Tennis: Comparing the Legacies of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

From their first meeting in Miami in 2005, to the latest one in Paris in 2011, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have enticed us tennis fans to spectacles indescribable in words.

These two tennis greats have been on top of the tennis world for a very, very long time, but with new players, led by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have had to pick up their games.

Opposites on and off the court, these players have together formed the best rivalry the sport has ever seen.

I am here to look at the wonderful legacies each of these men have built themselves. Of course, they are both still going strong and adding more accomplishments to their names.

Here is a breakdown and comparison of the legacies of Nadal and Federer.

1. Statistics

Numbers should be the easiest aspect to compare. However, for these two players, it is much tougher.

True, conventional stats favor Federer, who has amassed 16 majors to Nadal’s 10, and holds numerous other records, including making the semifinals or better at 23 consecutive Grand Slams. Nadal’s longest streak: five. (Yes, Fed has been around for a longer period of time).

However, look just a tad beyond the surface and the following numbers will pop up:

Head-to-Head: 17-8 Nadal

GS Final Head-to-Head 6-2 Nadal

Of course, the fact that Rafa leads the series so thoroughly does have an asterisk, since the vast majority (14) have come on clay, the Spaniard’s best surface. On the other surfaces, Federer wins the matches, 6-5.

This single stat pushes what was a near tie toward the Swiss.

Winner: Federer


2. Strength of Opponents During Prime

The primes of Nadal and Federer were at completely opposite parts of the tennis spectrum.

Federer played his peak tennis when the likes of Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick batting the number one spot back and forth.

Nadal burst onto the scene when the alpha-dog could not have been more clear. It was unthinkable to unseat Fed at the top of the rankings during the mid 2000s, however, after three long years, Nadal took over the top slot.

Since entering his true prime, Rafa has still had to battle with a still-great Fed, a peaking Novak Djokovic and many others.

Even when considering that Nadal was playing at Federer’s peak, this one isn’t close.

Winner: Nadal

3. Diversity

This one should also be quite easy to compare. However, once again, it’s not. Federer may seem very diverse when you see that he four Aussies, six Wimbeldons and five US Opens to his name. However, on the clay-courts of Roland Garros, he has been sub-par by his standards.

He has won only once, and that was with Nadal, the best clay-court player ever, injured.

Nadal has also won each of tennis’ four Slams at least once, each of the hard-court ones once, Wimbledon twice and the French Open six times.

These numbers do greatly favor the former, but once again, dig lower and Nadal looks much better.

Without looking at any numbers, a tennis fan sees that Nadal is more of a threat on hard surfaces than Roger is on clay.

Still, numbers may lie, but in this case it is clear: Federer is the better all-around player.

Winner: Federer

4. Style of Play

This one is also quite easy. Watching Federer play is like poetry in motion. Everything about his game is elegant, clean. His game is perfectly textbook and everyone loves to watch him play.

On the opposite side is Nadal, a grunting “animal”, whipping his forehand around his head after he hits it.

Federer is the most beautiful tennis player…no doubt that he wins.

Winner: Federer

5. Off-Court Attitude

This one is as close as they get. Both these stars are genuinely nice, funny and always willing to talk to the media. They respect one another, as well as umpires, ball boys and fans.

The one thing that pushes Nadal over the top is the fact that Fed is rather arrogant. In 2007, when he captured his fourth consecutive US Open crown, he announced, ” I feel like they’re watching greatness”. He has also came out with with gold-trimmed “15” cardigan after capturing the ’09 Wimbledon title.

On the other hand, Rafa is the most down-to-earth superstar athlete in the world. He rides coach class on his way to tournaments, he did his own laundry at the 2008 Olympics. For, real can you even begin to imagine a guy like LeBron James doing his own laundry?

Winner: Nadal

6. Duration of Top Play

This one is a bit unfair to Rafa.

I mean, there isn’t much to say, Federer is older; has been around longer, thus he has clearly been a top player for longer.

Of, course Nadal has a few more years to catch the Swiss maestro.

Winner: Federer

7.  Overall

Federer is still numero uno.

He is arguably the greatest player ever to pick up a tennis racket, and it could be a while before we see someone with his grace, beauty, and resume.

However, Nadal is lurking in the shadows. If he can get to 13 or 14 majors, the debate really, really heats up because of the Spaniard’s stellar head-to-head record.

This rivalry has entertained tennis fans for so long, and it it sad to know that it is coming to a close.

Overall: Federer (for now, of course)

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