Arguably the biggest rivalry in tennis, the one between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, has seen a few five-setters. How many of the following do you remember and which is, for you, the best match between these two tennis legends?
Two of the three greatest male tennis players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have played against one another 40 times, and tennis fans would give an arm and leg for this rivalry to go on and on despite being in the twilight of their careers.
Right now, Nadal is ranked at number two in the ATP and Federer is fourth as well but neither the head to head nor the rankings give the true picture. These two players have been huge tennis rivals, have offered some of the best and most entertaining tennis to tennis fans for the last fifteen years, and their matches have often been epic.
How many times, however, have they played in best-of-five matches, which have gone the distance? That is, dished out five-setters and lived up to the hype to its fullest. Here’s a list.
Australian Open 2017
Federer was coming into the tournament seeded 17th and while one can never count him out, it looked like the best was way behind him.
And while that thinking might have changed once he made it to the final, he was still up against Nadal, a rival who had beaten him way more number of times than Federer had done the same.
In a final lasting three hours and 38 minutes, Federer surprised Nadal and the world of tennis to win the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, and clinched his 18th grand slam title in extraordinary manner. He would go on to add two more major titles to his kitty after that including the Wimbledon that year and the Australian Open the following year but that title win in Melbourne was where it all started.
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Australian Open 2009
Nadal has one Australian Open title under his belt and it came in 2009. And again it needed him to defeat Federer in the final, in another five-setter to lift the trophy, Nadal clinching it 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2.
Federer was gunning for Pete Sampras’s 14 Grand Slam record tally and barring a hiccup in his fourth round victory over Tomas Berdych, dropped no set before reaching the final. Nadal had a similar run through to the title-decider, when he steamrolled all opponents to make the semifinals before fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco took him to task.
He came through in five sets and then played another five-setter to defeat the Swiss maestro in the final and win his sixth grand slam title.
Federer was a five-time Wimbledon winner and was 41-0 at the Championships heading into this match against a player who was carving out his own name but more on clay. The Swiss-man started out a heavy favourite going into the final against Nadal and even when he fell behind by two sets to love, there would have been a few who would have written him off.
That’s exactly what might have happened. Federer came back and won the next two in tie-breakers and took the match into the fifth. With rain-breaks punctuating the match, the encounter spread over seven overs and 16 games in the final set before Nadal came back to clinch it 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7.
Before the 2019 Wimbledon final between Federer and Novak Djokovic which lasted 4 hours and 58 minutes, this was the longest Championships title-decider and was often termed as one of the greatest match played at Wimbledon.
Federer-Nadal matches have often lived up to their rivalry and before the 2008 Wimbledon final happened, this match in the final of the 2007 Wimbledon was deemed to be the greatest Wimbledon match since the 1980 clash between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
It was also the last of Federer’s five Wimbledon titles in a row (he would go on to add three more titles here later) as he defeated Nadal in stunning fashion 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2.
And by winning his fifth consecutive Wimbledon final, Federer managed to tie Borg’s record of the same. Interestingly, the match also had Federer pleading with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos to switch off the Hawk-Eye, saying it was ‘killing him today.’ Ramos, as all good umpires are, stayed calm and cool and ignored the request.
2006 ATP Rome Masters
The first non Grand Slam final in the list, and it came at a time when the Rome Masters used to have a best-of-five-set finals. It was a match which the official ATP website has described as one which “cemented emented their rivalry and emphasised their status as the sport’s greatest stars”.
Nadal won this fantastic five-setter, coming back from being a set down and having had two match-points against him in the final set. He took the final set to a tie-breaker before pouching the encounter, 6-7, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5).
The Spaniard had won a French Open title the previous year and taking confidence from this victory, would go on to defend his title by beating Federer yet again in the Roland-Garros final.
Interestingly, this Rome Masters final lasted five hours coming on the back of a Monte-Carlo Masters final between the same two players which took four sets but was equally thrilling.
2005 Miami Masters
This was the first five-setter between Federer and Nadal, and Federer won this one at the final of the 2005 Miami Masters. The score was 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-2. And it was one final in which Federer managed to overturn a two set deficit to lift the title, setting a marker for what turned out to be a beautiful rivalry over the years.
In what was the first ever final between Nadal and Federer, the Spaniard looked to have done enough to win his maiden Masters title but the Swiss-man showed his mettle. Even the third set went into tie-breaker, but Federer held his nerve to win that and then took further control of the match with three breaks of serve in the final set to lift the trophy.
After the match, Federer himself admitted he hadn’t registered comeback wins like that too many times. He said:
“I haven’t dug out many matches in my career and to dig it out against Nadal, I’m extremely happy – and exhausted.”
Incidentally, it wasn’t for another 10+ years Nadal lost a match from have a two sets lead, falling to Fabio Fognini in the third round of the 2015 US Open.