem: Due to a power outage, he remained stuck in the elevator and arrived late for training." (last sentence)

Yuck. I keep remembering that article about getting stuck in elevators that Jackie posted. Plus did anyone ever expand on JMDP's elevator time? Didn't he gets stuck in one this AO as well? What is it with Melbourne...

Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 09:12 PM


Thank you for your analysis. I really mean it this time. I think the age differential favors Rafa. My father told me many times that in sports--"youth must be served."

Posted by FedFan_2007 01/30/2009 at 09:18 PM

If we go by Fed's example, he reached his absolute peak at age 24(August 2005-August 2006). That means Rafa is still 1.5 years away from the start of his true peak.

Posted by Bismarck 01/30/2009 at 09:20 PM

you´re welcome, Sher.
nole btw:
2004 - 3 tournies.
2005 - 11 tournies.
2006 - 20 tournies.

so he´s two years "younger" than nadal when it comes to time on the tour.

Posted by Annie 01/30/2009 at 09:21 PM

CL: loved your 8:36 post, and sadly, have to agree with you. It's too stressful for my delicate constitution. I've got more important things to stress about with a teenage daughter at home, believe me.

Marksman: not sure i buy the two footer theory. From what i've gandered at during certain matches and in certain photos I don't think there's anything Dirk Diggler happening.

Posted by 01/30/2009 at 09:26 PM

"Laver-Rosewall had the best tennis rivalry. 150 matches and counting!"
Just to clinch the argument--plus the greatest match of all-time.

Posted by Lleytsie (Rafael for OZ) 01/30/2009 at 09:28 PM

hi bissy - just dropping in to say Hi mate

what do you make out of tonight (marat's baby sister?) and tomm ?

Posted by carlos 01/30/2009 at 09:30 PM

The H2H for Navratilova versus Seles is 7-10, but few would argue that Seles achieved more than Navratilova did. So H2H is not a strong evidence at all if the two players have some difference in age.

Posted by Tigress (Lucky 13) 01/30/2009 at 09:30 PM

I've analyzed many times why Federer will win this 'Epic' Final. And it will indeed be Epic and Historic, even if it's a straight sets beatdown. But whatever happens, these two are so beyond everyone else today. The 'Big 4' talk has shriveled to the inaudibility that it should be. Mens' tennis today is about Roger and Rafa. Period. I fully expect Rafa and Roger to split all the G.S. titles between themselves in 2009. And Rafa has now proven himself as a great player on all surfaces. The SF win over a game Verdasco ended all doubts forever. I now think Rafa will win multiple hardcourt Grand Slams in his career. But not this weekend. Not quite yet. Not this year. Maybe not next year. But he will win them.

Posted by Christopher 01/30/2009 at 09:32 PM

Well, Steve Tignor just picked Nadal in the final. That will make some Fed fans very happy :)

Posted by Lleytsie (Rafael for OZ) 01/30/2009 at 09:33 PM

what does

pass the lox mean ?

whats lox ?

Posted by colette 01/30/2009 at 09:34 PM

I am more of a Fed fan but I don't look at either one of them as the GOAT. In fact, it seems that the commentator's are the one making the constant comparison that Federer is "one behind the all-time great Sampras" and Nadal is his rival in trying to accomplish that. Fed himself says he doesn't consider himself the GOAT if he gets it; giving that credit to Laver and others who helped make tennis what it is today. If anything, Bodo is the one fueling the fire between the fans of these 2 wonderful players simply for his own amusement?

Posted by E. Thomas 01/30/2009 at 09:36 PM

Some players peak earlier in their careers, while some peak later. I don't think it is objective to say that everyone's peak is around 23 or 26.

Take a look at Borg, then Wilander. Nadal fans should be alarmed how both of them have quite some resemblence to Rafa, and be careful arguing that his prime is yet to come.

Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 09:43 PM

Caption for the top photo--"Hmm, you may be right, but who do you have? I've got Greg Norman."

