Rafael Nadal is currently the number two ranked player in the world. Sometime in the next few weeks, he will assume the number one position again, either when he wins the Italian Open or when he surely makes his inexorable way to his tenth French Open title at Roland Garros in June.
And then there is a good chance he will be deposed at the top of the rankings again by the man who currently leads him in the listings, Roger Federer.
Like Borg and McEnroe from an earlier era, Nadal and Federer have dominated the men’s game for more than a decade. Other players like Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, and, most notably of all, Novak Djokovic. have won Grand Slams in that period, but the lion’s share of major tournaments has been won by the pair between them.
Since their first meeting at the Miami Open in 2004, the pair have played each other 38 times, with 12 of those meetings coming in Grand Slam tournaments, including 8 finals. The head-to-head record is clearly in favour of Nadal, with the Spaniard coming out on top 23 times to Federer’s 15.
Therefore, on the face of it, Nadal has the edge over his rival. However, if you look more closely at the record books, it is more complicated than that. Federer, in fact, has won the last five meetings between the pair of them, and Nadal has not beaten the Swiss for more than four years.
One key factor in their contests has been surface. Particularly in the early years, many of Nadal’s victories came on clay, where he is the undisputed master. Federer fared better on hard surfaces and grass which suits his aggressive game more than Nadal’s defensive baseline style.
And, in a bid to prolong his career, Federer no longer plays on the clay court circuit. This means that when they do meet these days, it is likely to be on a surface which favours the game of the Swiss more than the Spaniard.
Therefore, tennis fans will be hoping that this closest of rivalries will be resumed in the coming months, and, perhaps at Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows, they will get to see the two in head-to-head combat yet again. It is sure to be the hottest ticket in town when it does happen.
The rivalry cannot go on for ever. Federer, at 36, is already defying his age and expectations, and cannot have many years at the top left in him.
Nadal is five years his younger, but has had a history of knee and wrist injury problems, and is probably towards the tail-end of his career as well. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to enjoy this intense rivalry whilst we still can.