Eleven years ago they gave us the greatest tennis match ever played. Nadal’s determination to re-tool his game and defeat Federer on his beloved grass court remains one of his greatest achievements. Here we take a look back at some of the most memorable encounters between the two legends of our sport, on the biggest of stages.
2006 Wimbledon - Final
After squeaking by American Robert Kendrick in the second round, two points from defeat, no one expected the second-seeded Nadal to make a run at Wimbledon. He was a clay courter, his game wouldn’t translate to grass, his serve was not big enough, his shots were too loopy.
While his game didn’t quite translate at this point, his unparalleled desire to win certainly did. After dropping the first set 6-0 in 24 minutes, Nadal elevated his level higher than what was thought possible at the time. He pushed Federer to the brink, eventually succumbing 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3. This was perhaps the final "happy to be here" moment in Nadal's career.
2007 Wimbledon - Final
This time there were to be no surprises, Federer knew what was needed to stave off the insatiable Nadal, who was dead set on ending Federer’s 34 match win streak at Wimbledon. The quality of tennis was almost incomprehensible. Nadal and Federer pushed each other to a level that had never been seen before. At the time, it was some of the best tennis ever played.
Federer ultimately outlasted Nadal 6-2 in the fifth set. The Spaniard was not quite ready to seize the moment against the King of the grass. A classic in its own right, this encounter set the table for next year’s epic.
2008 Wimbledon - Final
In the greatest match ever played, Nadal ended Federer’s 41 Wimbledon match win streak and joined Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg as the only players to secure the French Open and Wimbledon double in the Open Era. Aside from Nadal’s 12 (and counting) French Open’s, this may be his most impressive accomplishment.
Defeating Federer at Wimbledon required a complete retooling of his game, a journey far outside his comfort zone. In near total darkness, Nadal finally dethroned the King on his home court. You can relive this epic meeting in Tennis Channel's landmark documentary Strokes of Genius.
2009 Australian Open - Final
A picture is worth a thousand words. Roger Federer could not believe the unprecedented physicality and endurance of Rafael Nadal, who, the day before, outlasted Fernando Verdasco in a five-hour semifinal thriller, one of the greatest matches in Australian Open history.
After Nadal’s marathon against Verdasco the outcome of the final seemed like a foregone conclusion. “Really a pity,” said Verdasco after he zapped Nadal of so much energy, “I want him to be 100 percent to play that final.”
“Roger has a bit of an advantage over me”, Nadal said after the match, “He’s resting right now, it’s tough to sleep after something like this.”
Somehow, someway Nadal found the energy to outlast Federer, who could hardly make it through his runner-up speech. "Maybe I'll try later again I don't know, God it's killing me,” a tearful Federer said after suffering perhaps his most devastating defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2.
2017 Australian Open - Final
In perhaps his sweetest Grand Slam victory over Rafael Nadal, Federer escaped from the brink of defeat, down 3-1 in the final set, to win his 18th major title. Nadal surely feels as if he let Federer off the hook. If Nadal is unable to surpass Federer's total Grand Slam trophy count, he will look back in agony at this match. With his back against the wall, Federer switched to God mode and reeled off five consecutive games to take home the title.