Posted by pb 01/30/2009 at 09:53 PM

Their difference in style, age and personalities no doubt makes this rivalry intriguing on many levels, but I thought in 2008, rivalry between Federer-Murray or Nadal-Djokovic was far more interesting on court.

For a long time Federer made it look so easy and efficient, his dominance unmistakable. Yet, Federer does not have a winning record against Nadal or against Murray for that matter. I may be wrong, but to me it seems like on several occasions Federer has lost close points due to losing his patience rather than anything else. Nadal could well be the greatest defensive player ever.

Anyway, terrific to have such great players in our times.

Posted by TennisRone 1000 01/30/2009 at 10:09 PM

Matty Z.....tremendous group of very salient questions/comments...with that semi-tone of an almost rhetorical question. Amazing that no one appears to be running with any....

I'll go with Pete B.'s approach on this. My Lord we are lucky. How is it possible in the 5 years we've enjoyed this battle that this is the first HC GS final they've had the pleasure of playing? They are both Top Tier GOATs....right now. This is Emerson/Laver....McEnroe/Borg. Drink it in VERY DEEP. NO sport enjoys this anymore. There are team rivalries...but rarely are the same players a part of it for more than 2-3 consecutive years.

Plus........there are no signs that this battle will stop any time soon. Both are healthy....only Rafa has experienced a serious injury in his career, and he pretty much did the right thing and ultimately gave it time to heal.

I will be rooting intensely for Rog. I believe he can win. But I've seen too much to think it will just be a walkover.

ANother thing. They've taken EACH OTHER to new levels....not interrupted each other's legacies. Heck....they both can potentially eclipss Sampras.....who'd have EVER thought that was even a possibility? Nadal can easily win the next 5 FO's. Why not?


Posted by Marian aka Mr. Sparkles 01/30/2009 at 10:11 PM

Tigress, agree with your 9:30 PM and as I've mentioned before, there is one more reason why Roger might win:

Never underestimate the heart of a champion!

Roger is the one wounded and has something to defend, Rafa is just ascending :_

Vamos Rafaelito!!!

Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 10:13 PM

Evert and Navratilova would have had far fewer slams if the generation behind them--Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger--had not checked out early.

Posted by Joe 01/30/2009 at 10:19 PM

The key of match Federer-Nadal is how Nadal is going to be phy sically after the "marathon match". If he is feeling good , he is going to win this GS, although Fede have resting one more day

Posted by TennisRone 1000 01/30/2009 at 10:24 PM

Ross......Seles too would have had more and Graf less had that insane man not changed the fate women's tennis history....

Posted by ndk 01/30/2009 at 10:33 PM

"Federer hasn't always had to deal with Nadal to get his GS titles (in fact, twice out of 13), but Nadal has always had to go through Federer (5 out of 5).Because of their different surface strengths, I've tended to think of the Nadal-Federer rivalry as fairly unbalanced. Because of the way the stats work, I don't think it's unfair to ask the question - who validates the other's GS record more? Federer got to a number of finals that Nadal didn't, and won some before he was even seriously on the scene."

Since Nadal won his first major at the French in 2005 and was "seriously on the scene," he has played in 6 GS finals and won 4. Federer has played in 13 GS finals and won 9 titles. Nadal has had to go through Federer, because Roger is a better all-surface player and has made it to more finals. Regarding who validates the other's record more, Rafa and Roger were BOTH in the 128 player field on opposite sides of the draw- the way I see it, the question of whether Fed had to play Rafa to win a GS is irrelevant...

Having said that, I think Rafa is an incredible athlete and great champion..

Posted by Tim (Starbucks Happy Pot Stirrer) 01/30/2009 at 10:49 PM

the tennis gods are going to smile on Roger on Sunday, an all court, anything goes champion who defeats the Wall, and steps into immortality, beautiful tennis reigns supreme over tenacity and legs...

Posted by alias 01/30/2009 at 10:55 PM

I just gotta say something. As a teenage tennis addict, here's my two cents.

Firstly, sometimes, when fans are so biased it can lead to one sided opinions on everything. I will start by saying that I'm I die-hard Federer fan. I'll tell you why:

He is one of the most beautiful people to watch play anything. When you're watching him, he looks as if he's flying. It's ridiculous how anyone can look so good while playing such an intense sport.

Now, I'll tell you a secret. In 2005, when I was young, I had the biggest crush on Nadal. These days, not so much. The fact is, I don't enjoy watching him play. He sweats so much and the noise he makes when he hits any ball and the wedgie digging are both terribly off putting. I also believe that his humilty is somewhat false. But that's just my opinion. That doesn't mean I don't believe he's a beast on clay.

It's also in important to realize that without the wins Nadal has over Federer on clay, their head to head would be 5 - 1, in favor of Federer. But since Nadal is ridiculous on clay...

I also believe that Federer is extremely self-confident. But when you've won so much, it's acceptable. As for this famed GOAT debate -- people need to chill out. Although I love RF, I don't think he's the GOAT yet. Can't people just wait and see how the next couple of years play out?

I don't think Nadal is the GOAT either. Honestly, he's one of the best, but not the GOAT. Not because of the number of GS titles and such, but because I don't think he has the ability to dominate year in year out, all day, every day for years like Pete and Roger do. I think Federer made it look to easy.

Last thing: as for this rivalry and that "epic" Wimbledon Final...
Even if Federer had won it, I still wouldn't label it with that. People in the tennis world are extremely quick to label. I just wish people would wait until the players retire from the sport to label them. Their rivalry is interesting, but I hate it. That's just my biased opinion though. :P

Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 11:02 PM


Posted by Ross 01/30/2009 at 11:04 PM

Joe--but everybody knows that, they forget (or never knew) about Tracy and Andrea.

Posted by tina 01/30/2009 at 11:12 PM

My eyes must be getting even more bleary - i could swear I just saw the words "two foot weener" on here. Having learned this morning that Fernando Verdasco drives around Madrid in a yellow Lamborghini, I'm simply going to pretend the words "two foot weener" appeared in a sentence referring to Nando.

Don't know how I'm going to make it for the Ladies' final. The alarm is set, the heart is willing, but I'll probably fall back asleep during the warm-up and wake up at the end.

I could use a visit from Hingis.

Posted by Tim (Starbucks Happy Pot Stirrer) 01/30/2009 at 11:13 PM

how the hail can anyone call Nadal the GOAT??? he's won 5 Slams, thats less the Becker, Agassi, Lendl, Sampras, Federer, Edberg, Wilander, Emerson, laver and more...

he was ONE Slam not in Paris, on top of it... if Nadal is the GOAT, what is Federer? the SuperKaligragiliskticexpialidiciousGOAT?

I cant believe these conversations still exist on this site...

Posted by rg.nadal (Vamos RAfa!) 01/30/2009 at 11:18 PM

Hey all.
All i ask is Rafa recovers physically for the match. Wonder how much practice he can sneak in now.

Posted by Tim (Starbucks Happy Pot Stirrer) 01/30/2009 at 11:19 PM

as a Fed fan, I have to believe that as Ive had nothin to do with all the wins over the years, any nervousness will have no impact over this result...Fed is a genius, a champion, a wholly unique player who's clearly one of a kind..he'doens't neeed anyone's help to beat Nadal on Sunday for No. 14...whatever is inside of him is enough, he's nothing to prove, as Roddick said, it's all adding to legend status...

alias you may be young, but your post speaks volumes, ive always felt the same way, Federer is just beyond words, I will always prefer beauty and sensibility over tenacity and brute force..

Posted by Sam 01/30/2009 at 11:20 PM

"People in the tennis world are extremely quick to label. I just wish people would wait until the players retire from the sport to label them. "

alias: It doesn't just apply to tennis - this seems to happen in other sports as well ...

Posted by tina 01/30/2009 at 11:25 PM

gary - the Ladies' final is over 4 hours from now. I might even get a kip in. Yeah, that's the ticket. The GOAT discussion is a great sleep-inducer......

Posted by Marian aka Mr. Sparkles 01/30/2009 at 11:29 PM

Tim, you seem more of a KAD then a fan lol

I wonder if you ever played tennis ( I doubt it though).

Just because Federer moves easier and Rafa is more tenacious, doesn't imply the later has no talent.

Take one simple fact: No one and I mean no one can place the ball more precise from one corner to another, not even Fedex.

Posted by alias 01/30/2009 at 11:34 PM

Not do, I meant did. Or maybe in Fed's case, do. :P

Posted by Liz (for Roger who is 1/3 of the way to a "Roger Slam") 01/30/2009 at 11:39 PM

In a perfect world, I would like to see Fed come out against Rafa like he did in the YEC match of 2006.

Anyone remember their SF there? Fed came out smoking and bested Rafa in two gloriously entertaining sets. The last shot was worth the price of admission, when Fed returned this glorious crosscourt forehand shot which he had to chase down to return across the net and Fed's reaction when he hit it. He went down on one knee and let out a primal scream.

It we could channel that Fed it will be one glorious AO 2009 final.

I'm feeling it--Fed's going to win in 5!

You heard it hear first...also, Fed is going to seriously pursue the "Roger slam" this year. He's already got the US Open in the bag and as far as I'm concerned the AO should be a lock if his form holds like it did for Del Portro and Roddick.

I predict this will be the year Rafa surrenders his stranglehold on the RG trophy and that will leave Wimbledon and you know what happens to Fed when he gets on the Wimbly grass.

I'm holding out hope that TMF triumphs at the AO, Roland Garros & Wimbledon!!

Allez Roger!

Posted by Nanna 01/30/2009 at 11:42 PM

How about the game aspect? Nadal is a hardworking not so pretty style but effective, Roger is beautiful to watch, effortless, graceful and inventive. Anyone who plays the game would love to watch a pleasing style

Posted by rg.nadal (Vamos RAfa!) 01/30/2009 at 11:45 PM

LiZ: I remember that match clearly- the YEC 06 semis. Nothing worked against Roger that day. As for Roger taking the RG title, his best chance would be if he has to play someone else in the final.

Can someone pls answer this?: Why doesn't Murray play well on clay? This has always baffled me. He has the patience, the shots and is a great tactician, but still has had no success on the surface.

Posted by Joe 01/30/2009 at 11:47 PM

I can't believe people talking and thinking like Tim in this site
First, how old is Federer?, how many GS Sampras, Edberg, Willander, Emerson , Laver and more....won at the age 22 like Nadal have won???. Federer is 27 years old, 5 more than Nadal, do you know how many GS Nadal can win in 5 more years??
Brute force? do you think just with tenacity and brute force is enough to be number 1 in the world??
You can tell you are Federer fan, I don't have any doubt

Posted by 01/31/2009 at 12:02 AM

The post @ 5:44pm explained why these two are even, even if they aren't.

Posted by twist serve 01/31/2009 at 12:04 AM

Somebody on this board predicted Nadal would win the final after losing the first set. Essentially play 5:14 minutes, spot Roger Federer a set, then win anyway. Wow.

Nadal could win, but it would probably have to be in straight sets. Let's not kid ourselves: After playing an extraordinarily long match on the most unforgiving surface, Nadal would be at a decided disadvantage against Federer if the match starts to take on any real length. Two examples in their rivalry about this point (especially for folks who seem to think Nadal's feet and ankles and shoulder and muscles are impervious to breaking down):

* When they played in Miami in 2005, Nadal was lights out for nearly three sets. But the match got long and Nadal got tired, so tired he got a time warning in the fifth set in losing it 6-1 and said afterward that he started to lose energy.
*Fast-forward to 2007: Nadal went into their match in Hamburg (i think) with an 81-match winning streak on clay. There was talk that he was tired, but he won the first set anyway. It turns out, though, that he really was tired. How else to explain Nadal losing the last 11 games of a match on clay?

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